“History is nothing but assisted and recorded memory.” – GEORGE SANTAYANA, The Life of Reason
I was recently reading through notable-quotes.com. I was curious to see what the thoughts of others are, in regards to history. As I ran across this quote, I stopped. After taking classes on historical theory I have become skeptical of pairing up history and memory. I understand that Santayana is a renowned writer, but I fear that if this quote is taken out of context then they will run the risk of not understanding the true purpose of history.
Memory, flat out on its own, is not history. Although memory and history can both be manipulated by the people who establish it, memory has a one-sided bias. Memory requires no interpretation. Memory is simply a natural act of recollection.
My history professors constantly proclaim that history is an unnatural act, because rather than recollection, it is interpretation. I know it sounds like I am beating a dead horse, but this is a serious issue in the discipline of history.
I think George Santayana’s quote could be complete if it included the word “interpretation” to it. The joy of history is getting to take the facts, and rather than asking “when” you get to ask — and often times discover — “why.”