American Experience
Murder at Harvard: History and Fiction

Question 6:
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6 of 6

Why is it important to consider how historians produce their work?

History is not just a walk down memory lane. It matters. There are big things at stake here, quite apart from storytelling. We are the remains of the past. The present is constituted of -- is made up of -- the experiences of the past. So to understand who we are, where we go as a community, as a city, as a nation, we need absolutely to understand history.

We also need to understand how history is produced. There are two ways in which it seems to be delivered. One is the kind of forbidding, austere, scientific way, which is done by professors at universities. Precisely because historians themselves have done a bad job at getting them out to our children, out to the world at large, an alternative way has happened, through recent years, and that is of the kind of anything goes, wild, docudrama kind. And what's left are these two alternatives: cold history, hot history. Maybe even a kind of warm history in between. There are so many interesting processes in between chilling fact and totally out of it invention. And it's in this warm zone, not the hot zone, that history gets written, produced, and remembered by future generations. It is important to understand how those memories are made if we are to understand ourselves and our future.