“Evaluate The Ways History Is Constructed” Year 12, History Extension Essay

1992 words - 8 pages

“Evaluate the ways history is constructed”
Depending on the historians’ time and the context, it determines the way their history is constructed through their research and purpose in which they write. Their differing in aim allows the historian to assemble their history in a dissimilar way, concluding that not all ways history is constructed is the same.
Ancient historian Herodotus constructs his history through the use of eye-witness interviews of possibly hundreds of people and eagerly sought two or three versions of events. He travels widely to get both Persian and Greek accounts to suit the history he bases it on which is The Rise of the Persian Empire (Books I-V) and Greece and the Persian Wars (Books V-IX). His histories set down to preserve the memory of the past by putting it on record, making his histories of a “commemorative level” for those who fought and died in the wars. He was seen as the inventor of history through his difference on how he produced it in comparison to early writer, Homer. Although they shared similarities containing comprehensive lists of troops and the interruptions of his narrative to digress about customs and geography. They differ in that Herodotus does not write in a poetic form but prose, the events he writes about pertain the living memory where as Homer had written in about distant times. Much of what he wrote was the result of his own travels, observations and inquires using sources and was very concerned with the issue of being bias, this is revealed through the avoidance of making the Persians out to be “villains” although the Greeks may have been the heroes. Each of Herodotus’ “Logoi” was recited for entertainment and also in book format, according to Cagnazzi it would have taken three to four hours to recite. Herodotus or “the father of history” constructs his history with the use of eye-witness accounts; however some historians argue that he is the “father of lies” through the use of the supernatural. K.H Waters states although gods do not directly determine events “This is not to say that supernatural control, and evidence of the concern of the divine powers for human affairs, have been entirely excluded by Herodotus; oracles and other superhuman manifestations frequently appear, and on the cosmic level an ill-defined Fate lies in the background”. Dealing with the avoidance of bias attitudes he proves to fail to escape the context of his times in another way, an example of this would be the fate of Persian King Cambyses. Herodotus describes Cambyses in a negative way, suggesting he executed his brother, incest’s with his sister, burns Egyptian noblemen alive, attacks the holy Apris and desecrates Egyptian mummies and tombs (Histories book III, 64) this relates to his pride in his Greek heritage and the seemingly miraculous victory of Greece over Persia. Herodotus constructs history through the use of interviews to portray his living memory accounts, he moves away from the writings of Homer to produce more a “recording” of events, and it is portrayed that he attempts to avoid being bias.
However, unlike Herodotus, Polybius believes history is not about entertainment but it is for an instructive purpose and to provide guidance in military and political matters. His writings are also proved to help people cope with moral problems and face whatever changing fortunes occur. For Polybius there is no room for the amazing, fantastic or dramatic, he reveals this opinion in his second book stating “(for drama) the power of carrying an audience is the chief excellence because the object is to create illusion; but (for History) the thing of primary importance is truth, because the object is to benefit the learner”. Polybius argued that there are three main methods that a historians need to practise, firstly it is collecting and carefully studying written sources, secondly to visit and check geographical locations and lastly to detail first hand experiences through such things as interviews. These aspects of his methodology provide him with an acute insight into the events that he was previously relating, this is complemented by E. Breisach stating “Therefore his Histories represent a report on Rome’s recent past by an outsider who would observe Roman government, military arts and diplomacy from an extremely favourable position.” To obtain the information he gained, he not only involved interviewing people but travelled extensively to “get the feel for the past”, demonstrated by his own epic crossing of the Alps on his voyage along the coast of Africa. Polybius was very critical of other historians, although whether it was serious academic disagreements or jealously has been disputes, the criticism’s he makes on Timaeus occupies most of Book 12. Although critical of many other historians, he agrees with Thucydides about the idea that in order to understand the past, one needs to link deep causes to specific events which lead to major causes such as wars. Also similar to Thucydides the use of speeches is revealed and Polybius’ impatience with behaviour of historians that lose their use of speech, this is demonstrated in his determination to get his speeches right. Polybius’ constructs his history different to Herodotus as he believes it is not for entertainment and meant as a programmatic, rational and logical process, however some historians would refer to his works as “dull” for this manner. The didactic purpose is revealed in his works as he states they are “practical and instructive”.
Anglo-Saxon theologian, hagiographer and chronicler Bede alike Polybius provides a didactic purpose to his Histories as he writes for the “instruction of posterity” that is similar to classic historians. He dedicated his life to learning, teaching and spreading the Christian gospel and is remembered for his Ecclesiastic History of the English People. He demonstrates his desire to create a “foundation myth” for the English with the thought that if the recent archaeological evidence is to be taken into account, it may lead to questioning the reliability of Christianity. For Bede, history is God’s plan, he reveals in his preface that “for if history records good things of good men, the thoughtful hearer is encouraged to imitate what is good; or if it records evil wicked men, the devout, religious listener or reader is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse and to follow what he knows to be good and pleasing to God.” He wrote his histories with the use of sources including Papal archives gathered by Northelm the priest of London, Gildas, Monks of Lastingham Monastery and reliable first hand witnesses. He is revealed as extremely diligent in ensuring accuracy of sources, although he does not leave north-east England his sources derived from England’s finest library; however Wales is featured very little for it is not a part of Britain and is occupied by non-Saxons. Bede’s is presented as being eager to achieve accuracy as he writes in his preface, on the other hand historians question the “miracles” performed in his works as well as the unbelievable events such as St. Albans executioners eyes falling on the ground. Bede constructs his history through didacticism to spread the teachings of Christianity, he does this using reliable first hand witnesses and original documents and archives.
Historian Gibbon does not write didactic history unlike both Polybius and Bede, Warren states in History and the Historians “Gibbon aimed to enter into a dialogue with his readers; to challenge, to provoke, to engage and to encourage them to consider his views on the nature of civilisation and how it could and should progress through the curbing of priest-ridden superstition” This thus proves that his aim is complete opposite to Bede and revealed in his harsh treatment of Christianity in chapters 15-16. This view of religious is seen through the time he lived in as the “enlightenment period”. It appears that Gibbon’s main objectives of history war the stories of war and public administration, this is revealed through Chapter 3 of Decline and Fall “...indeed a little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortune of mankind.” French Annalist writers say Gibbon has no room for such things as art, architecture, culture, science, economics and how people lived. Eugene Ho explains that Gibbon’s frequently enjoyed the use of suspense and irony, this is shown through Chapter 32 of Decline and Fall as he states “ignorant, or careless, of the impending danger, Chrysostom indulged his zeal, or perhaps his resentment”. Gibbon produced his works through the claim that he had over 7,000 books in his library containing topics ranging from Ancient history to bee0keeping and ballet. He made a great deal out of search for accuracy as most historians did and his research went beyond just the detail of Rome and its story. Despite his rejection of Christianity, his authority on the subject was recognised even by his critics. Theologian Cardinal Newman states “it is melancholy to say it, but the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the unbeliever Gibbon”. The ways that Gibbon has constructed history is demonstrated through his aim and allows the reader to make up their own mind. He provides reliable sources through his extended detail of his topics and his attempt to reflect his personal and philosophical beliefs.
Leopold von Ranke, or, “father of modern objective history” is alike Gibbon in the manner that they do not rely on traditions of history, in Gibbons case his writing does not follow the biblical perspective like Bede’s. Von Ranke disapproved the state of historical writing; he tried to reconstruct the uniqueness of period in the past. He believes that historians should present the past “as it actually was” and to avoid imbuing the past with the spirit of the present. Gibbon’s wanted to write history which was free of prevailing themes, prejudice and bias. He constructed these aims through studying original documents and eye-witness accounts, he states they are the “most genuine, immediate documents” and has a strong distrust in textbooks. Although Gibbons contained sincere religious beliefs he regarded history as well as the divine will, however not as crude as Christian but rather an acceptance of underlying existence and the power of God. The ways that Gibbon constructs history is demonstrated through the his aim to press the idea of not judging the past but to simply present the past as it was in all its uniqueness, this was a result of the historians’ scrupulous, uncorrupted and honest use of the primary sources.
Through the teachings of Von Ranke’s method is presenting history “as it actually was” it proceeded its way into Japanese historiography. In traditional Japanese historical texts like the Kojiki, the use of myths and stories were mainly what they consisted of. However as time went on people began to question this. Kume Kunitake is a Japanese historian who follows von Ranke’s scientific method. His education has stretched outwards towards the western civilisation in order to “break free” from the traditional Japanese historical thinking that was largely based on mythological aspects of the divinity of the Emperor. Kunitake had questioned the validity of the Shinto religion in his publication “Shinto wa saiten no Kozuku” or “Shinto is an out-moved custom”, this resulted in his forced resignation. This publication revealed him downgrading Shinto and casting doubt on specific point’s relation to the imperial house. That assertion contradicted accepted views about the divine descent of the imperial house and echoed the notions that had led to the banning of books in ancient and medieval times. The force of traditional belief in the divine descent of the imperial house had been incalculably strengthened under the Meiji restoration whose legitimacy in turn depended in large part of the same belief. Single minded political Shintoists wrote vigorously against Kume’s views. Kume’s views were much like Herodotus and von Ranke: to reveal the “truth”, he wanted to recover the truths about Japan’s historical past and to “let the evidence speak”

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