The Meaning of History

Thursday, September 15th, 2005

Chris Coonce-Ewing asks a juicy question: what is history?

This is a test of many things: there are discipline answers, philosophical answers, political and phenomenological answers. There are kinds. There are characterizations. The Beowulf and Gawain poets provide answers in their own way, which has been a big subject in our examinations and interrogations of the these works. Both poets need the past. We do too.

The historian wouldn’t like this answer:

History is a sound in another room.
You call and either he, she,
it
goes mouse quiet


4 responses to “The Meaning of History”

  1. susan says:

    I like that answer. That’s a good answer.

  2. Christopher says:

    I like that answer as well, though it somehow frightens me at the same time.

    History, constantly rewritten, altered and twisted based upon current social mores. As such what “is” history now may not be in twenty years.

    Let us not forget that the view of the person writing the history also has an impact. Native Americans surely viewed the arrival of Europeans in a far different light than the Europeans did.

  3. Steve says:

    But in coming up with a definition, should we really bother with the bias question.

    The social memory definition can be helpful in that it prioritizes the memorial and functional aspects of history, right? We do need to do something with the knowledge of grandma’s life during the depression. Does this have anything to do, however, with the definition; or can the definition act as guide.

    It seems to me that Mark pushes a “functional” definition for Gawain. History for the Gawain poet must be used for something that suits his purposes.

  4. susan says:

    It would appear that the only true and honest history may have only begun in the 1920’s (?) with documentary film–and that is suspect as well. But an Elvis Presley concert viewed today on film is as it happened forty years ago. And it will still be viewed in different perceptions. What then, is true history? Must it be fact? Does the history of my life (as recalled) have any effect whatever on the history of yours? Of the world?