Visit Website But when the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts instead of Virginia, discord began before the colonists even left the ship. The strangers argued the Virginia Company contract was void. The defiant strangers refused to recognize any rules since there was no official government over them.
History and its representation What are the intellectual tasks that define the historian's work? In a sense, this question is best answered on the basis of a careful reading of some good historians.
But it will be useful to offer several simple answers to this foundational question as a sort of conceptual map of the nature of historical knowing. First, historians are interested in providing conceptualizations and factual descriptions of events and circumstances in the past.
This effort is an answer to questions like these: What was it like?
What were some of the circumstances and happenings that took place during this period in the past? How did participants and contemporaries think about it? What were the conditions and forces that brought it about?
And providing an explanation requires, most basically, an account of the causal mechanisms, background circumstances, and human choices that brought the outcome about. We explain an historical outcome when we identify the social causes, forces, and actions that brought it about, or made it more likely.
What were the processes through which the outcome occurred? How did Truman manage to defeat Dewey in the US election?
Here the pragmatic interest of the historian's account derives from the antecedent unlikelihood of the event in question: Fourth, often historians are interested in piecing together the human meanings and intentions that underlie a given complex series of historical actions.
They want to help the reader make sense of the historical events and actions, in terms of the thoughts, motives, and states of mind of the participants.
Why has the Burmese junta dictatorship been so intransigent in its treatment of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi? Answers to questions like these require interpretation of actions, meanings, and intentions—of individual actors and of cultures that characterize whole populations.
And, of course, the historian faces an even more basic intellectual task: Historical data do not speak for themselves; archives are incomplete, ambiguous, contradictory, and confusing. The historian needs to interpret individual pieces of evidence; and he or she needs to be able to somehow fit the mass of evidence into a coherent and truthful story.
So complex events like the Spanish Civil War present the historian with an ocean of historical traces in repositories and archives all over the world; these collections sometimes reflect specific efforts at concealment by the powerful for example, Franco's efforts to conceal all evidence of mass killings of Republicans after the end of fighting ; and the historian's task is to find ways of using this body of evidence to discern some of the truth about the past.
In short, historians conceptualize, describe, contextualize, explain, and interpret events and circumstances of the past. They sketch out ways of representing the complex activities and events of the past; they explain and interpret significant outcomes; and they base their findings on evidence in the present that bears upon facts about the past.
Their accounts need to be grounded on the evidence of the available historical record; and their explanations and interpretations require that the historian arrive at hypotheses about social causes and cultural meanings.
Historians can turn to the best available theories in the social and behavioral sciences to arrive at theories about causal mechanisms and human behavior; so historical statements depend ultimately upon factual inquiry and theoretical reasoning. Ultimately, the historian's task is to shed light on the what, why, and how of the past, based on inferences from the evidence of the present.
Two preliminary issues are relevant to almost all discussions of history and the philosophy of history. These are issues having to do with the constitution of history and the levels at which we choose to characterize historical events and processes.
The first issue concerns the relationship between actors and causes in history: The second issue concerns the question of scale of historical processes in space and time: Both issues can be illustrated in the history of France. Should we imagine that twentieth-century France is the end result of a number of major causes in its past—the collapse of the Roman order in the territory, the military successes of Charlemagne, the occurrence of the French Revolution, and defeat in the Franco-Prussian War?
Or should we acknowledge that France at any point in time was the object of action and contest among individuals, groups, and organizations, and that the interplay of strategic actors is a more fertile way of thinking about French history than the idea of a series of causal events? Scale is equally controversial.
Should we think of France as a single comprehensive region, or as the agglomeration of separate regions and cultures with their own historical dynamics Alsace, Brittany, Burgundy? Further, is it useful to consider the long expanse of human activity in the territory of what is now France, or are historians better advised to focus their attention on shorter periods of time?
The following two sections will briefly consider these issues. Is history largely of interest because of the objective causal relations that exist among historical events and structures like the absolutist state or the Roman Empire?
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