History’s Ink is a new podcast series on history, with Malory Nye.
The title comes from Mark Twain’s phrase:
‘The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.’
(Pudd’nhead Wilson and Other Tales)
History is the product of our own prejudices, whoever we might be. It is fluid, it is in motion, it becomes something in the process of being written down.
We see in history our own prejudices, our ideas, our present. For me, the study of history is in many ways a mapping of the present — what some call ‘cartographies of the present’ — mapping out and understanding what went before, so we can see more clearly what is in front of us. History is about narrative — it tells us stories. It is the story within history.
Through exploring history we feel we are able to know and to remember, through gaining knowledge and learning about what went before.
To do so, we have to stand on the shoulders of others, who were themselves standing on others’ shoulders, and on and on. In reality, as we look backwards (or downwards from the top) there is simply too much to take in.
What we have instead are impressions, trends, bits and pieces. These are simply fluid prejudices: the things we see, and look at through our own lenses, based on our interests, or expectations, or engagement with what has been and gone before.