Favorable tidings friends: Rabbi Berel Wein has started a blog in his old age (which I discovered by becoming a fan of his Facebook page). The only blog to whom I can imagine this might prove even slightly threatening is the Jewish history blog of Joel Davidi.
Anyway, Rabbi Wein's inaugural post speaks of the importance of reflecting upon the past, and in particular the past of our people. He mentions that Heinrich Graetz was a wayward student of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, but doesn't speak much of their disagreements. As it happens Hirsch himself was sympathetic, at least, to Jews who had no interest in history. He once stated it's no surprise European Jews weren't avid history fans, for all the pages of their history is stained with the blood of their ancestors. Besides for a retelling of the slaughter of Jews, Jewish history didn't comprise of much back then.
Graetz, though, saw much more significance in the retelling of Jewish history. He saw it as having earth-shattering importance even, and after having left Hirsch, went on to create the greatest compendium of Jewish history penned till his day, nay, penned till this day. While it's true that Graetz's history is ludicrously biast, and that all our heroes he marks as villains, all our scholars he marks as ignoramuses, and the more a Rabbi is open to secularism the more he is praised, still, it must be agreed that there is honestly no work like his. I've always found it amusing that his history ends in the 1880's though. He thought that was where Jewish history ended. In the meantime the main bulk of modern Jewish history happened between his life and ours. Just goes to show you how fluid and dynamic our people and our history really are.
Come to think of it, I should like to write about the differences between Hirsch and Graetz actually (considering that they are the founders of Modern Orthodoxy and Conservatism respectively), but I shall leave that for a later date.
Also, he said of the written history found in works preceding Graetz as "ancillary to the main purpose of those works, which was to transmit the traditions of Torah. They were not history books in the modern sense of scholarship, but were recordings of oral traditions passed down through the ages". I think that statement might be a bit misleading. There were many works that had a journalistic nature to them, like the works of the Spanish exiles which described the times they lived in, the works describing the Chmielnicki massacres, the works of Benjamin of Tudela etc. These are not recounting some oral history, but are recording events as they happened, and they serve as great historical resources for those times.