This question is about responsible historiography. History as written by winners tends to devalue and misrepresent the experiences of subordinate groups (see Textbooks: Zinn People’s History; Labour: Engels German Peasants War, Hammond & Hammond Labourer [Series], Thompson Making ; Gender: Engels Family, Private Property, James & Dalla Costa Power of Women; Race: CLR James Black Jacobins).

Many Anglo immigrants to California described its natives as lazy and dirty. If this was an attempt at ethnography it backfired, telling us more about the authors than their subjects. This example is extreme, but dominant discourses that reflect majority outlooks and deploy otherness are hard for authors from dominant groups to escape.

Those authors are prone to uphold dominant narratives and "punch down" at other groups even by accident. The result is that writing about other groups can be considered dubious. An article about fiction writing asked "Are White Authors Not Allowed To Tell Stories Involving Black Characters?", while Richard Griswold de Castillo called inadequate Mexican-American history written by others historia chicanesca (Chicanoesque history). Minority groups have sought to tell their own stories instead of having stories imposed on them.

Despite these concerns, privileged historians do often write in good faith about disempowered minorities and the oppressed. Their work does not satisfy subjects' understandable desire that their history be written by their own people. For this reason I suspect that historiographers have already spilled ink on the matter of writing about such groups without adding to the burden they already face.

Are there recommended practices in this area? I will speculate that deconstruction of known narratives and meticulous history from below could be elements of such a strategy. Hopefully something more systematized is out there.

  • 1
    Depends on what you are trying to achieve. – Orangesandlemons Oct 26 '18 at 7:17
  • 1
    Edited in the hope of making clear that I am interested in identifying possible strategies rather than choosing one of them. – Aaron Brick Nov 29 '18 at 22:12
  • 1
    A Google search for the keywords historians writing about oppressed found a number of sources that suggest there are no "established best practices", but there are a number of different suggested approaches, for example Challenging History: Why the Oppressed Must Tell Their Own Story – sempaiscuba Dec 1 '18 at 0:47
  • 8
    privileged historians do often write in good faith about disempowered minorities and the oppressed I would like to point that many of the oppressed people don't have access to academy and are unable to write their history in a academic way. As the academy lacks diversity, the alternative to having privileged historians writing is to not have historians writing. – Cochise Dec 1 '18 at 2:39
  • 1
    Unsure about your angle: California example is just chauvinistic. Writing of historians should be unbiased (but can't be); we should try that, but this project is not impossible and whites can write black history, an vice-versa. If this is about cultural-appropriation angle, or critical whiteness you should state that. If it's about avoiding bias, it's not only about "oppressed" or "vanquished". – LangLangC Jan 18 at 21:03

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.