The Perspective And The Purpose Of History

The Perspective And The Purpose Of History

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The Perspective And The Purpose Of History


History is a story told over time. It is a way of recreating the past so it can be studied in the present and re-interpreted for future generations. Since humans are the sole beneficiaries of history, it is important for us to know what the purpose of history is and how historians include their own perspective concerning historical events. The purpose and perspective of history is vital in order for individuals to realise how it would be almost impossible for us to live out our lives effectively if we had no knowledge of the past. Also, in order to gain a sound knowledge of the past, we have to understand the political, social and cultural aspects of the times we are studying.
In What is History, Alan Bullock believes that history is an attempt to explain the sequence and connections of events. He believes that "History is to explain why...it is not to explain why they had to follow, but why they did in fact follow." It is believed by Bullock that history is taken apart and is put together by an historian, so that it may yield new evidence, that will teach us a lesson from the past in order to become more aware of the future. This connective account helps us "get inside the skin of this man or group of men."

Russel B. Nye also shares similarities with McPhee in History, Meaning and Method, saying that "History is a response to the eternal desire of human beings to know about themselves." Nye believes that history is concerned with societies and the individuals who live in these societies. He emphasises the importance of people, their individual choices, the values they hold and the angles of vision by which they have looked at themselves and the world. It is important to look at history if one is to understand how and why men and women have acted together in society. Nye also shares the same view as Bullock in suggesting that "History has the special obligation to recall, reassess and re-interpret the past, bringing it to bear on the present and translating it into a form each new generation can use." Nye believes that history is a social science which requires hypotheses and observations. If we are to make proper use of history, historians have to arrange it in a way that makes it easy for us to identify the facts.

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This again relates to the argument of 'identifying one's self'.

In The Historians Craft by Marc Bloch, he states that history is nothing more than an 'inquiry' into the past. Unlike Nye, Bloch believes that the notion of history being a "science of the past" is a very poor idea. He believes that the purpose of history shares absolutely no characteristics with a scientific approach at all. However, like Nye, Bloch also believes that the object, and hence purpose of history, is man. He feels that human factors seem to determine the direction of history. Since mankind is behind everything in existence, it is important to acknowledge our roots in society.

In The Historian's Purpose, it concentrates on the fact that an historian's perspective will play a key part in writing history, as they are often "sensitive to the interests and problems of society in which they live." Bullock believes that it is impossible to leave out bias when writing history because we are greatly influenced on that particular subject due to the experiences of your own time. After all, to deny our own impulses, is to deny the very thing that makes us human. He feels that that is why it is important to only look to the past when one is studying history. Therefore, the role of an historian is also very important when perspective is being studied. His cultural background, people he has lived with and events he has endured will all be key factors when he is giving his view on a particular topic. But as Bullock says, an historian must "keep a critical eye on his own assumptions and pre-conceptions" and as well as the fact that historians must "break down, rather than build up generalisations."

Nye believes, in History, Meaning and Method, that the perspective of history helps us understand the society of the time. When we are looking at evidence, it will not only give us the facts, but it will also yield the "political, social and cultural frameworks by which they [human beings] ordered their lives." Similar to Bullock, Nye also believes that the role of historian's is very important when they are writing history. Nye states that an historian will find relevance to something an earlier generation had discarded, to which a future generation will give new meaning. That is why history is "not only written, but re-written."

Marc Bloch doesn't deal with the issue of perspective as the other historians have; instead it is interesting to look at his own perspective on the science of history. In The Historian's Craft, one might say that Bloch hasn't really had a scientific upbringing due to his constant denunciation of the idea the history is a science of the past, or that history is the "science of men". Some may even say that he has acquired an extensive understanding of science and that is why he had chosen to discard the notion of science and history, because he can see no relation between the two whatsoever. Whatever the case may be, it obvious that he has been influenced by certain elements in his life when he came to his decision on whether history is a science. We are also using our own experiences in life when we are judging whether he has a sound knowledge of science. Therefore, our perspectives in life, and moreover in history, are very important when we are searching for the truth in certain things.

History is therefore of great importance to human beings. It shows our actions over time and it tries to explain why we acted like this - it tries to explain our natural feelings and desires. The perspective an historian gives in his 'connective account' is very important, as it shows how one thinks and often feels. In order to try and achieve the 'whole picture', we must look at all the evidence given to us by many historians. Even bias is important in history, as it shows the writers feelings behind the article that he or she is writing. Both perspective and purpose is very important in this magnificent story that we know as history.
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