Economic History of Europe

Economic History of Europe

Economic History of Europe

Economic History of Europe

Excerpt

Before any consederable portion of the past can be comprehensible to the people of the present, someone must study the records, select, classify, and interpret them. The person who does this work is the historian. His task is extremely difficult. Not only must he guard against accepting false information in selecting his materials, but he must also take care that he presents matters that are characteristic of the age he is discussing and gives his readers a true picture of it. He must also organize his material into a form that can be grasped easily, and at the same time he must not make the story too simple. In other words, he must take from the records significant but often unconnected facts and show how he thinks they are related. Writing history is thus no easy or mechanical process. The historian must constantly use his judgment, his ideas, and his imagination.

The student of history should be aware that what he reads in a textbook is not an exact and complete record of the past, but an account manufactured by the historian from the available material. If the historian is careful and honest and learned, his account is relatively trustworthy, though no historian can avoid making mistakes; but if he lets his patriotism, his desire for reform, or his disapproval of change warp his judgment, his account may be very misleading.

The student should also be aware that the historian is compelled to divide history artificially into sections by subjects, countries, and periods, to make it easier to understand. History is most properly conceived as a seamless web stretching from the remote past to the present day or as a great river flowing without interruption. There are no gaps between one epoch and another. A man living on January 1, 1501, did not get up that morning and say, "Ah, medieval times are over and modern times have be . . .

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