Every aspect of existence is characterised by gradual development and temporal changes. Nothing can remain constant in time and different phenomena tend to evolve or degrade under the impact of new factors and changes in the surrounding environment. Since every aspect of existence is characterised by change, in order to understand the existence, one would have to explore past and present in order to predict or build certain expectations for the future. Thus, history of any phenomenon is a key to underrating of its origin, the current stage of its development and potential trend in the future. The aim of this paper is to discuss what history is and outline its types and diverse embodiments.
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The importance of history
The best way to approach history is in its temporal complexity. George Santanyana once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” At the first glance, it may seem that events of the past are long gone and have nothing to do with the contemporary reality or the future. It also may seem that past events were conditioned by the epoch and consequent stages of human civilisation, and they cannot be repeated because the conditions of the surrounding environment change all the time. In fact, these are relevant arguments.
On the other hand, irrespective of the surrounding environment and epoch, human nature remains the same. The same incentives, fears and motives drive human actions and, therefore, the same events are doomed to take place again with potential changes in the environment. From another perspective, various phenomena of human civilisation are characterised by cyclical nature and it can be realised only through the exploration of the past. For instance, each distinctive civilisation of the Ancient epoch was characterised by the time of strengthening of power and its pick, expansion, destabilisation of power in various parts of the empire, its gradual decadence, final collapse and conquest by a new rising power. Thus, past teaches that with the expansion of the empire, the strength of control loosens up and the elite of the empire loses its power.
Moreover, past is the source of knowledge of how certain decisions resulted in a consequent outcome. In other words, past is the source of understanding of the cause-effect relationship between things. Like in the chess game, a player can win the game only if he learned most of the possible moves from the previous games, in the same way an individual can use lessons of the past for the benefit of the present decision-making and problem resolution. In other words, past is the source of experience humanity has gained through a costly practice. If one is reluctant to learn the lessons of the past, then he is likely to make the same mistakes as people of the past and thus to repeat the past.
What is history?
It may seem that history is just a totality of the past events related to human affairs. This approach to defining history is every simplistic and misses out the very essence of history being the science of exploring the cause-effect relationship between events of the past for the benefit of the contemporary understanding of the previous civilisations and humanity in general. In this regard, history can be approached from various perspectives. Among some of the most relations are technology, creativity and destruction.
From the perspective of technology, history demonstrates how the human civilisation evolved through various epochs and how diverse tools of labour and every-day life have changed with the development of human ideas and their reflection in new technologies. Each human epoch is characterised by different technological means in making fire, preparing food, working on the land and creating clothes. History demonstrates how the initial primitive human thinking was embodied in using sharpened bones for killing animals for food and creating houses for living. In this regard, human the stage of development of technologies demonstrates the level of human intelligence in accordance with the surrounding environment.
The exploration of prevailing technological devices during various historical epochs is used not only for the purpose of knowing which technologies prevailed, but also to understand the evolution of human potential and analytical minds in terms of creating more and more complex devices. In this regard, history demonstrates that technology was evolving linearly with each epoch in accordance with the depth of human exploration of the surrounding environment and the ability to analyse it in a more systematic manner. For instance, the sharpened bone evolved into a metal dagger, sword, firearm and nuclear weapon conditioned by the changes in the surrounding environment and human knowledge at each stage of its development.
From the perspective of creativity, history demonstrates how the human mind perceived the world and how it was reflected in creative arts. History demonstrates that irrespective of the stage of human civilizational development, human beings were always capable of creative reflection of their beliefs and important movements. It was shown on the examples of cave paintings, Greek sculptures depicting Hellenic heroes, the Sistine Chapel and contemporary expressionist paintings. Although the perception of creativity at various stages of human development was different, the very process of creativity demonstrated to be a part of human nature and its inevitable reflection.
Creativity is not only about reflective arts, but also about different and unconventional thinking about various aspects of existence. In this regard, history demonstrates that through all of the epochs, there were people who were thinking creatively out of the framework of their time. They were the once to drive the progress and further evolution of human civilisation forward. Although they were often perceived as outcasts and condemned by their contemporary societies, they entered the history as the great inventors, artists and reformists.
On the other hand, history demonstrates dogmatic thinking of human societies that often did not tolerate difference and creativity. Consequently, it can be argued that due to the lack of support and tolerance various creative projects and ideas were not fulfilled and thus humanity could have evolved faster if contemporary encouragement of creativity and unconventional thinking were widespread. Thus, scientists and inventors would not have to burn on the fire of Inquisition, and their ideas could benefit humanity earlier than later.
From the perspective of destruction, history tells the story of the dark side of human nature that aims at conquering and self-destruction. In this regard, history demonstrates that there were more times of conflict and warfare among different civilisations and societies rather than there were peaceful times. Something about the human nature does not allow peace to be long-lasting. There is always a desire for power and control, the development of one empire inevitably would mean the destruction of the previous and weaker kingdoms.
On the other hand, history also demonstrates the existence of creation-destruction cycle. Small unties appear and soon they are united by the leading entity creating a strong actor in the existing international relations if the time. However, at some point this strong actor has to face another one to gain more power; after the conflict one of the actors ceases to exist or dissolves into new fractured smaller kingdoms. Thus, the cycle of creation begins from the end of the previous one and often the time after destruction is characterised by the boost of development and drive of the progress. Thus, from the perspective of cyclical development, destruction is an inevitable part of development just death is an inevitable part of a life cycle.
From the civilizational, cultural perspective, history demonstrates each new winner civilisation always aims ate establishing the dominance of its own culture and destruction of the previous supressed one. Although Roman and Alexander the Great used assimilating techniques in order to control their empires, many conquerors tend to destroy the culture and beliefs of the conquered societies in order to establish the supremacy of their rule. In this regard, the annihilation of cultural belonging demonstrates to be equivalent to complete victory over the entire population. On the other hand, the cycle demonstrates that the conqueror in one epoch is conquered in the next one, and the cycle of destruction and revival continues.
The different kinds of history
The complexity of history is reflected in the diversity of its types and embodiments. One of these types is narrative history that is a written demonstration of history as narration (telling) of a story. Depending on the primary emphasis of the narration, narrative history is further divided into two sub-genres: traditional and modern. The traditional narrative approach concentrates on the chronological order of events within the primary geographic sight and main participants of these events. In this regard, the vertical comparative paradigm is often present in this genre of history, meaning that the same aspect is studied from the temporal perspective of chronological development.
For instance, the traditional historical narrative of the development of Roman Empire would pay attention to the key events of expansion and territorial gains, main emperors and generals who contributed to the consolidation of power within the empire. Consequently, the historians would compare different rulers in terms of their impact on the expansion of the Roman rule. The entire narration would be more technical, strict and aimed at the demonstration of actions, operational features of battles development, and numeric estimations of forces and economic potentials of fighting sides. Also, the relationship between intentions, actions and the outcome of the development of the Empire as the primary purpose of this historical piece would be emphasised.
On the other hand, the modern narrative history aims at exploring a given phenomenon from the perspective of prevailing trends and structures. In this regard, analysis is more systematic and multi-temporal in its nature. In other words, a certain aspect can be analysed and compared in the framework of the entire human history, thus overruling the dominance of the strict chronological order of narration. Moreover, this approach tends to explore a certain historical event from the systematic perspective of the cause-effect relationship between different factors. Often comparison of the intensity of various factors on the horizontal level (within the same timeframe but different geographical patterns) is conducted instead of the vertical one. This approach is also used in order to test diverse contemporary concepts of socio-cultural and civilisations trends in human development.
For instance, regarding the example of the Roman Empire, the modern narrative historians would explore the impact of other civilisations on the development of Romans. Attention would be paid to socio-cultural and economic interactions just military ones. The historians would also be testing various hypotheses regarding the rise and fall of the Roman Empire in the framework of other empires dominant through the entire human history. For instance, it could be compared to the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great, the Mongol Empire and even more contemporary like the British Empire. Attention would be paid not to the chronological order of events but the similarity of factors that contributed to the rise of these empires and their consequent collapse.
Although it may seem that the two approaches are very different and that modern narrative history is more systematic in its exploration, the two approaches are, in fact, complementary and are aimed at systematic and detailed study of the past and gaining of the relevant knowledge. The traditional approach gives a foundation of detailed chronological knowledge of the studied subject, and the contemporary narrative places it into the diverse conceptual framework related to various epochs including the contemporary one. Thus, the systematic exploration of history is achieved.
In the study of history, one of the primary issues is the question of evidence and justification of its interpretation. In this regard, irrespective of what was happening in the past, history is written on the basis of the evidence contemporary historians can find and interpret according to the existing knowledge. In other words for the history to be known by the contemporaneity, the physical evidence is required to be recognised and thus written. On the other hand, it does not mean that history has can only be documented.
In the undocumented form, history exists through various stories and oral heritage of various cultures. For instance, myths and legends of various civilisations contain historical evidence of the beliefs and cultural interpretation of the events. Often undocumented history can tell as much as documented one, particularly in terms of the cause-effect interpretation of events and their cultural meaning. The legends of King Arthur reflected the collapse of the Roman Empire and the struggle between different tribes for the dominance of Britain. They also demonstrate the ideal perception of a ruler in that time.
In terms of more contemporary history, undocumented form is in individual lives that construct the pattern of the history of an epoch. In this regard, while the evidence might exist regarding certain groups of people and historical analysis can be done about certain events, individual history is often undocumented and exists in the oral form. In other words unless famous figures left memoirs or their life can be explored through historical documents of their time, the only source of detailed evidence of their lives would be stories and memories of people that knew them. In this regard, the source of undocumented history would be the personal knowledge of an individual about the target person or event. On the other hand, the moment the story or personal knowledge is obtained through an interview it is transcribed into historical analysis.
Through various epochs, history had a tendency of being written according to prevailing views within a certain society or political system. Thus history could be used for the purposes of establishing desired ideas and manipulating public opinion. Under such conditions, undocumented history would demonstrate things that were not desired by the ruling elite and aspects of the order that were viewed to be counterproductive. For instance, in the nineteenth century very few aspects of female self-estimation could be found. The same is the case with illegal migrants through the history whose records are scarce and often are kept hidden for the purpose of not showing severe treatment by various power entities in different countries.
The primary essence of undocumented history is that although documented evidence might be missing it does not mean that a certain event did not take place in the past. From the epistemological perspective, undocumented history is source of more diverse and uncensored reflection on the past events since it is more likely to demonstrate events in their systematic occurrence rather than officially accepted mode of thinking about them. On the other hand, the undocumented history has its own disadvantageous particularly in terms of the authenticity and subjectivity. Although undocumented history might be shedding light on certain events from a new perspective, the lack of physical evidence might also be the source of uncertainty and doubt about the objectivity of the provided narration.
On various occasions, people tend to tell their perspective on the given subject and interpret events in the way favourable for them and their role in the history. Consequently, for a historian, the primary task is to evaluate the authenticity and contextual influences on the source of undocumented history and how it fits into personal intentions. For the purposes of systematic analysis and understanding of the past, undocumented history requires unbiased and critical evaluation.
Through the entire history of human civilisation, people were fighting with time and one of the ways to leave their imprint in time was making notes about events that surrounded them in order for the future generations to understand their way of thinking and reasons certain actions. Starting from Herodotus, humanity began to write down its history in various documented physical evidence. Starting from the very beginning of human literary, various important events and rules of behaviour were inscribed on papyrus, clay or stone tablets for people to follow and remember certain events or rules of behaviour. With each epoch and in very society, documented history consisted of different documents containing various information about the ways of human lives, historical events and their interpretations.
From one perspective, documented history demonstrates the massive of information about certain historical events that are proven by physical evidence and are verified and accepted by the common views of the time. Thus, the credibility of documented history is much higher than in the case of undocumented, since more evidence is available. On the other hand, documented history has a tendency of being more influenced by the generally accepted perception of certain events. For instance, from the academic perspective, often historians tend to follow the common interpretation of events rather than challenging them and finding new ways of interpreting these events. The same is the case of various societies that were ruled by a certain order in which particular ideas were more tolerated over the others, and the history was interpreted in a different way.
The best example would be the Soviet interpretation of history, which explored the same historical documents and consequent events as the Western scholars yet interpreted it the way it was favourable for the Communist Party and political objectives of its ideology. In this regard, the documented history of the Soviet interpretation becomes the source of historical analysis of the Soviet rule itself. In this regard, the way history is interpreted in a certain society tells a lot about that society and the purpose of history in it. Various documents official and semi-official irrespective of their purpose sooner or later become historical documents since they reflect the time they were written in and the contextual purpose.
For the historian to interpret historical documents correctly and within its timeframe, the historian has to know the historical and cultural context of the studied document, the authors and his/her intentions. Contextual framework matters a lot in the interpretation of the historical documents and their writing. In this regard, historiography – the science about how history is written is of particular relevance, since it provides the means of analysing documents in their historical contexts and purposefulness.
The form of documented history is the most popular form of history because it is driven by authenticity since to be recognised it needs to show credible evidence and strong argument. Unlike undocumented, documented history uses more of the physical evidence to tell the story of the past in terms of diverse interpretations. In each case, documented history has to find a credible argument or evidence supporting a certain interpretation. For instance, the history of the illegal migrants is so difficult to study because there are very little historical documents to use as evidence and often the available interviews are biased and counter-ruled by the existing official documents that contradict undocumented aspect of history.
The case of documented history demonstrates one of the most crucial features of history – it is never fully understood and there are many aspect of history that remain unknown and might remain so forever, since many aspects of the past were undocumented and contemporary knowledge of the past remains only interpretation of the available evidence and not a hundred per cent truth that things happened exactly the way historians and contemporary academics perceive it to be. Another aspect is that history without evidence cannot speak for the silent voices of the past.
Law and History
Laws are essential sources of history. Their primary significance is that they demonstrate not only the existing legal framework and required norms of human behaviour, they also tell a lot about socio-cultural features of various societies and civilisations. From the perspective of human civilisation in general, the legal documents reflect on the development of societies and norms of behaviour that resulted in the present state of human globalised society and dominance of one principles of law over the others.
From the perspective of political history, legal documents show how certain regimes were supported by legal norms and how various actions of human history could be justified and punished depending on the time and society. In this regard, history of law demonstrates how various regimes could justify their actions irrespective of their nature. Moreover, laws reflect on the evolution of the universal functional structures of political orders and societies. For instance, through the exploration of legal history, the concept of the division of powers can be explored in its functional features and consequent alternative implementation in various national legal systems.
From the socio-ethical perspective, the evolution of legal norms is the demonstration of the evolution of human morality and ethics from the very primitive savage rules to the dominance of the human rights and democratic values. In this regard, laws, as means of imposing certain order in the society, show what behaviour was considered to be morally acceptable and advantageous for the society and the ruling power in it. They also demonstrate the system of values particular to each society and the role of human life.
From the evolutional perspective, legal documents can be viewed as the reflection of the process of civilising of human beings from the ancient time to nowadays with the supremacy of humanistic values over the selfish and animalistic behaviour. For instance, while the laws of Hammurabi and the Middle Ages could easily claim human life for the minor misconduct or due to the personal desires of the rulers, after the French revolution the legal frame began to evolve towards protection of human rights and sacredness of human life.
From the strictly structural perspective, legal documents that are aimed at reflection upon the mechanism of ruling the society can be used for exploration of the functionality of various societies and supremacy of one actor over the other. In this regard, through the outlining of the making participating bodies in the law-making process, judicial and executive functions, laws demonstrate the balance of power in various societies and the most influential factors in functioning of those societies. In terms of administration, the legal framework also can tell about the level of sophistication of an intellectual thought of this or that society and the supremacy of intellectual or practical (economic or military) considerations in decision- and law-making.
Moreover, often the manner of structuring laws could show the shadow politics behind their preparation and consequent intention. Thus, with the particular context of the time legal documents can be also analysed as political documents with their specific aim and process of preparation. In other words, the legal documents also reflect the level of transparency in a certain society. Furthermore, the analysis of laws and the existing practices of their implementation or the lack of it can be used to explore the level of corruption or the dominance of other factors in that society rather than the legal framework.
The best example would post-Soviet countries during their transition period after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The legal frameworks of these countries copied the democratic values of the Western Constitutions and aimed to implement them. However, the reality of the Soviet practices such as bribery and nepotism continue to hunt these countries even nowadays. Thus, through the exploration of laws and their functionality in various processes in the society, its development and dominant values can be explored.
Human affairs have various aspects and manifestations. Consequently, the history aimed at the exploration of human affairs has diverse directions. One type of history is of particular relevance since it can combine features of various epochs with particular individuals. By presidential history is meant the chronological sequence of people taking the presidential post in various countries and related internal and external affairs of the country during each presidency. Thus, presidential history is not just individual stories of people who were presidents but also their approach to ruling the country and their impact on the overall development of the country. In other words, it is a history of individuals on the key influential role and their contribution to a certain epoch.
The study of presidential term held by a single president gives an opportunity to explore various aspects of the society at that time. First of all, the victory of the candidate also means that his election programme corresponded to the values and desires of the electorate. Thus, the victory of that candidate shows the dominant views of the society at that time. Secondly, individual president’s views embodied in the framework of reforms are further shown in the trends of country’s evolution contributing to the development or stagnation of economic, political and socio-cultural life. In this regard, presidential history is the best example of the connection between a single human being and fundamental changes in policies and often fates of entire nations.
Thirdly, the exploration of presidential history over a long time is capable to show the trend in driving forces from the evolution of various countries. For instance, in the case of the United States, the driving forces were the democratic values and freedom, although perception of implementation of these values differed from epoch to epoch and from one presidential term to another. Presidential history also shows contextual differences of decision-making patterns within each time. In other words, history shows that successful presidency often depends on the state the country is when the president is elected and the achievements of his predecessor. Thus, presidential history demonstrates the necessity of studying the historical continuity of various national features that presidents have to face during their term.
So, what does presidential history tell about the time of presidency? Except the aforementioned electoral preferences in the society, exploration of the presidency demonstrates many other features about society and its development. For instance, ethno-cultural and gender belonging to the president demonstrates the level of equality in the country and an opportunity for people from different ethno-cultural background to take the highest posts in the country. For instance, in the United States, irrespective of its long democratic history, the President Obama was the first Afro-American president. On the other hand, there was no female president in the American history yet, while many other countries have a long record of female presidents across history. Presidential history in the United States also demonstrates consistency due to the unchanging interest and global direction of American policy, irrespective of the two dominant parties in the American politics.
From the institutional perspective, presidential history can demonstrate the correlations between various organisations within the country and the president, which might indicate the division of power in the country or the dominance of internal versus external factors of influence on the national decision-making and shaping of policy. For instance, during the Cold War, the external threat was the primary consideration of the internal and external affairs which gave greater power to the security agencies like CIA and espionage as means of gaining advantage over the opponent. Consequently, presidential decision-making was largely conditioned by information and advising from the CIA. The same was the case after the 9/11 when external threat dominated the national discourse.
Presidential history is quite complex in its nature and has various approaches to its exploration. It can be studied from the perspective of individual biographies and life events that shaped president’s personality, political beliefs and character in general. Moreover, president’s genealogy and ethno-cultural background can be studied in order to understand his personality traits. However, presidential history can be studied in terms of chronological presidencies and their overall impact on the country’s establishment in the system of international relations. Moreover, it can be also explored from the contemporary narrative perspective searching for the roots of the contemporary socio-political trends in the previous presidencies. For instance, the amount to trust to the institution of a president can be explored within a certain time frame in order to see the relation between the presidential authority and consequent trust of the population. Presidential history is just one of the aspects of national histories of various countries, but it takes the lens of the key political and authoritative figure and observes the history of the nation from the top-to-bottom hierarchy of power.
Although it may seem that presidential history can be explored systematically due to the great amount of relevant documents, personal memoirs, speeches and political analytical works, there is also a particular limitation of this type of history. Since presidential history is directly related to governmental affairs and various levels of security matters, a lot of relevant materials would be in the classified domain. In this regard, for the security reasons various materials would be in thirty, fifty or even universal classified status and thus could not be used to shed the light on the inside story of motives for certain decision and the role of presidential personalities in it. Consequently, the primary limitation of presidential history is the lack of inside story behind the official façade of the real internal politics of certain administration. On the other hand, the further are the events of the presidential history, the more information and new details are being found in archives and more materials are being declassified. Consequently, in a long run, this type of history remains of great significance for systematic research of the past.
In terms of the systematic approach to the study of the past, presidential history has an advantage. This advantage is the availability of diverse resources that can be used to make systematic research of events. Since presidents are key political and governmental figures, their personalities are well-studied in their time and with each following epoch adding new perspectives and details to the overall knowledge. There are also numerous official documents, speeches and personal interviews that can be analysed from diverse perspectives. This diversity of resources is beneficial for the objectivity of exploration of the presidential history. It also gives an opportunity to explore diverse cause-effect relations between individual presidents and motivations of their decision-making.
Overall, presidential history gives an opportunity to look into the depth of socio-political and international relations history from the perspective of the key participants – the head of state, who is responsible for the crucial decisions regarding country’s future. From the contemporary perceptive, it can tell a lot about the current presidents and how their roles have evolved with time and even might suggest the future trends in the national presidency.
Lying and history
History is a very powerful tool that can shape human self-perception and give them a sense of identity and belonging. Thus, the interpretation of history is of great significance in building political narratives and creating purposeful ideologies. Such great power of history creates a temptation of its misuse and interpretation for personal purposes of a few groups that have power. One of the ancient sayings suggests: “the history is written by the winners”. This means that the story is told the way the dominant group considers to be necessary, since the weaker voices are often left without notice. Inevitably history and lies were always entwined.
In the ancient times, historical lies were related to the emphasizing course of a battle or a certain event in the light suitable for praising the ruling emperor and they would change under the rule of the next one. For these purposes, various rulers had their own historians who created histories of suitable interpretations to strengthen the power of those rulers. That is why from the contemporary perspective, various original sources dating back to the ancient times require contextualisation of their interpretation and systematic analysis of inter-personal relations between the author of a historical document and the subject. The same issue was relevant through the entire history of human historiography.
Another rationale for history-related lies was the manipulation of history for the purposes of creating ideology suitable for one’s rule. The best example is the communist reinterpretation of history from the point of Proletariat revolution as the final stage of civilizational development. The ideals of the French Revolution were transformed into the means of strengthening the power of the Communist party in the Soviet Union rather than demonstrating the supremacy of democratic values and equality. In this regard, the rule of the elite at the cost of the rest of the society was represented as the final historically-conditioned ideal of a social-political regime. In this regard, the entire human history was reinterpreted from the Marxist perspective of labour tools and human exploitation. Although from a theoretical perspective, Marxist approach has the right to exist, its use for the complete rewriting of history for the purpose of manipulating population and establishing Communist rule demonstrates the hazards of using lies in history.
Among other examples of lies about history for the political purposes was the explosion of a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, current Ukraine, in 1986. The Soviet government kept the event as a secret at the time when it occurred and in the next decade even after the collapse of the Soviet Union the information regarding the causes of incident was hidden from the public, stating that it was sabotage or the fault of the workers. The primary rationale for the cover-up was that the true story would undermine the power of the Communist party and the status of the Soviet Union in the international arena.
Except for the political reasons, history can be full of lies when historians are too driven by their own interpretation rather than the actual study of the history. In this regard, when the contextual analysis of the author of the historical document particularly of a very remote past is omitted for the sake of proving one’s theory, historical events and the source of its verification can be easily misinterpreted. Thus, for the sake of reducing the number of lies in history, historians have to pay particular attention to the authenticity of the documents they are using and their purpose in the timeframe they were written.
Moreover, since academics could not be present at the actual event that took place in history and can only use the official works of the time and later decades to follow, they need to pay attention to cross-verification of data and consequent analysis in order to avoid false statements and acceptable public opinions that might be lies in themselves created at the time when the event occurred. Thus, although it may seem that history is an exact science, in fact, it is very interpretive in its nature. The reliability of data and accuracy of events discussed can be achieved when various sources are used for mutual checking and adding details.
It is also worth mentioning that different aspects of history have different degree of potential falsification and consequent lies. In this regard, the general history events are easier to verify and find relevant details. On the other hand, the role of personalities in histories and their biographies are the most difficult to explore, and they are the once to contain the greatest degree of uncertainty and consequent lies. Thus, for the purpose of avoiding lies and subjectivity cross-verification of data and opinions from various sources and perspectives is essential.
Choosing representative material
Irrespective of the outlined above difficulties in historical research, historical studies have an advantage of numerous representative materials which can be used for the research conduct. Although it may seem that the ideal study would include all possible resources, the most functional the approach when certain types of materials are chosen according to the requirements of a specific research. In this regard, the primary purpose of the research does not have to be altered according to the availability of a different type of resources and data that might of the minor relevance for the target research. Among various sources of representative materials are laws, declarations, interviews, private papers, newspaper articles and editorials. Depending on the craft of the research, some resources can be more valuable than the others.
For instance, in the research targeted at the exploration of the performance of a certain institution like a parliament or the White House, the most beneficial courses would be official documents, declarations, legal framework of their functioning (laws and administrative documents). In this regard, the attention would be paid to finding the changes in the official functionality of the studied institution, widening or narrowing of its functionality, etc. Thus, the formal aspects of the research would be best emphasized through the official documents.
On the other hand, if the same institution was studied from the perspective of the internal politics and driving forces of decision-making in it, personal interviews, private papers and correspondence would be more beneficial. The primary difference between publically available sources and private documents and inter-personal interviews is that the second can provide more practical and personalised information about the studied topic and new perspectives of interpretations. In this regard, new information that was not known before can be found and reshape the original craft of the research. From the strictly academic perspective, interviews and publically unavailable sources have a greater potential for contributing to the originality of the research and its academic importance.
In the case a certain institution is studied from the perspective of socio-political perspective than the public dimension would be involved and the use of newspapers and editors would be more beneficial than, for instance, in the case of research aimed at formal functionality of the studied institution. The use of newspaper and journals is beneficial in terms of demonstrating the diversity of public reflection of certain decisions and more socio-political than administrative and legal research of the target subject.
Comparing the aforementioned materials, the difference in the level of their reliability should be outlined. Consequently, the most reliable resources would be the official documents and reports. Then there would be interviews and personal papers. However, it should be also taken into consideration that interviewees that are still holding their positions are often more restrained in expressing their opinion on the sensible matters, particularly if they are governmental or military servants. They are often bound by the restriction of public expressions and often their replies are formalised with the official policy of the institution. On the other hand, retired officials might be more eager to share their personal experience and express their own opinions regarding matters in question.
Although newspapers are responsible for the content of publications, the level of their reliability in terms of factual information is very limited since the authenticity of sources can be arguable and had to verify for the researcher. Moreover, various newspapers have their own political or social preferences of interpreting events. Thus, the objectivity of narration is arguable. On the other hand, if the target of the research is the socio-political framework of events reflection or party influence on certain newspapers, content analysis of newspaper articles and editorials would be the primary source of exploration.
Regarding the method of reporting it also depends on the structure and purpose of the research just as its topic. Moreover, the type of the target audience also matters a lot. For instance, for the specialist audience that might have very little time for going through long reports short briefing papers or fact sheets would be suitable. In this regard, the primary functionality of these types of reporting greatly depends on the level of audience’s acquaintance with the subject. In the case of the first encounter and lack of background knowledge on the subject, systematic reports and empirical publications would be more beneficial. In the corporate environment, these might be annual reports, while, in the academic field, monographs or semester reports on research progress would correspond to this type of reporting.
In the case of research development, reporting in the shape of academic articles or conference discussion papers is aimed at the demonstration of the empirical evidence on the subject and stimulation of constructive feedback. Regarding oral or visual reports, the most common ones are presentations, exhibits, news releases and posters. The choice of this type of reporting depends on the purpose of the event and consequent audience. However, presentations with some visual reflections on the subject tend to be a universal type of visual reporting suitable both for a specialised and non-specialised audience.
Criteria for choosing the representative material
Since history is such essential means of human self-identification and understanding one’s past and present, the credibility of representative materials is essential for the accurate and systematic research of a historical subject. In this regard, the primary criteria would be the establishment of the authenticity of the available materials. While in the case of the contemporary materials, the authenticity is easy to verify or the researcher can use official documents from the official resources like websites or the authorised publications, in the case of the previous centuries’ history, the verification of the authenticity might be more complex.
One of the ways to receive credible and authentic materials is to use those that have gone through the verification procedure and are acknowledged as credible and authentic materials. In this regard, there is nothing wrong about using the representative materials that were already used by other researchers. The application of a new perspective of analysis still can make the research original and relevant. On the other hand, if new representative materials and new information is being used, the researcher has to make sure that it is accurate through the process of cross-verification and correspondence of the given data to the existing reality.
Another criterion for choosing relevant materials is their significance. At the first glance, it may seem that significance of the material would be conditioned by its overall importance in the studied timeframe and the amount of other historical works based on it. On the other hand, the significance of specific material is individual and depends largely on the methodological design and purposes of each research. In other words, depending on the perspective of the chosen research, some materials would be more relevant than the others. For instance, in the case of exploration of the legal framework of presidential power, archival documents and formal administrative documents would be more significant than political searches of presidents.
On the other hand, in research aimed at the study of the personalities behind presidential campaigns, personal speeches, correspondence, other secondary resources would be more significant than legal documents. In the cases when interdisciplinary and systematic research is conducted sources of a wide scope of significance can be used. Consequently, their significance is evaluated by the researcher in terms of contextual relevance to the studied topic. For instance, in the case of the study of factors influencing presidential decision-making, various representative materials would be useful, including analysis of media coverage of international events and the reflection of public opinion through media.
Another criterion to consider is the excellence of the author or the source. In this regard, it is essential for the researcher to find the most constructive and authoritative source and author available in the field. The most excellent authors would be those who are closer to the studied subject either in terms of practical participation in the discussed events or who are specialists in the field. For instance, while presidential speeches tell a lot about their personalities and political intentions, interviews with presidents would give more in-depth information about their duties and personalities behind the public perception. Thus, the excellence of this type of sources would be of the greatest significance for the study of presidential history.
Technical matters of research conduct
Besides aforementioned considerations, there are also some technical aspects relevant for the research of history: editing and not editing (the use of sic), giving accurate credits, ordering representative material, listing of multiple sources, and the use of internet. Discussion of these matters is essential for a well-balanced and technically accurate research conduct.
The question of editing often arises in quoting from historical documents. The primary reason is that representative materials as nay textual materials cannot avoid mistakes and typos. In this regard, for the historical research to be of an appropriate level, it is often suggested to conduct editing even of the quoted phrases with typos or grammar errors. However, in order to preserve accuracy of the original source, simple editing and changing of words is unacceptable in the academic research and the use of sic after the error demonstrates the place where error took place and that it was acknowledged by researcher. On the other hand, some national academic communities suggest that the original quote should be altered even in terms of adding sic to it. The main argument is that the document should be treated as an unchangeable unity and thus quoted accordingly. In order to decide whether to use sic or not, researcher must enquire what the generally accepted practice within the national academia is.
Among the most important aspects of research are its accuracy, use of credible resources and evidence and also the well-formatted accurate credits. In this case, the main rule is that it is better to refer to the potential source of information or an opinion rather than not. In this regard, the main benefit of the accurate credits is that author’s attention to details and copyright would be well demonstrated. Moreover, the number of resources and perspectives analysed would demonstrate the depth of research. The accurate credits also are the means of demonstrating that author’s ideas are accredited by other scholars or evidenced by the relevant resources. Thus, accurate credits make the research more academic and also shows where the piece of work fits in the target field.
On the other hand, using too many references with very little personal analysis might also have negative implication son credibility of the author. The author of the research should pay attention to the balance between personal analysis, expression of his own views and simply quoting the opinions of other researchers or interviewed individuals. The art of conducting a balanced research and systematising it in a well-structured academic work in using references from other authors as a support of one’s own analysis or as arguments that one’s own analysis refutes. In this regard, author’s independence is demonstrated in the authenticity of his findings and analysis and also in the ability to address opinions and findings of other authors accurately. It is worth mentioning that the use of all direct quotations is not always beneficial, if certain ideas can be paraphrased and incorporated into analysis with accepting credits of the source.
Regarding the availability of representing materials they can be accessed through the university data basis or library transfer systems that are connected to various institutions. Alternatively direct inquiries to the research centres or archives, where the originals of the representative materials are kept, can be conducted. In this regard, if the researcher does not want to travel, he can request copies to be sent to his address. This practice is very common in the United Kingdom, particularly in the case of the British Library, where requests for copies of articles, chapters and archival documents are processed only and often can be sent in digital variant or via post. On the other hand, if multiple original resources are required, it is advisable to invest time in archival research in the place where archives are stored rather than sending inquiries one by one.
Another technical issue is the use of internet and documents scrubbing. From one perspective, documents’ scrubbing is beneficial for the target audience, since after the modern processing the language of the document becomes more accessible and understandable to the contemporary readers. On the other hand, from the academic perspective, the use of the original language of the documents demonstrates the accuracy of the research and attention to the details. Also, in various studies, content analysis is used in order to demonstrate the intended purpose of the document or the historical context of the document. Under such circumstances, the use of original texts is vital for the accuracy of the findings. However, depending on the timeframe of the research, many official documents can be found online, and there is no reason why they should not be obtained through the internet. The only precaution is to secure the authenticity of the documents they should be downloaded from the official rather than the secondary websites.
What do we learn from history?
Having discussed various aspects of history and historical research, one might ask so what can be learned from history and what the purpose of studying it in the first place is. Through studying history, the contemporary civilisation begins to understand where its origins are and how long the path of its evolution was. In this regard, history teaches about various aspects of human behaviour under different circumstances and how the factors of the external environment can alter that behaviour. It also shows how the role of society in one’s life has changes over millennia and how individualism begins to prevail over communal approach. On the other hand, irrespective of the epoch and type society, history teaches that a human being is a social animal and that individual survival on one’s own is virtually impossible.
History teaches that irrespective of the circumstances and civilizational development, human nature remains the same. Depending on the individual circumstances, people can become dictators or peacekeepers. They can contribute to human evolution or degradation. In every epoch there will be people, who will want to own the world, like Napoleon, Hitler or Putin, and there will be those, who will try to save it, like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa. However, one can also learn from history how to evolve above the complexity of the human nature and how to alter the negative aspects of it. For instance, the outbreak of the WWI and WWII was conditioned by the inter-state rivalry between European countries and Germany’s taking advantage of it. The same can be seen in the contemporary world, where ISIS is taking advantage of the confrontation between the East and the West. Thus, the events often repeat themselves and those who know them very well can alter them to an extent that the further development of events might become prevented.
Thus, one can learn from history a lot about the contemporary societies, and the cultural differences originated in diverse historical heritage. For instance in order to understand the Arab-Israeli or Ukraine-Russian rivalry and ethno-cultural distinctiveness, one would have to study the complex history of these states and origin of their conflict which is far from being current and dates back to the formation of these states. Moreover, one can learn from history the culture conditioned behaviour and be able to predict certain actions when working in the multi-cultural environment.
From the personal perspective, history of the source of learning about one’s identity and it serves as a tool of self-identification. It is not accidental that in the search for one’s present, people look in the past and try to understand who their ancestors were and which moral and cultural values are going through their families and nations. Only by knowing one’s history, people can understand who they are and where they going are. Without belonging and string past, people often find it difficult to relate to anything and anyone, and then they can be easily manipulated and involved in anti-social and anti-democratic activities. Thus, history teaches us about responsibility to the roots of one’s life and ethno-cultural belonging. Without it, people can be turned into ordinary tools of political or religious manipulations like it is done by various terrorist movements.
Looking on the history from a broad perspective, it can be argued that one can learn from history almost every aspect of human existence on the Earth. One can explore how human society evolved and at which stage morality and democratic values originated. One can also find out about the civilizational cycle of existence and how each empire has its time of flourishing and the time of the collapse. Thus, the primary lesson of history is that everything has its beginning and its end, and nothing can exist in a vacuum. Everything is interdependent and exists in the cause-effect relationship. Having realised this on the basis of a historical example, an individual is capable of perceiving the contemporary reality in terms of systematic and cause-effect interpretation rather than single-sided and linear perception.
In other words, history teaches one how to view events in their specific context and understand the connection between context and the consequent events. For instance, the outbreak of the WWII was conditioned by inter-state rivalry in Europe, but it was further reflected in the weak performance of the League of Nations which could not be a strong and influential power in the system of international relations of the time. In a long run, the mistakes of the past were learned after the end of WWII and were addressed in the creation of the United Nation which had more powers than the League of Nation mainly in order to prevent the Third World War from happening. These are simple links between various historical events, but they give a systematic view of the development of human affairs and their conditionality.
It may seem that people might live their lives happily without the knowledge of history and the depth of its complexity. In fact, it is a relevant argument. However, in the contemporary interdependent and vibrant globalised world, the lack of knowledge of the past can result in the dysfunctional relations with other people and constant clashes. Without knowing Confucian and Communist history of China, one cannot do a successful business in that country or understand the suspicion to the foreigners in Japan, or where the culture of respect and etiquette is coming from in Japan. Travelling to a country without knowing its ethno-cultural heritage and traditions can be costly and at times even dangerous. History contains all of these aspects and can help in harmonising inter-personal relations between people or at least achieve a certain degree of mutual understanding.
Another thing that can be learned from history is ways of adapting to the changes in the surrounding environment and how to change one’s behaviour under influence of different factors in order to avoid negative consequences which occurred in the past. In this regard, the knowledge of the negative consequences of certain decisions of the past, gives an individual experience and knowledge how to manoeuvre if a similar situation occurs again. Thus having the experience of the past and knowledge of the present gives an opportunity to change the future rather than being a victim of circumstances and going with the flow.
The best example of the aforementioned discussion is the role of history for the military sector. The main purpose of studying military history and strategy is conditioned by the fact that the principles of war remained unchanged through the centuries just as diverse strategies. One can gain military advantage only if he has proficient knowledge of the past battles and contemporary capabilities of his forces and the rival forces. Hoping for the contemporary technologies alone often proves to be counter-productive, while the classic knowledge of strategies can be adapted to the specific requirements of the changing strategic environment. Any military strategist would argue that history is the basis upon which contemporary decision-making is based.
Overall, from all mentioned above, it can be concluded that history is a key source of human knowledge about the roots of the human civilisation, its development, the unchangeable complexity of the human nature and conditionality of the contemporary diversity of the globalised society. Moreover, history is a key to understanding the present, avoiding mistakes of the past and building a different future rather than repeating it again and again. After all, only history can give answers to the fundamental human questions: who we are and where are we going? Thus, the research of history is the core of any human activity, and it requires profound attention.
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