You’d think writing history would be easy. This fact, that event, another quote, an easy conclusion… Not so. I recently read Jill Lepore’s “These Truths: A History of the United States.” Regardless of what I think of the overall arc of her narrative, I found this quote to be true:
No one can know a nation that far back, from its infancy, with or without baby teeth kept in a jar. But studying history is like that, looking into one face and seeing, behind it, another, face after face after face. “Know whence you came,” Baldwin told his nephew. The past is an inheritance, a gift and a burden. It can’t be shirked. You carry it everywhere. There’s nothing for it but to get to know it.
In other words, studying history leads you to wanting to rewrite your version of it.