Distorting, misrepresenting and manipulating history through narratives

The readers should know the historical background and ideology of the historian before looking into their writings to understand the motives, dislikes, ambitions or passion of their historical writings.

By Dr Sakul Kundra

Histories around the World, even Pacific History, have faced numerous events that have gone through distortion of facts and their representation. The colonizers in Asia, the Pacific, and around the world have used this distortion of history to colonize under the banner of a ‘civilizing mission’ and establish their colonial control. The European colonizers believed that their principles and practices can only free the peopled living in the colonies. However, many history writing goes through history distortion, which means manipulation, misrepresentation, misleading, malformation, and alteration of historical facts and narrations.

The objectivity of each piece of historical evidence is questionable, as historians try to critically analyze the facts based on the available historical sources, and their narratives form part of the historiography. History cannot reach the ultimate objectivity as it comes through the mind of historian, who has their own prejudices and biases. Historians tried to keep subjectivity to a minimum to achieve the most legitimate historical narration of the event and fact’s analyzation, and discern the truth of the past.

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Representative image: Writer (Source: CANVA)

The readers should know the historical background and ideology of the historian before looking into their writings to understand the motives, dislikes, ambitions, or passion of their historical writings. This op-ed presents the synoptic overview of the concept of distortion in history.

Illegitimately distorting or misuse of history by intentionally negating or undermining historical evidence is known as negationism. For example, in many histories of colonies, imperialist historians tried to negate the significance of the colonies by deliberately propagating and promoting their ideology, whereas indigenous historians attempted to revive indigenous history.

History has also noticed the change of focus and ideology of historians supported by the political government of the times, which may promote the rewriting of history curriculum that suits their political, economic, cultural, and social propaganda.

The modern world has noticed many dictators who have used their own propaganda to mobilise the agenda and establish their ideological and political influence.  

Distortion in history happens when historians tamper with historical sources and even add potentially false information to the available evidence. Another way is ignoring the relevant facts and misleading the historical narration, especially the errors of history like the wars and killing, genocide, and injustice against humanity.

Manipulating photographs and images using advanced technologies too leads to the distortion of history. On many occasions, mass media including movies, television, and radio, press information are based on myths, presenting historical facts in their own way to get commercial success. The facts are twisted to serve their ulterior motives. The Internet revolution to provide innumerable unreliable sources has also intensified the process of distortion.

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History gives lessons to confront and learn from past mistakes to make the present better and aim to make the future progressive. The present is the by-product of the past, so why not make objective retrospection of history and question the history based on evidence to remove the uncertain ambiguities in history?

Myths, fairy tales, and fabrications are considered to be not part of history. Oral history based on memory is vulnerable to manipulation as it passes through every generation with word of mouth. The historian attempts to achieve the truth but cannot achieve absolute history as subjectivity follows human beings.

Many historians have ulterior motives to present the facts in a tricky and twisted manner that are far away from the real attested truth supported by historical evidence and sources. They are distorting the past of humanity and historical evolution. With the rise of historical sources in the modern world, the complexity of achieving objectivity in history has also expanded. Many rulers have destroyed historical sources with their own personal motives, leading to the distortion of history.

Representative image: Bookshelf (Source: CANVA)

Innovative methods keep on developing to distort history, the popular methods are doing selective study with the aim of misrepresentation through historical facts, manipulation of statistics, targeted audience for the presentation of ambiguous facts, intentionally mistranslating historical sources of foreign language, presenting of forged sources and evidence to claim the historical truth.

Sometimes, the researchers give preference to one fact over others to deceive the audience; and on other occasions, the method of intentional omission is adopted. They deceive the audiences for their own personal agenda, so the main factors behind distortion can be political, social, economic, cultural, and other motives; establishing ideological influence and establishing control is another motive behind distorting history. 

With every age, historians and researchers make efforts to work over distorted histories to test the distorted facts with the available sources and present a more objective interpretation. Sometimes many historians deny the historical facts and abuse the sources to present their own historical discourse. 

Many historians are influenced by pre-conceived notions and ideologies so they mostly write the history through their own lens of perceptions. This time-consuming practice is mostly done with some objective and to gain the benefit, be it establishing propaganda, influencing the ideology, generating political mass support, and mobilising the followers.

In conclusion, simple ways may be adopted to check historical manipulation of facts by thoroughly assessing the reliability of the historical sources, expanding knowledge of means of distortion, and basic skills of reading extensive materials to determine the objectivity. Identify the author and comprehend the ideology behind their writings to closely examine the manner to assess the truth. Historical manipulation is a danger for history, that needs to be curbed for establishing harmony and enriching the past.

Contributing Author: Dr Sakul Kundra is an Associate Dean (Research) and Assistant Professor at the College of Humanities and Education at Fiji National University. The views expressed are his own and not of this newspaper or his employer. 

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