History, or at least the study thereof, as shown by class, is divided into three specific categories: remembered, recovered and invented–each having their own benefits and downfalls. The main purpose of studying history is to gather information about the past; to see the cause and effects of different situations; to see how this information can be applied to our lives, to understand why and how and others think in certain ways; and thus eventually lead to a better appreciation different peoplesone way or another.
It is also inprotant to realize that history is not just about what-really-happened-in-the-past’, but is a complex intersection of truth, bias and hopes. Realizing that the major importance of history is rooted upon ideas or principles and not facts, dates or names, this course was designed not to address the material as the history of X region from X date to X date, but rather in an order and a manner that the student (in this case, me) could retain the most valuable ideas possible and learn them in a fashion most aptly suited to the students understanding of certain ideas and principles.
I also realize the importance of the ideas and processes of history over the actual facts, names or dates within our study. Thus, in composing this capstone, I will attempt to use specific examples of course-material to exemplify what I thought was the main theme (themes) of the class, rather than attempting to go section by section and enumerate the material within.
After all, I already have print copies of all of the course notes; if I wanted to go back and look at the any of the material covered, I can use those (note to my long-off-as-of-yet-self); therefore, it would be pointless for me to attempt restate all that was learned in all of the courses sections. With that stated, let us first look at one of the first cases of history as a science to see an exaple of the first type of history, remembered. Because he is one of the first men that we have found to attempt to record the past, we say that Herodotus is the “Father of History.
Herodotus’s works, “The Histories”, which are of form of both a remembered and invented are a record of primarily two things: the Persian Wars, and the Greeks’ double defeat of the mighty forces led against Greece by the Persian kings Darius and Xerxes. Just as any good entertaining story would, the histories are full of gossip, religion (gods), and a little sex to make it a bit juicy. We now know that many of these things were either made-up, mere legends, or even outright liesanother characteristic that a good story would also have; and thus we add to his title: Herodotus, “the father of history as well as lies”.
Another historian-storyteller, Homer, shows us that sometimes the best histories are, in essence, the best stories. He also provides an example of oral, or remembered history. While Herodotus was the father of history, it can also be argued that Homer was the father of writing. His epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, are fictional epics. However, it is apparent that, to some extent, there may be truths within them. Later, Virgil, another great epic poet wrote the Aeneid, which also proved valuable in the study of these ancient Greek cultures.
From this we acquire the first realization that history, as an academic study, does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it rely solely on its own vices. In contrast, we see that in the interminable quest to find the answer to the question of “what-really-happened-in-the-past” often we rely on things that were not necessarily originally designed to be works of history and people that do not consider themselves historians to provide an accurate picture of life at the time.
Note: looking at the historical qualities of architecture and buildings shows another example of this idea; they can show a lot about a culture, such as lifestyle, artistic sensibilities and social structure) An additional theme of this course was to be able to help to understand why the world is like it is today; how factors such as the Black Death, the rise and so-called “fall” of Rome, and the evolution of languages have effected the thoughts and actions of current cultures.
It also shows that as far different as the various cultures in this area are today, that at one time or another they were very similar to each other. For instance, when we look at the early roots of Christianity and Islam we see that they are very much the sameor at least started out so. This course showed the way that one can take a critical analysis of something like a religion and examine it in historical terms without having to infer anything about the actual ideology behind it; thus making it possible to dissect even your own religion for historical purposes.
Sometimes, however, it is important for a historian to address “the study of the study of history”. Frequently, the major importance of a particular topic of history is not so much the importance of the actual events that happened, or the changes that ensued after which but rather is to address the way that historians have handled it. For example, look at the story of Heinrich Schliemann and his supposed discovery of the city troy.
This example also provides us with an interesting example of invented history. Schliemann, a wealthy, eccentric, German Merchant, through the process of many well publicized archeological digs, revealed to the world that he had discovered the ancient city of Troy, and, as he so famously stated “looked into the face of Agamemnon” (one of the characters of the Aeneid). However, it was later found that this city may not have been the actual troy, and in fact probably wasn’t.
From this, we grasp a better understanding of one of the main themes of the course; that sometimes our view of history is not so much from what-really-happened as it is from what someone wanted us to (or perhaps more correctly in some instances, what they wanted themselves) to think. No more is this concept more apparent than as when looking at the way that the Christian Church handled the Crusades and how thy have treated them since. The Crusades originated form a propagandized need to rid the Holy Lands of the infidel Moslems.
The church had used its influence to instill the idea that Muslims were evil, had no place in gods world and in general, posed a threat to everything good into the minds of all Europe. After they must have surely realized their failure and wrongness in the aftermath of the Crusades, the church still would not let anyone publicly address that. This further emphasizes the idea that a true understanding of history, and an education in general, is key to the well being of any society; enabling the individual to choose right from wrong, rather than relying on some leader to tell them what to believe (for another example of this, look at Hitler).
Ironically, it is very easy to poke fingers and call Herodotus or Schliemann liars, because we do not trace our own personal values back to themif they are found discreditable, that does not mean that anything that we believe in, or even ourselves, is threatened. However, put something that we cherish, for example the Christian Church, into the spotlight, and we quickly become very defensive and uncomfortable.
Perhaps this says something about human nature, and more so, possibly says something about how our view of history could become perverted. Thus we see that history is much more than the study of “Dead White European Males”; it involves men and women from many different cultures, of many different lifestyles, the study of other related subjects such as language, writing and religion, it even at times requires one to be an expert on ceramics (as is the case of Denise Schmandt-Besserat’s theory on the origins of cuneiform).
The course has also provided invaluable information that has revealed the common background shared by some of the most dramatically contrasting civilizations of today. It is now up to the individual to use what he or she has learned from this class to better current society, and as an aid to comprehending other matters.