Understanding History The study of the past is called history. When we set out to study history, we are able to draw the people and events of ancient times closer to us. Studying the past allows us to seethe faces of the famous and the nameless people who lived thousands of years before us. It helps us understand what their lives were like. We can see how our lives are similar to theirs and also how they are different. We can see how people of the distant past had to face some of the very same problems we face today. And we can appreciate connections that bind together people and all time periods and all areas of the world. What can the past tell us about the problems of today By studying the past, we can see how previous cultures dealt with similar problems. We can understand the effects of their actions, and we can make judgments about how our actions might affect the future. In our multicultural world we must understand the history of other cultures in order to solve problems together. By studying the past we can seethe roots of the present and we can better understand our world neighbours. Learning about the past gives us a framework for making decisions about the issues that wee face today. It also helps us understand how our actions will affect the people of tomorrow. History has been called a conversation between the present and the past. People of the past communicate with people of today through the writing, artifacts and structures they leave behind. Every generation sees the world differently. And because each generation and each individual looks at things from anew point of view, history is always open to different interpretations. History also has been compared to a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces of the puzzle have been lost forever. Pieces once considered lost have now been found. The available pieces can befitted together in many ways. Each generation of historians tries to put together the available pieces of the puzzle and to interpret the picture that emerges. In doing so we hope to understand not only what happened in the past, but how it happened and why it happened. History – record of the events of human societies. The earliest surviving historical records are the inscriptions denoting the achievements of Egyptian and Babylonian Kings. As a literary form historical writing or historiography began with the Greek Herodotus in the 5 th century BC, who was first to pass beyond the limits of a purely national outlook. A generation later, Thucydides brought to history a strong sense of the political and military ambitions of his native Athens. His close account of the Peloponnesian War was continued by Xenophon. Later Greek history and Roman history tended toward rhetoric. Medieval history was dominated by a religious philosophy sustained by the
72 Christian church. English chroniclers of this period are Bede, William Malmesbury and Matthew Paris. The Renaissance revived historical writing and the study of history both by restoring classical models and by creating the science of textual criticism. A product of new secular spirit was Machiavelli’s History of Florence 1520-23. This critical approach continued into the 17 th century. The 18 th century Enlightenment disposed of the attempt to explain history in theological terms and an interpretive masterpiece was produced by Edward Gibbon. An attempt to formulate historical method and a philosophy of history, that of the Italian Giovanni Vico, remained almost unknown until the 19 th century Romanticism left its mark on 19 th -century historical writing in the tendency to exalt the contribution of the individual hero, and in the introduction of a more colourful and dramatic style and treatment, variously illustrated in the works of the French historican Jules Michelet (1798-1874) and the British writers Carlyle and Macaulay. During the 20 th century the study of history has been revolutionized, partly through the contributions of other disciplines, such as the sciences and anthropology. The deciphering of the Egyptian and Babylonian inscriptions was of great importance. Researchers and archaeologists have traced developments in prehistory and have revealed forgotten civilizations such as that of Crete. Anthropological studies of primitive Society and religion, which began with James Frazer’s Golden Bough 1890, have attempted to analyse the bases of later forms of social organizations and belief. The changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the accompanying perception of economics as a science forced historians to turn their attention to economic questions. Contemporary historians make a distinction between historical evidence or records, historical writing and historical method or approaches to the study of history. Contemporary historians make extensive use of statistics, population figures and primary records to justify historical arguments. Historians do not just collect facts, they examine the information they collect and then decide how to interpret it.