Behind every subject, there is a great purpose and importance attached to it. But why do we study history in school, and why is it so important? It’s because it creates a systematic way of learning about the past. History is like a window through which we look at the past and see how it relates to the future and present. It records events of the past in writing and preserves them for generations yet unborn.
It also helps us to see how time has changed everything about existence as well as the mistakes of our forefathers so that the generations unborn do not repeat the same mistakes. Needless to say, that history is a critical study as it is deeply rooted in our past.
Types of History
History can be broadly categorised into six different types based on some criteria such as date and type of events. Whether you are taking history studies at the university or studying it as part of the requirement in your chosen major, it would help if you understand how history is classified. Below are the six types of history you should know.
- Political history
This type of history involves the analysis, study, and evaluation of past political leaders, government systems, policies and constitutions. It is intertwined with other branches of history such as constitutional and diplomatic history.
It also identifies the elites in power and how their actions affect the citizens in society. The first piece of political history (scientific) was written by a German historian (Leopold Von). His approach to history had a tremendous influence on the way historians evaluate sources till date. His actions influenced the evaluation of the methodology in historical studies by historians today.
Many historical scholars have argued that political history on its own cannot exist without the comparison of ideologies and their various applications. That was what triggered the emergence of various movements that questioned the conventional approach to political history.
Canada, for instance, is a constitutional monarchy. The executive powers lie on the cabinet (who are responsible to the house of commons in Canada, leaving the nation with strong democratic traditions of liberalism. For this reason, the Canadian system of government is highly democratic with a strong emphasis on inclusiveness and equality for every citizen.
- Diplomatic history
As a branch of history, diplomatic history is the study of the international relations between one country and another. This type of history is mostly concerned with the history of diplomacy in a nation. It also showcases how foreign governments or leaders have influenced the decisions, ideas, conduct and constitutional arrangements of past governments.
Therefore, it can be said that diplomatic history is international relations through negotiations and dialogue between nation or states representatives.
Canada has a long, rich history of international relations even before 1900. Since 1930, the nation had enjoyed several diplomatic positions in Washington, London, Paris, Geneva and Tokyo. This ensures that the country had an active internationalism government setting. A few years later, the country had a global reach as well as a robust relationship with many national leaders, international agencies and national ambassadors.
- Cultural history
This is the study of the historical culture and interpretations of the past. It also studies different facets of human, events and societal development. For this reason, cultural historians study the ideas and beliefs of people.
In Canada, people’s beliefs and understanding form a vital aspect of its cultural history and heritage. Their cultural history reflects how societal culture has influenced humans for many decades. Due to the significance of this course, it is has become a requirement not just for the history student but in many disciplines in the humanities.
- Social history
Social history is just like a segmented form of political history. Instead of focusing on the elites, it pivots around the ordinary people. Social history studies the customs, beliefs, standard of living and disciplines of the people.
Its focuses predominantly on the lifestyle and actions of the ordinary people. Social history also has to do with societal changes and how it influences the common man. It is now termed “the new social history.”
- Economic history
This is a branch of history that studies economies of government in the past as well as economic phenomena that affected governmental policies. It studies the pattern of consumption, production, marketing and distribution of different commercial systems of the past and compares it with the modern-day system and processes.
Historical students taking economic history courses are expected to compare historical events and analyse economic changes that took place decades ago. This is to enable them to understand their application and interpretation to present-day commercial arrangements.
- Intellectual history
Intellectual history evaluates how ideas affect human actions and beliefs. Therefore, it’s the study of epistemology and ideology in society. Many historians propagate ideas and thoughts that are subject to evaluation. This is the framework of intellectual history.
Now that you know the different facets of history, have you ever thought about how it is written or who wrote them? The study of history didn’t begin yesterday. It has existed for ages, and it keeps evolving to reflect the changes in societal norms, technological advancement as well as time.
But who keeps these records for generations yet unborn to treasure and cherish forever?
Who writes history?
Historians write the history of nations, documents them and preserve them for generations yet unborn. In the university, there are hundreds of historians who are passionately concerned about certain historical events and their impact on society.
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Many historians will opine the school of thought that says victors wrote history. Consider the example of a man who goes to war, conquers his enemies and returns victorious. He has not just defeated his enemies, but he has succeeded in writing his feat in the palms of history.
Even today, historians write about the acts of victors and site their works in books and artifacts. Victors reign for a long time. Hence, it takes time for their story to be written or reproduced. In modern-day society, anyone can write history. But only the history “written” by victors are allowed to be reproduced, printed and taught in the university. If anyone can write history, then how reliable is it in modern-day studies? Read on!
How Reliable Is History?
In almost every other profession, scholars cling to a school of thought and ideology. More so, there are principles that guide the profession and such is beyond any form of argument or manipulation. But that is not the case with history.
In the 1970s, a study on the validity of research methods in historical studies led to the interview of several historians. But each one of them had a different opinion about a particular historical event. To this day, there is no one agreed version of history. This is why every historian has his own “ideology” about a particular historical event. What does this mean for upcoming historians and society? Does it mean we can’t trust history?
How can we know the whole truth about events that took place in the past without having to face a subjective opinion from historians? If we can’t look back on our history with confidence and trust, how can we understand the present and the future of human existence?
These are the questions on the minds of many history students. Many students across various tertiary institutions in Canada are made to read about history from textbooks and journals written by scholars in the profession. But are they adequately balanced to reflect the reality? But the problem is that most of these texts are not updated to reflect the present historical condition of the country.
Many scholars have argued that history can be trusted even though it is difficult to define its context with precision. According to them, for many decades, all attempts to analyse past events and develop an account of it intellectually are nearly impossible without being subjective in the narration.
The process of narrating history is complicated. It’s easy to distort information during the process. That is why many historical records carry details on not “how they happened,” but on how the historian would have “wanted them to happen.”
Since history deals with the event of the past, it can only be accounted for by those who either witnessed it or have access to engraved recordings of the event. So who are we to refute history if we know nothing about it? It can only be rebutted if the person can research and discover the “salient facts” about the events and develop ‘valid arguments” that contradicts the written account.
Aside from that, recorded history is mostly subjective due to delay in recording, production and preservation. But a consensus can be reached if notable historians can identify their differences, produce a historical record of facts based on pre-agreed principles that are acceptable to all.
Suppose historians can reduce the workings of the imaginative mind (past recording events based on myths, hearsay and fiction). In that case, the level of subjective reasoning can be reduced to the barest minimum.
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “what is history, but a fable agreed upon?” We can’t agree less.
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