In the realm of historical recounting and reporting, the narrative form has presented itself over the course of time as both a controversial and, at times, necessary means of addressing the past of nature and society. It is not that historians attempt to embellish or fictionalize the past events in order to ease their task of recounting them, it is more so that they look towards the very essence of human interaction and language in an attempt to find the best means by which they can convey a particular series of events or people. A narrative is loosely defined as the medium by which a series of events, whether factual or not, is presented to the intended audience. Derived from the Latin verb narrare, meaning to recount, the narrative is simply a means of communication that humans have established over the course of time to convey simple elements of both fact and fiction. Controversy arises, however, when the lines of distinction between these two states of reality become blurred either within the text itself or upon critical examination and interpretation of the claims within the text. The role of narrative in history has become a point of contention with philosophers, historians, and authors alike as they attempt to settle the score as to what is the most effective and truthful manner of reporting human experience. The debate over the conflicting realms of truth and fiction within a historical narrative has very subtle but distinct intricacies that, upon examination, provide an interesting insight into human thought, interaction, and history.
[...] The use of the narrative history best achieves this goal as it has proven to be the easiest manner by which we comprehend such a vast collection of information. By unifying the knowledge of the past under the umbrella of a narrative, an ease of understanding arises that would otherwise be difficult to attain. We as a society revolve, in certain respects, around the concept of storytelling from the most basic children's books to the epics of Antiquity. Carr points out that this social element has the effect of uniting us as a group, focusing not on the individual, but the collective; is not my experience but ours, not I who act, but we who act in concert.” This unifying nature of social storytelling leads to a structure of social time and experience that mimics the narrative in retrospection and perspective. [...]
[...] For the sake of this argument, it is best to exclude the fictional narrative as a basis for comparison, as the purpose of such work is relatively on the opposite end of the literary spectrum than a work with the intentions of relating a historical account. These histories have become, over the course of our existence, the main manner in which we attempt to pass on both knowledge and experience of the human existence. The narrative form has become so central to human thought that it is easily the most functional and coherent manner by which we can convey factual information to one another. [...]
[...] Linking these elements together through the structure of a narrative allows facts that may be seen as extraneous to become details of the story that, as insignificant as they may be, become twisted into the web of knowledge of our past. In addressing history as a narrative, authors are provided the freedom to go in whatever direction they please with the story, but at the same time must provide the connections and historical basis by which the narrative comes together as a whole. [...]
[...] Creating the narrative is more a process of finding narrative elements in everyday life and experience, suggests Carr, and uncovering this narrative is what leads to the ability to create a historical narrative. He stresses that the “continuity between narrative and everyday life” solves the problem of representation of the elements of life that an author is seeking to explain. The interdependence of the two leads to the development of the narrative not as a source seeking to explain life, but rather provides “extensions and configurations of its primary features.” The narratives do not seek to provide an escape from or denial of reality, but rather are simply a form in which the human mind can best address and comprehend the world around him. [...]
[...] Structurally, people such as Louis Mink have attacked the very nature of the narrative as a device for historical accounts, arguing that the elements of a story, namely a beginning, middle and end, have no place or basis in history. They argue that if such historical narratives were to be combined, the subtle differences in their views and recollections would prevent them from meshing into one cohesive account of the past. Mink has said that the narrative form assigns arbitrary elements to factual accounts, and thus imposes an element of subjectivity and opinion on the history being recounted. [...]
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