I am in the process of finishing reading Tony Judts splendid Thinking the Twentieth Century, and have some additional thoughts to this work. On page 238, Judt is remarking on the duties of historians as citizens skilled enough and armed with a purpose and clarity to expose others to the ascertainable facts of a certain event. I agree with Judt when he says that teaching history is difficult now because so many instructors believe their job is to jump to reappraisal of the source material, without discussing the source material itself in a clear headed and understandable fashion, while using language that elevates discourse.

I was lucky enough to have some great professors in my undergraduate days, and I think most of them had us 18,19 year olds first learn what was real, what happened, and what was happening at the time of events occurring. After that, then you have license to discuss ideas and revising narratives, but first and foremost the duty of an instructor is to teach clarity of thought.

An example: the murder of Polish intelligentsia in Katyn in the Second World War happened. It did. The Poles murdered and buried in mass graves did not crawl into them of their own accord; someone put them there in a planned way. This has been proved by later testing by anthropologists and biologists.

This is an example of good history. Presenting an event that occurred, identifying who did what to whom, and then explaining the surrounding time, ie the Second World War.

An example of ‘bad’ history is basically anything written by David Irving. This British historian used primary source material and instead of base lining the events as they transpired, used material to craft a narrative that runs counter to the truth. Once you untangle Irving’s deluded thoughts from the ‘facts’ he presents as evidence, the remaining pieces fall apart fairly quickly, much like vines that have twisted a once great building and turned it into rubble.

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