The tesserae of history

Historical sources without a good methodology to use them can be dangerous and deceptive.

History has its sources, but the sources also have their own. The context is not an optional part of the text, it is its faithful companion. Always walking together. Con-text. Separate them at your own peril.

The story we tell is always a function of the sources we use. But the way we use the sources is also a function of the story we tell – a story about how the sources should be used, the importance of challenging the dominant voice, the pursuit of a hermeneutics of suspicion with regard to intentionality, the release of the contradictions packed within a historical source.

The objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. They can look very different.

The role of history as a human activity is to create patchworks using the tesserae of the past. Enough to say that the past always comes broken to us. It is given to us as ripped fabric, shards lying on the floor, apparently meaningless.

Putting the tesserae together like in a mosaic is the job of the responsible custodian of the past, the storyteller of the bygones. To insist that the task of arranging the tesserae, keeping some, rejecting others, is as important, perhaps even more important than finding the pieces, is to ensure that the genuine face of the past, rather than its many deceitful masks, are revealed.

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