As a young history student in elementary school, I remember learning about the history of the United States. We were taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America when he “Sailed the ocean blue in 1492” in the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria and that the Boston Massacre was an act of unprovoked brutality by British soldiers. The more history I learned, the more it began to shift. There were less catchphrases and events became riddled with background information that diluted the significance of these monumental events.
Columbus’ ships weren’t named the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria. He didn’t even set foot in North America, rather he landed in the Bahamas and traveled up and down the South American coast. The Boston Massacre only resulted in 5 deaths (not worthy of the title of massacre if you ask me) and the British soldiers defending themselves and were heavily provoked by a dissatisfied America mob which pelted them with rocks and snowballs full of rocks. Important histories have been told many times, in many different ways.
For historians during the European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, rediscovery of truth in history became a fundamental aspect of Enlightenment culture. The focus on reality and individualism in a movement away from tradition brought about a change in historical writing. Texts were reanalyzed and the Church was a prime target for any discrepancies that historical writing had. The movement away from traditional stories as legitimate sources of history was obvious during the Enlightenment.
For me, the Enlightenment reminds me of my experiences learning history throughout my life. When we are learning about history at a young age, we are taught history through traditional, and sometimes inaccurate, stories. As we grow up, in high school and college, we are able to question the truth in these stories and learn the real history behind these events. Much like this trend of learning history from youth to adult, in the timeline of the world, the Enlightenment brought about the intellectual community’s ability to question tradition.