Caitlin Flanagan’s eloquent description of how histories, true or false, operate in families (e.g. Elizabeth Warren’s family):
How many times during my childhood did my father tell me that when his grandmother and her sister sailed to America, they had traveled ‘a class above steerage’? I was a Hula-Hooping child of the atomic age, growing strong on USDA beef and Cocoa Puffs. What did I know about steerage? But I knew my father in the complete and inchoate way that a child knows her parent, and I knew he wanted me to understand something important to him and—somehow—to me. I understood the lesson to be: The Flanagans have been down, but they have not been out. ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live,’ Joan Didion once wrote. And we tell them inside our families so that something can live within them, some idea or value, some complicated honoring of an elder.
via The Atlantic
Test everything; retain what is good.
1 Thessalonians, Chapter 5
Today most professional historians ‘specialise’. They choose a period, sometimes a very brief period, and within that period they strive, in desperate competition with ever-expanding evidence, to know all the facts. Thus armed, they can comfortably shoot down any amateurs who blunder… into their heavily fortified field… Theirs is a static world. They have a self-contained economy, a Maginot Line and large reserves… but they have no philosophy. For historical philosophy is incompatible with such narrow frontiers. It must apply to humanity in any period. To test it, a historian must dare to travel abroad, even in hostile country; to express it he must be ready to write essays on subjects on which he may be ill-equipped to write books.
Hugh Trevor-Roper, quoted in Norman Davies, “Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations”