Great Paragraphs

The truth is that truth has always been a contested idea. As a student of history, at Cambridge, I learned at an early age that some things were “basic facts”—that is, unarguable events, such as that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066, or that the American Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. But the creation of a historical fact was the result of a particular meaning being ascribed to an event. Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon is a historical fact. But many other people have crossed that river, and their actions are not of interest to history. Those crossings are not, in this sense, facts. Also the passage of time often changes the meaning of a fact. During the British Empire, the military revolt of 1857 was known as the Indian Mutiny, and, because a mutiny is a rebellion against the proper authorities, that name, and therefore the meaning of that fact, placed the “mutinying” Indians in the wrong. Indian historians today refer to this event as the Indian Uprising, which makes it an entirely different sort of fact, which means a different thing. The past is constantly revised according to the attitudes of the present.

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Author: Scott Timcke

I’m a Lecturer in the Department of Literary, Cultural and Communication Studies at the University of the West Indies. I use Marxist methods to study social inequality, the digital mode of production, the causes and consequences of imperial violence in the early 21st Century.

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