Yesterday's train reading post, Train Reading - introducing Richard Hakluyt's Voyage and Discoveries 1, introduced the writings of this Elizabethan geographer. In reading the book, I found my knowledge of current historiography and political attitudes actually interfering with my reading. Of course, the way we approach the past in terms of the questions we ask is always strongly influenced by the present. In this case the process was quite annoying, standing as a barrier that I found was twisting my interpretation.
Hakyurt was a man of his time recording documents of that time. The writers of the documents were recording current events within the frame set by their times and their purpose in writing. The views expressed are neither right nor wrong, they just were.
This leads me to my opening questions for this forum:
- How do we avoid being biased by current perceptions? Can we? Is it important? Obviously I think it is.
- Can you really interpret the past if you have no idea of the context? More broadly, can you interpret the past if you have no personal experience relevant to that context? For example, people writing about politics and political or administrative structures who have had no experience in or real understanding of the type of dynamics involved.
- I agree that history does have lessons for policy. However, much of the policy related history that I have read attempt to integrate the history and the policy. This strikes me as quite dangerous. Do you think history can or should be used to inform policy?