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What is History?

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by

Kris Gilbert

on 5 October 2011

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Transcript of What is History?

What is History?
Starter: In your group, discuss what you wrote.
Develop a group answer to the question, "What is History?"--something everyone can agree on. Use examples from the summer videos to back up your idea.
So far, you're talking about a lot of events like...
...Jamestown being founded (1607)
...the House of Burgesses (1619)
...the Mayflower landing (1620)
...the first African slaves arriving (1619)
...the John Punch Case (1640)
...the first slave codes (1661)
...the French and Indian War (1755-1763)
But what makes all of those events HISTORY?

What do they all have in common?
Annoying
Questions
to
Brighten Your Day
What is "the past?" Is the past something we "have?" Does the past really even exist?
Is history "everything that's ever happened in the past?" Or is it just the important stuff?
If history is just the important stuff, then who decides what's important enough to call "history?" How do we know those people are right?
Does "history" have to be written down?
Does "history" have a purpose? Or is it all just random stuff that happened without really making any sense?
...the plantation system (1655)
Big Differences between
"The Past" & "History"
THE PAST is...
HISTORY is...
gone & never coming back.
not something we can know everything about.
just what it is, and therefore...
...something that can never change.
something we have NOW and can study.
something we CAN know and understand.
a matter of debate and interpretation, and therefore...
something that DOES change as people's ideas change about what's important.
Big Thing to Get:
"History" cannot be just "events" all by themselves. Certain things have to come together to make "HISTORY."
Herodatus: "The Father of History." He coined the term in about 460 B.C.

The Greek word, "Historia," means "investigation" or "research."
So can an event really be "history" if no one is studying or investigating what happened?
Big Assumptions we CAN make:
History IS...

....something we can
STUDY!
...something that only PEOPLE really have.
This is because PEOPLE are the only creatures on Earth that "study" anything.
...more than just writing down what happened. It's more than justa "chronicle" or a collection of dates.
Herodatus and other historians had to make decisions about what the events MEAN and which sources were most reliable for telling the story.

This means they had to INTERPRET the EVIDENCE that's left behind!!!
It's the difference between FLOUR and BREAD.
Which one would you eat?
Events are the first INGREDIENTS for making history, but it takes MUCH MORE than just stuff happening to make HISTORY.
1.Events have to happen.
2.Events have to leave some "leftovers" behind.
3. People have to PRESERVE those leftovers.
4.People have to STUDY those leftovers to find out what they mean for us TODAY.
...something that has to be SHARED by a GROUP of people.
...full of BIAS.
People have strong feelings about their own history, especially if they took part in events that shaped it. Therefore, people tend to FAVOR ONE SIDE or another. But that means…
History is something we DEBATE and ARGUE about.
This is because it is often INCOMPLETE, easy to manipulate, and in some
cases, it may be WRONG.
A New Way to Understand "HISTORY"
Read this quote:
“Lincoln once said that America was founded on a proposition written by Jefferson in 1776. We are really founded on an argument about what that proposition means.” -- Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers



What do you think about the idea that history is an ARGUMENT?
Let’s start thinking of history as SOMETHING WE GET TO DO!!!
If history is an ACTIVITY we get to do NOW, then that sets up what we get to do for the rest of the year!
If history is...
an INVESTIGATION,

RECORDED,

SHARED by people,

an ARGUMENT,
then this year, we will practice...
researching the leftovers of past events.
READING and ANALYZING docs and artifacts, and WRITING about them.
STUDYING the things that the American People have in common.
identifying BIAS, ARGUING, discussing, and INTERPRETING what the leftovers of the past mean for us now.
Simple Question:
Is HISTORY something we can
STUDY?
Answer:
If you're saying, "YES," that's great!

But you're creating some real problems for your original answer...
Why Some Events will never be "HISTORY?"
Think about the word, "PRE-HISTORIC."

What does each part of the word mean?
Pre-historic
=
"Before History????"

What does THAT mean?
Full transcript