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What is history?

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Introduction

´╗┐What is history? ?Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.? This ominous statement, authored by Spanish philosopher George Santayana in 1905, is a fine testimony to the power of history. Whether he refers to individuals or nations, Santayana points out the most essential element of history: remembrance. Where would we be without the ability to remember? As human beings, we gain a sense of collective identity from our past. History has chronicled our colourful centuries, placed our achievements and errors on record. ...read more.

Middle

Facts no longer speak for themselves. Anybody can rearrange them to align with a certain viewpoint. It is the historian who decides what facts to present and in what context. The power of selection rests with him, and so his position is one of great responsibility. As a subject, history has blind spots. For example, we might deduce facts about a certain civilization?s attitudes from the records of that time. But if only members of that civilization wrote these records, we are only enjoying one perspective of the situation, and receiving only those facts that they considered important. ...read more.

Conclusion

Unlike the historians of the twentieth century who rarely questioned their facts or the meaning of history, historians today seek a greater understanding of the nature of their subject. However, questioning historical facts - and accepting that there are no historical truths - does not mean that just any interpretation will suffice. History is not purely subjective. But it is undoubtedly meaningful for anyone who wants to understand the world we live in. As a reminder of the mistakes of our past and a guide to the complexities of our present, it serves a dual purpose. As Henry Buckle said, ?There will always be a connection between the way men contemplate the past and the way they contemplate the present.? ...read more.

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