Definition of History - What is History?

Definition of History - What is History?

Giving a single definition of History is somewhat more difficult than we imagine. We could say that is the social science that studies our past, and we will be correct, butfor whom?

This is where we must stand and discover what meanings history has as it varies according to the time, as well as according to the ideologies of those who try to define it.

A Marxist vision is not the same as a liberal one, since they rely on various media or events to explain it.

But the most important thing is, without a doubt, The time, because for the contemporary world, History is the science that studies the past, but in ancient times it was the investigation of the very close past, lived by the authors themselves. At present we would define them as chronicles, but for Herodotus, the first Historian, that was History.

Definition of History in Antiquity

However, the sources that were handled were exclusively two, what the author had experienced as we mentioned, but also what others had experienced and told this one, although the credibility it has is not the same, so we cannot currently take it as reliable. Yes, based on them but taking each of the issues with a grain of salt.

Continuing with the example of Herodotus, we have the «Nine Books of History«, Where he tells us the Medical Wars as well as his experiences abroad, grouping all the information that he himself was experiencing in nine very interesting volumes and sources used today for their great reliability.

Definition of History in the Greco-Roman world

In the Greco-Roman world, Conversely, History was exclusively the very recent past, that is to say, a few years ago, while all of the above was referred to as «antiquarian«, With the aggravation that they were not interested in studying it, investigating it or analyzing it, but that it was totally relegated.

Definition of History in the Middle Ages

Already in the Middle Ages the definition of History begins to take its present form.

The monks and few scribes put all their experiences on paper as they translated and studied everything that had happened before, starting to give more importance to all the past, always having the human being as an object of study in the course of time.

Leopold von Ranke, Father of Scientific Historiography

Come the 19th century, the German Leopold von Ranke (1795 – 1886), gives a much more important character to the one it occupied up to that moment, being the head responsible for the fact that History began to be studied in European Universities, although it was not until the 20th century that it became official as an important science, when the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters in the University of the city.

It should also be noted that von Ranke is considered the father of scientific Historiography, thus employing in the study of history only primary sources, something that stands out from the rest of previous Historians.

The why of this is very simple, when we study the past, we can fall into the error of believing in the bibliography and not in the sources.

What we do not take into account is that the bibliography is written by someone who read and interpreted the primary source in a way, with which, if we read these texts, we will be learning partial information and «polluted»With the ideology or thought of the writer, be it religious, political, social, etc.

Faced with these situations, von Ranke believed exclusively in primary sources and thus the study of History would be much more truthful.

Continuing the 20th century (and leaving von Ranke aside), Faculties that taught History as a science began to be created in various universities, although we find it under other names such as Faculty of Humanities, Geography and History or Social Sciences, until reaching our current time where there are Chairs dedicated exclusively to the study of it.

Difference between history and history

A differentiation that is worth clarifying is that of History with history. The history (capitalized), is the discipline itself, while the history (with lowercase) is the object of study of the first.

Thus, History can be divided into three main branches that give us the final explanation about what it is:

  1. Historiography: The texts where past events are recorded, made by historians or experts.
  2. Histology: The term created by José Ortega y Gasset to indicate the reflection on the past, that is to say: they are not the texts in which we study but those that teach us the way in which history has made itself known to us.
  3. Historiosophy, or Philosophy of History: Study historical time together with its peculiarities, speculating on the human future and investigating the characters that, ultimately, make our history.

As a final conclusion we can say that History is the study of our past, as well as the future of humanity, applying objective and rigorously scientific study techniques if we want to obtain real results (leaving aside ideologies, as we already mentioned), and which is based on various objects of study, framing them in certain periods of time, as well as characters who are the ones who ultimately lead our walk in the world.

Images: Public domain

After studying History at the University and after many previous tests, Red Historia was born, a project that emerged as a means of dissemination where you can find the most important news of archeology, history and humanities, as well as articles of interest, curiosities and much more. In short, a meeting point for everyone where they can share information and continue learning.


Video: GEC 2: Readings in Phil. History LECTURE 3: The Meaning of History