Document 17765927

What is history?
History …
• is a form of discourse about the past
• emphasizes critical analysis and
interpretation of the surviving traces of the
past, though historians disagree violently
about how to use the evidence
• usually is presented in prose narrative, like
a story, governed by culturally specific
unwritten rules and expectations about what
an historical narrative should look like
History is not …
• myth, but that does not mean it is
automatically always true
• fiction, but that does not mean that the
historian's imagination plays no role in
reconstructing the past
• propaganda, but that does not mean it is
automatically neutral and objective
So, history IS …
• a kind of myth, as a story that helps us make
sense of the world
• a kind of fiction, although governed by
certain generic conventions
• a kind of propaganda, for it represents the
historian's personal point of view
So …
History is …
• a particular way of telling a story about the
past, which claims to offer a trustworthy
account of past events.
Or …
• History is a storehouse of information about
how people and societies behave. By
studying the past we understand the present.
• History is an imperfect human laboratory
where data is collected, revealing the most
vital evidence in our efforts to understand
who we are and why we behave as we do
To the Greeks and Romans …
• History was written by men – historians, not
statesmen – whose subject matter was the
famous deeds of men in war
• The historian was an artist, who
approximated reality, told the “truth” in a
beautiful and meaningful way, captured the
reader with that art, and instructed, edified
and eternalized virtue and infamy
Historians were …
• Men of leisure, thinkers, men of affairs,
men of the ruling class …
• MEN!
• Artists, who sought in their art, with a
fidelity to the truth, to be a teacher to the
Historians …
• Collected material, weighed sources,
exercised independent criticism, established
a contract with the reader, and professed to
avoid partiality.
Why study history?
• Why bother with the past? Why study the
• Historians don’t replicate DNA, perform
heart surgery, improve highways or arrest
criminals. What is their function, and what
is the function of history?
Why study history?
It is essential to who we are
It harbors beauty
It is art and entertainment
It reveals how people and societies function, and
helps us understand the human experience
• It contributes to moral understanding
• It provides identity-for the individual, the family,
the community, the nation
What does the student of
history learn?
• The ability to assess various kinds of evidence:
leaders’ speeches, historians’ observations, poets’
and critics’ comments, private records, numerical
data, physical remains
• The ability to use this evidence to craft a coherent
• The ability to sort through diverse, conflicting
• To become a well-informed citizen and member of
a community