What is History?

History is the analysis and interpretation of the human past enabling us to study continuity and changes that are taking place over time. It is an act of both investigation and imagination that seeks to explain how people have changed over time. Historians use all forms of evidence to examine, interpret, revisit, and reinterpret the past. These include not just written documents, but also oral communication and objects such as buildings, artifacts, photographs, and paintings. Historians are trained in the methods of discovering and evaluating these sources and the challenging task of making historical sense out of them. History is a means to understand the past and present. The different interpretations of the past allow us to see the present differently and therefore imagine-and work towards-different futures. It is often said to be the ‘queen’ or ‘mother’ of the social sciences. It is the basis of all subjects of study which fall under the category of Humanities and Social Sciences. It is also the basis of the study of philosophy, politics, economics and even art and religion. No wonder, it is considered an indispensable subject in the complete education of man.

The first meaning of history is ‘tale, story,’ and the second meaning is ‘a chronological record of significant past events.’ The opening of tales for children-‘Once upon a time’-captures both the story and time nature of history…. It happens that the word ‘history’ comes from the Greek ‘to know.’

The origin of the word History is associated with the Greek word ‘Historia’ which means ‘information’ or ‘an enquiry designed to elicit truth’. Man looked at the wilderness of the past when he was brute and savage, and even as he looked, he beheld a garden which could be created out of a jungle. He has an eye not merely on the dizzy Heights of the past but on the ditches and uneven surfaces as well, with the intention of building a glorious monument for the future. The nature history is too complex and its scope too vast, touching almost every domain of human activity. Let us start with a few definitions of history.

History has been defined differently by different scholars. Following definitions indicate the meaning of History.

Aristotle: “History contrasts research into the facts, with the logical task of explanation.” The term ‘contrasts’ is very significant here, as it suggests that things in history are related to one another in a systematic and permanent manner, forming the entire story of man into one integrated whole. Aristotle further suggests that history is an account of the unchanging past the sense that human nature does not change, and that all activities that originate with the same intentions and motives differ only in the degree of details and not in their basic nature. Thus wars, conquests, expansion and exploitation are a constant factor in history although every age and every country had its own technique to achieve the objective.

Henry Johnson: “History, in its broadest sense, is everything that ever happened.”

Smith, V. S: “The value and interest of history depend largely on the degree in which the present is illuminated by the past.”

Rapson: “History is a connected account of the course of events or progress of ideas.”

NCERT: “History is the scientific study of past happenings in all their aspects, in the life of a social group, in the light of present happenings.” The scientific study is promoted through explaining the meaning of history as study of human society in different times through all the dimensions like political, social, economic, cultural, scientific etc. Study of past happenings in the light of evidences as well as insistence for unfolding of truth through causal relationship is of prime significance. Shedding light upon truth with the help of sources is vital here along with organizing historical facts scientifically.

Jawaharlal Nehru: “History is the story of Man’s struggle through the ages against Nature and the elements; against wild beasts and the jungle and some of his own kind who have tried to keep him down and to exploit him for their own benefit.” Man has made the journey of his progress from the primitive to the modern man of today. He had to battle against the nature and its different elements for his existence and progress during the course. The society had to struggle against specific class in every age and every place to seek justice. This struggle still persists even today. Pandit Nehru expects the account of this struggle throughout ages. According to Pandit Nehru history means the struggle of human endeavour against the nature.

A novel interpretation of history is given by Carr E. H. He states: “History is the continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, and an unending dialogue between the present and the past.” Carr admires history to be a continuous process, that process is the process of interaction between historian and facts. The validity of the event gets decided through how the historian describes the event with the help of obtained facts and what interpretation he draws out. The constant correlation between occurred events and the present conditions has been given importance in history. Today’s situations and current happenings are going to be the past tomorrow. Yesterday has its influence on today and also today on tomorrow. There is some background to every happening and its success or failure. It leads to certain impressions e.g. the entire world witnessed the undying evil-impacts of imperialism and nuclear weapons during the World War II. But, even today the imperialism and nuclear accomplishment still exists in the world. The roots of it can be found out in the colonialism, imperialism and consequent World Wars. The seeds of all-round accomplishments of today’s Japan are in the lessons they took from the demolition in World War II. That is why history is an unending dialogue between past and present. The past and present are closely related with each other. They have an eternal relation between them. The ancestries of the present problems can be seen in the past. Henceforth history is reckoned to be an unending dialogue between the past and the present. The events from the past can be experienced in the present in different form. Human behaviour lies at the roots of these events.

Famous historian Burk Hardt has defined history as, “the record of what age finds worthy of note in another.” The era of Indian freedom movement has its unique significance in Indian history. The present generation receives guidance for active living through cruel policy of the British, the fight of Indians and the freedom achievement. It can be perceived that the injustice can also be eradicated by truth and non-violence. The vitality of freedom, equity, fraternity and justice can be grasped and the contemporary generation can get apt direction.That is why here the history is referred as the record of the things of one age worthy of note in another.

According to Herodotus, “History means inquiry into the interesting and memorable past events.” Here history is predestined to be ascertainment of interesting and distinct events occurred in the past. But, meaning of history cannot be such insular. History is the subject which reviews all the dimensions the human life on the basis of past events. Eminence of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj remains not in how many battles he won or how much exploits he performed but remains in his accomplishment in those times and what we shall take for our lives.

“History is the lamp of experience.” Happold has given this a visionary definition of history. Here really the penetrating meaning of history is expressed. History guides us throughout life just like the lamp in the darkness. We can move towards appropriate direction by taking precept from the past happenings and success along with failure of the ancestors. We can be prosperous by avoiding the mistakes made by the ancestors and by following constructive deeds. The deterioration of Maratha Empire can be observed in the dearth of planning, materialistic stance and lack of unity of Peshwas, hence appropriate planning is essential to be successful in life. Its execution is also crucial. We can perceive that it is quite necessary mutual regards and feeling of integrity to accomplish any task.

While explaining the meaning of history, German thinker Herder says, “History is the chain of events.” According to Herder no historical event cannot be examined secluded; in fact, there is a chain of events behind every event. For instance, Murder of Archduke Ferdinand was not the mere reason behind the World War I, in fact it was one of the reasons. World War II did not begin only due to Hitler’s attack on Poland; it was just one of the reasons.

Numerous historians made attempts to apprehend the meaning of history by detecting and interpreting countless events from the past. The philosophy of history came into existence as per the establishment of meaning of history through those efforts. Karl Marx, a German thinker discovered the meaning of history in such philosophical form. He saw only class conflict in history. According to Karl Marx, “The human history is nothing but class struggle.” He firmly believes that the nature of class conflict changed as per the time but, the conflict still continues and we study only this class conflict through history.

“History as an entity gets generated through appropriate offspring of various happenings.” This definition of history by V. K. Rajwade is in quite broader sense. History does not include only political events but, it is the study of all the dimensions of human life. The happenings till yesterday come under the orbit of history.

Various definitions of history gradually developed through the attempts to answer the question of what is history. There seems to be a common principle in all these definitions although they all seem to be different from each other. The thread is past society. History means the study of the past social components. The entire society is the ultimate accomplishment whether talking about the happenings in the society, rise or fall of the civilizations, class conflicts among them, moral values among them or politics among them.

A broader definition can be made, “history means the graph of various aspects of human life and his development.” The graph comprises of thought of every field of human life. It includes not only his political and social life but also his values, ethics, art and literary expression. Overall, the present arises by carrying influence of past happenings, thoughts and elements. That’s why history is the graph of human advancement.

The above definitions explain History as a significant record of events of the past, a meaningful story of mankind depicting the details of what happened to man and why it happened. Mainly it deals with the human world.

History is a growing discipline the serious study of which started in the second half of the 18th century, so it is said that it is still in the developing stage as a comprehensive subject. The History which is a record of unique events in the life of mankind is the stir and vibration of life. It is not only the conserving and understanding of what has happened, but also the completion of what has been going on at present.

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