Jane Tompkins is a well-known English professor at Duke University. She has written several books and served as an excellent autobiographer for many publications, including Indians, Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History. Edward Hallett “Ted” Carr was born on June 28, 1892, and died on November 3, 1982. He was a well-known English scholar, diplomat, writer, and trained foreign relations theorist. He is well known for his critique of empiricism in the field of historiography, and he was the author of the book The Historian and His Truth. This paper will illustrate the significant problems and views in history as held by Tompkins in her book as mentioned above and will relate them to those of Edward in his book as also referred to above. It will also treat the issue of morality as applied by Tompkins in her works and demonstrate how that could lead to as a state of total skepticism as Edward refers to it (will be discussed further). Finally, it will show how this works by Tomkins relate to the academic course learning.
To begin with, Jane a historical analyst and a well-versed autobiographer have always been at the center core in determining the facts as handed down by history. She has always sought to establish what is genuine and authentic to what is not. In this quest, she mainly turned her gaze to the fundamental relationship between the non-Indians in American and the traditional Indian (original Natives of America as we know it. In her book she is apprehensive of the fact that the latter day Indians or non-Indians cannot in any way be able to understand in full detail the true authentic Indian to whose country they inherited. She further adds that the latter-day Indian or non-Indian fails to understand these not because they have not been taught, but that the handed down history has had significant problems in its wake.
She begins by presenting her argument that history as we know it may not truly be as it were. She further states that the major problems that have led to this are mainly systemic and personal. By this, she meant that most of the facts in history were handed down by individuals who either wrote the data down or passed it down orally. When the individual being is introduced, the question of human weakness sets in. She states that most of the knowledge received about the Indians was mainly based on biasedness and prejudice. Prejudice is that sentiment that causes one to hold as facts about the other person or about a situation that may not necessarily be true. By this, she meant that the writers of the handed down history displayed a condescending and arrogant view towards the original Indians. This individual weakness was characterized by the imperialism thought of colonialism which was entirely systemic.
In connection to this thought, Edward Carr posted that for one to be a good student of history, they have to know the limitations of history. They have to understand first and foremost that history is a product of nature but handed down by individuals, who give it meaning. These people, Carr argued are never to be considered as outside their usual selves but to have been full human. Hence by stating this, he in a sense consented to the fact that historical data including that about the Indians as treated by Tompkins in her book couldn’t have been an exception to human limitations in history
However to counter this Tompkins expressed that a good student should therefore not just study historical data independent of its source. She argues that knowing the source helps one identify the possible biases of prejudices that could be inherent in the writer’s works. Similar to this argument Edward also states that to correct this one has to understand that no piece of history regardless religious or secular is objective. All information written down must at some point contain the blurry notions added in by the writer. He categorically expresses his criticism of positivism (that meant that; actual history is about facts) by stating that facts can also be wrong and cannot constitute history once they are wrong. Furthermore, he expressed that the writers never wrote only what they say, they also wrote what they felt.
The second problem that Tomkins identifies in her argument is the multiplicity of historical data. She refers to post-structuralism. She states that in any given scope of the study and this case the Indians, there are many diverging traditional views about them. There are possible multiple books written about the same tribe (Indians) but they have admitted difference in the ideas they have presented from the same source. This has led to a confusing state of study, and no one can truly know the truth about those influential people in the American history
Edward shares the same thoughts; he argued that real history must never entail diverging views about itself; otherwise, it loses its meaning. He meant that historians are the true enemies to history than the ones who read their works. This was because if they can be able to each give diverging works about the same topic and claim that each of their works was authentic, then it was common sense that all of them were fools.
However, Tomkins and Edward also proposed a remedy for this by stating that history is not anyone’s property such that they have the right to mutilate it and add their data. History is to change it because one was prejudiced or biased was to constitute a state of historical immorality. By immorality, she meant that history should not be an expression of sentiments that are in many cases either right or wrong but not objective. Historical morality consisted handing down information as it truly is without additions. Edward, on the other hand, added that history was about Quality and not Quantity. That it was not the number of interpretations about an individual aspect that gave it authority, accurate untainted, credible historical data was more quality rather than a million copies of falsehoods. And when nothing can be truthfully said about anything then the readers or recipients of the historical data fall into total skepticism. Total uncertainty meant that the students or readers could never admit anything as true since by itself it wasn’t.
Looking at the thoughts presented by the two Tompkins and Edward, we realize that the same can be experienced in our class studies. In the course theories and themes in politics, one realizes that much of the received data has led to the formation of biases in the society. This systemic problem means that most of the political decisions and diplomatic relations have been shaped dependent on the information handed down to them by their forefathers. Considering that this information may have been erroneous, a lot of propaganda of hatred and segregation have been passed down in history. Those wrong ideologies precipitated by erroneous historical data have led to the formation of unfavorable political decisions and in other cases have resulted in the rise of regimes that have annihilated others based on the propaganda handed down.
However, the merits of such a different way of historical data being passed on are that it accords the reader to notice the different versions of the same idea. Sufficing to say that a student who reads more books about a particular topic regardless the possible prejudices in it, he can obtain a myriad of alternative scopes about the same concept.
Finally, for a student to be more efficient and to understand the crux of their studies they must be able to comprehend the possible one-sidedness that the lecturers can also possess as they disseminate the knowledge in school. As Edwards Carr puts it, there is no historical data neutral both from the source material and from the agent transmitting it; i.e. the lecturer. Though it is a normal phenomenon as Edward puts it, then it incumbent upon the student to study more about the course and not just to rely on the content lectured in class since the content many provide only a limited insight but several texts of the same may provide a much more deeper understanding.
Carr, Edward Hallet. “The Historian and His Facts.” In What is History by Carr, Penguin Books, 1987, pp. 7-31.
Cosslett, Tess, Celia Lury, and Penny Summerfield. Feminism and Autobiography: Texts, Theories, Methods. Psychology Press, 2000.
Davies, R. W. “EH Carr.” The Russian Review, vol. 59, no.3, 2000, pp. 442-445.
Tompkins, Jane. “Indians”: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 13, no.1, 1986, pp. 101-119.