Chapter 18 History from WAYS OF KNOWING THROUGH THE REALMS OF MEANING by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD
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Chapter 18 History from WAYS OF KNOWING THROUGH THE REALMS OF MEANING by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

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Chapter 18 History from WAYS OF KNOWING THROUGH THE REALMS OF MEANING by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

Chapter 18 History from WAYS OF KNOWING THROUGH THE REALMS OF MEANING by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

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Chapter 18 History from WAYS OF KNOWING THROUGH THE REALMS OF MEANING by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD Chapter 18 History from WAYS OF KNOWING THROUGH THE REALMS OF MEANING by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD Document Transcript

  • Copyright © 2011 by William Allan Kritsonis/All Rights Reserved 18 HISTORY INSIGHTS1. Synoptics is a term that comprises meanings having an integra- tive function, uniting meanings from all the realms into a uni- fied perspective, that is, providing a “single vision” or “synop- sis” of meanings.2. The chief synoptic disciplines are history, religion, and philoso- phy.3. The central category in the field of history is time.4. The subject matter of history is what happened in the past, or, more precisely, human events of the past.5. History alone gives to time its integral meaning.6. The unit of historical inquiry, in which the full significance of time is revealed, is the event, happening, or episode.7. Events are concrete.8. Each event begins, proceeds toward its end, and is completed.9. History aims at describing unique events.10. In history the particular facts are the final objects of knowl- edge. 145
  • 146 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING11. History is like art—especially literature—in that its goal is par- ticular unique presentations in the form of convincing stories.12. In history, imagination enters into the manner of telling the story.13. Historical accounts relate to the actual world.14. The creations of the historian are ideally not abstractions but concretions, and they refer to actuality rather than to fiction.15. The ultimate goal of history is to tell the whole story about what happened.16. The goal of a complete history, even of one event, is never at- tainable.17. The whole truth about anything is infinitely complex and can never be told.18. The critical question for the historian concerns the grounds for selecting what he will include in his account.19. The historian’s task is to decide which limited materials will most faithfully represent the infinite concrete truth about what happened.20. A history consists of accounts with an ostensible beginning, middle, and end.21. What kinds of things does history find out?22. The subject matter of history is what persons have done in the deliberate exercise of their freedom and in the light of moral consciousness.23. History is the story of what human beings have made of them- selves within the context of their physical and social environ- ments.24. The object of historical inquiry is to understand particular de- cisions that people have made in the past.25. Events are consequences of inner deliberation.26. The goal of historical inquiry is to attain an understanding of past human events from the inside.27. Historical understanding consists in a recreation of the past through participation, in thought, in the lives of those who made the past what it was.28. History is an autonomous and distinctive field.29. The aim of historical inquiry is to ascertain the facts about the human past.30. The making of history is the redoing of what was done in the past.31. A fact is something done, finished, past.32. The past is gone, leaving only traces of itself.33. The task of the historian is to restore that past as faithfully as may be, and make it live again as thought it were present.34. The whole point of historical study is to find out what really did happen by reconstructing it in imagination.35. The making of history is a process of drawing inferences from available evidence.36. The reconstruction of the past requires a considerable fund of knowledge.37. The reenactment of the past is achieved when unique events are imaginatively concretized as personal decisions in the light of the claims of conscience.38. The historian tries to project himself imaginatively into an age, reaching for an awareness of what it must have been like to live in that period.39. “History never repeats itself” is a true saying, in the sense that events as history treats them, are unique happenings.
  • HISTORY 14740. The content of history is of particular events ordered tempo- rally.41. History is the study of what human beings have deliberately done in the past.42. Events are conceived as outcomes of personal existential deci- sions at particular times. ____________________
  • 148 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGIn this final section of Part Two, we consider a sixth realm of mean-ings, synoptics. This term comprises meanings having an integrativefunction, uniting meanings from all the realms into a unified perspec-tive, that is, providing a “single vision” or “synopsis” of meanings. Thechief synoptic disciplines are history, religion, and philosophy. Eachachieves the integration of meanings in a different way: history byimaginatively re-creating the past, religion by the disclosure of ulti-mate meanings, and philosophy by the critical interpretation of ex-pressed meanings. Since these ways are more diverse than are theways of knowing of the different fields in any other realm of meaning,it might seem better to treat each as a separate realm. While therewould be no serious objection to doing so, the three may be treated asbelonging to one realm; they share the one fundamental purpose of in-tegrative or synoptic understanding. They differ only in the manner ofeffecting the intended integration. THE SUBJECT MATTER OF HISTORY IS WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST OR HUMAN EVENTS OF THE PAST The central category in the field of history is time. To under-stand history is to understand the meaning of temporality, and viceversa. The subject matter of history is what happened in the past,or, more precisely, human events of the past. History is not con-cerned with time in general, but with past time. The appropriate modeof discourse for history is the past tense. TIME Time enters into other realms of meaning also, but not in thesame way as in history. Time in the empirical descriptions of science issimply an impersonal measure of rates of change. The clock is a me-chanical instrument for organizing the data of observation accordingto certain intelligible patterns. Similarly, in language and in thearts, time has to do with formal dynamic relationships within dis-course or in esthetic objects. In personal relations time enters as theexistential reality of being and becoming, but not as located in an ob-jective sequence. In ethics, while time is a factor in the situationwhere decisions are made, the standard of judgment is timeless. Histo-ry alone gives to time its integral meaning. It unites the abstract ob-jectivity of parametric impersonal time in science, and rhythmic timein language and the arts, with the concrete subjectivity of time inpersonal relations and particular moral decisions, yielding a real-ization of whole time, in which particular unique happenings actual-ly occurred. THE EVENT, HAPPENING, OR EPISODE The unit of historical inquiry, in which the full significance oftime is revealed, is the event, happening, or episode. An “event” issomething that happened once upon a time. The task of the historian isto describe, order, and interpret events. Events are concrete. They are not abstractions, that is, as-pects of complete things. They are themselves existential wholes.Many elements are united in the actuality of any given happening.
  • HISTORY 149Each event begins, process toward its end, and is completed. In a senseit is a finished work, a whole occurrence. The integrative nature ofhistory follows from the concreteness of events as the basic units ofhistorical inquiry. If the historian is to present what actually hap-pened, he must bring together the various aspects of human experienceinto significant wholes, relating past occurrences in the light of allthe ingredients that go into the formation of a complex real-life hap-pening. History differs from science in this concern for the concrete,singular event. Science aims at generality, history aims at describingunique events. Both are rooted in actual fact. In science the factsare the basis for generalizations and theories, while in history theparticular facts are the final objects of knowledge. History is like art—especially literature—in that its goal is par-ticular unique presentations in the form of convincing stories. Theevents of the past are recounted in an imaginative way so as to movethe reader by their drama and by their universal human appeal. His-tory is unlike art in that, although its works are imaginatively con-structed, they are intended as disclosures of the actual world and notof a fictional world. Imagination enters into the manner of telling thestory, not as the fabrication of events that never actually occurred. Creative imagination also enters into scientific constructions,that, like historical accounts, relate to the actual world. But thecreations of science (and of art) are imaginative abstractions, sci-ence having reference to actual things, and art to fictions. On theother hand, the creations of the historian are ideally not abstrac-tions but concretions, and they refer to actuality rather than to fic-tion. Since no one history can relate the fullness of any event, everyaccount is necessarily a partial abstraction emphasizing certain as-pects that the historian considers most significant. The ultimate goalof history is to tell the whole story about what happened. The histo-rian cannot follow the artist’s practice of deliberately presentingabstractions for the sake of creating certain responses in his readers. Actually, the goal of a complete history, even of one event, isnever attainable. The whole truth about anything is infinitely com-plex and can never be told. In other words, the historian, who is a fi-nite being writing for an audience of finite beings, has to tell a par-tial truth. The critical question for the historian concerns thegrounds for selecting what he will include in his account. The artist’sgrounds for selection are esthetic effect, the historian’s are fidelityto the facts. The historian’s task is to decide which limited materialswill most faithfully represent the infinite concrete truth about whathappened. One other difference between art and history is noteworthy.Works of art are complete compositions, each with a beginning, mid-dle, and end, and as esthetic objects they are independent from allother things. Events, too, are particular happenings, and a historyconsists of accounts with an ostensible beginning, middle, and end. Onthe other hand, this discreteness and apparent completeness in thecase of history are due to practical limitations rather than to thenature of the subject. Every event is part of a whole world of inter-connections, and every historical account is a fragment of the in-finitely rich story of the past. It is quite appropriate to frame a pic-ture as an expression of its finite perfection and incomparable unique-ness. The happenings of history cannot be framed. They are necessari-ly immersed in the infinite stream of time and bound up in mutual ingre-dients with an infinity of other happenings.
  • 150 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING It was stated above that the subject matter of history is hu-man events of the past. “Natural history” belongs to science ratherthan to history, because it is not concerned with time in the full his-torical sense, but with the temporal succession of occurrences ac-cording to the laws of nature. Historical time applies to events thathave occurred as a result of human decision. Nicolas Berdyaevmakes a distinction between the “true time” of concrete historical ac-tion and the “false time” of mechanistic abstraction.1 Benedetto Crocealso emphasizes the essentially human content of history in calling it“the story of liberty,”2 and R. G. Collingwood, in The Idea of Histo-ry3 writes, “What kinds of things does history find out? I answer, resgestue: actions of human beings that have been done in the past.” LINKING HISTORY WITH THE REALMS OF PERSONAL AND MORAL KNOWLEDGE This essential human reference of history is what links it withthe realms of personal and moral knowledge. The subject matter ofhistory is what persons have done in the deliberate exercise of theirfreedom and in the light of moral consciousness. History is the storyof what human beings have made of themselves within the context oftheir physical and social environments. It is the account of the moraladventure of humankind, of decisions for good and for evil, and of thejudgments revealed in the consequences. Collingwood holds that thevalue of history is self-understanding. “Knowing yourself meansknowing, first, what it is to be a man; second, knowing what it is tobe the kind of man you are; and third, knowing what it is to be theman you are and nobody else is.… The value of history, then, is thatit teaches us what man has done and thus what man is.”4 UNDERSTANDING WHAT AN EVENT REALLY IS We are now in a better position to understand what an event,the basic historical unit, really is. An event, as the etymology of theword suggests, is an outcome. An outcome of what? An event is whatcomes out of human deliberation. It is a decision to act in a certainway. The object of historical inquiry is therefore to understand par-ticular decisions that people have made in the past. It is clear that history is not the same as chronicle, that is,the relating of observable acts in temporal sequence. The elements ofchronicle are not events at all, in the sense indicated above, but sim-ply outward behavior., On the other hand, events are consequences ofinner deliberation. Chronicle is the skeleton of history, history with-out any animating principle, history without any personal signifi-1 The Meaning of History, Meridian Books, Inc., New York, 1962.2 History as the Story of Liberty, Meridian Books, Inc., New York, 1955.3 Oxford University Press, Fair Lawn, N.J., 1946, p. 9. Reprinted by permission ofthe publisher.4 Ibid., p. 10. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
  • HISTORY 151cance. The confusion of history with chronicle is one of the chiefsources of distaste for history on the part of students. They canhardly be expected to be interested in a recital of dead “facts” thathave no apparent relevance to them as persons in search of meaning. The goal of historical inquiry is to attain an understanding ofpast human events from the inside. This requires an imaginative iden-tification by the historian (and by those who read his works correct-ly) with the persons whose decisions have caused the happenings of thepast. Historical understanding consists in a recreation of the pastthrough participation, in thought, in the lives of those who made thepast what it was. History from this standpoint is making the pastcome alive in the present. The concreteness of history is consistent with this analysis ofthe inner meaning of events. As explained in Chapter 16, personalknowledge is concrete and existential rather than concerned with ab-stract essences. Actuality described as a chronicle of observablephenomena is not history because it is not personal. Actuality as thepersonal reenactment of the past in the present is the object of his-torical understanding, and since it is personal, it is concrete. HISTORY IS AN INDEPENDENT AND DISTINCTIVE FIELD Is history, then, merely a subdivision within the synnoeticrealm? No, history is an autonomous and distinctive field whose spe-cial office is to integrate meanings from the other realms primarily inthe mode of temporal relation. Historical understanding is person-al insight expressed in ordinary language, informed by scientif-ic knowledge, transformed by esthetic imagination, and infusedby moral consciousness. The aim of historical inquiry is to ascertain the facts about thehuman past. The word “fact” is especially appropriate to historysince in its derivation a “fact” is something made or done. Now historyis about things done by persons; it concerns acts or deeds. Also histo-ry is something that is made by the historian. These two sets of actsare related in that the making of history is the redoing of what wasdone in the past. Specifically, in a double sense. A third sense is alsorelevant, namely, that a fact is something done, finished, past. THE PROBLEM OF UNDERSTANDING THE PAST The problem of understanding the past is quite different fromthat of immediate perception, as in art and personal knowledge, or ofprediction on the basis of repeatable observations, as in science. Thepast is gone, leaving only traces of itself. The task of the historian isto restore that past as faithfully as may be, and make it live againas though it were present. THE WRITING OF HISTORY Writing history does not consist in taking certain given happen-ings, arranging them in chronological order, and weaving them intoan interesting tale. The historian has no ready-made events to re-late, except as he uses the results of some other historian’s labors.He has to make his own events; his facts are not given, but made.The whole point of historical study is to find out what really did hap-pen by reconstructing it in imagination.
  • 152 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING History is the recording of events from the past. More importantly, it is a recording of events that some believe have influenced the present. An infinite number of events have and will occur on the earth. Not all of these events were or will be considered significant enough to be noteworthy. It is the teacher’s job to convince the student of the noteworthiness of events of the past. How much of the presented information will the student accept on faith, and of that amount, how much will later be rewritten or disproven?
  • HISTORY 153Picture
  • 154 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING THE MAKING OF HISTORY The making of history is a process of drawing inferences fromavailable evidence. What evidence does the historian use? He may useanything at all that he finds relevant to the reconstruction of thepast. Included are the accounts of eyewitnesses to past events, writ-ten documents, monuments, artifacts, and (perhaps most important ofall) the whole present world of things and people, since the presentstate of the world is largely a consequence of the past actions ofmen. History may then be defined as that imaginative re-creationof past human events that best accords with the evidence ofthe present, or more briefly, as the best possible explanation ofthe present in terms of the past. HISTORICAL CONSTRUCTIONS Historical constructions are made by the interpretation of ev-idence, separating relevant from irrelevant factors, reliable fromunreliable reports, and primary sources from secondary, tertiaryand higher orders of sources (the latter referring to sources thatare themselves historical interpretations or interpretations of inter-pretations rather than original records or artifacts). Each interpre-tation is a historical hypothesis, a statement of what might havehappened, and the consequences of each such hypothesis are developedto see how well they agree with the available evidence. THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE PAST REQUIRES A CONSIDERABLE FUND OF KNOWLEDGE As pointed out above, an event may be inwardly understoodonly as an outcome of deliberate human decision. Many factors enterinto the outcome, in that each decision concerns what to do given cer-tain material and social circumstances, personal goals, and moralprinciples. The reconstruction of the past therefore requires a consid-erable fund of knowledge. The more the historian knows of the empiri-cal, personal, moral and even esthetic factors that went into themaking of the decisions to be reconstructed the better will be his hy-potheses about what occurred in the past. PSYCHOLOGY AND SOCIAL SCIENCES ARE IMPORTANT TO HISTORICAL ANALYSIS Particularly important in such historical analysis and expla-nation are psychology and the social sciences. For example, from po-litical science generalizations are available concerning the variousmodes of exercising power. Every decision is made within the context ofcertain influences, pressures, and forces, about which political sci-ence yields valuable information. In psychology generalizations maybe found regarding such factors as drives, unconscious motivation, de-velopmental stages, and character types, all of which may aidgreatly in the formation of fruitful hypotheses about how past deci-sions were reached. Sociology can contribute relevant knowledge of
  • HISTORY 155possible formative elements such as social structure, roles, norms,and social class, and anthropology can help in the formation of hy-potheses from the standpoint of cultural patterns. Economic and geo-graphic influences may also be of great importance in the formationof the events the historian endeavors to recapture. THE ARTS ARE RELEVANT TO HISTORY Valuable as the generalizations of the various sciences are inframing historical hypotheses, they are not sufficient to account forthe unique particulars of history. Here is where the arts become rele-vant, particularly drama, which is a fictional presentation of per-sons making decisions affecting their destiny. The novelist’s or play-wright’s convincing portrayal of life in fictional form can providehelpful suggestions to the historian as he seeks to present his convinc-ing portrayal of life, answerable to the conditions and evidences ofactuality. REENACTMENT OF THE PAST AND PERSONAL ENGAGEMENT IS REQUIRED TO UNDERSTAND HISTORY The reenactment of the past is achieved when unique events areimaginatively concretized as personal decisions in the light of theclaims of conscience. The past as human events cannot be understoodsimply as a description of objects or even as an artistic presentation.What is required is an active personal engagement with people in thepast regarded as moral subjects involved in the struggle to fulfilltheir destiny. Interpretations on this basis are certain to reflect thepredispositions and personal biases of the historian more than wouldbe the case with knowledge in the empirical realm. Nevertheless, his-tory is not merely a record of the historian’s personal reactions, forthe historian is obliged to show that his interpretations and explana-tions best account for the available evidence. This obligation puts acheck on subjectivity and opens the way to the progressive criticismand improvement of historical knowledge. AN EVENT SELECTED MAY FALL WITHIN A GIVEN TIME SPAN Although the event is the basic unit of historical knowledge, a“history” in the usual sense is an account involving many events intheir mutual interrelations in time. The events selected may fall with-in a given time span (say, 1900 to 1950), and they may be limited to acertain class or type (such as military, economic, or scientificevents), or to happenings taking place within a given area (such asthe United States or Africa) or in connection with a particular insti-tution or person. THE GROUPING OF EVENTS INTO PERIODS A further method of simplifying historical analysis is throughperiodization, that is, the grouping of events into periods for whichcertain general characterizations may be made. For example, the“Renaissance,” the “Colonial Period,” the “Age of Reason,” and the“Jacksonian Era” are names for historical periods about which cer-tain statements can be made regarding typical styles of thought,movements, social structures, dominant personalities, and the like.While these periods in effect constitute generalizations about events,
  • 156 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGthey may themselves be regarded as concrete macroevents requiringthe same kind of explanation as happenings resulting from individualdecisions. The historian tries to project himself imaginatively into anage, reaching for an awareness of what it must have been like to livein that period. He then considers how people living at that time mightbe expected to have behaved, and he checks his predictions by whatev-er evidence of their actual behavior has been preserved to the presenttime. COMPREHENSIVE THEORIES OF HISTORY Going beyond the generalization effected by periodizing, somehistorians attempt to describe certain general principles or laws ofhistorical development by which the past may be explained and the fu-ture course of events to some extent predicted. In this manner compre-hensive theories of history are developed in which particular eventsare seen as examples of universal laws. While theorizing of this kindmay possibly have some value, it does not properly belong to historysince it swallows the singular event up in generality. “Laws of histo-ry” belong to the social sciences rather than to history proper, sincetheir logic is that of empirical inquiry and not of distinctively histori-cal study. Laws are timeless, abstract, and impersonal, unlike thepersonal concretions in time that are the proper subject matter ofhistory. “History never repeats itself” is a true saying, in the sensethat events as history treats them are unique happenings. Whileanalogies between events may be of scientific interest and may evenenter into the reconstruction of events by the historian, these regu-larities are not themselves the goal of historical understanding. HISTORY IS THE STUDY OF WHAT HUMAN BEINGS HAVE DELIBERATELY DONE IN THE PAST In summary, history is the study of what human beings have de-liberately done in the past. Its content is not, as in science, general-izations about observable occurrences, but particular events orderedtemporally. These events are conceived as outcomes of personal exis-tential decisions at particular times. Hypotheses about what hap-pened are formed by the imaginative re-creation of the past, usingrelevant empirical knowledge from every field, together with person-al understanding and ethical insight. Finally, these hypotheses aretested and progressively improved by checking them with effects of thepast in the form of present evidence. Much of people’s understanding of history is based on interpretations of the written or spoken stories of the past, in
  • HISTORY 157 some cases hundreds or thousands of years ago. Every story has two sides, or more, and the side of the story that is accepted and passed on is generally that of the victor. At a time when people are trying topresent arguable evidence as fact, should teach- ers also be trying to encourage students to think independently to determine whether or not to believe everything they hear and read?
  • 158 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGPicture
  • HISTORY 159 WAYS OF KNOWING1. How does one understand history?2. How does time give history its integral meaning?3. How does history differ from science?4. How is history like art? How is history unlike art?5. What is the ultimate goal of history?6. Why is the goal of a complete history, even of one event, never attainable?7. What is the historian’s task in selecting materials?8. What is the distinction of “true time” of concrete historical ac- tion and the “false time” of mechanistic abstraction?9. What kinds of things does history find out?10. How is history linked to the realms of personal and moral knowledge?11. Why is it important as the object of historical inquiry to under- stand particular decisions that people have made in the past?12. What are the differences between chronicles and events in his- tory?13. How is historical understanding improved by the historian using his creative imagination?14. Why is the personal reenactment of the past in the present im- portant for historical understanding?15. Is history merely a subdivision within the synnoetic realm?16. What is historical understanding?17. What is the aim of historical inquiry?18. Why is understanding the past historically quite different from that of immediate perception?19. What is the whole point of historical study?20. How does one write history?21. How would you describe the making of history?22. According to the book, how do you define history?23. How are historical constructions made?24. Why does the reconstruction of the past require a considerable fund of knowledge?25. How are the social sciences and psychology important to his- torical analysis?26. Why is reenactment of the past and personal engagement re- quired to understand history?27. What is meant by historical analysis through periodization?28. What is the purpose of comprehensive theories of history?29. Are general principles or laws of historical development use- ful for understanding history? Why? Why not?30. Why are concretions in time the proper subject matter of histo- ry?31. In summing up history, what is it?