Thursday, January 24, 2008

History is not the past. History is a story about the past, told in the present, and designed to be useful in constructing the future.


Mr. [Hugh] Nolan was a saintly man and the great historian of Ballymenone, a patch of green hills and white houses in the County Fermanagh, just north of the border breaking Ireland. His delight in youth, he said, was listening to the old people talking. From them he assembled the history of his place, and in old age his delight, he said, was speaking the truth.

The truth, he knew, is not the same as the factual. The past is gone, the facts that remain might be wrong, but you learn and ponder, doing the best you can. The truth, he said, is what you are willing to live by, and in speaking on the truth, Hugh Nolan claimed and was granted the name historian. It is the will to the truth that makes historians, separating them from other tellers of tale. Mr. Nolan did not falsify by omission. The historian, he said, must tell the whole painful story.

-Henry Glassie, 1999

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