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History, Public History and Story Telling

Learning informing and entertaining is what we do

Tour guides are not historians. We do not work in that world. One of the great sayings of this business is ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’! Wondering about this you realise it is true. We impart truths, we transmit stories which contain insights and truths about a place. Truth and truths are different.

The ‘truth’ is often subjective, whilst truth’s can be universal they are usually best left unspoken!

A good tour guide will know this and will be skilled at getting his point, the ingrained truth of the story across, quickly and in an entertaining and unlaboured way.

I asked Chat GPT “Can you tell me the difference between history and public history?” This is what it said: “Yes, certainly!

History is the study of past events, people, and societies through various sources such as written documents, artifacts, and oral accounts. It involves analyzing and interpreting these sources to gain a better understanding of the past and how it has influenced the present.

Public history, on the other hand, is a branch of history that focuses on the ways in which history is presented and interpreted to the public. It encompasses a range of activities and practices that involve historians working with and for the general public, including museum exhibitions, historical reenactments, walking tours, and public lectures.

While traditional history is often associated with academic research and writing, public history is concerned with communicating history to a wider audience in engaging and accessible ways. It aims to bridge the gap between academic historians and the public, and to make history relevant and meaningful to people’s lives today.”

As years roll by it is inevitable that history is revised. Much is left out of the public realm and with hindsight the narratives change. This is often controversial; many of the western countries are coming to terms with the past in recent years. This is not new. This is a process.

We all grown up, and nations are no different. With maturity comes wisdom and with wisdom appropriate action. The past can never be changed but we do not live in the past. There are people woking in all aspect of life for similar goals.

One of the greatest revisionist exercises of all time took place in Ireland in the recent past. The ‘Troubles’, the sectarian conflict that arose on this island was resoved by a great act of revisionist history. The re-telling of the history of the religious conflict on this island was ground-reaking and led to a long term peace.

This story is a great expample of how stories can, and do, get retold over time. Stories, including histories are always evolving; they are a ‘living history’ and as such tour guides are part of that. A good guide will tell you the options and seek your own point of view rather than express their own.

These subtle differences can, and do, make a huge difference.