What is the Nature of History?

The nature of history is very complex. It lends itself to various explanations. No one branch of history is more than a single glimpse of a vast complex of phenomena. History repeats itself in one sense but does not repeat itself also. History has contemporaneity and it is an unending dialogue between the past and the present. Value-judgment is an aspect of history which we cannot ignore. It is very often coloured by the current ideas of a period or country. It is a prophecy in reverse, as it needs to some extent in knowing what to expect in future. It is regarded as linear by some and cyclical by others. However, no one can dispute the dynamic nature of history, which concerns itself with an ever-changing drama of life which has a purpose and a meaning.

History is not a description of interesting stories but, it is a broad subject which guides the life and aims for the better future. The nature of history as a subject can be perceived through following points:

1. A Study of the Present in the Light of the Past

The present has evolved out of the past. Modern history enables us to understand how society has come to its present form so that one may intelligently interpret the sequence of events. The causal relationships between the selected happenings are unearthed that help in revealing the nature of happenings and framing of general laws.

2. History is the Study of Man

History deals with man’s struggle through the ages. History is not static. By selecting ‘innumerable biographies’ and presenting their lives in the appropriate social context and the ideas in the human context, we understand the sweep of events. It traces the fascinating story of how man has developed through the ages, how man has studied to use and control his environment and how the present institutions have grown out of the past.

3. History is Concerned With Man in Time

It deals with a series of events and each event occurs at a given point in time. Human history, in fact, is the process of human development in time. It is time which affords a perspective to events and lends a charm that brightens up the past.

4. History Is Concerned With Man in Space

The interaction of man on environment and vice versa is a dynamic one. History describes about nations and human activities in the context of their physical and geographical environment. Out of this arise the varied trends in the political, social, economic and cultural spheres of man’s activities and achievements.

5. History is a Dialogue Between the Events of the Past and Progressively Emerging Future Ends

The historian’s interpretation of the past, his selection of the significant and the relevant events, evolves with the progressive emergence of new goals. The general laws regulating historical happenings may not be considered enough; attempts have to be made to predict future happenings on the basis of the laws.

6. Continuity and Coherence are the Necessary Requisites of History

History carries the burden of human progress as it is passed down from generation to generation, from society to society, justifying the essence of continuity. It becomes thus necessary for history to be rewritten from time to time. The past events have got to be revalued in the light of fresh developments and new ideas.

7. Relevant

In the study of history only those events are included which are relevant to the understanding of the present life. The affairs of men and nations are constantly in motion. Consequently, there has been a radical change in recent years as to the proper nature and scope of history. In the past it was merely a catalogue of events serialised in a descriptive manner. We have now to study history in a critical and scientific way, wherein the historian thinks for himself instead of merely repeating the stories found in old books. History becomes a study of reality in its aspect of becoming.

8. Comprehensiveness

According to modern concept, history is not confined to one period or country or nation. It also deals with all aspects of human life-political, social, economic, religious, literary, aesthetic and physical, giving a clear sense of world unity and world citizenship. Historical activity involves three different types of functions which should be performed simultaneously. The first is to get at the truth, to know the entire-human past as it actually happened, and to be sure that solid facts are at hand. The second job is to interpret the facts, to assess, to evaluate and to explain their significance. The third task is to present the ideas in a clear and attractive manner. These three functions make the historian a scientist to gather facts, a philosopher to interpret them and a litterateur to express them.

9. Objective Record of Happenings

Every precaution is taken to base the data on original sources and make them free from subjective interpretation. It helps in clear understanding of the past and enables us to take well informed decisions. Objective record of events is quite crucial in history. The sources and evidences preferred by the historian are of prime importance while writing the history. It is also necessary to write history bias free and neutrally with the help of evidences. Otherwise it may lead to false information, false interpretation and false message to the learners. Hence, objective record is the basic feature of study of history.

10. Multisided

History is related with all the aspects of human life. As perceived earlier, the nature of history is not only political but, history aims at all the dimensions of human life.

It does not throw light on only sole aspect of past human life. Infact, history is multifaceted as being social, economic, cultural, scientific, political, arts and literary, religious etc. Holistic view of contemporary social systems, political scenario, economy, judiciary, arts and literature, various inventions and developments in science and technology can be seen while studying past happenings. However, it is not confined to the study of Kings, Empires or elite social strata but, it comprises of study of all the people from all the socio-economic-religious strata. That is why the nature of history is diversified and eclectic.

11. Time and Place Relevance

This is the main feature of history. History is time relevant and place relevant. It means one has to understand the contemporary situation and time while studying past happenings. For example, while studying thrashing of Afzal Khan by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, contemporary situation (Pratapgarh, its geographical significance) needs to be understood. One has to take into consideration the then socio-political scenario in India and specifically in Maharashtra (time) and the significance of geographical structure of Maharashtra in his success (place). Otherwise it will lead to misperception about him. It is not necessary that ideology, idols, values, principles of social life of a specific time and place may not be applicable to other situations. Henceforth, history is time relevant and place relevant.

12. Correlation Among Past, Present and Future

History is an unending dialogue between the past and the present. The roots of present situations viz. present ideologies, lifestyles, problems, success and failures are in the history. The origins of present Indo-Pak crisis can be observed in ‘divide and rule policy’ of British and partition of Bengal. We will have a bright future only by perceiving and avoiding mistakes of the past. Past legends, their thoughts and their acts are influential to the generations even today. The present can work positively by taking inspirations through them and it leads to the emergence of legends of tomorrow. We cannot see the present separate from the past. Past is the background of the present. Prof. Lecky, “A study is the understanding and estimating the present age for the betterment of the future.”

13. Scientific Study of Past

History cannot be decided through rumours but, it is written on the bases of sources. No history is written just by probing. It is impossible to write history without the help of sources. “No documents, no history,” is the popular saying among historians and learners of history. Science believes in evidences. Background and effects of any event (causal relationship) is studied in history through the study of past events with the help of primary or secondary sources.

14. Study of Human Struggle, Development and Transformation of Human Civilization

Man has to battle with surrounding circumstances throughout the ages. The struggle for the human existence and development is still on. Also, a particular social group has continued efforts to dominate on the others for its greed in every generation. History comprises of the description of this struggle of mankind against such social group in all times. Human existence as community-society, various civilizations aroused and developed through various times are the integral part of study of history. Human life is studied through various civilizations and various dimensions in history. Also, history comprises of portrayal of how human life changed and how man gained progress. History can be termed as reviewing human progress.

15. Not Only Narration but, Analysis and Synthesis as Well

History does not only mean to be the report of occurred incidents. History includes the diagnosis of events. The factors having impact on the event are also studied. The contemporary circumstances, roles of different people in the event and the contemporary ideology are analyzed and the complete portrayal of the event is expressed. That is why history is not only description but analysis and synthesis as well.

E.g. while studying French revolution, history does not tell only how it occurred but also, it analyses the social, political, economic and ideological contexts as well. Also, history throws light on the values like equity, freedom and egalitarianism which were the real output of this revolution for the entire humanity.

16. Integration of Science and Literature

History is a science as far as the study of events through causal relationship with the help of available sources and evidences is concerned. When one has to explain and interpret the occurred event, naturally there come the individual difference of writing style, language and flavour. Everybody describes the event through his own outlook. Hence, history is an art as well. That is why history is science at the beginning and it turns into art afterwards.

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