The historians task is to understand the past the human scientist, by contrast, is looking to change the future. Is this true?
“The historian’s task is to understand the past; the human scientist, by contrast, is looking to change the future.”
To what extent is this true in these areas of knowledge?
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The oxford dictionary defines History as “The whole series of past events connected with a particular person or thing”1. Whilst Human science is defined as ''The study and interpretation of the experiences, activities, constructs, and artifacts associated with human beings'' 2.Many arguments have been made to whether history could be regarded as a human science. Some say that History is indeed a human science merely due to it's use of past events for references of the present. Whilst others disagree because, unlike human sciences, history cannot observe the past. Instead it searches for evidence historians engage in to study the past human events. In this essay I will be analyzing to what extent the statement “The historian’s task is to understand the past; the human scientist, by contrast, is looking to change the future.” is true.
History is an area of knowledge that depends on a blend of both the truth and understanding. Each history student is a result of their social ideals and their strategy is based on their own perception. However this perception ,in many cases, is shaped by their knowledge of the past. If a historian knew only one side of an event from the past he/she will most likely form a bias opinion. Whilst a historian who has explored both sides of the same event will most likely form a nonpartisan opinion. For example the Treaty of Versailles is still discussed by historians on whether it's reparation were fair on Germany. The fact that this discussion continues to this day supports the idea that history was designed to explore ideas from the past.
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On the contrary, observations made by historians on the two world wars could actually agree with both sides of the statement. One of the reasons why observations regarding the causes and effect of the wars are still being made is to help prevent an outbreak of war in the future. If one were to understand the impact war could have both the people and their countries they, most likely, will endeavor to prevent a war from happening. So through this example, we can see that by understanding the past one can foresee a better future.
Another example would the way historians scrutinized the black plague. By looking into the housing of people who were affected by the disease they were able to discover a link between rats and the illness. By knowing the source of the bubonic plague, scientists were able to find a cure. This discovery then helped prevent future diseases as people became less affected by it. Commoners and nobles knew that rats were the cause of this and thus were able to apply prevention techniques to their own homes.
In comparison, the human sciences rely on both logical understanding and ability to make reliable predictions. Examples of subjects that are part of the human sciences include anthropology, psychology, economics and geography. By formulating theories to predict human behavior, human scientists then develop solutions for the problems identified by those behaviors. The malthusian theory , for example, shows that the human population grows at an exponential rate while food supplies grow at an arithmetic rate. Populations, therefore, will outgrow their food supplies and either famine, disease, or wars will bring the population back down again 3. Malthusian's theory was therefore formulated to predict human behavior to help solve problems we may face in the future. Another example which would support the statement is what is now known as sustainability. Sustainability is meeting today’s needs for the growing populations as well as protecting the environment and resources for the future. Through this, one can use fewer resources to not only protect his/her present environment but to also create a better future for the upcoming generations.
Meanwhile, it can be counterclaimed that human scientists don't always intend to change the future. Many of the experiments run by human scientists were actually run with the intent of exploring the present human behavior, but ultimately were helpful for future purposes. An example of this would be the prominent Milgram experiment, which was run in 1963 after the trial of the German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichman. Milgram wanted to answer the popular question "Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?"4. His results showed that 'People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and / or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school and workplace' 5. This discovery was not only useful in determining how people were influenced into committing atrocities during the world war, but also succeeded in portraying how human behavior can be altered by another human being who stands as an authority figure.
The statement “The historian’s task is to understand the past; the human scientist, by contrast, is looking to change the future.” can be seen as a true statement for the two areas of knowledge. Historians do often explore previous events to help them understand the past. Whilst Human Scientists seek to make theories and experiments which would help them 'change the future'. However Historians often make observations which can affect the future. The observations made on the Black Plague for example, helped us develop cures to prevent it. Also, human scientists can choose ro move away from looking to 'change the future', for example philosophers may choose to instead better understand the current human behaviors. In conclusion, it is not fair to label an area of knowledge with only one task. These two areas of knowledge explore many different things and giving them only one task would simply not allow them to reach their optimum potential.
1. "Definition of History in English:." History. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/history.
2. "Definition of Human Science in English:." Human Science. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/human-science
3. "What Is Malthusian Theory?" Yahoo! Answers. Yahoo!, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2015. https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080708015732AAB1bLq.
4. "Milgram Experiment." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
5. "Milgram Experiment." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment