Aims and Purpose of History

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  • Topic: History, Leopold von Ranke, Truth
  • Pages : 3 (914 words )
  • Download(s) : 1282
  • Published : August 12, 2006
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The aims and purpose of history can be evaluated through the study of historians and their audiences. The differing methods of collecting and using sources and evidence has caused countless debates between historians and other academics from Herodotus, the 'Father of History' to G.R Elton and his views on objective truth. Similarly Stuart Macintyre's "The Historian's Conscience" debates and discusses the issues surrounding evidence, time and motives of historians.

The aim of history according to Stuart Macintyre is to provide knowledge of the past that allows the present to be better understood. The Elton V Carr debate raises this issue with conflicting views on the truth as being objective to Elton and subjective to Carr. The element of bias is a factor in determining how objective history is, as addressed by Elton who states that if bias can be avoided the objective truth can be reached. However Carr was of the belief that bias obstructs the path to truth as one's motives cloud judgement and therefore an historian can manipulate a source in order to derive a desired meaning by taking a quote out of context. Thus Carr's aim was to find the subjective truth as he believed it was impossible to eradicate bias, while Elton's aim was to find the objective truth as he believed it was completely possible to remove any bias if one was trained properly. Macintyre's work mirrors Elton's theory as he states that an historians is "obliged to...report findings dispassionately".

While there are many opinions on what the aim of history is one cannot argue that it is a finite body of knowledge. This is evident in the study of Carr when it is explained that an historian chooses what events become historical fact. Thus elements of bias are evident and the purpose of history to relay the absolute truth is hard to achieve due to historians disregarding some events. The motives of historians also interfere with their aims and purposes as events are taken out of context. A...
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