What Is History
The word history comes from Greek ἱστορία (istoria), from the Proto-Indo-European *wid-tor-, from the root *weid-, “to know, to see”. This root is also present in the English word wit, in the Latin words vision and video, in the Sanskrit word veda, and in the Slavic word videti and vedati, as well as others. (The asterisk before a word indicates that it is a hypothetical construction, not an attested form.)
The Ancient Greek word ἱστορία, istorÃa, means “knowledge acquired by investigation, inquiry”. It was in that sense that Aristotle used the word in his Περί Τά Ζωα Ιστορία, Peri Ta Zoa IstÃ³ria or, in Latinized form, Historia Animalium. The term is derived from ἵστωρ, hÃstōr meaning wise man, witness, or judge. We can see early attestations of ἵστωρ in Homeric Hymns, Heraclitus, the Athenian ephebes’ oath, and in Boiotic inscriptions (in a legal sense, either “judge” or “witness,” or similar). The spirant is problematic, and not present in cognate Greek eÃdomai (“to appear”). The form historeÃ®n, “to inquire”, is an Ionic derivation, which spread first in Classical Greece and ultimately over all of Hellenistic civilization.
It was still in the Greek sense that Francis Bacon used the term in the late 16th century, when he wrote about “Natural History”. For him, historia was “the knowledge of objects determined by space and time”, that sort of knowledge provided by memory (while science was provided by reason, and poetry was provided by fantasy).
The word entered the English language in 1390 with the meaning of “relation of incidents, story”. In Middle English, the meaning was “story” in general. The restriction to the meaning “record of past events” arises in the late 15th century. In German, French, and most Germanic and Romance languages the same word is still used to mean both “history” and “story”. The adjective historical is attested from 1561, and historic from 1669.
Historian in the sense of a “researcher of history” is attested from 1531. In all European languages, the substantive “history” is still used to mean both “what happened with men”, and “the scholarly study of the happened”, the latter sense sometimes distinguished with a capital letter, “History”, or the word historiography
History is facilitated by the formation of a ‘true discourse of past’. The modern discipline of History is dedicated to the institutional production of this discourse. More precisely, history is the narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all events in time, in relation to humanity. This emphasis on the ‘human’ has made human subjects central to the narratives of the classical discourse of modern history. Consequently, history has assumed a sense which is broader than being solely the true narratives of human past. History is not just the past as an object of systematic knowledge or the discipline that produces knowledge out of that object; history also carries a sense that is implicit in the expression ‘making history’. Thus History often signifies the production of events having transformative potentials that ushers in the future. This is how a temporal schema connecting the past, the present, and the future is foregrounded through the signifier history. The historical temporality is grounded within the idea of autonomous human subjects endowed with historical subjectivity which aids them in the production of events and at once helps them to record and narrate past events as history.
All events that are remembered and preserved in some form (that cannot be invalidated as unhistorical or that otherwise remain amenable to historical discourse) constitute the historical record. Events that had supposedly occurred before the advent of written communication are therefore dubbed “pre-history”. The self-assigned task of historical discourse is to identify the sources which can contribute to the production of truthful accounts of past. Thus the constitution of the historian’s archive is a result of circumscribing a more general archive by invalidating the usage of certain texts and documents (by falsifying their claims to represent the ‘true past’). Some historians study universal history. Others focus on certain methods or on certain areas.
The development, transmission, and transformation of cultural practices and events are the subject of history.The idea of prehistory is a late development in history of thought. It is an attempt to qualitatively mark off the origin of history from the origin of earth.The separability of these two origins emerged as modern Geology proved that the age of earth is considerably older than what has been understood from Biblical literature.With time the idea of creation, as depicted in the Bible, came to be refuted and the origin of civil (human) history was chronologically separated from the origin of natural history. Since writing emerged at different times throughout the world, and since some kinds of written records are more perishable than others, a distinction between prehistory and history is often made. In the 20th century, the division between history and prehistory has been considered problematic. Criticism arose because of history’s implicit exclusion of certain civilizations, such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian America. Historians in the West have been criticized for focusing disproportionately on the Western world.
In 1961, British historian E. H. Carr suggested a definition of the beginning of history broader than the adoption of the use of writing:
The line of demarcation between prehistoric and historical times is crossed when people cease to live only in the present, and become consciously interested both in their past and in their future. History begins with the handing down of tradition; and tradition means the carrying of the habits and lessons of the past into the future. Records of the past begin to be kept for the benefit of future generations.
Such a definition would include within the scope of history peoples -such as Australian Aboriginals and New Zealand Maori- who, before contact with Europeans, already possessed strong interest in the past and maintained oral records transmitted to future generations.