History Basics

History can be considered the complete collection of events that have occurred. It can also be considered the study of those events. Innumerable events have occurred since time immemorial. As time has marched onwards, so has the ingenuity of humanity. A number of methods have been developed to study history and write about history.

Within the discipline of history, there are many subdisciplines. Some of those subdisciplines are political history, economic history, intellectual history, military history, diplomatic history, family history, social history, psychohistory, the history of technology, the history of science, the history of medicine, religious history, cultural history, the history of minorities, gender history, men’s history, women’s history,[1] forest history, and fire history.[2]

For about 450 years now there has been a saying that chronology and geography are the two eyes of history. This is a result of the history’s fundamental dependence on those two subjects. The events of the past are given order through chronology and location through geography. Without these two legs to stand upon, history would be a chaotic mess. Click here to read more about the eyes of history. Also, I have articles available that cover who all have been called The Father of History, The Father of Chronology, and The Father of Geography.

“It is with no little justice, then, that chronology has been styled the eye, and even the soul, of history; or that without it the subjects of this art could be considered no other than a dark chaos, a wreck of fragments void of order and every other indication of design.”
– James Cecil MacDonald (1897)[4, p.3]

The main method that historians use is commonly known as the historical method. To me, historical method varies from person to person and so I define it as “the collection of methods a person uses to write about history”. While one person might make use of as many methods as possible, another might only make use of one or two. Click here to learn more about the historical method.

The word historiography was coined in the 16th century to mean “the art of writing history”, but it has more recently come to mean “the study of how people have studied/written history”. Click here to learn more about historiography.

“The fundamental question is what actually happened and how we know it.”
– Laurence Lee Howe (Historical Method and Legal Education, 1950)[3, p.353]

Howe’s fundamental question is really two questions crammed into one:

1 – “What actually happened?”

2 – “How do we know that?”

I agree that these are the fundamental questions. Question 1 is ontological in nature. It’s asking about what really happened. What events truly occurred? Question 2 is epistemological in nature. It’s asking about how we know what really happened. How can we determine what truly occurred?

I think everyone in the world has been wrong about something at one point or another but thought they were correct. This unfortunate trend is what makes the study of history that much more difficult. I have an article here on how to start studying history.

“Indeed, it requires that all “facts” shall be subject to question, and the progress of historiography demands that the whole body of fact and interpretation shall be continually retested and re-evaluated.”
– Laurence Lee Howe (Historical Method and Legal Education, 1950)[3, p.349]

Click this image for more info about historical methods and studies:

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[1] – https://www.tru.ca/arts/php/history/A_Handbook_for_TRU_History_Students/Varieties_of_History.html. Accessed 9 Dec. 2020.

[2] – http://shortleafpine.net/media/videos-and-webinars/videos/3rd-bienniel-shortleaf-pine-conference/dendrochronology-and-forest-history. Accessed 9 Dec. 2020.

[3] – Howe, Laurence Lee. “Historical Method and Legal Education.” Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors (1915-1955), vol. 36, no. 2, 1950, pp. 346–356. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40220732. Accessed 9 Dec. 2020.

[4] – James Cecil Macdonald. “Chronologies and Calendars” (London, 1897).

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