Friday, July 30, 2004

What is History? An Essay from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

What is History? An Essay from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. This is a strange little site which has an essay on what history is from the 1911 Britannica. It is a little hard to read but is interesting.

From the site:

The word history is used in two senses. It may mean either the record of events, or events themselves. Originally (see below) limited to inquiry and statement, it was only in comparatively modern times that the meaning of the word was extended to include the phenomena which form or might form their subject. It was perhaps by a somewhat careless transference of ideas that this extension was brought about. Now indeed it is the commoner meaning. We speak of the history of England without reference to any literary narrative. We term kings and statesmen the makers of history, and sometimes say that the historian only records the history which they make. History in this connection is obviotisly not the record, but the thing to be recorded. It is unfortunate that such a double meaning of the word should have grown up, for it is productive of not a little confusion of thought.

History in the wider sense is all that has happened, not merely all the phenomena of human life, but those of the natural world as well. It includes everything that undergoes change; and as modern science has shown that there is nothing absolutely static, therefore the whole universe, and every part of it, has its history. The discovery of ether brought with it a reconstruction of our ideas of the physical universe, transferring the emphasis from the mathematical expression of static relationships to a dynamic conception of a universe in constant transformation; matter in equipoise became energy in gradual readjustment. Solids are solids no longer. The universe is in motion in every particle of every part; rock and metal merely a transition stagc between crystallization and dissolution. This idea of universal activity has in a sense made physics itself a branch of history. It is the same with the other sciencesespecially the biological division, where the doctrine of evolution has induced an atttudc of mind which is distinctly historical.

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