TOK – Empathy and History

We were presented with this claim: “The value of knowledge is lost when the lines between fact and fiction are blurred.”

There are some questions to be asked when we first think and consider this claim. For example: what are the boundaries of fact and fiction? Are the constructed opinions of historians fact or fiction? Some knowledge questions pop up from this claim for example: Are historical opinions considered fact or fiction?, Does a combination of fiction and fact impact the value of knowledge created?, Does imagination play a role in affecting the value of knowledge?

I believe this quote means that as we factor in less factual information, ideas and thoughts into our knowledge, the value of the knowledge is slowly lost. Value can possibly mean the validity and reliability of the information, and how much society or an individual places a trust on the information that is provided. I think the word “blurred” means that there is a combination between both fiction and factual information used to construct historical knowledge, arguments.

I think as there is more “fiction” within historical knowledge, more of the value is lost. I cannot seem to categorise whether historical knowledge is fiction or factual information, other than it is information that is created by the historian carefully with a lot of evidence. Basically, I believe historical opinion is an educated guess to what the most plausible answer would be. And as time goes by, this evidence gets lost, and there are more and more gaps in information, and historians have to make the best possible guess to what actually occurred. As less and less information is discovered by historians, the lines between fiction and factual information gets blurred, as the educated guesses by historians get less accurate. I think most historians try to remain to a degree impartial to the facts of the event, but are unable to construct personal historical opinions without stepping out of the boundaries of impartiality.

Although some people may argue that some certain ideas and labels such as the “Middle Ages” are constructed by historians, and is probably a historian’s interpretation of the time era, these ideas and labels help readers and everyday people to understand the past better. It begs to question whether empathy is an appropriate method to use in the gathering of knowledge in the area of knowledge of History. Empathy has been touted as a way for historians to understand the event from the eyes of the people who were there at the time, and be able to understand something beyond the impartial facts that are presented. Keith Barton and Linda Letvisk describes it being able to “contextualise actions”. And by contextualing other’s actions, we’re able to understand the situation better, and report and write a more accurate narrative of events.

Empathy could also lead to strong bias simply due to a personal involvement with the event you are writing about and blur the lines of fact and fiction. For example, Soviet historians typically believe US policies for being causes to the tensions rising between the USSR and the United States. Clearly, this isn’t the only cause of the war, and this bias and empathy torwards their own country can affect the construction of historical opinion. There are more extreme cases to this, but this example is more on the light side, as it is the different historical opinions held by different nationality historians.

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