Hidden History

When I was in college one of my professors said, “Objectivity correlates to a consensual subjectivity.” That statement has some very powerful implications for how we understand the nature of historical research. In genealogy we often see people captivated by long, mythical lines of descent, which they invariably believe were transmitted underground, undocumented, for centuries and even millennia.

In that context, I like this insightful passage from Morris Berman:

“Thus we come to the central methodological problem of what I have called hidden history, that the techniques of analysis developed by historiography in the last two centuries are designed to verify (or falsify) only a certain type of assumption; and if we insist that there nevertheless is an invisible or somatic layer beneath the drama we are investigating, there seems to be no way in which this can be consensually validated. Heretical and sectarian phenomena are particularly maddening in this regard, because they open up to an instinctual ‘feel’ that seems to strike home and yet slips through the net of any and every traditional mode of analysis. One historian, George Shriver, thus asserts: ‘Grappling with various facets of the Cathar story, one is well aware that much of life escaped the documents, [and] that there must be a place for intuitive perception at times.’ It was in this spirit that Déodat Roché, the greatest spokesman for Catharism in modern times, constructed a history of the Cathar phenomenon based on the esoteric system of Rudolf Steiner, thereby proposing a comparative method that would enable the historian to uncover a deeper history. Yet his major conclusion—that there is a clear unbroken chain of identical esoteric practice from the Manichaeans, and ultimately from the Essenes, right through to the Cathars, remains, as far as I am concerned, an unwarranted assumption. ‘Hidden history’ is plagued by the problem that it is easy to invent a past while claiming, in the name of intuitive perception, to uncover one [emphasis added].

More Information

  • Morris Steyer, Coming to Our Senses: Body and spirit in the hidden history of the West (1990), 195-96.
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