[A]s the chronological distance from a particular moment in the past grows greater, our memory starts to fail us. Sometimes the documentary or oral evidence that tells us what happened in the past is limited or untrustworthy. Whatever the case, the past is gone. Yet we would be foolish to suggest that it has not had its way with us—shaping us, haunting us, defining us, motivating us, empowering us. Enter the historian.
History is a discipline. It is the art of reconstructing the past. As historian John Tosh writes, “All the resources of scholarship and all the historian’s powers of imagination must be harnessed to the task of bringing the past to life—or resurrecting it.” The past is messy, but historians make sense of the mess by collecting evidence, making meaning of it, and marshaling it into some kind of discernible pattern.
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