Now: the big question is, "What is History?" The colloquial meaning in English for "history" is "the events of the past." A more academic interpretation would be "a written record of the events of the past, along with interpretations and evaluations of this record."
This leads us to the issue of "unbiased history," which understandably we all value. However, there is no such thing as absolutely unbiased history. The biases may be blatant, as in the case of North Korea and the North Korean government's official interpretation of the Korean War – not to mention the official interpretation on most anything. One should have a familiarity with the facts before visiting the DPRK's official website.
Such wilfull distortions of the past are legion, and we are reminded that "History is often (my amendment) the propaganda of the winners." Beyond that, there are the cultural biases in history.
As we approached a definition of "history," I will venture to propose a definition of "culture." I define "culture" as "shared patterns of beliefs and behaviour amongst a group of people, which define those people as united amongst themselves and separate from outside individuals and groups."
Usually, cultural terms are self referential. In particular, language: we define the "Yoruba language" in itself, as distinct from defining it in the context of other similar languages, as "that language spoken by the Yoruba people." Furthermore, one defining quality of a Yoruba man or woman is that he or she speaks the Yoruba language. The same may apply to religion (the majority of Somalis are Muslim) and customs (the majority of Japanese will not openly disagree with others).
All the above categories are generalisations, which are more or less true of individual members of any given culture; that does not mean they are worthless in general, but it does mean we should remember that everyone is an individual.
We can all see that culture produces its own biases. The Japanese culture is more conformist than many other cultures, in particular than American culture. We should expect that in evaluating history, in judging the right or wrong of any given event, we could expect a Japanese historian to argue that when people refuse to co-operate, there is strife. We might expect an American historian to take the opposite position.
In writing the above, I have underscored another bias of history.
Should we focus on the individual players of history – leaders such as Iosef Stalin and Nelson Mandela, on George Washington and Qin Shi Huang Di, who have (for better or for worse) changed events?
Or, should we focus on the broader events: the larger mass of people beyond the leaders, the common folk whom official history ignores; and of course on the cultural influences on the above-mentioned leaders?
At his website, Chris Sciabarra has addressed the issue, saying, among other things, that:
"The mature Rand argued, I think effectively, that culture is a complex phenomenon that affects people on a mostly tacit level. It is represented in predominating attitudes, in a general emotional atmosphere that becomes the "leitmotif" of a given age and society. People in that society tend to develop, as Rand would say, "the essentials of the same subconscious philosophy" from the earliest impressions of their childhood (Rand 1982, 251)…culture…transmits to individuals implicit beliefs about nature, reality, human beings, masculinity and femininity, good and evil, which reflect the context of a given historical time and place…
"The absorption of dominant cultural trends by a society's individuals should not be viewed as deterministic, as an assault on the concept of free will. Rather, it is an argument for contextualism. Given Rand's historical and cultural specificity, I think she did a remarkable job of calling into question virtually the entire substance of the Russian "world-view"…[b]ut nobody can question everything in their own culture. We are always a part of the culture we critique. In her cultural theory, Rand applies this principle to everyone but herself. If we are to accept what Rand says about the influence of culture on human beings, why must we exempt her from that very formulation?"
Lest it seem that Dr. Sciabarra is guilty of a contradiction, permit me to restate his thesis in my own words: culture influences individuals, AND individuals influence culture. BOTH are true, and without contradiction. To argue otherwise is to be guilty of a false dichotomy.
I may illustrate Dr. Sciabarra's point by returning to our hypothetical Japanese and American historian. The former would be generally more conformist in his interpretation of events; he will be generally be more inclined to agree with other historians than to propose, as Rand did, a challenge to "the moral code of the past 2500 years." Yet each Japanese is an individual; some are more willing to buck tradition than others.
We can recognise Rand's philosophical achievement at distinctly American. Few other cultures are so individualistic as American culture is in general. Most of us are Americans; we know, from personal experience, that not all Americans are as willing to do this. American culture also contains an element of conformity. This I know from experience.
In Ayn Rand's case we may recall that she did indeed challenge her culture, and was proud to say, as Barbara Branden relates, that she "chose to be an American."
The issue of individual versus culture underlines a common bias of historians, at least among the history I learned in school: an emphasis on the influence of groups and of culture, above that of individuals. An Objectivist approach, reflecting Ayn Rand's perspective, would be to take the opposite bias.
The last line would certainly bring criticism from "true believers" in Objectivism. How can Ayn Rand have a bias? But everyone has a bias: this applies to Ayn Rand as well as to Sir Arnold Toynbee and to Chris Sciabarra, to Plutarch and to Sima Qian. The statement applies to everyone, including myself. Everyone has a bias. That does not necessarily mean dishonesty and deliberately evading issues; it does mean that no one is omniscient.
This is only a beginning in the discussion of bias and history. More could be said, but I will close here. I must emphasise that I am responsible for my own opinions; neither Dr. Sciabarra, nor the administrators of this site, nor any other third party, necessarily agrees with me.