A recent conversation with Mike Brown about his new book ‘The 1960s Look’ highlighted one of the problems facing many historians. How much of what you read, even from contemporary sources is actually true?
A popular though un-attributable quote “History is always written by the victors” undoubtedly rings true. Much of our history has originated from a surprisingly small number of sources many of which can be said to contain a high level of bias if not total untruths. In his somewhat controversial book ‘Churchill: The end of glory’ John Charmley discusses some of the myths surrounding Churchill, many of which came from Churchill’s own hand and are considered by many as hard fact.
Of course contemporary accounts can be misleading for a number of reasons. Governments, especially in time of war, will suppress facts, promote lies and exaggerate rumours. Propaganda can be subtle and the media are often easily manipulated.
It is the media itself who can be blamed for many historical inaccuracies. The need for shocking headlines to increase newspaper sales is nothing new and a newspapers political bias is seen as nothing unusual by those who have given it any thought. Whilst we can recognise this bias now I wonder if researchers in a hundred years’ time will appreciate or understand that much of what they read is quite misleading. Something we have to consider when looking back at newspapers from the 20th century.
It seems that first hand eyewitness accounts are perhaps the most reliable of sources though these too need to be treated with some caution as anyone who has interviewed witnesses will know. Times, dates and any number of details can change as the months or years go by and if the event in question is widely reported on.
This leads us back to Mikes observations on the running battles between the ‘Mods’ and ‘Rockers’ in the 1960s. Watch the short interview with Mike below and see what you think.