What is history?

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,426
Portugal
What is history?

For the time that I have been here at Historum, I already noticed that the concept of “History” is far from being the same for all the members.

So I would like to post this question, and I would invite you to answer, by your words, or the words of another person, but with words and sentences that you would agree, and can stand for it, and not with a definition that you have read but you disagree.

I would begin paraphrasing Mach Bloch, in his “Apologie pour l’historire/Metier d’historien” (The Historian's Craft; Chapter I; 3 - Historical Time):

History is the science of men in time

(and forgive me if the translation is not adequate!)

And I think that this definition has two important words “men” and “time”.
 
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Jun 2017
3,025
Connecticut
History is the study of the narrative of humanity. How humanity evolved into the present world we can observe around us and why. It is a "story". I mean I do think there isn't a set definition but that most if not all the definitions more or less say the same thing in different words. "History is the science of men in time", would be an example of such a definition and I think we'll be hard pressed to find many responses that contradict that definition, although they will all be somewhat different.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,970
Dispargum
Emanuel Kant - history is the study of change over time.

A more traditional definition - history is the study of written records, although most modern scholars acknowledge the superiority of a multi-disciplinary approach.

New question - what do we call the combined result of document study, archeaology, art history, linguistics, and several other disciplines?
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,153
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
History is the science of men in time
I can agree with that but I would change the word science to knowledge. That would be in keeping with the original Latin sense of the word. The modern use of the word 'science' is a bit constricting. And to gild the lily I would insert the word 'past' in front of time.
 
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LatinoEuropa

Ad Honorem
Oct 2015
5,316
Matosinhos Portugal
History is the set of events referred to by historians.
In a broad sense, it is all that refers to the development of human communities, as well as the events, facts or manifestations of human activity in the past, for example the history of my country.

Friend Tulius good post
 

Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,414
Albuquerque, NM
All the events that humans have been involved in from our earliest times, is the raw stuff of history. Being human we weave stories out of our experiences, and until we began to settle down into complex agricultural societies history was oral traditions. Complex societies invented writing, and written records were complied. Some scribes began to write down stories in prose/poetry forms. That all happened about 5,000 years ago when Civilization was still a recent innovation in how we live. The earliest records and stories we have are the first recognized historical primary documents. We assume the records are reasonably accurate, but the stories we mostly regard as insights into primitive beliefs and taboos ... not a factual based history of events.

Some of the hieroglyphics carved on ancient monuments tell us of kings and their military/political doings. The Father of History, Herodotus, was an ancient Greek who wandered around observing and listening to the peoples in S.W. Asia. Herodotus is most reliable in those things he personally observed, but he faithfully (?) recorded the "history" as believed and told by his informants. So far as we know, Herodotus was the first human to make an effort to write history as factual, rather than metaphor. Other serious Historians followed, but even as today the early historians often failed to overcome their personal biases. Thus much of what we know about Rome from studying early histories is tinged with doubt. Not big doubts, but doubts just the same.

Rigorous study trying to pin down facts by Western historians only began in earnest during the 18th century. Diderot's Encyclopedia kick started a number of approaches to study and research that led to the modern global world we now inhabit. Most notable perhaps is the emphasis on the methods we use to research and study a wide variety of subjects. The development of the Scientific Method has proven so successful, that other disciplines have adopted in some measure those same techniques. Even so, History can never be an exact science like the "hard sciences". Modern historical methods have grown beyond just direct observation and the study of previous texts to include Anthropology, Sociology, and Archaeology among others.

In the end, these associated academic disciplines remain the "story of human-kind", with varying degrees of probability. Modern students of History have inherited a wealth of texts from the past, but also less debatable knowledge that comes from studying the whole range of traces left behind as time marches on. History continues so long as a single human lives and records his/her experiences. The knowledge base continues to grow, and as historians we have a responsibility for preserving our world as best we can. It is a lost cause, because none of us is free of biases; none of us can stand apart and coldly observe any event from all perspectives.

It is easy to believe what we wish, but very difficult to ascertain nonconvertible facts. Even serious students of history have a knowledge base that is limited and shot through with error and rumor. That doesn't deter us who are passionately trying to understand the large Story of Human-kind. The difference is "who ya gonn'a believe"? A PhD who published his life's research and work in old age, or what the Gym Teacher taught in a High School History class? One is easy, and the other is hard.

Modern historians learn a number of techniques that we believe increases the accuracy of our research. "Occam's Razor", the use of primary sources (government and business reports) and secondary sources (news and texts by reputable students) closest to the events, use of multiple sources, and fitting the "evidence" into some sort of coherent narrative are all techniques shared by today's serious historians.

Speculative history isn't History, but fiction. Fiction is the bane of our discipline whose efforts are to be as close to factual as possible. The relationship of Mankind to the Universe is Theology/Mythology, not History. If a topic arouses strong emotions, it probably isn't very good history, so serious historians generally prefer studying events long after the embers have grown cold. Some believe that the better understanding we have of history, the better we can foresee likely outcomes. That's probably true to some extent, but don't go "All IN" in making forecasts. The major trends in History over the past 5000+ years do indeed suggest some rhythmical behavior, but the details vary considerably and no two events are exactly the same. The long course of human events isn't simple, but very complex and more daunting the more you study it.

OK, the short answer: "The Story of Human-kind, with caveats."
 
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Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,171
US
It is the recorded account of things, mindful that most events and happenings have not been recorded. Community and family history can be just as interesting as the officially recorded information. Other fields, such as archaeology, will help to unearth that which was not recorded, or was - perhaps with a bias, broadening our understanding.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,426
Portugal
Emanuel Kant - history is the study of change over time.

A more traditional definition - history is the study of written records, although most modern scholars acknowledge the superiority of a multi-disciplinary approach.

New question - what do we call the combined result of document study, archeaology, art history, linguistics, and several other disciplines?
I like the concept behind the Kant’s words, by I think that one important thing is missing: Man/Mankind.

The second idea seems pretty 19th century, and pretty restrictive, leaving most of the “history” of mankind out. If I am not mistaken that concept born in a period were the written sources were basically the only sources. Today we have a wider perspective of sources.

As for your question, you mentioned several auxiliary sciences of history, so I would point that History could be an answer, but anthropology could be other.

I've learned in university that history is what we contemporaries create out of the sources.
That idea has much to tell…

I can agree with that but I would change the word science to knowledge. That would be in keeping with the original Latin sense of the word. The modern use of the word 'science' is a bit constricting. And to gild the lily I would insert the word 'past' in front of time.
Basically I agree, the initial definition was only a starting point, but why “constricting”?

History is the set of events referred to by historians.
In a broad sense, it is all that refers to the development of human communities, as well as the events, facts or manifestations of human activity in the past, for example the history of my country.

Friend Tulius good post
Interesting answer. Liked the part “… referred by the historians”, because if it is not told or re-told by historians, many set of events fall into the oblivion.

And Thanks!

Speculative history isn't History, but fiction.
I will probably quote you on that quite soon! :D
Even if I had probably already said the same in other words.

"The Story of Human-kind, with caveats."
Curious short answer, I won’t comment your long post, I found it good, and in the essential I agree.

It is the recorded account of things, mindful that most events and happenings have not been recorded.
Rodger, by this line of thinking, you don’t consider Pre-history part of history, But a different area of knowledge? Thinner lines we would have in Proto-history. Seems a somewhat similar answer to one of Chlodio’s, but even more restrictive. Curiously here, in this point, is probably the major difference that I find in this forum.