A historian must combine the rigor of a scientist with the imagination of the artist.” To what extend, then, can the historian be confident about his or her conclusions?
History has always been a subject that is looked upon by many as a very controversial and biased one. In History people can have disagreements. One historian can believe that an event in the past happened in a certain way while another can think it happened differently. This is because history is a matter of interpretation as well as evidence, of judgment as well as knowledge. As a result of this historians must combine the rigor of a scientist with the imagination of an artist, to have the ability to produce a reasonable conclusion. Another historian however can challenge this conclusion. It is impossible to create a conclusion that every historian will agree with. The problem with history, especially as a science, is that cause and effect can not always be clearly explained and understood. A science always evaluates the evidence in a certain way that everyone can agree with. Science does not leave any other possibilities open. There is always one answer in the end of why something happened. Cause and effect can be explained in a way that everyone has to agree with based on the evidence. In History cause and effect can not always be clearly explained and understood. It is open to different possibilities.
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In history there are three different ways of knowing according to Mr. Hexter, a professor at Washington University. The first way of knowing is the “Cartesian transformation”. This way of knowing stresses systematic mathematical formulation and reasoning resting on the exact measurement of things. Many scientists would certainly approve this method. Historians on the other hand argue it is a mistake to use this way of knowing in history, the study of mankind. Historians unlike Scientists must rely on intuition and creativity of to recreate the events of the past. This is where the imagination of the artists comes in. A historian can never completely recreate an event. Because of this disability a historian can never be absolutely certain about an event in the past. There is an infinite number of variables that influence the outcomes in history. The cause and effect theory is impossible to apply to historical events. Every single atom could be responsible for the way things happen and if an important variable is changed the event would not be the same anymore. For example if Hitler would have not been such a great speaker, chances are that he would have not been able to gain so much power and therefore set off World War Two. Also, if Hitler’s mother did not run into Hitler’s father by some coincidence (if she would have decided to go to a different place at a certain time), they would have not met the day they did, and would not have had sexual intercourse the day they did, and therefore would not have produced a son, in this case Hitler. Alone from this example one can see how many tiny things affect the effect history. This proves that a historian has to use his imagination as an artist to make a prediction about past events to be able to say that it was probable that an event occurred in a certain way as predicted by a historian based on the evidence and judgment used. A historian must have the ability to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources and put different pieces of evidence together to come up with a conclusion. The problem with history is that it is biased. It is difficult if not impossible to form a conclusion with no emotions involved, because history is the study of mankind. Even in Modern history, events that occurred in the recent past, all historians can not agree on the way events really took place. The invasion of Panama is an example of this.
In interpreting the evidence and information given to a historian, he has to use the imagination of an artist to come up with different possibilities of a past event and then the rigorous scientific characteristics to produce a conclusion. Missing information makes it hard to impossible to come up with a valid conclusion, but historians often times are able to use their imagination as an artist to fill in the missing pieces. Apart from the historians’ evidence never being definite, the historian is not able to be free from biased opinions. An obvious example of this would be the Vietnam War. No matter what evidence is available, the American’s account on many events in the Vietnam War will be different from that of the Vietnamese. One can not surely say who was in the right. In history to answer this question one has to bring moral judgments in, and these morals are based on religion, beliefs, and the environment we live in. Everyone has different morals that they value and therefore people will make different judgments. This proves that historians’ knowledge is biased and therefore can not be compared to scientific knowledge, which is opinion free and based simply on evidence and the evaluation of this evidence. In History people can have disagreements. One historian can believe that an event in the past happened in a certain way why another can think it happened differently. This is because history is a matter of interpretation as well as evidence, of judgment as well as knowledge. Every artist uses his imagination differently and comes up with different conclusions about a piece. An example would be westerners in Russia who find it hard how to make sense of their seven decades of communism. For the moment, they have largely given up trying. Nothing like the Germans’ post-war soul searching. It may prove hard to produce a version of Russian history that all Russians can agree on; the competing conceptions of national identity militate against it. But some other countries sloughing off the skin of communism could prove only too ready to adopt a new history to suit the times, even one based on fancy. In history there is the possibility of acquisition through self-delusion. This is only made possible because historians can not come up with a conclusion without using an imagination of an artist and combining it with the rigor of a scientist. Science and art clash when it comes to interpreting things, which makes it difficult to produce a conclusion that a historian can be truly confident with. Up until now, historians have not been able to agree on a single event and it occurrence. Even now that new evidence is found and technology makes it easier to analyze certain evidence, it is not possible to give an accurate and objective account of history. To be able to produce a conclusion that is valid, the historian has to be objective and analyze evidence in a scientific manner, but at the same time he has to use his artist’s imagination to fill in the missing pieces to end up with a conclusion that gives the most probable way an event occurred. Due to this, a historian can not be absolutely confident about the way an event occurred, but he can be confident that he came up with a reasonable and for his purposes accurate enough conclusion of an events occurrence.