Is the subject of history considered a narrative?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

History is definitely a narrative, or story. In fact the word story is incorporated into this word history; interestingly, the word for history and for story are exactly the same word in French: histoire. 

Napoleon declared history as "a story retold"; that is, the history of events are retold usually by the victorious country or the country which holds power. Therefore, this history does become a story, a tale told according to the power in control. That this definition is true can be verified by an examination of history books that have a narrative in them about World War II, for instance. Certainly, the presentation of historical accounts differ greatly depending upon which side--Allies or Axis--that the account is written.

When Napoleon conquered a country during his drive for empire, one of his first actions was to gain control of the newspapers. In this way, he controlled history since the written word was essentially the only source of information. While documents are used to record history, many of them are written by those whose ideology matches that of the power in control. In Hitler's Germany, of course, the media was certainly controlled by the Nazi regime, so the record of historical events was altered greatly. Therefore, even historical writings of a later date must be, at least, somewhat affected by what has been omitted in such writings. 
In American history, for instance, an examination of older history books and certain social issues of years ago and the modern record of these issues provides support for the argument of Napoleon that the "story" of a country is retold.

cjarus eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a narrative as a story that is told or written. Because all events of history have happened in the past, we have to rely on individuals’ stories and accounts of what occurred when considering an historic event. When reading a history textbook, we are only getting one viewpoint or account of that moment in time. For example, a quick review of history textbooks from the United States, Japan, France, and Germany regarding World War II would result in an immediate understanding of the narrative nature of history. Although each text could be considered an accurate account of that period in history, the historian’s biased viewpoint and perspective on the event cannot reasonably be denied. As the presidential campaign heats up in the United States, we see the same events described differently on a daily basis. Therefore, the answer to your question is yes, history is a narrative of events occurring in the past

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