To the old aphorism “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” I would like to add: “…and neither does anybody else.” None of our best historians understand all of history. They specialize. They study what happened in a particular time and place. They try to be objective in a Jack Webb-style: “Just the facts, Ma’am,” but that can make for dull reading. So they adopt the writing style of a storyteller. They humanize the main characters, illuminating both virtues and flaws. They make judgements. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t sell many books. If they’re also teachers, and many are, their students would fall asleep.
Like the late star of Dragnet, historians are trying to solve a mystery, but unlike him they’re not going to arrest a perpetrator. They may, however, tarnish a reputation here and burnish one there. Such may be their intent when beginning their research. The best historians try hard to be unbiased, but they know they’re human and will always fall short of perfect impartiality. Others only offer a pretense of impartiality.
Another human factor that may work to distort history I will call peer pressure. When historian colleagues all tend to interpret the events of a particular time and place in a particular way, there’s a strong tendency to go along. One might dare to offer a slightly different shade of meaning but to go further would risk being shunned or even attacked.
The rest is here.