Andrew Gavin Marshall

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On the Writing of History


The following was originally posted at The People’s Book Project.

I would like to take a few moments to discuss the concept of the writing of history, to both explain the practice in general, and specifically, my own take on it and how I approach this important issue.

Within the subject of history, there is a concept referred to as historiography, which, put simply, refers to the study of the study of history; as in, looking at the ‘writing of history’ as a subject of historical relevance: to understand the social, political, cultural, and economic circumstances in which history is written and with who is writing it in order to better understand how they write about history, how their perspectives, biases, and ideas are included within their study.

As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” This is the general basis upon which historiography can be approached, and this is specifically how I approach my own study of history.

History is very much a “function of power” and thus, in my book, I analyze it as such. How is history a function of power? There is the famous saying,”history is written by the victors,” but more so, history is written by the powerful. When history is written, it sets out a set of ideas, perspectives, and beliefs which have inherent biases in favour of particular persons, classes, genders, institutions, ideas and actions. Thus, when others look to study a particular history, they often approach historical studies as apparently objective (without bias) and uncritically accept many views within such a study, failing to remove the facts from the interpretive biases of the author. Popular historians in the modern era (throughout the past several hundred years) have generally been upper-middle-class or upper-class white men of status and privilege within Western societies. Thus, in their writing of history, their gender, race, class, social setting and political-economic positions are reflected in their interpretations of history.

In order to discover ‘truths’ in our world, one must use historiography in their own study of history. This is something I have attempted to do throughout my book. Inevitably, I am a product of my own social, political and economic circumstances, and thus, inevitably I will have a great deal of interpretation in my own book. However, I do not deny my biases, but rather, embrace and discuss them. My biases tend to be leaned in favour of the principles of absolute freedom, in favour of ‘the people’, the poor, the oppressed, and as such, I tend to be more overtly critical of those individuals, ideas, and institutions of power. Yet, in confronting my own biases, I am also better able to see them emerge in my own writing, and thus, to attempt to the best of my abilities, to consistently remain self-critical and constantly question my own perspectives and ideas.

This book, and much of my own writing, in particular, takes a strong historical analysis as a necessity, regardless of the specific issue or topic being covered. This tends to make my writing (whether essays or books) rather long, which has necessitated (and often rightly so) various criticisms about decreasing the length of my articles so as to make them more readable to a larger audience. Indeed, this is a relevant and true point: the shorter the article, the more likely it is to be read by many. However, despite my attempts at this, I often end up with a rather long article/essay/report. This is largely because for myself to understand any particular event or issue, I need the proper social, political, and economic historical context in which to understand how this issue or event came to be, and thus, comprehend its true nature and possible implications. As I require this for myself, it is hard for me to imagine how I could demand readers to understand these issues without the same historical context. There are already a great many short articles in the alternative media realm, which can provide a quick, critical, and insightful look at current events and issues; what I hope to bring to the discussion is a more comprehensive historical understanding. The short, insightful, and critical articles – as useful as they may be – are largely written without a historiographical understanding. In short, the perspectives within the articles are themselves products of a particular social, economic, and political circumstances, and thus, the representation of facts within such articles is subject to its own biases. I am not saying that I am without bias, I am, I make no claims to absolute objectivity simply because I do not believe this to be possible. My aim, however, is to take the reader on the same journey as myself, to guide them through the history to understand the present, so that they may not only see how I cam to believe what I believe, but so that they may interpret the present for themselves.

The writing of history is, indeed, an act of power. No matter what happens in the future, where our world goes, who takes us there, how we get there, and what comes of it all, I believe that there is an important place in the present circumstances for the writing of a ‘new history’ of our modern world. This has been done several times, and often presents new facts, new interpretations, insights, and understandings. Without the work of a great deal of critical historians, philosophers, and writers, I would have no where to begin my own study of history, and so it is thanks to them that I am able to attempt such a project. Further, as we are a product of our circumstances, we must also understand that we are currently within the era of the Technological Revolution, and specifically, the communications and information revolutions, where more information has been made more easily available to more people than ever before in history. Thanks to the Internet, I have access to articles, newspapers, magazines and media from around the world, often complete with large archives of their previous publications; I have access to literally thousands upon thousands of academic journal articles, being able to take information that was once confined to the internal discourse between academics and educational institutions and put it out into the public realm; I have the ability to order online a vast array of rare, out-of-print, or obscure books by a vast array of authors, allowing more access to more materials than ever before. So, in terms of the writing of a new history in the modern context, we have at our fingertips more resources than have ever previously been available. Thus, through time, our writing and understandings and idea may become more comprehensive. My book is not an attempt to write the ‘final’ history of our modern world, but rather, to merely provide new groundwork upon which further, more comprehensive and analytical histories may be written and understood.

The attempt of this book is to provide a new history which presents radical ideas (that is, radical from its original Latin meaning: “to get to the root of”) in a heavily researched compendium of information. The aim is to give a modern history of the ‘institution’ and the ideas which create, define, control, encapsulate, drive, destroy, oppress and engineer institutions and individuals in our society. It is a history not meant for the private academic, but for the wider global population. It seeks to be relevant to all people in all places, and to provide new ideas and understandings. This is why my writing in general, and specifically in this book, is so historically focused. I feel that posterity will require several new histories in order to advance our understanding of our humanity and our society, and I am hoping to contribute whatever I can to that process.

So thank you to all my supporters for their contributions to this very same process!

Cheers

Andrew

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2 Comments

  1. Harvey Kailin says:

    History is just one damn thing after another.
    That’s one definition I have heard and respect.
    There are also memory-keepers, those who
    value history as sacred recollection and would
    not embellish it one iota.

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