Sima Qian and Commager

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“Every piece of historical writing has a theoretical basis on which evidence is selected, filtered and understood” (Green & Troup). Discuss, with reference to at least TWO historians. One of these must be Commager. This statement is true, and is supported by a range of information, particularly shown in ‘The Records of the Historian’ of Sima Qian and ‘The Nature and Study of History’ by Commager. Commager and Sima Qian provide evidence for how history is based on a theory and how it is eventually selected, filtered and understood. Historians have different ideologies and judgements, which make up unique theoretical bases. Commager explores the opposing theoretical bases of literary historians compared to scientific historians. It is apparent that individuals have conflicting motives for writing history. Whilst literary historians make history for their own gain, such as drama, scientific historians do not create the writings for personal gain. Although literary historians are often criticised for their writing, they are just as important for painting a picture of the past. As Commager says, “If the scientific historian has done much to illuminate the processes of history, it is the literary historian who has done most to expand its boundaries.” Sima Qian followed confusion values and respected that information should be passed down and not created. Sima Qian did extensive research for his history and his aim was to write ‘world history’. However, at this time his ‘world history’ only included China and surrounding areas. One major issue in writing history is the possibility for excess, or conversely, a minute amount of facts. If there is an excess amount of primary and secondary sources about an aspect of history, the historian must select which sources are most useful to use. This selection of facts is essentially creating bias, since an individuals context, for example, could influence what they believe to be most relevant to the time. Commager believes...
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