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[Detail] Vue de Quebec, capitale du Canada. 1755.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Considering Views on History

In remarks delivered before the Historical Society of Louisiana in 1836, Henry Bullard, president of the society, explained the need for maintaining an accurate historical record of the past:

As contemporary  history is liable to be discolored by interest, by prejudice and passion, each generation, as it passes away, is under obligations to its successors to furnish them those authentic materials for which alone its true character can be known to posterity, and to perpetuate the public documents and correspondence which accompany and explain every public transaction. But we, who are enjoying the fruits of the labors, and fatigues, and sufferings of our predecessors, owe it also to their memory, to snatch from oblivion the record of their actions, and no longer to leave their fame to rest on the loose, and garbled, and exaggerated narrations of contemporary writers, or catch-penny authors of what the world calls history.

From "A Discourse Delivered before the Historical Society of Louisiana," page 2

Read more of Bullard’s paper and answer the questions that follow:

  • What factors did Bullard believe influenced the writing of "contemporary history"? Do you agree that these factors influence the writing of history?
  • What remedy did Bullard suggest? Do you agree that each generation has an obligation to preserve historical records of its time? Why or why not?
  • What evidence can you find to support Bullard’s conclusion that historical events are related to the public through "exaggerated narrations of contemporary writers, or catch-penny authors"? 
  • How can one distinguish between an unsupported expression of opinion and an informed hypothesis grounded in historical evidence?