What is History? Part 3

Hudson Bay map from Archives of Manitoba

Hudson Bay map from Archives of Manitoba

Here we go again! Thanks so much everyone for your comments regarding Dr. Morton and Dr. McMahon. I think much of our discussion is leading to new ideas related to this notion of History.

Here is our next contributor: Denise Jones, Senior Archivist, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba. Denise has a unique perspective given her job and how she preserves historical artefacts and how she supports researchers. She is also pretty cool and we will go down to the Provincial Archives to annoy her this year.

What role does evidence, to which she speaks often to, play in history? Think of the historical thinking concepts!

12 thoughts on “What is History? Part 3

  1. Denise seems to understand what Desmond Morton meant when he is talking about experience. She talks about how people have different people have different perspectives and how it is affected by where and when one comes from. At the same time she talks about history as malleable because different people can view history in different ways. First I would like to ask what the importance of these experiences or opinions are if history can be so easily changed by perspective. After we have learned about history is their any point to actually stating our opinion if it is simply just a different outlook on history.

    Another question I would like to ask is, what does doing history mean? The words “doing history” seem incredibly vague to me. Is it experiencing history as people do in their everyday lives? Is it writing about the history we consume? I feel confused and think we need to have a conversation clarifying what “doing history” means before we continue talking about what “doing history” is.

  2. Denise Jones describes history as “malleable”. She often discusses the idea of individuals having different perceptions of what happened in history and describes this as looking at it “through a lens”. Everyone has different biases and different opinions on events and their significance which relates to the discussion we had in class of how certain histories impact certain individuals differently.

    I agree with Denise’s description of history. It is dynamic and changes as different people try to interpret it. I grew up with my parents telling me stories regarding the history of India (as they were both born there) and I have come to value certain things from India’s history which will change the way I view Canadian history. Consequently, my interpretation of Canadian History and it’s significance will differ from that of someone who has grown up in a family of European descent. I might learn to emphasize different details in my interpretation because I find those details to be important to me.

    A popular topic discussed by Denise is the idea of using artifacts to help us gain an understanding of what was going on at the time in question and she says that we can do this by using resources to help us. This notion of using sources to help our understanding is similar to comments that Dr. Morton had made in his explanation of how he “does” history. Through the use of primary sources we can take our minds back to that particular era thus allowing us to visualize the circumstances in which our ancestors lived.

    It is clear that in order to study history, we need to use evidence. When we use evidence, it acts as a record to tell you what happened. In order for us to turn these records into a story that will help explain history, we need to ask questions and interpret the evidence in such a way that we can understand it. Evidence is not only a way to simply prove that something did indeed occur, it provides a means for us to create these proofs through our own interpretations and stories.

  3. History, like Denise said, is malleable. They way it’s taught, represented, shared or passed down depends on who is doing the writing or reading. The re-telling of an event is similar to the re-telling of the plot of a movie, the same story can be told many different ways, yet we base historical knowledge on these flimsy records. That makes it tricky for me to understand where the truth ends and where biases kick in. Denise’s argument was that each one of us sees things differently and this affects the way we see history. I think this is true for almost, if not all, of the interactions we have. The feelings and thoughts my Greek grandfather has towards people of German descent, having spent time in WW2 prisoner of war camps, are much different from mine. His struggle is separating memories and past truths from the current situation.

    But whose interpretation of the present is “right” or closer to the “truth”? I suppose that’s what people try to figure out when studying history. Who do we listen to or trust, at what point are our feelings affecting our knowledge? On the surface, this concept of history almost seems bleak because it means that our backstories, biases and ideologies will always step in the way of us realizing the raw truth, yet it also gives us the ability to form opinions and communicate with others about what we think.

    As for doing history, I believe that that is what it means. It means to be able to engage in history through communication with others about the opinions we’ve formed about what we’ve seen or read or heard. In that way we are scrutinizing records of history so that truth rather than bias can become our reality.

  4. Denise Jones believes history is “malleable” or changing. She thinks everyone sees things differently and everyone has different views. The way Denise interperts history is depending on where you’re from and what time in history you’re looking at. The way we view an event or person many years ago is different then how that event or person was viewed during that particular time in history. I somewhat agree with Denise but I still believe history is “experience” and we should learn from our past so we don’t make the same mistakes that were once made.

    The role that evidence plays in history is huge. Evidence is how we know what we know. So without evidence we wouldn’t know much about history. Denise talked about evidence by bringing up artifacts. She believes that artifacts are valuable because they can allow us to understand how people were living at a certain time and compare it to the time now. I agree with using artifacts as evidence to better understand our history because it’s a primary source and not something we just think might have happened and it’s the best evidence available.

    • When it comes to evidence, I don’t think its how we know what we know necessarily, but it confirms our theories. The evidence is the pieces of the puzzle which we are trying to find out above. An example again are these boats in the Arctic that Canada has found. These pieces of evidence are making confirming the theory we put out. Without the artifacts/evidence then none of this could be viewed at as true.
      When you are talking about Denise’s views on history, it make’s sense to put together the “experience” idea and Denise’s interpretation together. Because I am Canadian I could care less about the history or experiences in Sri Lanka. I care about what happened in Canada and I want to learn about the world I am living in. My favourite thing Denise talked about was the lens and I think everyone has a different prescription (view) on what kind of experiences they want to learn about and be a part of.

  5. History comes in many different forms. When we think of history, we usually refer to the textbooks, or the Internet, and then we write about the past based on others perspectives. Evidence is a crucial part of history. Evidence is the way that we are able to gather history.

    Denise Jones agrees a lot with Dr. Morton in the sense that history is another word for experience. Denise says that the people and events are static but the perspectives on them are different. When we look at things we interpret them in different ways based on what they mean to us. History is one subject that isn’t set in stone, its flexible to what we give more importance too. Denise also said something similar to what Dr. Morton said which was that you have to put yourself in the others person shoes, to write history about them. Dr. McMahon and Denise both said that we write history about the things that we find interesting and are impacted by.

    The evidence we use to gather history is also very important. Evidence comes in many shapes and forms for example recordings, photographs, journal entries, letters, newspapers from that time, and etc. We use primary sources to figure out what happened in the past and the impact that it had on people. But we also have to make sure that our evidence is credible and the evidence in fact does help us interoperate what we happened in the past. Also when looking at evidence we must see where it came from because it may be bias to the situation.

  6. I agree with Denise Jones, and I made a similar point in my last comment, proposing that our Perception of events and history are changing depending on location, time, and ethnic background. But I believe that the theory describes how we perceive history and not the important question, “What is History?” Denise mentioned that history is “static”. Once it has happened, nothing can change it. That made me think that, our opinion of history doesn’t change the events that have already happened, it only changes the accuracy of our knowledge. I still agree with Desmond Morton, that history is an experience. I believe, to truly comprehend history, you must experience it. When we look back to events more then a century ago we don’t have anyone alive who has experienced it. To understand history fully, it can’t be written, it has to be experienced.

  7. Our records of history is based on evidence from direct sources. If any evidence is altered then our history is changed making it difficult to study the past. Denise says how History is always changing especially when different people have different points of view. So in order to get the most accurate representation of history historians must gather multiple different views before reaching a conclusion. However the more point of views they get, the more difficult it will be to collaborate it into one. In a way this contradicts with itself since more POV’s means history will be more accurate, but more POV’s will also make it more complex and if its more complex then it will lead to inaccuracy.

    But from what Denise said I think that history is most importantly recorded from primary sources. Even simple things like the the past’s music can tell you about something of that time. Everything must be taken into account while recording history, different point of views, the social norm of the time, people’s writing, doing, thinking, etc. These things must all be deduced from evidence and intuition making evidence play a crucial role while recording history.

  8. Out of all three responses, I think that I agree with this one the most. Denise starts off by saying “history is malleable” and I think that that statement pretty much sums up our understanding of history. Every history book, textbook or website we read has been written by a person who sees this history through their own “lens”, as Denise calls it, and that means that every text has a different viewpoint to it.

    History isn’t just changed by our lenses. Jones makes the point that our views are also altered by our backgrounds and when/where we’re from. My interpretation of World War 2 would be completely different from someone who lived during it. Your own individual understanding of history really depends on your own understanding of the world. Disha made the point that since she grew up learning about India’s history, her own view of Canada’s history has been altered. She also makes the connection that her interpretation of history would be different compared to someone of European decent.

    History is malleable because we all understand it differently and change it with our different viewpoints. You could ask me, Mr. Henderson, President Obama and Brad Pitt to all write a paper on World War 1, and each paper would be completely different from the other, simply because we all have different understandings of history and the world.

    To understand history, we must interpret the facts using our own perspectives, but also keeping in mind the perspectives of those who have written it.

  9. I feel that Denise didn’t entirely explain “what history is” to me. I do however agree with some of her assertions and reasoning. What stood out to me the most was the concept of perspectives and how everybody interprets history differently based on various factors such as their way of thinking as well as their cultural background (referred to as a “lens” by Denise). Dr. Morton described history as being an experience in which we interpret. Dr. McMahon described history as an essential “tool” that we use to understand our present circumstances. Both of these ideas made sense to me and broadened my understanding of history because they actually stated what they believed history to be, as well as how it’s useful to our society. On the other hand Denise Jones simply discussed the differentiating ways in which people view history without actually stating what history “is” (i.e. an experience etc). To me Denise’s constructive arguments were a mere reiteration of what was previously said on peoples way of seeing history.

  10. According to Denise Jones, history is “malleable”; however, she does not really explain her definition and interpretation of history. She says that history is “malleable” because we all bring our own subjectivity and interpretation to it. I completely agree with her because we all have our own unique and different perspectives of events that have happened in the past. We all have our own views and interpretations of history as well. I also feel that history is an “experience” and “record of the past”. Through the study of history, we can learn and avoid making mistakes from our past. She also mentions that interpreting evidence, such as artifacts, helps us better understand our history. I agree with this because it is a primary source and currently the best available evidence of the occurrences of the past.

  11. Denise Jones explains that history is “malleable” because of how subjective and interpretive it is. I agree with this because history has many records that people look at and believe in. Evidence is what helps people to be malleable by history. There is so much evidence that people do believe in many sources that history comes from. However, as Denise was describing, if your grandparents tell you about their history, that is a much more primary source of evidence than if you were to read something about the 15th century. I believe that this is very true because our grandparents are a more trusting source than something you would find about the 15th century, the evidence they provide is very relevant to our lives and who we are, and our interpretation is to know more about our history so our grandparents evidence supports that majorly. In conclusion, I truly believe that getting evidence from a primary source about history is much more trustworthy than getting it from a source where the information has probably changed throughout generations.

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