Thursday, October 6, 2016

"The evidence poses the limits..."

Richard Evans is a historian who testified as an expert witness in a case involving Holocaust denier David Irving. His book about the experience is Lying About Hitler and is the the subject of a soon to be released film, Denial. Here Evans is interviewed by Justin Taylor. Evans on historians and history:
Taylor: How is is that reputable, professional historians, seeking to be objective and working with the same evidence, can come to varied conclusions?

Evans: A distinction must be made between fact and argument, even if it is not always very clear. The evidence poses the limits within which interpretations are possible.

One of my favorite sections of Lying about Hitler is where you compare historians to figurative painters sitting at various places around a mountain. Could you repeat the comparison here

The figurative painters paint the mountain “in different styles, using different techniques and different materials, they will see it in a different light or from a different distance according to where they are, and they will view it from different angles. They may even disagree about some aspects of its appearance, or some of its features. But they will all be painting the same mountain. If one of them paints a fried egg, or a railway engine, we are entitled to say that she or he is wrong; whatever it is that the artist has painted, it is not the mountain. The possibilities of legitimate disagreement and variation are limited by the evidence in front of their eyes.

“An objective historian is simply one who works within these limits. They are limits that allow a wide latitude for differing interpretations of the same document or source, but they are limits all the same.” .... [more]