Historians and the Truth


Princeton Historians, Exploring Truth and Its Limits

The whole truth and nothing but the truth? In varied works, Princeton historians examine how societies across time and context have debated, negotiated, and arrived at, authoritative truths—in law, media, science, religion, and politics.


The Many Deaths of Jew Süss: The Notorious Trial and Execution of an Eighteenth-Century Court Jew by Yair MintzkerLegal Truth:

"Because Oppenheimer was famous and powerful, and especially because he was very vulnerable after his arrest, few had reason to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about his life.”

Yair Mintzker, reflecting on his recent book, The Many Deaths of Jew Suss: The Notorious Trial and Execution of an Eighteenth-Century Court Jew, in his essay, "Truth in History."


Bombay Velvet

Cinematic Truth:

“[T]here are always stories that are true, but unverifiable... In cinema, when I wrote the story for the film, I was drawing on my research and creating a story which is true, but unverifiable.

Gyan Prakash, discussing his book Mumbai Fables and its film adaptation, Bombay Velvet. From “I’m a Historian, Not a Filmmaker: Gyan Prakash” in India, Forbes.



V.S. Ramachandran’s mirror box. V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein, ‘The Perception of Phantom Limbs: The D.O. Hebb Lecture’, Brain, 121 (1998), 1603–630: 1621.Scientific Truth:

“Ramachandran’s work on phantom limbs shows how illusions like the ones produced by a mirror can play integral roles in the construction of scientific truth.”

Katja Guenther, discussing her work with "‘It’s All Done with Mirrors’: V.S. Ramachandran and the Material Culture of Phantom Limb Research, Medical History (July 2016)



Political Truth:The Straight State by Margot Canaday

“Despite the fact that homosexual exclusion relied on the psychiatric category of psychopathy, the medical consensus about what defined homosexuality was breaking down just as a bureaucratic consensus was solidifying.”

Margot Canaday, in The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America




Europe in the High Middle Ages by William Chester JordanReason and Religious Truth:

“The Christian Aristotelians argued that where conclusions solely based on reason appeared to differ from divine (revealed) truth, those conclusions had to be rejected or, perhaps better put, had necessarily to be rethought in order to discover a way to reconcile them with revealed truth.”

William Chester Jordan, in Europe in the High Middle Ages