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Bias in Historical Description Essay

The article reviewed was Behan McCullagh’s Bias in Historical Description, Interpretation, and Explanation in which he gave a brief but thorough outlook on the manner to which historical accounts are peppered with biased analysis and his opinion on how historians would be able to diminish, if not fully obliterate, from the nature of recounting past events. Why History is Biased McCullagh started of his piece by constructing four reasons as to why he thought that historical writings are mainly biased.

His first reason was that he believed historians misinterpreted evidences without properly asserting the truth about its justification. His second reason was that information may already have been omitted by historians in compiling such past accounts that cater to make their views balanced. The third reason was that he deems general description of any historical information may include certain facts that are possibly false due to the uncertainty of most available sources.

Lastly, his fourth reason was in reference to causal explanations, concisely described in the article as events that substantially modify the likelihood of the event, which are usually focused on a few important causes that renders a misleading point of view in the reader’s comprehension of the process of events (McCullagh, 2000). McCullagh voiced out that historians who often make mistakes in incorporating biases in their interpretations are typically motivated rather than accidental.

He also noted difference between personal and cultural biases, delineating that the latter is far more difficult to be rectified than the other as it is ingrained, yet maintaining that historians must still try to do away with personal bias. He then goes on to further illustrate the concept of bias in historical accounts (McCullagh, 2000). The concept of Bias in Historical Accounts: McCullagh elucidated on the point that historians choose subjects which are of interests to them, inevitably providing a more partial basis to their interpretation of historical information.

Consequently, historians are said to be products of their environment or culture, which will naturally hold general notions about the past. Thus, written accounts by historians are subjected to the availability of information gathered and on the decisions made through constant debates on what gets included and what should be disregarded. Such process is said to most likely offer misleading descriptions of historical accounts that have a particular cause (McCullagh, 2000).

However, McCullagh has held that preconceived notions about a historical subject that are not biased could be observed in occurrences that involves transformation within a country’s economy as well as social structures. Biases are only attached when selective causes are highlighted while others of equal importance are disregarded (McCullagh, 2000). The perception of biases in constructing history should be avoided as according to McCullagh it provides a deceptive account of the historical subject which may cause misunderstandings and unnecessary negative consequences in conflict-driven situations.

McCullagh presented three reasons as to why there are some who think that there is no way to evade the prospect of bias in historical accounts. First was that the interests of historians are automatically considered in determining the historical importance of a subject, the information extracted and the word preferences to use. The second was that preconceptions of historians and their contemporaries have biased point of views and the third one is the reiterated thought that historians have ingrained cultural beliefs and principles (McCullagh, 2000).

Overcoming Personal Bias: McCullagh presented his opinion on how historians could be able to avoid injecting biases in interpreting historical data. He stated that historians should be committed to standards of rational thinking that would bring about a justified description of the past. One way to impose this is through peer reviews so as to motivate historians to follow certain acceptable guidelines in rational inquiry. The role of the historian is an important factor in maintaining social responsibility and creating a fair account of historical events (McCullagh, 2000).

He denotes that multiplicity in perspectives is another way to produce rational historical inquiry as it presents different views of witnesses which melds relevant information into one account (McCullagh, 2000). McCullagh also pondered upon the notion that for people to prevail over biases, historians must accept that historiography is limited within itself and that the end of the discipline should also be considered in interpreting the past in a postmodern view (McCullagh, 2000). Reference: McCullagh, C. B. 2000. “Bias in Historical Description, Interpretation, and Explanation. ” History & Theory 39(1): 39 – 66.

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