Cancer pp 32-82 | Cite as

Historical Perspectives: Concepts


A prejudiced history is useless; it is a record only of the mind of the writer. ‘He who writes history has truth at his mercy’ — this dictum of Shimkin (1977) has many supporters. Among these are Friedrich von Schlegel’s ‘A historian is a prophet in reverse’; Henry Ford’s ‘History is bunk’; Augustine Birrell’s ‘That great dust heap called history’; and Anatole France’s ‘History books which contain no lies are extemely tedious’. Discordant histories clutter the archives. Some examples are the histories of the Napoleonic Wars by French and British historians; of the Crusades by Muslim and Christian historians; and of the Reformation by Protestant and Catholic historians. In oncologic history, Sir Percival Pott’s reputedly ‘first’ descriptions in 1775 of an environmental association with human cancer is belied by John Hill’s report in 1761 of an association between nasal cancer and snuff, and by Paracelsus’ report in 1531 of one between lung cancer and mining dust. The worst of Anatole France’s ‘lies’ must be a truth fragmented and unbalanced, for this retains a semblance of authority. As aptly put by that most ubiquitous of authorities, Anonymous, ‘truth has many faces, and any one of them alone is a lie’.


Historical Perspective Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Germinal Vesicle Fifteenth Century 
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© R. Nery 1986

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