Who Writes History?

My last blog post was centered around a topic that was brought up during music class. It seems that it is true that playing and being exposed to music makes you smarter, because this week, more examples of intelligent thinking was shown in music class.

In this instance, it was not a student, but rather my teacher, who said the wise words. We were learning about music history, and discussing the impact various composers (such as Bach and Handel) had on music.

It was then that my music teacher so brilliantly said this “History, my friends, is written by the winners”. She then went on to explain that in the Baroque era (which is what we were studying), Bach wasn’t the only one writing music such as preludes and fugues. Surely, there were other people composing music; we just don’t hear about them, because they weren’t famous.

The day this happened, I went home and looked up the quote she had said. I wasn’t surprised to see that there was a lot of search results for a similar quote, “History is written by the victors”.

It is a quote that I had never heard of before, but one that makes a surprising amount of sense to me.

History is shaped and defined by the events that happen throughout time; and why. Today, things are the way they are because of the way things in the past unfolded and the impact that they had. However, history as it is written in the books isn’t always exactly the way it happened.

This statement might not make sense to some people. Of course history is written the way it happened, why wouldn’t it be?!

Well, think of it this way: there are a lot of perspectives to consider when talking about history. There are two sides to every argument, and battles and wars are included under the umbrella of arguments. Obviously, there are two sides to every battle, because battles are fought between two sides that disagree on something. So when one battle is won, that army (or individual; really, whoever is fighting the battle) write history based on their account of events, because they are the winners. But what about the account of the people who lost the battle?

This is why the saying goes that history is written by the winners. Quite bluntly put, most people don’t really care about what the losers say, because, after all, they lost! But everyone wants to hear the winners point of view – even if it isn’t one-hundred percent truthful.

This means that victors can stretch the truth, perhaps exaggerating their victory or details of the fight.
Now, obviously not all “winners” throughout history lied, and it is true that some “losers” have defined history. But the fact of the matter is, the majority of the time history is written by the winners. That means that we need to eye history skeptically, and keep in mind the different points of view.

We can’t change history, but we can change how we look at it. And a lot of the time, how we look at it changes how we feel about it, which changes our opinion on it, which can influence other people’s opinions, which can completely change the way a certain historical event is looked at.

All in all, victors may write history; but ordinary people like us have the power to change the context of what’s written. 

2 thoughts on “Who Writes History?

  1. Sherina, I miss having you at Nelson, but you are still an amazing writer and I can’t wait to read more of your work in future publications! Keep it up…Miss King

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