Reflecting on a post entitled “The Spiritual Ground of History,” Charles Halton describes a poignant moment in his own research:
. . . as I was going through the cuneiform tablet collection that belongs to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. I was bogged down in trying to read from broken tablets and keep track of the accounts mentioned in the various texts when, as I held a 4,000 year old tablet in my hand, I saw a fingerprint. It was a powerful sign that reminded me that as I read the tablet I was not merely reading a “sheep text” but a record of the work of a real human being. Someone who probably enjoyed his work some days and other days found it difficult and frustrating. Someone with parents who loved him or was he abused? Maybe he had a wife and child at home and worried about feeding and clothing them and about buying a new house, and so on. This tablet was no longer just about sheep, it was about the humans who engaged in these tasks.
A few lines later he has this description of history from a novel:
in Julian Barnes’ new novel, A Sense of an Ending, in which this definition of history is attributed to one of the characters:
History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.
The whole thing.