Sunday, June 8, 2014

Understanding History 1


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

(For soft copy of PPT presentation of this topic, open link

Throughout the ages, various cultures have told stories about their past. Part entertainment, part chronicle of the events, part myth and popular memory, history might offer knowledge about important traditions and teach a moral lesson, but little more. It was not until the nineteenth century that scholars began to recognize the study of the past as a discipline that could provide a perspective for understanding the world in which one lives.

PREHISTORY refers to events occurred prior to the invention of system of writing. Examples are stories or legends common to a particular culture but not supported by external sources.  

ARCHAEOLOGY is a discipline that is especially helpful in dealing with buried sites and objects, which once unearthed, contribute to the study of history. But archaeology rarely stands alone. It uses narrative sources to complement its discoveries. However, archaeology does not “fill the gaps” within textual sources.

HISTORY (historia, Greek “inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation) is the discipline that studies the chronological record of events (as affecting a nation or people), based on a critical examination of source materials and usually presenting an explanation of their causes.

HISTORY is not a collection of facts about the past whose primary value is to improve one’s skills while playing trivial games; it is an interpretation of the past based on the weight of the available evidence.

How much can we know of the past?

In the centuries before the Enlightenment, Western intellectuals conceived of the past as being shaped primarily by God’s intervention. The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed a growing awareness of the distinctiveness of the historical past and the process of change over time. The period also embraced a sense of progress characterized by a rejection of the distant past. Since the emergence of a modern historical consciousness in the nineteenth century, the question of how much can be known about the past has haunted those interested in the important lessons history can suggest. Historical knowledge is limited in two ways: by the available sources, and by the approach taken by the individual historians.

HISTORIAN is a person who studies and writes about the past. They are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race.

Traditionally, historians have recorded events of the past, either in writing or by passing on an oral tradition, and have attempted to answer historical questions through the study of written documents and oral accounts. For the beginning, historians have also used such sources as monuments, inscriptions and pictures. In general, the sources of historical knowledge can be separated into three categories: what is written, what is said, and what is physically preserved and historians often consult all three. 

Hecateus, a native of Asia Minor who lived in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Only fragments of his “History” and “Tour Around the World” have survived. He looked critically at the Greeks’ attempts to account for their past and concluded: “The stories of the Greeks are numerous and in my opinion ridiculous.  When he traveled to Egypt and visited the priests (official record keepers), he commented that he was able to trace his ancestry back 16 generations. An Egyptian showed him evidence of the ancestry of their high priests back 345 generations. This overwhelming antiquity impressed him, as it did his successor Herodotus.
                Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484-ca.425 BC) – Father of History, author of “The Histories” as he attempted to distinguished between more and less reliable accounts and personally conducted research by travelling extensively, giving written accounts of various Mediterranean cultures.

                Thucydides (ca. 460 BC – ca. 400 BC) – Is credited with having first approached history with a well-developed historical method in his work the History of the Peloponnesian War. He regarded history as being the product of the choices and actions of human beings, and looked at cause and effect, rather than as a result of divine intervention. In his historical method, Thucydides emphasized chronology, a neutral point of view and that the human world was the result of the actions of human beings.
                “With reference to the narrative of events, far from permitting myself to derive it from the first source that came to hand, I did not even trust my own impressions, but it rests partly on what I saw myself, partly on what others saw for me, the accuracy of the report always being tried by the most severe and detailed tests possible."

Before, only human societies have histories, based on collective memories from which they reconstruct their pasts. Not all attempts to reconstruct the past have resulted in histories. History emerged as a way or recounting past events, there were myth, legend and epic. Even after ancient societies decided to keep written records, these does not necessarily constitute histories. Often they were no more than lists of kings or accounts of battles.

HISTORICAL SOURCES are definite record, account or source of information used to reconstruct the past.

                2 TYPES: 1. PRIMARY (witness): forms of evidence contemporary to the event
                                Eg. Published written sources, manuscripts, diaries, official records, private correspondence, newspapers,
Memoirs, autobiographies, tax records, census materials and wills, cultural artifacts (cartoons, movies, fiction,
Architecture, art)
   2. SECONDARY: chronicles or interpretation of events written after the fact
Eg. Monographs, biographies, scholarly journal articles, historical dictionaries, encyclopedias, websites, lectures and reviews

HISTORIOGRAPHY refers to the systematic writing of history, especially based on the critical examination of sources, the selection of particular details from the authentic materials in those sources, and the synthesis of those details into narrative form.  

HISTORICAL METHOD is the analysis of the sources and the synthesis of the material.
                Historical Criticism – the analysis of the sources
a.       External Criticism(Lower)
                                                               i.      When was the source written or unwritten produced (DATE)?
                                                             ii.      Where was it produced (LOCALIZATION)?
                                                           iii.      By whom was it produced (AUTHORSHIP)?
                                                           iv.      From what existing material was it produced (ANALYSIS)?
                                                             v.      In what original form was it produced (INTEGRITY)?
                                                           vi.      What is the evidential value of its content (CREDIBILITY)?
b.       Internal Criticism (Higher)

2.       Synthesis – the shifting grouping, arrangement, generalization and organization of the facts gathered in order to form a body of connected and related knowledge which must be presented in a logical form.

VARIETIES OF HISTORY (http://wikipedia)
                Because educated people believe that history provides a sense of perspective to understand the present and how the society arrived at a particular point in time, there are many different types of history (place, time period or theme):

1. Ancient history – the study from the beginning of human history until the Early Middle Ages
2. Art history – the study of changes in and social context of the art
3. Big history – study of history on a large scale across long time frames and epochs through multi-disciplinary approach
4. Chronology – science of localizing historical events in time
5. Comparative history – historical analysis of social and cultural entities not confined to national boundaries
6. Contemporary history – study of historical events that are immediately relevant to the present time
7. Cultural history - the study of culture in the past
8. Digital history – the use of computing technologies to produce digital scholarship
9. Economic history – study of economic trends and conditions in the past
10. Environmental history – a new field that emerged in the 1980s to look at the history of the environment, especially in the long run, and the impact of human activities upon it.
11. Futurology – the study of the future: researches the medium to long term future of societies and of the physical world
12. Intellectual history – the study of ideas in the context of the cultures that produced them and their development overtime.
13. Maritime history – study of maritime transport and all the connected subjects
14. Modern history – study of the Modern Times, the era after the Early Middle Ages
15. Military history – the study of warfare and wars in history (Naval history)
16. Natural history – the study of the development of the cosmos, the Earth biology and interactions thereof.
17. Paleography – study of ancient texts
18. People’s history – historical work from the perspective of common people
19. Political history – the study of politics in the past
20. Psychohistory – study of the psychological motivations of historical events
21. Social history – the study of the process of social change throughout history
                (Black, Demographic, History of education, Ethnic, Family, Labor, Rural, Urban)
22. Women history – the history of female human beings. Gender history is related and covers the perspective of gender.
23. World history – study of history from global perspective 
24. Public history – historic preservation, archival science, oral history, museum curatorship and other relatable fields. Some of the common settings for public history are museums, historic homes and historic sites, parks, battlefield, archives, film and television companies and all levels of the government.


The history of a nation is the story of its rise, development, and outcome. It explains the present and guides the way to the future. As a subject, history is not meant to be mechanically memorized and later be forgotten, but should be used to derive valuable insights and perspectives on what we are and what we want to be.

A more significant aspect of history is that it is not just a story. It carries with an important meaning. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is the discussion of the Filipino word for history which is kasaysayan.  Kasaysayan has a deeper meaning, its root word saysay means “sense” or “meaning”.  It also means importance or purpose. The things that have no importance or meaning are valueless or walang saysay. With the addition of the suffix “yan”, saysayan”  now means the act of conveying words of importance or sense. This is actually told through a narrative or story (kasaysayan). With the addition of the prefix “ka” , “saysayan”  now has a new meaning. “Ka” has a very important connotation. It implies connection of interaction or relationship, of being a part of something, of being together, or doing something together. Hence, in kasaysayan, people share important narratives with one another, sharing similar or opposite point of views.  (De Viana, 2011) 

Here are some of the points of views of our prominent Filipino historian:

“History offers the key to national identity and the basis for future development. “ – Dr. Jose P. Rizal

Teodoro Agoncillo (Father of Filipino Nationalist Historiography) wrote the conditions of the Philippine past by analyzing the conditions of the masses.

“Philippine History is a people’s history. It is a recorded struggle of people for ever increasing freedom and for newer and realization of the human person.” – Renato Constantino


History serve can serve as a guide to present and succeeding generations in facing the challenges of the times. By projecting the people’s aspirations, a people’s history will enable us to grasp the direction of the country’s development and identify the factors that impede real progress. Truly, the need for a real people’s history becomes more urgent as we Filipinos search for truly Filipino solutions to the problems besetting our country.

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