When researching historical events, our view of the event is completely shaped by authorial bias. The author of the entry being researched will always try to portray his side in the better light, even if they lost the war at the cost of thousands of lives. Therefore, history is completely based off of authorial bias and how they choose to describe the event. Authorial bias effectively alters our perception of the event and who was the good vs. who was the bad.
One such archetype of authorial bias is the naming of the battle fought on October 10, 732 between Charles Martel’s Frankish army and Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi’s Umayyad Caliphate. The battle is commonly known as the Battle of Tours, named so by Charles Martel because he won the battle near the town of Tours, France.
A painting depicting the vicious Battle of Tours.
The battle is ultimately remembered for stopping Muslim expansion into Europe and setting the foundation for the prosperous Carolingian Empire, a huge win for Christians. However, the Muslims call the battle the Battle of the Palace of the Martyrs, because even though they lost 12,000 men and Al Ghafiqi himself, they still view the battle as a victory due to their religion. By classifying it as a battle of faith, the Muslims made the loss seem like it was a religious victory, for they elevated the dead to the status of martyrs. In Islamic belief, martyrs receive a special place in heaven, showing that their knowledge through faith made them view the battle as a spiritual success.
Another example of authorial bias determining our perception of historical events is the naming of the American Civil War. Soldiers and historians from the Union called the war the War of the Southern Rebellion, while members of the Confederacy called the war the War of Northern Aggression. A neutral reader could be quickly be swayed to either side by reading a partisan excerpt from a Union or Confederacy writer.
This Confederate statue has been subject to controversy.
The two sides were extremely polarized by ethical issues such as slavery and state’s rights. The fact that slavery (an ethical issue debated in America for centuries) was one of the triggers for the Civil War caused such a deep split between the North and the South that issues from the Civil War are still debated today. The debate over taking down Confederate-era statues over 150 years after the conclusion of the Civil War illustrates how authorial bias on both sides of the Civil War divided the country to the point where politicians still must debate the topic half a century after the last Civil War veteran died
An additional example of the choice of language affecting people’s view of events is the ongoing Hurricane Harvey. The hurricane broke numerous records, including the strongest to hit the US since 2004, the strongest in Texas since 1961, the wettest ever in the US, and is considered by many to be the worst disaster in Texas history. Many climate scientists claimed that the high amount of rain was due to the increasing global temperature, which is often considered a by-product of global warming. Scientists also predicted that up to thirty percent of Harvey’s rainfall could be due to human impact on the environment. Harvey was also aided by the six-inch seal level rise along the Texas Coast.
A NASA image of Harvey when it hit the US.
While the mainstream media has published dozens of articles over the past few days stating numerous reasons as to why Harvey is proof of climate change, there are still many climate change deniers who stubbornly insist that human interactions have little to no impact on Hurricane Harvey and global warming as a whole. When climate scientists say that increased temperatures led to Harvey’s intensity, global warming deniers refute those claims by saying that temperatures in Medieval times were higher. Climate change deniers also use the “science of attribution”, i.e. distinguishing climate change patterns from normal weather patterns. The language that media uses to describe climate change can be politicized in wake of natural disasters to influence the public’s opinion on global warming.
Ultimately, authorial bias has been the hidden factor that has influenced historical writings for all of civilization. Historians for all of time have used language and specific vocabulary that make their nation appear to be “the good guys”, changing our view of history today. Students must be sure when researching areas of history to use sources from both perspectives of conflicts in order to get a truly accurate depiction of the historical event, such as the impact of global warming on Hurricane Harvey’s severity. Choice of language when debating ethical issues can also be crucial in arguments such as the 19th-century slavery argument, which culminated in the bloodiest war in history that still divides Americans today over its memory.
Take a moment next time you read an article or hear a news clip to examine the perspective. It will certainly change your attitude, if not your life!
Jake Gould – Junior
Stanton High School (Jacksonville, FL)