What is history

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What is history?

Why bother?

What some
people have
said is history:

History is only a confused heap of facts.
(G.K. Chesterton)
The past is useless. That explains why it
is past. (Wright Morris)
History is an argument without end.
(Peter Geyl)

History is the witness that testifies to the
passing of time; it illuminates reality, vitalizes
memory, provides guidance in daily life, and
brings us tidings of antiquity.
(Cicero)

What experience and history teach is this‐that
people and governments never have learned
anything from history, or acted on principles
deduced from it.
(G. W. F. Hegel)

Those who cannot remember the past are
condemned to repeat it.
(Santayana)
If you do not like the past, change it.
(William L. Burton)

The challenge of history is to recover the past
and introduce it to the present.  (David Thelen)

The past is a foreign country; they do things
differently there. (L. P. Hartley)

The function of the historian is neither to love
the past nor to emancipate himself from the
past, but to master and understand it as
the key to the understanding of the present.
(E. H. Carr)

Do any of these statements really tell us what
history is?

History is accounts of

Peo
p
Ob

le

s
t
c
e
j

s
e
c
a
l
P
e
m
ti
n
i
s
t
n
e
v
E
&

So,
wh
at i
s

h
t
t
i
Is

y
d
u
e st

hist
ory
?

?
s
t
c
a
f
f
o

NO!

Are there historical facts?
• Some things from the past can be considered to be
facts, if they are very well documented and there is
no real dispute.
• Historical facts can be historical people, dates, places and events may be considered as historical facts by
historians if there is sufficient evidence in the
historical record and this evidence is contemporary
with these people, dates, places or events.
• But, history is not about when something happened,
or about knowing the names of historical people.

History is about

d
i
d
y
h
g
W
n
i
h
t
e
Why people did
som en in
p
something?
p
a
?
h
e
c
a
l
p
t
a
h
t
Who made the o
bjects and why?
?
n
e
p
p
a
h
s
t
n
e
v
e
e
s
e
h
t
d
i
d
y
h
W
What were the cons
equences
of these events?

How do historians find out
• Why people did something
• Why something happened in that
place
• Who made the objects and why?
• Why certain events happened and
what were the consequences of
these events?

• They examine the historical record and interpret
the data in the historical record in order to draw
historical conclusions.
• But, there can be bias in a historians
interpretation of the historical record.
• There will always be multiple interpretations, and
different points of view.
• Different historians will interpret the historical
record in different ways.

What is the historical record?
• Historians use the historical record to (for
example) piece together people’s word’s, views,
and events.
• The historical record is data from the past that
can be used as evidence. This data is
interpreted by historians in order to write
history. It includes primary and secondary
sources.

Primary sources
Primary sources are things that have been left
behind from the past. They can be letters,
documents, diaries, old manuscripts, court
records, genealogies, paintings, photographs,
buildings, objects, the environment, maps, sound
recordings, interviews, newspapers, oral history,
and oral traditions.

Secondary sources
Secondary sources are:
Biographies, academic articles written about the
past, academic books written about the past,
films about the past.


Interpretation
• Historians use the historical record to write
histories. All sorts of histories. When they
write history they interpret the data found in
the historical record.
• The process of writing history is problematic
and subject to different interpretations.
• Historians should be...
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