Military History › Forums › CityLit Summer School – Introduction to Battlefield Guiding › What is History – follow up to class discussion
8 July 2013 at 9:26 am #425
I wasn’t happy that I had properly answered the questions about the nature of history in the class. Competences K12 and P8.
The wikipedia entry for “History” provides quite a lot of the information useful in framing this discussion, including a summary of the historic method, listing the questions which should be asked of historic sources. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History
There are several points which appear particularly relevant to battlefield guiding.
1. History as a discipline can be traced, in the West, the works of culture focused Herodotus and military-focused Thucydides. Arguably, Thucydides would have been more likely have been accepted as a battlefield guide as he, unlike Herodotus, regarded history as being the product of the choices and actions of human beings, and looked at cause and effect, rather than as the result of divine intervention!
2. The article makes the point that “In the 20th century, academic historians focused less on epic nationalistic narratives, which often tended to glorify the nation or great men, to more objective and complex analyses of social and intellectual forces. A major trend of historical methodology in the 20th century was a tendency to treat history more as a social science rather than as an art, which traditionally had been the case.” Hence the tales from ” Our Island Story” by H. E. Marshall and the interpretation of the period 1793 to 1815 by Fitchett as “How England Saved Europe”. The latter has a full cast of cowardly (Belgian, Dutch or Spanish) or fickle and untrustworthy (Prussian and Austrian) allies and attributes victory to the national characteristics of the English. The article lists “social Science” oriented historians, and I think John Keegan could be added ti this list. His book “Face of Battle” is probably the first to apply the social science approach to military history. This debate is not over. The current reform of the history curriculum for state schools appears to be driven by a desire to develop awareness of the achievements of Great Britons and develop national pride.
3. There is a mention of the treatment of history as a humanity rather than a social science, and the role that an appeal to the imagination can play. Highly popular writers such as Bernard Cornwall, Stephen Ambrose and Sebastian Faulks can generate a feel for time and place which captures the imagination, even for fictitious characters and when taking major liberties with the interpretation of historic events.
This does raise some questions for me:
What is the right balance between an appeal to the imagination and an unbiased interpretation?
Is it acceptable to lead a battlefield tour to glorify the achievements of Britons?
To what extent would or should a guide omit or include evidence which biases the interpretation?
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