My first degree was in history – medieval history to be precise. My reason for choosing medieval history was straightforward: I have always enjoyed reading primary sources, because of the way languages and customs change but people are still pretty much the same in any given time, and I especially loved the way chroniclers of those times made no attempt whatsoever to be objective. Objectivity wasn’t their job – these chroniclers were there to tell a story and point the moral and tell you who was good and who was bad and who jumped over a fence while chasing pigs and turned from a girl into a boy (I would footnote this if I could, but my degree is nearly twenty years old now – I remember the story, but not the source). They were there to edify as much as to educate.
With the Enlightenment came a perception that history should be factual and objective. A historian, it was felt, should rise above mere opinion and let the facts speak for themselves. The trouble, of course, is that this is virtually impossible to do. In fact, I would say that it’s impossible to record any event or series of events in an unbiased fashion – one’s own interpretations always creep in, and even if reporting strictly on facts, one must, by necessity, select which facts are relevant and which can be omitted. And this, in itself, introduces a certain level of bias. (This goes double if your ‘facts’ come from documents written in other languages – the translator must constantly choose between different ways to translate particular words or phrases, and these choices will reflect the translator’s world as much as the original author’s)