Because its past is the foundation for the self-concept of any group- family, church, nation, or any other--history is not a subject that can be divorced from present concerns. The cliché that each generation must rewrite history contains a profound truth. Current issues inevitably affect historians' perceptions and influence all aspects of their work--from the problems they consider worth examining to the interpretations of their findings.
Political considerations are particularly prominent in the historian's world view. The frequent focus of historical scholarship on political history makes for equally frequent retrospective application of present politics. Thucydides had an Athenian point of view, Machiavelli was ostentatiously pro-Medici, and Catherine Macaulay History of England was written to provide a Whig alternative to the Tory history of David Hume.
Political bias is most apparent in textbooks because of their importance for socializing the young into the group and because their authors usually assume that children miss subtleties. Textbook history must reflect myths; it also plays a role in shaping the myths by which a people lives. States recognize this function of history and therefore endeavor to exercise some control over what appears in textbooks. Control is most obvious in totalitarian states, but, even in democratic countries, legislatures have been known to review school texts to verify that they present the country's past "correctly." What is taught must conform to the dominant group's views.
Selectivity is the chief device employed to propagate a particular viewpoint. No fact used is necessarily inaccurate, but the facts add up to a distorted total picture. A quotation from the Nazi text Der Weg zum Reich about the Battle of Waterloo is an example:
Napoleon had thrown himself immediately on the English commander-in-chief Wellington at Waterloo, in the hope of a