History is storytelling

I read a wonderful - sometimes disturbing - article about history; more precisely about how storytellers (and their biases) crafted our history. I highly recommend it. It also made me realise there is 'story' in the word 'history'. Never really paid attention. By the way, in french, these are the same word: 'histoire' [pronounced his-too-ar]. So we could say 'raconte moi une histoire' [which would translate into 'tell me a story'] and when we're talking about history add something like 'l'histoire avec un grand 'H'' [history with a big H]. I realise now - deeply rooted in our language - how history is only a story of the past we collectively agreed upon.

The article starts strongly.

History is not about the past but stories of the past. Every historian, from Herodotus to Niall Ferguson, has an agenda. They choose what to include and what to cut, what to emphasize and what to downplay. If we’re looking for facts — indisputable, undeniable facts — we have precious few about anything pre-20th century. And so we rely on imagination, guesswork, and narrative.

And reminds us something worth keeping in mind: "A surprising amount of history has been handed down to us through the works of nonhistorians." Which makes me think of the countless movies I've watched that started with a little display 'Based on true facts.'. Which I'm not really sure what that means exactly. Or in other words, it doesn't specifically highlight the split between facts and fiction; history and story.

I just finished Volume 2 of Sapiens, the graphic history and it's amazing how prevalent is Dr Fiction. Not a coincidence of course.

If asked to imagine an archetypal Scot — a fancy dress version of Scottishness — most people would think kilts and bagpipes. The problem is that these are almost entirely the 19th-century inventions of Walter Scott. Bagpipes originated in Egypt, and kilts were new arrivals. The point, though, is that they are Scottish now. Scott’s Scotland reveals a good point: The last two hundred years have been the work of the historical novel.

I listened to Walter Isaacson on the Lex Fridman podcast and he typically shared something that stuck with me. His most 6 important and impactful words of all time: 'let me tell you a story'.


Objet du jour

Since I mentioned it earlier, Sapiens Volume 2 might be the best candidate for this post. Relationship recorded with Objet.