A History of Histories (Magill's Literary Annual 2009)
The word “history” means both the remembered past and the process of telling the past. The second sense indicates that what is known of the world before the present always comes from someone’s telling, and the different ways in which people have told about the world have been shaped by their understandings, goals, and preoccupations. The recorded past is presented in particular human voices, so that reading history is the double act of hearing the tellers and hearing what they are telling us. John Burrow, in A History of Histories, describes the variety of the voices.
Burrow begins with what he considers the first recognizable voices of historians, those of Herodotus and Thucydides. Before Herodotus (born between 450 and 430 b.c.e.), there had been recordings of events, notably by the Egyptians, but no reflections on events or interpretations of them. Herodotus, inspired by the rise of the Persian empire and its invasion of Greece, wrote the work known as Historiai Herodotou (c. 424 b.c.e.; The History, 1709) in order to memorialize the great human achievements of the struggle between the Greeks and the Persians. This would be the motivation of most of the ancient histories in Burrow’s recounting and even a number of the more modern ones. It was certainly a motivation for the writings of the successor of Herodotus, Thucydides, who investigated the events of the...
(The entire section is 1783 words.)
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