What Is History?

Since Vico, others have also expressed philosophical opinions on the subject of history. Hegel, for instance, disputed the eschatological view of history and insisted that history ends in the present and not in the future which is an object of hopes and fears, and not actions. Marx sees all actions of men as being economically motivated and therefore sees economic forces as the mainspring of history, since action of men make history. There have also been a great many arguments and opinions on what is a historical fact, what is objectivity, and what should be the proper and of historical study. The point  to note here is that these discussions on the problems of history have a long antiquity and are still going on.
What then is the present state of historical knowledge? The question what is History? Can probably elicit as many answers as there are practitioners of history. However, it will be broadly agreed that history is the study of society in time perspective. It is an organized and critical study of such past activities of human beings as had produced significant effects on subsequent course of events or on other human beings in the course of events. It is not just a study of the past, nor is it an uncritical cataloguing of the past. It is an analytical in the sense the historian seeks to understand those significant past events and he interpretes them in the light of his own knowledge of the present.  History is an inquiry into What happened in the past,  when  it  happened, and how it  happened. It is an inquiry into the various developments that took place in the past and into the lives and works of the various individuals associated with these events. It is an enquiry into the inevitable changes in human affairs in the past and the ways which these changes, affects, influence or determine present patterns of line in the society. According to Robert V. Daniels: “History is the memory of human group experience. If it is forgotten or ignored, we cease to be human. Without history we have no knowledge of what we are or how we came to be, like victims of collective amnesia groping in the dark for our identity…” Thus Baccaria was certainly contradicting himself when he said “happy is the nation without a history”. For a nation that has no history, has no life and Ipso facto is not a nation. A nation is not just a mass of territory with recognised boundaries nor is it just a set of economic, constitutional or administrative arrangements, important as these are. A nation is composed of people whose collective soul is their shared experiences. The soul of a nation is its history. Professor Lai Strauss puts it more neatly when he said:
“Those who ignore history condemns themselves to not knowing the present, because historical developments alone permits us to weigh and to evaluate in their respective relations to the elements of the present.”
Cicero puts it more bluntly when he said “Not to know what took place before you were born is to remain forever a child.” The great Soviet historian and philosopher Georgi Plekhanor also had this to say:
“We must study the facts of the past life of mankind in order to discover in them the laws of its progress. Only he is capable of foreseeing the future who has understood the past.”            
Indeed, in practically all societies over all the ages history has been a major  instrument for organizing and interpreting their collective and individual experience to provide  understanding for the present and a guide for the future. For example, the Italians provided a focus for their efforts at unification by interpreting the history of their society and projecting from it the ideology of Risorgimento.  The French still have the ideology of Francophone which embodies their desire to preserve the independence and integrity of their society and defines their policies towards the international community. An amalgamation like the United States of America has evolved the ideology of the “melting pot”. So also have the British their ideology of unity in diversity.
So much for history as a concept. It is now appropriate to show the utility importance  and the role of the historian in the society.
History has its uses from the point of view of a career or getting a job such as the sciences. History gives you an open door to the University and an academic career. You may become properly equipped teachers in schools, colleges and universities. Besides, you could be engaged in some cultural posts like librarians, archivists, curator of museums, secretaries of institutions, social service workers etc. you may become journalists, foreign and military correspondents, radio or T.V. broadcasters. There is also the civil service. History gives you the right background for most of the affairs with which you will have to deal with in the administrative civil service. The work of the civil service, as we all know, does not deal with something as abstract as mathematics – but with the administration of human affairs for which the appropriate background  and training are provided by history.
If history is the appropriate training for the civil servants, it follows that it is indispensable for members of the Foreign Service; for diplomats and consuls. Indeed, history enables us to understand, better than any other time, the trends of our time. For history is  about human society; its story and how it has come to be what it is, the clue to the factors that operate in them, the currents that move them, the motives and conflicts, both general and personal, that shape events. And should anyone repeats Hegel’s aphorism. “…the only lesson of history is that people never learn from history”, the appropriate answer is the Yoruba proverb “ego eniyan ni’pe enu baba oun nrun’ (he is a thoroughly stupid man who says his father’s mouth is smelling and would therefore not listen to his words). Of course history does not repeat itself in precise details; for there ware never the same persons, the same situations with precisely the same character again. But similar situations do occur and if properly understood and handled, the pitfalls of the past might be avoided.
At this point it is apt to end with the position of Authur Marwick on the role of history in the life of the individual and of society:
We cannot escape from history. Our lives are governed by what happened in the past, our decisions by what we believe to have happened. Without a knowledge of history, man and society would run adrift, rudderless craft on the uncharted sea of time…
“beginning of things”. A good example is Genesis 1 Vrs. 1 – 3, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth, the Earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God  was moving over the surface of waters, and God said “Let there be light and there was lights.”


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