Incomplete pictures

When it comes to history and texts, no picture can ever be complete.

Our sources are never perfect. Historiographical vision is never 20/20. Looking back will always involve a large measure of fumbling in the dark. And describing texture and detail in candlelight.

The poorer the vision, the larger the idea. The boldest claims are made in the light of little evidence.

The Dark Ages, for example. No historian worth their lectureship or authorship will dare say today that there is any truth in the chrononym Dark Ages. Rather than the Ages, it was the historians’ eyesight which was dark. The medieval period was coined by emotional humanists. The dark ages were coined by bold historians groping in the dark. A darkness which ceased to be tenebrous once the evidence came to light. And then it cast its light on a whole epoch. It was in the supposedly dark ages that our most precious, yet intangible (and for this reason quite hard-to-see) acquisitions were made: rule of law, debate culture, a metaphysics of light, universal law, individual dignity, separation of powers, limits of authority, etc.

It is the darkness of our goodwill that prevents us from clearing the overgrowth of prejudice and ignorance in order to see the seedling period of our modern harvests.

The story will always be incomplete, waiting to be rewritten, overwritten, modified and improved. We’re still groping in the dark with pitiful tools and shortsighted vision. But there is light coming in from everywhere, if we care to blink less often and keep a grateful and generous mind.

3 thoughts on “Incomplete pictures

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  1. I read you three times a week, I wish I know who you are as a historian, because I’m also a historian, but what I love the most is how well you write

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    1. Nicolas, thank you so much, it means a lot to me. I used to be a full-time historian, but now I’ve slightly blurred my tracks. What type of history are you focusing on?

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      1. I’m an intellectual historian, working on Norse and medieval Scandinavian literature and literary practices, I’ve been learning a lot with your posts

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