Napoleon Bonaparte was reported to have once said, “History is a set of lies agreed upon”. In essence, he was correct. History is generated by consensus of individuals. The generally accepted narratives of what happened at any point in the past, and their relative importance to one another are not universal and vary from place to place. It can be said though, that written history, is not merely an objective record of events. In a deeper sense, history is myth.
In this context, myth does not imply that the narrative is completely false. Homer’s Iliad is considered to be well within the realm of myth for its larger than life characters, even though the Trojan War is regarded to have been a historical event. Such myths, which the Greeks referred to as αἴτιον (cause), serve a deeper meaning than the reporting of events. They seek to understand and explain and illustrate a deeper, underlying lesson about the world around us, and our place in it. History can therefore be a used as means for a deeper understanding of the human condition since the laws of nature and human behavior remain constant. History as myth is a tool for disseminating worldviews; a methodology of “distilling” the sacred and the universals truths.
However, while it is generally accepted that history can be studied and revised, there are certain events which remain taboo to discuss. For instance, it is “known” far and wide by every American schoolchild, that a heroic young Abraham Lincoln fought the Civil War to emancipate the slaves, despite the fact that he repeatedly said that he never intended to free the slaves. Those same children might also learn of the horrors of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow, but never get the chance to learn about the Black Liberation Army or the Black Panthers.