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What is History?

Let's explore the subject of history as a discipline in the spirit of Jerome Bruner or Howard Gardner.
by

Jeff Waters

on 23 January 2012

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Transcript of What is History?

Context

Progress What is History? Good vs. Evil Narratives? But facts (names, dates, etc.) are an important part of understanding the past, aren't they? Yes, but it is much more complicated than that History is an interconnected web of actions, reactions, ideas, successes and failures The names, dates, places, etc. are important, but only if they make the big picture more clear And what exactly is the big picture of history? Why is wealth in the United States concentrated in the hands of the few? Why does the average African American family make so much less money over the course of a lifetime than an average white family?

Or... why is there only one black face here? History has the answers... or at least it can lead us in the right directions when properly interpreted The "fact" is, very little is "known" If this cirle represents the 13.75 billion year history of the universe... Then... this is how long anyone has been around to notice it... Humans have been around 145,000 of the earth's 13,750,000,000 years (0.001%) and this is how many events have been observed and remembered by a person... and these are the events observed, remembered and recorded... This is how many documented accounts have survived... and these are the available, usable, and believable records for a given historical account... Not everything is important enough to remember The age of digitally recording everything regardless of merit is quite young Fires, wars, floods and purposeful destruction have destroyed an infinite amount of recorded history Some records are kept secret (the Vatican Archives), some are purposefully misleading or propagandist, and others are too obscure or worn to be of any use to scholars "There are no facts, only interpretations" - Friedrich Nietzsche Was that it? These guys! Except, you know, with more dates and facts and stuff... ...but is that really it? epic mustache Facts and Their Interpreters Discovery is the goal who is the author? how do they know? what is their agenda? were they there? is it reliable? do you have reason not to trust the author? is there a better source available? because facts are interpretations in and of themselves, "truth" or "knowing" is transitory the goal of the historian is to arrange the facts in the most reliable way possible in order to reveal understanding Not many facts to be found, are there? Certainly not enough to consider any history definitive, beyond reproach, unquestionable, or true So what's the point? Context Leads to Progress Facts are only part of the equation (the least fun part). In fact Nietzsche said... History is reconstructed through interpretation Not all sources are created equal Understanding history provides context to our lives which allows us to participate in critical thinking... and when we begin to think critically about our world
we can begin asking some difficult questions, like... and when we understand the context of our world,
we can begin taking part in what should be the goal
of all education: L Life does not have to be the "Nasty, brutish, and short" ordeal that Hobbe's made it our to be... “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” -Thomas Jefferson Education=Freedom Life does not have to be the "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" ordeal that Hobbes made it out to be Of course, progress is relative and interpretive, and that's the whole point. Understanding history gives us the skills to be a participant in the discussion of what progress should look like Jeffrey R. Waters Graduate Student,
Pacific University College of Education So... History is reconstructed through the interpretation of facts and evidences so to illuminate and ameliorate the human condition It provides us with identity, context and hope for the future, and understanding how to think about and study history will help develop the skills necessary to pursue our own freedom Freedom from oppression Freedom to think Freedom to question Freedom to learn But facts (names, dates, etc.) are an important part of understanding the past, aren't they? yes, but it is much more complicated than that History is an interconnected web of actions, reactions, ideas, successes and failures The names, dates, places, etc. are important, but only if they make the bigger picture more clear
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