Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards

"A historian is often only a journalist facing backwards." -- Karl Kraus

Mark Byrnes is an associate professor of history at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.

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  • Historical Humility

    by Mark Byrnes

    The great advantage historians have is that we know how the story ends. 

    The great temptation that follows from that fact is historical arrogance—an unspoken certainty that because we know it now, we would have known it then. 

    The great challenge, therefore, is to impose upon ourselves historical humility, to remind ourselves that the historical actors we study did not have the advantage we do of knowing the story’s end. 

    I was reminded of that recently while doing some research at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, NY. I’m working on the role of radio in the Great Debate over American intervention in World War II, and came across some of the countless personal letters people wrote to FDR on the subject. 

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