It is often said that through understanding our past, only then can we be able to guide the course of our future. By following our history, we can come into close connection with the occurrences that happened at a particular time and how these occurrences come to affect the future that we are living in presently. The act of writing history cannot transcend history and often is itself history. Although the above statement may appear to be ambiguous, there is an element of truth related to this statement. Sometimes, the historical studies researchers often tend to pay much attention to the act of writing history, i.e., the individuals who took part in the documentation of the event and tend to sideline the actual individuals who were actually in these historic happenings. This, therefore, gives the false illusion of the act of writing history transcending history. The act of writing history is history in itself given the close relation and the role that the activity plays in influencing how we understand the history of various significant events.
How historical narratives are written may significantly influence how the reader understands the phenomenon being explained at hand. Take for instance the great pyramids of Egypt. These are among some of the most studied historical figures with different accounts being put forward trying to explain the origin of these structures. Depending on the report that seems to be best appealing to the reader, then that is what they chose as the actual phenomenon. By so doing, there comes a different group of individuals with varying understandings of a similar occurrence.
It is, therefore, the responsibility of historians and other writers who decide to document historical events to ensure that any kind of information that they choose to present to their reader is peer reviewed and as accurate as possible. This will be essential in ensuring that the reader is provided with reliable information that will ensure that they understand the historical event at hand in the most accurate way.
For instance, looking at the various works that anti-colonial critiques have brought forward in the attempt to criticize the various practices that the perpetrators of the colonial era practiced, it is possible to understand why it is possible for readers to have a different understanding of the historical events depending on what issue that the author spoke about and how they presented the problem. For instance, according to the class reading by Bruce Gilley a political science professor at the Portland State University, the author was keen to note that for more than 100 years, western colonialism has been associated with negativity and ill-treatment of their subjects. However, as the author is eager to observe, the colonial regimes were in a way beneficial to the colonies in some ways. Take for instance governance and development agendas. Through research conducted, it has been established that the progressive development in some of the colonies from developing nations is almost at a stagnant rate ever since these nations came to attain self-governance.
However, historical narratives have played a significant role in portraying the colonial regimes in a negative light, therefore, leading to the readers failing to see some of the decisive factors that could get attributed to these regimes. Most of the third world countries still rely on infrastructure that was built during the colonial era, most of the machinery that they utilize in their operations are also outdated given that these nations can't come up with the new and improved mechanism. Under the colonial regimes, these nations got provided with these facilities, and also productivity was higher during the colonist's reign.
However, under the introduction of self-governance, corruption scandals, underdevelopment, food insecurity, poor health among other failings have been witnessed since the colonialism got abolished. Bruce Gilley id therefore able to highlight the failures of anti-colonial critiques in that, they were quick to write the history of colonialism in such negativity that made the readers only aware of its dark sides and not the light side. In his opinion, Bruce advocates for the writer to get presented with both sides of the historical occurrence at hand and give them the liberty of choosing which side they decide to support.
The opium trade in China is another major historical event that historical writers have managed to twist and make it one that most of the readers hate and criticize with much fierce enmity. The use of opium in China dates back to the seventh century where the drug was used as a medical prescription for pain. George Blue has critically analyzed the connections between China and Britain in the 18th century and the impacts that these trades had on the nations involved. To begin with, the medicinal use of opium I china lasted for several decades, and terminally ill patients were benefiting from the utilization of this pain-reducing drug.
Politicization of the matter was the beginning of the downfall of the Chinese-Britain opium trades that primarily affected the economies of the two nations. The two countries largely depended on the taxes that were obtained from the opium trade to oversee various national developments. However, as George Blue observes, the onset of the political disputes and imposition of regulations on domestic production were the major causes of the failure in this trade that had established itself in a quite remarkable way. Critiques were quick to blame the opium abuse in China and relate it to the deal that China was a part of in conjunction with Great Britain.
However, it is not pointed out that opium farming was a significant economic activity for most peasant families that were involved in the opium farming. The history writers have been more focused on the negative effects associated with the trade including the wars and the abuse of the drug amongst the locals. Under constructive criticism, it is possible to understand that the opium trade could have a few shortcomings and negative attributes, but on a different approach, the trade enabled the two nations as well as the local inhabitants to provide for their needs through the trade.
The Japanese colonization of East Africa has also been a major cause of criticism amongst historical writers. It has been pointed out that there was rampant forced labor as well as the exploitation of the indigenous inhabitants. Historical narratives point out that most of the raw materials used in the industries back at Japan got exported from these east African colonies, but the colonies got nothing in return. However, few accounts try to explain the Japanese colonization in a positive light and some of the positive attributes that the colonization had on some of these East African nations.
During the Japanese reign in East Africa, various developmental changes got observed in the region. To begin with, are the numerous learning institutions that Japan's governance built in the region. The institutions were instrumental in increasing formal education literacy in the region. Besides the informal boost literacy, the locals also got equipped with basic vocational skills such as the operation of farm machinery as well as improved farming techniques. The historical critics are however quick to look pas these positive developments and instead are more oriented towards the various shortcomings that were associated with the Japanese reign in East Africa.
In the case of Asia, the two powerful nations, i.e. China and Korea were engaged in a wrangle that was largely politicized, and critiques were quick to point out that the differences among the two countries were as a result of self-centered leaders with the need to fulfill their gains rather than serve the people. However, as Yuan Li a South Korean historian documents, the political entanglements were more than personal conflicts among the leaders and were aimed towards the betterment of the living standards and conditions of the citizens of each nation, the political differences arose as a result of the imposition of trade sanctions on Korea seizing to import rice from China in the attempt to support local production. This move was met with fierce hostility and rivalry from the Chinese, and in the aim to counter the effect of these sanctions, the Chinese also imposed trade sanctions on most of their imports from Korea. Although the two nations eventually worked out their differences and came up with a practical solution that enabled the two countries to engage each other constructively, it has often been presented contrary to the actual happenings on the ground by various historical narratives.
In conclusion, it is possible to see the power that the historical narratives have in influencing the reader about a given historical occurrence and how this may change the readers' opinion depending on the facts provided. Writers composing historical narratives should, therefore, strive to ensure that, the sources that they use for their articles are not biased and that the information provided is near the actual occurrences that took place. This will enable the reader not only to come up with a well-opinionated description of the historical happening but also will allow them to understand the course of history in a better way.
Levine, Joseph M. The battle of the books: history and literature in the Augustan Age. Cornell University Press, 1994.
Moretti, Franco. The bourgeois: Between history and literature. Verso Books, 2013.
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