Some Subterranean Thoughts of History

By Daly, William C. | Education, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Some Subterranean Thoughts of History


Daly, William C., Education


Arnold Toynbee in his "A Study of History" summarized history by dividing the subject up into history, science and fiction by order of techniques. He indicated that there were three different "methods of viewing and presenting the objects of our thoughts, the phenomenon of human life. The first is the ascertainment and recording of facts; the second is the elucidation, through a comparative study of the facts ascertained, of general laws; the third is the artistic re-creation in the form of fiction.... The ascertainment and the recording of facts is the technique of history ... The phenomena in the technique are the social phenomena of civilizations ... elucidation and formulation of general laws is the technique of science... the science is anthropology ... Within the province of the scientific technique are the social phenomena of primitive societies; ... fiction is the technique of the drama and the novel ... The phenomena in the province of this technique are the personal relations of human beings." Toynbee goes on to say that all of the above are to be found in the works of Aristotle. What is being said here is that history and how one compares societies from Toynbee's point of view are on a gradient or curve and not within a categorical system.

Until the 1900's historians according to the records studied wars, diplomacy and state affairs basically. Since then historians have become interested in other things such as economics, social conditions and just about all elements of culture. As part of education the public schools began teaching "Social Studies" which in a sense organized historical events more succinctly. Some Social Scientists have been interested in "laws" from these particular studies; since WWI there has been a revival of history and an attempt to connect it with teaching and citizenship. The latter term has been emphasized in all likelihood due to the "Great War," World War I.

One does not know "where we are" unless we have an inkling as to "where we were." And so history has entered the picture. It is a means of evaluating and measuring in qualitative terms of course a systems location in the universe of time. In addition to "before and after" there are aspects of history not usually covered in historical texts. These can be codified specifically as characteristics below the surface in historical writings. They may be considered therefore as hidden sociological concepts.

The following are some ideas related to such characteristics and paradigms:

1) Philosophy--History, written or spoken is philosophy not science. History is a social science of course and contorts on the basis of the historian or the person compiling the historical event. It is a viewpoint, a slant or an angle but cannot possibly be in the focus of measurement as measurements exist in mathematics, physics or chemistry, the so called "pure" sciences. Usually, when a person writes an historical account his background and interests influence his writing and how he interprets these events and formulates their implications. He cannot avoid his view point or frame of reference which is an individualized and fairly stable system. When one does compile aspects of an event he tends to select characteristics that might agree or support his thesis though conscious or unconscious they may be. He starts with his own frame and develops the historical account around his frame over which he has some control but not much. But even prejudice can be knowledge. The task of philosophy is to expand on history; once this begins facts as entertained enters into the field of probabilities and "what ought to be." Or what the writer feels is vital at the moment. As noted previously any elucidation of facts may enter the realm of science, a social science of course.

2) Disbelief--Another characteristic of history and it's evolvement is the tendency for many groups of people to deny certain past events because they may seem hard to manage or beyond reality. …

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