Eric Foner: 2009: Who Owns History?

03/19/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
Eric Foner photo by Nick Vagnoni

photo by Nick Vagnoni

Eric Foner is one of America’s preeminent historians, especially known for his work on the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction. In this fascinating lecture from the 2009 Key West Literary Seminar, Foner explores the social and political implications of historical inquiry, and the role of the imagination in the historian’s work. Drawing on sources as diverse as Jane Austen, Friedrich Nietszche, Newt Gingrich, and Diane Feinstein, Foner says society’s understanding of history is both reflected in and shaped by contemporary thought. Rebutting a popular claim regarding “facts” in the historical record, Foner argues that “the constant search for new perspectives [is] the lifeblood of historical understanding.”

“The line between historical scholarship and historical fiction is not as hard and fast as we sometimes might think. … Every novel is an expression of the sensibility of the novelist; and, as E.H. Carr wrote, ‘to study history, study the historian.’ The reason historical interpretations change is that historians change, as does the world around them.”

From KWLS 2009: Historical Fiction and the Search for Truth


This recording is available for noncommercial and educational use only. All rights belong to the author. © 2009 Eric Foner. Used with permission from Eric Foner.

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