When History Stops

Histories are as perfect as the Historian is wise … and … the grand difference between a Dryasdust and a sacred Poet, is very much even this…. When both oblivion and memory are wise, when the general soul of man is clear, melodious, true, there may come a modern Iliad as memorial of the Past: when both are foolish, and the general soul is overclouded with confusions, with unveracities and discords, there is a ‘Rushworthian chaos.’ Let Dryasdust be blamed….

Thomas Carlyle, “Anti-Dryasdust”

History is not everything that happens. History, said Carlyle, consists in the worthwhile – not the trivial. Because history is about meaningful things, it must be oriented to what things mean, what they signify, portend, and lead to. Understanding history does not involve knowing every last detail of an event. It does not require us to know what the peasant had for lunch. True history is discovered through a process of sifting. The true historian, it turns out, must possess skills similar to those of an intelligence analyst (or detective). The historian and the intelligence analyst must sift a large mass of data. In the end, both must find the underlying Truth. The historian seeks the key to a historical narrative while the intelligence analyst seeks to understand enemy strategy. Sometimes the key to the historical narrative is the enemy strategy.[ii]

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