Experiencers, Historians, Mythologizers

“Experiencers of the past are incapable of knowing the past that historians know, and mythologizers of the past, although sharing with historians the advantage of afterknowledge, are uninterested in knowing the past as its makers have experienced it. In other words, although the lines separating these three ways of knowing the past are not always clear (historians do, as we are well aware, engage in mythologizing, and the makers of the past are entirely capable, after the fact, of turning their own experiences into history), as ways of knowing, they are analytically distinct. … no one of the three approaches to the past explored in the book has logical — or epistemological — priority over the other two. Historical reconstruction, direct experience, and mythologization are, after all, all operations that every one of us performs every day of his or her life. Although professsional historians spend a good bit of their time doing battle with the mythologized past or rendering the experienced past intelligble and meaningful in ways that were not available to the experiencers themselves, for most human beings experience and myth have an emotional power and importance — we may indeed call it a kind of subjective truth — that historians ignore at their peril.” — Paul Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth, 1997, xiv-xv.

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