Post-Factual History


James Bridle explains his project. He writes that history is not "a set of facts, but ... a process, and one in which, whether we agree or not with the writers, our own opinions and biases are always to be challenged":

This particular bookor rather, set of booksis every edit made to a single Wikipedia article, The Iraq War, during the five years between the article’s inception in December 2004 and November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages.

It amounts to twelve volumes: the size of a single old-style encyclopaedia. It contains arguments over numbers, differences of opinion on relevance and political standpoints, and frequent moments when someone erases the whole thing and just writes “Saddam Hussein was a dickhead”.

Well he was, of course. And much, much worse. But what worries me about this is the tendency of the new media - however brilliant crowd-sourcing intelligence is - to evaporate factual narrative. I am not a post-modernist in this - more of a Collingwood follower. To explain one thing after another and to see their connections and contingencies is not like science - falsifiable, provisionally certain - but neither is it mere competing narratives, compounded arguments, and wiki-warfare. It is, in a word, history, a discrete mode of thought, and there is a single truth to it, and especially when remembering the great historical blunder of the Iraq war (arguably the worst foreign policy decision since Vietnam), we will one day need a real historian to lay the story out with empathy and clarity.

And that's why good history is so hard: it has to make pellucid why we were so blind.