Carl L. Becker's What Are Historical Facts?

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In Carl L. Becker’s article “What are Historical Facts?”, Becker offers justification for his intensely controversial take on the nature of historical facts, as generalizations of the past which exist in no set place in time and only in the flawed minds of individuals. Furthermore, he expands upon the implications of his claims: that there is no way to tell the entire truth, especially not without any personal additions, and that any value from history must be gained through effort. Though Becker’s arguments are intellectually sound, they contain an unhealthy amount of nihilism in their delivery, where facts are discredited without an effective exploration of the enlightenment they allow—the insight and personal freedom that comes with the individuality of truth. Becker’s denunciation of the popular understanding of history—as a cemented and undisputable collection of singular truths—has its basis in his personal definition of “the historical fact.” He quickly establishes this interpretation through an examination of the what, …show more content…
Instead, Becker argues that historical facts can only exist in the minds of individuals—individuals who are subject to bias and deficiencies in memory, which then carry on in what they believe to be reality. Although these critiques are vital to keep in mind when researching history, Becker’s overly cynical point of view brings up issues of its own. He does touch on some of the positive sides to his case, particularly the mention of historiography and the insinuation of freedom to interpretation. Nonetheless, Becker chooses to forgo additional analyses of these subjects, and, as both he and Howard Zinn stated, there is no value in not properly acknowledging facts essential to a bigger whole, whether it is through omitting them or “[burying] them in a mass of other information.”

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