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Three Types of History

Remembered History

Fundamentally, all history is remembered. Remembered history can be recollections of the elderly, and traditions, as well as the collective memory of a living society. It is something that the whole group agrees has happened.

An example of this is a grandparent who fought in a war passing the story down to their child. This is a primary source of information, so it seems legit on the surface.

However, memories are easily distorted. If the grandfather actually ran away from the battle but didn’t want his children to know about that, he may tell a version of the story where he’s a brave hero. Different grandfathers will have different perspectives on the same story, making it hard to create a coherent narrative.

Recovered History

Recovered history is information about the past that was once known but was forgotten, and was later reclaimed by accident or investigation. The most visible form of recovered history today is archaeology, but there are also things like finding forgotten manuscripts and books in libraries.

Recovered data seems less biased because it hasn’t been tampered with. The data hasn’t been passed down and distorted by other generations who might omit or suppress things that they don’t like. It’s usually assumed that archaeological artifacts are found just as they were in the past.

It seems that recovered history reflects reality better than remembered history, but there’s room for bias in recovered history as well. The data isn’t biased, but the interpretation can be.

Placing a piece of recovered history in the larger context of a civilization is hard. Recovered history confirms the existence of a certain thing, in a certain place, and a certain time, but it doesn’t tell us how widespread or important that thing really is.

Invented History

Invented history is a body of myths known to be untrue but that exists in the public conscience as history. It’s historical fabrications that are definitely not true, but enough people want to believe that they happened that they assume a force of truth.

Invented histories satisfy our collective need to see the past in a specific way. Even when presented with evidence of falsehood, people speak of them as historical reality.

For example, ancient Romans believed that their city was founded by the descendants of the warriors in Homer’s Troy, which is a work of fiction.

Invented histories affect people’s perceptions of their own lives. They may not be the real past, but they affect the future when people who subscribe to these beliefs make choices based on false realities.

Invented histories are built on people’s deepest convictions. They tell us what people at a particular time and place valued, and believed in. It provides valuable information about the cultural climate that perpetuated that vision.

There might be no information more reflective of a society than the types of jokes and tales that it tells.


Notes based on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8S1bhR2tdc

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