History in Three Keys Essay

Topics: Boxer Rebellion, Eight-Nation Alliance Pages: 2 (790 words) Published: August 3, 2008
History in Three Keys Essay
Paul Cohen writes in his book A History of Three Keys that there are three different kinds of historical consciousness; history as an event, written by professional historians, history as an experience, based on people who were alive and involved with the actual event, and history as a myth, a manipulated past to serve in today’s world. This is the only way history is written according to Cohen, three distinct and very different forms of history. He argues them while explaining the events of the Boxer rebellion in China. Cohen argues that the three forms are very different in their very nature and have no bearing on each other. History as a myth has a direct purpose. Cohen writes, “When good historians write history, their primary objective is to construct, on the basis of the evidence available, as accurate and truthful an understanding of the past as possible. Mythologizers, in a sense, do the reverse” (pg.213). I’d like to argue that although these forms of historical consciousness have their differences, they have a distinct bearing upon each other and are greatly intertwined. I’d say that historians and people with direct experience to an event distort history as greatly as mythologizers do.

Take Cohen’s “history as an event” as an example. This kind of history is written by professional historians. Their job is to find the truth about the past. So the historian takes in all kinds of information and tries to make sense of it the best he or she can. Taking the Boxer event, Cohen writes, “The Boxer episode, too, formed part of a plurality of larger event structures, including (but not confined to) the pattern of recurrent domestic violence in the late imperial era, the growing problem of rural breakdown, this history of conflicts between Christians and non-Christians from the mid-nineteenth century on, and Sino-foreign diplomatic relations”(pg.9). He writes that there may be more reasons than the reasons mentioned,...
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