From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Man must have the strength to break up the past; and apply it too, in order to live. He must bring the past to the bar of judgment, interrogate it remorselessly, and finally condemn it. ... For everything that is born is worthy of being destroyed." --On the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1874, Nietzsche)
History (from Greek στορία, historia, meaning "inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the past, specifically how it relates to humans. It is an umbrella term that relates to past events as well as the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about these events. The term includes cosmic, geologic, and organic history, but is often generically implied to mean human history. Scholars who write about history are called historians. Events occurring prior to written record are considered prehistory.
History can also refer to the academic discipline which uses a narrative to examine and analyse a sequence of past events, and objectively determine the patterns of cause and effect that determine them. Historians sometimes debate the nature of history and its usefulness by discussing the study of the discipline as an end in itself and as a way of providing "perspective" on the problems of the present.
Stories common to a particular culture, but not supported by external sources (such as the tales surrounding King Arthur) are usually classified as cultural heritage or legends, because they do not support the "disinterested investigation" required of the discipline of history. Herodotus, a 5th-century BC Greek historian is considered within the Western tradition to be the "father of history", and, along with his contemporary Thucydides, helped form the foundations for the modern study of human history. Their work continues to be read today and the divide between the culture-focused Herodotus and the military-focused Thucydides remains a point of contention or approach in modern historical writing.
Ancient influences have helped spawn variant interpretations of the nature of history which have evolved over the centuries and continue to change today. The modern study of history is wide-ranging, and includes the study of specific regions and the study of certain topical or thematical elements of historical investigation. Often history is taught as part of primary and secondary education, and the academic study of history is a major discipline in University studies.
History and prehistory
The history of the world is the memory of the past experience of Homo sapiens sapiens around the world, as that experience has been preserved, largely in written records. By "prehistory", historians mean the recovery of knowledge of the past in an area where no written records exist, or where the writing of a culture is not understood. Human history is marked both by a gradual accretion of discoveries and inventions, as well as by quantum leaps — paradigm shifts, revolutions — that comprise epochs in the material and spiritual evolution of humankind. By studying painting, drawings, carvings, and other artifacts, some information can be recovered even in the absence of a written record. Since the 20th century, the study of prehistory is considered essential to avoid history's implicit exclusion of certain civilizations, such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian America. Historians in the West have been criticized for focusing disproportionately on the Western world. In 1961, British historian E. H. Carr wrote:
- "The line of demarcation between prehistoric and historical times is crossed when people cease to live only in the present, and become consciously interested both in their past and in their future. History begins with the handing down of tradition; and tradition means the carrying of the habits and lessons of the past into the future. Records of the past begin to be kept for the benefit of future generations."
This definition includes within the scope of history the strong interests of peoples, such as Australian Aboriginals and New Zealand Māori in the past, and the oral records maintained and transmitted to succeeding generations, even before their contact with European civilization.
Historiography has a number of related meanings. Firstly, it can refer to how history has been produced: the story of the development of methodology and practices (for example, the move from short-term biographical narrative towards long-term thematic analysis). Secondly, it can refer to what has been produced: a specific body of historical writing (for example, "medieval historiography during the 1960s" means "Works of medieval history written during the 1960s"). Thirdly, it may refer to why history is produced: the Philosophy of history. As a meta-level analysis of descriptions of the past, this third conception can relate to the first two in that the analysis usually focuses on the narratives, interpretations, worldview, use of evidence, or method of presentation of other historians. Professional historians also debate the question of whether history can be taught as a single coherent narrative or a series of competing narratives.
Philosophy of history
History's philosophical questions
Philosophy of history is an area of philosophy concerning the eventual significance, if any, of human history. Furthermore, it speculates as to a possible teleological end to its development—that is, it asks if there is a design, purpose, directive principle, or finality in the processes of human history. Philosophy of history should not be confused with historiography, which is the study of history as an academic discipline, and thus concerns its methods and practices, and its development as a discipline over time. Nor should philosophy of history be confused with the history of philosophy, which is the study of the development of philosophical ideas through time.
Professional historians debate the question of whether history is a science or a liberal art. The distinction is artificial, as many view the field from more than one perspective. Recent argument in support for the transformation of history into science have been made by Peter Turchin in an article titled "Arise Cliodynamics" in the journal "Nature".
The following questions are used by historians in modern work.
- When was the source, written or unwritten, produced (date)?
- Where was it produced (localization)?
- By whom was it produced (authorship)?
- From what pre-existing material was it produced (analysis)?
- In what original form was it produced (integrity)?
- What is the evidential value of its contents (credibility)?
Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BC – ca.425 BC) has generally been acclaimed as the "father of history". However, his contemporary Thucydides (ca. 460 BC – ca. 400 BC) is credited with having first approached history with a well-developed historical method in his work the History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides, unlike Herodotus, regarded history as being the product of the choices and actions of human beings, and looked at cause and effect, rather than as the result of divine intervention. In his historical method, Thucydides emphasized chronology, a neutral point of view, and that the human world was the result of the actions of human beings. Greek historians also viewed history as cyclical, with events regularly recurring.
There were historical traditions and sophisticated use of historical method in ancient and medieval China. The groundwork for professional historiography in East Asia was established by the Han Dynasty court historian known as Sima Qian (145–90 BC), author of the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian). For the quality of his timeless written work, Sima Qian is posthumously known as the Father of Chinese Historiography. Chinese historians of subsequent dynastic periods in China used his Shiji as the official format for historical texts, as well as for biographical literature.
Saint Augustine was influential in Christian and Western thought at the beginning of the medieval period. Through the Medieval and Renaissance periods, history was often studied through a sacred or religious perspective. Around 1800, German philosopher and historian Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel brought philosophy and a more secular approach in historical study.
In the preface to his book, the Muqaddimah (1377), the Arab historian and early sociologist, Ibn Khaldun, warned of seven mistakes that he thought that historians regularly committed. In this criticism, he approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. The originality of Ibn Khaldun was to claim that the cultural difference of another age must govern the evaluation of relevant historical material, to distinguish the principles according to which it might be possible to attempt the evaluation, and lastly, to feel the need for experience, in addition to rational principles, in order to assess a culture of the past. Ibn Khaldun often criticized "idle superstition and uncritical acceptance of historical data." As a result, he introduced a scientific method to the study of history, and he often referred to it as his "new science". His historical method also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history, and he is thus considered to be the "father of historiography" or the "father of the philosophy of history".
In the West historians developed modern methods of historiography in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France and Germany. The 19th century historian with greatest influence on methods was Leopold von Ranke in Germany.
In the 20th century, academic historians focused less on epic nationalistic narratives, which often tended to glorify the nation or individuals, to more objective and complex analyses of social and intellectual forces. A major trend of historical methodology in the 20th century was a tendency to treat history more as a social science rather than as an art, which traditionally had been the case. Some of the leading advocates of history as a social science were a diverse collection of scholars which included Fernand Braudel, E. H. Carr, Fritz Fischer, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Bruce Trigger, Marc Bloch, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Peter Gay, Robert Fogel, Lucien Febvre and Lawrence Stone. Many of the advocates of history as a social science were or are noted for their multi-disciplinary approach. Braudel combined history with geography, Bracher history with political science, Fogel history with economics, Gay history with psychology, Trigger history with archeology while Wehler, Bloch, Fischer, Stone, Febvre and Le Roy Ladurie have in varying and differing ways amalgamated history with sociology, geography, anthropology, and economics. More recently, the field of digital history has begun to address ways of using computer technology to pose new questions to historical data and generate digital scholarship.
In opposition to the claims of history as a social science, historians such as Hugh Trevor-Roper, John Lukacs, Donald Creighton, Gertrude Himmelfarb and Gerhard Ritter argued that the key to the historians' work was the power of the imagination, and hence contended that history should be understood as an art. French historians associated with the Annales School introduced quantitative history, using raw data to track the lives of typical individuals, and were prominent in the establishment of cultural history (cf. histoire des mentalités). Intellectual historians such as Herbert Butterfield, Ernst Nolte and George Mosse have argued for the significance of ideas in history. American historians, motivated by the civil rights era, focused on formerly overlooked ethnic, racial, and socio-economic groups. Another genre of social history to emerge in the post-WWII era was Alltagsgeschichte (History of Everyday Life). Scholars such as Martin Broszat, Ian Kershaw and Detlev Peukert sought to examine what everyday life was like for ordinary people in 20th century Germany, especially in the Nazi period.
Marxist historians such as Eric Hobsbawm, E. P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton, Georges Lefebvre, Eugene D. Genovese, Isaac Deutscher, C. L. R. James, Timothy Mason, Herbert Aptheker, Arno J. Mayer and Christopher Hill have sought to validate Karl Marx's theories by analyzing history from a Marxist perspective. In response to the Marxist interpretation of history, historians such as François Furet, Richard Pipes, J. C. D. Clark, Roland Mousnier, Henry Ashby Turner and Robert Conquest have offered anti-Marxist interpretations of history. Feminist historians such as Joan Wallach Scott, Claudia Koonz, Natalie Zemon Davis, Sheila Rowbotham, Gisela Bock, Gerda Lerner, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, and Lynn Hunt have argued for the importance of studying the experience of women in the past. In recent years, postmodernists have challenged the validity and need for the study of history on the basis that all history is based on the personal interpretation of sources. In his 1997 book In Defence of History, Richard J. Evans, a professor of modern history at Cambridge University, defended the worth of history. Another defence of history from post-modernist criticism was the Australian historian Keith Windschuttle's 1994 book, The Killing of History.
Areas of study
Historical study often focuses on events and developments that occur in particular blocks of time. Historians give these periods of time names as classificatory generalisations to be used by historians. The names given to a period can vary with geographical location, as can the dates of the start and end of a particular period. Centuries and decades are commonly used periods and the time they represent depends on the dating system used. Most periods are constructed retrospectively and so reflect value judgments made about the past. The way periods are constructed and the names given to them can affect the way they are viewed and studied.
World history is the study of major civilizations over the last 3000 years or so. It has led to highly controversial interpretations by Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee, among others. World history is especially important as a teaching field. It has increasingly entered the university curriculum in the U.S., in many cases replacing courses in Western Civilization, that had a focus on Europe and the U.S. World history adds extensive new material on Asia, Africa and Latin America.
- History of Eurasia is the collective history of several distinct peripheral coastal regions: the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Europe, linked by the interior mass of the Eurasian steppe of Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
- History of Europe describes the passage of time from humans inhabiting the European continent to the present day.
Social history is the study of how societies adapt and change over periods of time. Social history is an area of historical study considered by some to be a social science that attempts to view historical evidence from the point of view of developing social trends. In this view, it may include areas of economic history, legal history and the analysis of other aspects of civil society that show the evolution of social norms, behaviors and more.
Cultural history replaced social history as the dominant form in the 1980s and 1990s. It typically combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at language, popular cultural traditions and cultural interpretations of historical experience. It examines the records and narrative descriptions of past knowledge, customs, and arts of a group of people. How peoples constructed their memory of the past is a major topic.
A people's history is a type of historical work which attempts to account for historical events from the perspective of common people. A people's history is the history of the world that is the story of mass movements and of the outsiders. Individuals not included in the past in other type of writing about history are part of this theory's primary focus, which includes the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the poor, the nonconformists, and the otherwise forgotten people. This theory also usually focuses on events occurring in the fullness of time, or when an overwhelming wave of smaller events cause certain developments to occur.
Gender history is a sub-field of History and Gender studies, which looks at the past from the perspective of gender. It is in many ways, an outgrowth of women's history. Despite its relatively short life, Gender History (and its forerunner Women's History) has had a rather significant effect on the general study of history. Since the 1960s, when the initially small field first achieved a measure of acceptance, it has gone through a number of different phases, each with its own challenges and outcomes. Although some of the changes to the study of history have been quite obvious, such as increased numbers of books on famous women or simply the admission of greater numbers of women into the historical profession, other influences are more subtle.
Public history is a term that describes the broad range of activities undertaken by people with some training in the discipline of history who are generally working outside of specialized academic settings. Public history practice has quite deep roots in the areas of historic preservation, archival science, oral history, museum curatorship, and other related fields. The term itself began to be used in the U.S. and Canada in the late 1970s, and the field has become increasingly professionalized since that time. Some of the most common settings for public history are museums, historic homes and historic sites, parks, battlefields, archives, film and television companies, and all levels of government.
- List of historians
- Lumpers and splitters
- Eternal recurrence
- Historical fiction