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WHAT IS HISTORY?
When I began to study History in university, I was struck by how much it dovetailed with what my primary thrust was, Literature. I had long been surrounded by the stories, images, and artifacts of History for much of my life, growing up within the tried and persevering personalities of my grandparents, David and Marion Waller, who lived and breathed history not as professional Historians, but merely as good people who had lived through very tough times and struggled to keep their family together and their various grandchildren moving forward. Indeed, it was many a time that I would return from university for a weekend with them, asking for more details of the stories and memories they had told and spoken of over the years of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, stories of the 1930s, World War II, and the decades that followed. And for what they would give up to me, they would compel me to teach to them what I had learned or was learning, ensuring that I was being responsible and always to be held to account for the education that I was getting. It was a wonderful arrangement, one that made me better as a student and a young man. They showed me the vitality of History by being living embodiments of it. And their passing, some years ago now, was not so much jarring as it was affirming of my duty to them to carry on and struggle in tough times, to ensure that those in my charge would get the best I had to offer and not the least that I could afford. And this is the connection to Literature that I started with - History, as evidenced by this remembrance of my grandparents, is a story, a threading of plots and personalities, of themes and developments, of twists and turns, causes and effects, sometimes fictional, but at all times grave and deterministic. History is a story of stories, a story of a conversation between a young man and his grandparents about a time and a place before him, about an old man relating the horrors of his youth when he witnessed a Japanese soldier disembowel a pregnant Chinese woman on the docks of Shanghai before Pearl Harbor changed everything and compelled him to go back into the service. It is a story about the stories and conversations, a story about the finding of historical treasures and the telling of those treasures themselves. History is story about Historians endeavoring to do what they claim to do, relate the past by meticulously documenting their evidence and either coming to or jumping to conclusions based on the evidence or lack of evidence they gather in the quest to know why or how or when or who. In short, I soon came to recognize that History is Literature, and that in order to be a good reader and writer of it, I would need to know a great deal about Literature in order to come to appreciate the enormity and gravity of History.


The study of History is one of the most challenging and edifying endeavors of the human mind. One is wont to think that, like many things, there is some actual "thing" called history out there being dutifully and faithfully recorded and that the mere act of opening up a random book of "history" will provide for the curious mind a complete and unerring summary of facts and sequences that are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Nothing, indeed, could be further from the truth than this preceding assumption. Like any work of the human mind (and heart), History is not to be taken lightly. Nor should it be taken for what it is not, which many may feel is just educated opinion. Like the discipline of Science, the discipline of History is one of meticulous attention to details and the struggle to perceive, analyze, and extricate the probable from the unlikely, the context from the confusion, and the factual from the biased. This is not to say that History is a Science such as Physics or Chemistry or Biology, for it most certainly is not. But it is important to acknowledge that the proper practice of History is scientific, that an Historian if he or she is to be taken seriously by his or her peers will follow an explicit, rigorous methodology in tracking down and evaluating documents, artifacts, testimonials, and scholarship in order to provide some new or more complete or wholly revised insight into some past event, person, culture, or civilization. Thus, when one has achieved some new synthesis, some different and insightful reappraisal, some reliable and compelling contribution to the ever-growing knowledge of the human past, one has done something more than merely report out one's findings. One has moved forward an ongoing and expanding conversation about who we were and who we may become.

THE SKILLS NEEDED FOR HISTORY:
There are a definite set of basic skills that one must come to understand, use, and thence appreciate in order to really do History. Many of these are, of course, completely relevant to other disciplines, like Literature and Science, but as an Historian, they are of special significance because they more or less define the foundational principles upon which the ever growing edifice of History is placed.

    1. Separating Fact from Opinion
    2. Providing Meaning by Categorizing Elements
    3. Establishing Cause and Effect Relationships
    4. Making Inferences from Questions
    5. Coming to an Understanding Through the Analysis of Maps and Graphs
    6. Determining Point of View
    7. Perceiving and Analyzing Unstated Assumptions
    8. Perceiving Bias and Analyzing its Effects of Point of View
    9. Developing Planned Responses to Questions by Argumentation
    10. Developing Planned Responses to Questions by Strategizing
    11. Identifying, Clarifying, and Evaluating Similarities and Differences
    12. Identifying, Clarifying, and Evaluating for Relevance
    13. Identifying, Clarifying, Evaluating, and Prioritizing Facts and Arguments
    14. Deriving Generalizations from Information to Develop Responses to Questions
    15. Developing Sequences of Evidence in Support of an Argument
As you can see, all of these taken together are of immense value in other fields, but with regard to History, they are defining. One does not pursue History for sophistry, the mere making of arguments for the sake of demonstrating one's prowess in arguing. Sequences without purpose would be of no import to anyone in the pursuit of why humans were as they were and are as they are. As George Orwell (actually, Eric Blair) wrote in his seminal work of prophetic historical fiction, 1984...

He Who Controls the Present Controls the Past
He Who Controls the Past Controls the Future.

At present, in an increasingly democratic emerging global community linked by social network technology, the power of History as a narrative and a conversation inextricably linked and folding in and around itself is manifesting itself in at least two contradictory but strangely complementary ways: on the one hand, with the internet and the online tools and forums it provides, just about anyone with any half-baked synthesis of how things happened can put their ideas up for anyone else to see; while on the other, because there is so much half-baked nonsense out there, more and more social networking tools and forums are becoming increasingly reliable means of helping people filter out the "bad input" in order to come to more probable and helpful "good output." That is, the control of the present is diffuse and democratized, which means the control over the past is slipping away from tradition and doctrine, revealing a fluid and dynamic set of possibilities for the future. Good bye, Big Brother. and welcome...?

Because of all of the garbage that is available, the above 15 skills are necessary for the responsible mind that wants to have a clear rather than a convenient picture of what has, is, and might be going on in the course of human history.





Mr.Korling
Mr.Korling
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