« PreviousContinue »
INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF HISTORY
Stating the Issue
Today we begin a formal study of history. Our first task is to find out what history is. Is it merely as the dictionary says "a narrative of events" or "a systematic, written account of events, particularly of those affecting a nation, institution, science or art, usually connected with a philosophical explanation of their causes"? Is it instead only "one man's interpretation of the past," or as Voltaire said, "a pack of tricks we play on the dead"? Or is it primarily a way of thinking, a set of rules and procedures for making interpretations?
The first six assignments in this course have been designed to encourage each student to work out his own definition of history. Notice that we do not suggest that everyone should arrive at exactly the same understanding of this term. Historians disagree with each other about the nature of their discipline. Literally hundreds of volumes have been written to attempt to find a definition of history which everyone in the profession could accept. So far no author has reached this goal. When even experts dlsagree, students should not be expected to reach a consensus.
Nor should they be expected to understand the nature of history in one week's work. The se six assignments merely introduce the topic and present opportunities to develop a first approximation of the nature of historical investigation. Throughout the course, students who use this book will have frequent opportunities to increase their knowledge about historical procedures and to apply historical techniques to a great variety of situations. Only by successfully applying the tools of analysis can anyone be certain that he has mastered them.
We will concentrate our study of the nature of history on a few key issues. What will a historian accept as fact? What determines how he categorizes facts into groups of related events? How does he develop and validate hypotheses? How can he deal with the problem of overcoming a mind set growing out of his entire 11fe experience? These are the questions which we will try to answer in Unit I.
THE NATURE OF HISTORY
A historian who collects information from newspapers or other sources must arrange his data for his readers. His job is to decide the question he wishes to investigate and the arrangement of evidence used to prove the point he wishes to make. If he did not arrange evidence, he could only list facts helter-skelter in no pattern whatsoever. No one would waste his time reading such an account.
We shall begin our study of history by investigating the problem of the arrangement of data. In order to concentrate on this problem without becoming involved in a true historical subject, we have chosen data which would not usually be considered historical at all. In class, however, we will be able to examine the implications of our conclusions for the study of history.
Below you will find a list of eighteen words. You are to arrange these words in groups of things which seem to belong to each other for some reason. For example, if we had given you the words pine tree, tiger and iron ore you could classify them as an imal, vegetable and mineral. You can probably think of a number of additional ways to classify these three terms. Make as many classifications of the eighteen terms below as you can think of in a half hour. Come to class prepared to discuss what you have done.
Historians never collect data helter-skelter. If they did, they would take notes about everything they read. No historian operates in this fashion. He selects the data he wants to record in his notes and then selects again from his notes those pieces of evidence (facts) that he will use to prove his point. Every step in the process of writing a book or an article involves selection.
How does a historian start to select? He usually starts with a question: What caused World War I? Why did the United States become more democratic in the 1830's? What was the most important contribution of the Romans to the western heritage? Then he begins to do research, reading and collecting notes about his topic. Before long he starts to develop a hypothesis, a tentative answer to the question. As he gathers more data, he revises h18 hypothesis; he may abandon it entirely if he finds enough evidence against it. In this case, he will be forced to develop another hypothesis to guide his research. Eventually he will conclude that the hypothesis he has developed really explains the facts of the case. He is then ready to write his conclusions.
This procedure sounds far more simple than it really is. Where does he get the idea for his hypothesis in the first place? How does he decide when a hypothesis has been proved? How should he arrange his evidence to support his explanation in such a way that readers will agree with him? These are all questions which we will try to answer during this course.
Today we will investigate the way in which two historians developed hypotheses and tried to prove or disprove them. The article you will read concerns the controversy about the Kensington Rune Stone, a slab marked with Runic inscriptions which was discovered in Minnesota in 1898. We will introduce further evidence about this stone in class. As you read, keep the following questions in mind:
What was the original hypothesis about the authenticity
What was the next hypothesis about the stone? What
Are you convinced that the stone is genuine?
THE RIDDLE OF THE KENSINGTON STONE*
From Thomas R. Henry, "The Riddle of the Kensington Stone,"
This article chronicles the work of Hjalmar Holand to establish the
HOW THE HISTORIAN DECIDES WHAT IS FACT
In Reading II we discovered that historians use facts to validate hypotheses. We also learned that scholars often disagree about what is fact and what is not. Some historians accept a statement as fact while others reject it because of differences in their frames of reference. We studied examples of this generalization in class yesterday.
Sometimes historians have only one source for a statement of fact. In most cases, however, they have two or more sources. Often the sources will disagree. Because each author has his own frame of reference from which he views an event, he will select some of the things he sees to describe and reject others. Another eye-witne 98 might make an entirely different selection. Yet the historian must rely heavily on eye-witness accounts to obtain the evidence he needs to validate a hypothesis.
Today's reading gives you an opportunity to decide which facts can be accepted from two authors who disagree on many details. Suppose that civilization on earth had been destroyed by hydrogen war. You have just landed from Mars (we won't speculate about what you look like or how you got here). You know how to read both English and Russian because your midget computer makes instant translations into Martian. In a time capsule buried on the site of ancient New York (or Nyawk, as Theodore Bikel, playing the archeologist of the future, called it) you discover a yellowed magazine containing an account of a revolution in a place called Hungary. In another time capsule on the site of ancient Moscow you discover a fading script of a radio broadcast describing this same event. The two accounts are all the information you have. As a historian, Martian variety, it is your task to decide what the facts are.
How would you go about doing so?
As you read these two articles (One actually 18 taken from TIME and the other is a verbatim account of a broadcast from Radio Moscow) think about the following questions:
Which of these accounts, if either, do you accept?
Do the two accounts agree about anything? If the
3. What are some of the 188ues on which the accounts
differ? How would you decide which, if either, 18
This account of the revolt in Hungary was based upon the tales of
REMARKS BROADCAST ON RADIO MOSCOW, NOVEMBER 10, 1956
E. M. Bazarina
We arrived in Hungary on 19 October with other Soviet tourists.
We spent four days touring this beautiful country and were everywhere given a most cordial and hearty welcome. On Tuesday, 23 October, on our way to a theatre we saw crowds of people in the streets of Budapest. They were lined up in ranks and carried placards, many of which bore the inscription "Long Live Hungary!" ... The students together with members of the intelligentsia and workers were demanding the redress of errors and omissions committed by the Hungarian Government. They were legitimate demands.
On that first evening I saw from the hotel in which we were staying a man with a rifle appear on the deserted street. He took up a position in one of the drives and, taking careful aim, began shooting out the street lamps. The lamps went out one by one and darkness enveloped the street. What prompted the marksman to do this? Just hooliganism? Hardly. I think he was one of the bright sparks of the reactionary underground who wanted to create confusion and chaos in the city. Quite soon afterwards there were flashes of gunfire and sounds of battle and we saw wrecked and burning buildings in the streets of Budapest, overturned tram-cars and other
vehicles. Firing would die down and then flare up again. Hostile elements were aiming at paralysing the city's life but the workers of Budapest were repelling the rebels. Detachments of armed workers tried to restore order in the streets and prevent looting. In many places, including the area around our hotel, workers' patrols were posted.
One member of our hotel staff, a middle-aged man with grey hair, told us: "Our workers cannot have had a hand in this looting and rioting. It is fascism raising its head." And that is what it was . The counter-revolutionary underground was in action in Budapest. Fascist reactionary elements had arrived there from abroad. The hostile venture was gathering momentum and the Hungarian Government asked the USSR Government for aid. In response to this request Soviet military units stationed in Hungary under the Warsaw Treaty entered Budapest to help to restore order. The overwhelming majority of Hungarians welcomed this move in the hope that life in the city would quickly return to normal. I myself saw in one street how the people were welcoming the Soviet tanks.
One Hungarian, a member of the hotel staff, described the following incident to us. Firemen-volunteers, absolutely unarmed, were putting out a fire in one of the public buildings. Suddenly, from a small house opposite, shots were fired by fascist louts who opened fire on the unarmed firemen. Several of them fell. Our tank was stationed in the street. The tankmen immediately aimed their gun at the house where the bandits were entrenched. This was sufficient to make them run into a side street. Several firemen ran up to the tank and shook hands with the tankmen. This episode gives a good testimony of the attitude of the Hungarians towards the Soviet troops. However, reaction did not cease its activities. When we walked along some of the streets we saw that the walls of houses were thickly covered with counter-revolutionary posters.