The history that concerns us here explains the past and the present by narrative: telling stories — true ones, of course; that’s what makes them history, not fiction. Narrative history is not just an almanac or a chronology of what happened in the past. It is explanation of what happened in terms of the motives and the perspectives of the human agents whose choices, decisions, and actions made those events happen.
And that history, the kind most readers of nonfiction consume, is almost always wrong. What narrative history gets wrong are its explanations of what happened. And the same goes for biography—the history of one person over a lifetime. Biographers can get all the facts from birth to death right. What they inevitably get wrong is why their subjects did what they accurately report them as having done
It all starts with the fact that most history is narrative, narrative is stories, and stories are chronologies stitched together into plots we understand better than anything else, or at least we think we do. The same science that reveals why we view the world through the lens of narrative also shows that the lens not only distorts what we see but is the source of illusions we can neither shake nor even correct for most of the time. As we’ll see, however, all narratives are wrong — wrong in the same way and for the same reason.
Tonight, Lisa is joined by guests Mike Elam (A Buford Pusser historian) and Perry Carver (A Bonnie and Clyde historian) to discuss how narratives and media have taught us incorrect history, along with how to research yourself to find out the correct story.