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E o céu azul brilhará...

Diário de uma académica portuguesa em Londres

E o céu azul brilhará...

Diário de uma académica portuguesa em Londres


History: The thought and the fact.

Little Miss Sunshine

Last year, during the first semester, I did an essay on the Industrial Revolution. Being Portuguese, I had studied the English Industrial Revolution in Portugal, in History and English subjects. It is my favourite field, by the way.

Firstly, let me tell you that the idea we (Portuguese) have of the Industrial Revolution in England is that it was something of terrible - particularly to the lower classes of society - although it made England richer and more developed towards the other countries in the world. These last tried to engage in the English spirit of innovation but had not the skills nor the socio-economic factors which, when gathered, proved to be the main reason for England's huge success in the transition to a more developed Era.

In Portugal, we study the Industrial revolution with detail, analysing the misery and the poverty, the crime, the exploitation, etc. Basically we study the dark side of it. We have to analyse graphics, pictures and movies( like “Modern Times” (Charles Chaplin))illustrating those times. We have to rely on our teachers and on the books much more than on ourselves really, so we accept History as it is pictured to us, and we are not allowed to question it ( that is actually one of the reasons why I wanted to study abroad…).

Anyway, when I came to study in the UK, in order to make the essay I mentioned in above, I read a very interesting article* in JSTOR about the way History could be differently interpreted, depending of the historian’s own political, philosophical, or sociological theories. That was extremely fun to read, even though the text was quite complicated to analyse (being a foreign student can be really hard sometimes)...

The article illustrated the Industrial Revolution, comparing and stating names of certain historians that saw it as a menace, with others that saw it as a gift. The philosophical, political and even cultural and sociological movements of the time interfered (obviously) with the facts – which were all the same, only were given different readings.

Therefore, for all this, I realised that the modern historian has more than a couple of different sources to choose from if he wants to understand the reality of the facts... But most of all, the modern historian is in trouble exactly because the sources available are unreliable. The question here is: Will he/she make the same mistake and start analysing history with his/her own mind? And having that present in our mind, can History be totally accurate? – I dare to ask.

The reason of my question is simple and has nothing of philosophical in it. While reading and researching for my paper last year, I realised that we, humans, as free and thinking individuals, we are not aware of our convictions most of the times, let alone when we are trying to interpret something. It is like going to an unknown island full of natives and when we approach them to offer them something, they say yes. We totally assume they are saying yes, when in fact they could be saying no.

Let me explain...
Interpretation... We assume we can interpret anything as long as we have the basis for such assumption. I can interpret you, while you talk to me… But can I understand you?
The truth is that people often assume that they are able to understand History just because they understand their own world. However, from place to place or time to time, things differ and what might be an apple to me might as well be an orange to you, just because we were brought up in different backgrounds.

So how can History be accurate if we are all different and we all have many things interfering with our evaluation of facts? Culture, ideology, age… everything can make us distort the History facts’ readings, because we are beings that are in constant change and we change everything around us. Just because we think that the truth is in front of our eyes we can’t assume it as the pure truth. History’s challenge is the big question mark it rises above our heads. It is by questioning and comparing that we reach a consensus. And that is why I am choosing History as my major, because I want to be put to trial, to be challenged, to see the world not as the others showed me, but instead see it the way I want to see it: By using my reason while I am researching, using as many sources as possible and conclude with a valuable and unquestionable argument.

Even though I know History is always inaccurate, I believe that one day we will be able to have more than just 95% of certainties when it comes to recreate it...

(Version revised and updated from my original text, which was published in 'The Hubb' (University's Blog) and in '')

* R.M. Hartwell, 'Interpretations of the Industrial Revolution in England: A Methodological Inquiry', The Journal of Economic History, vol.19, no2.(Jun.,1959), pp229-249

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