Understanding the Modern World: The Role of the Historian

Session 1: Please read: Introduction: Understanding the Modern World: and Quotations on History

I would like you to consider the following issues. I have pointed out the relevant notes in the text and the numbers of the primary sources that deal with the subject.

(1) Is History Useful?

Sources 1-7

Refer to the sources in explaining if you agree with Hegel’s statement: “Peoples and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it.”

(2) Politicians and History

Politicians often refer to historical events to justify the actions they have taken. For example, George Bush and Tony Blair compared Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler and themselves to Winston Churchill in 2003. They criticized those urging caution as being like Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax during the late 1930s.

What historical events might his critics have referred to? (paragraphs 4-5)

(3) History and Membership of the European Union

Notes 6-9

Consider the arguments provided by Simon Jenkins, David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone.

Why did The Daily Mail say, “invoking the ghosts of Hitler and the Nazis in any political argument is a profoundly dangerous strategy.”

(4) Facts and the historian

Sources 12, 13, 15 and 17 Notes 10-15

Use the information provided by Herbert R. Finberg (12), E. H. Carr (13), Ernst Troeltsch (15), Geoffrey Barraclough (18) to explain why “the facts available to the historian is sometimes a problem”.

(5) What is People’s History?

Sources 10, 11, 14 and 19. Notes 15-16

Do you agree with these two quotations:

African Proverb: “Until the lion has a historian of his own, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

Oscar Wilde: “Disobedience in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and rebellion.”

Raphael Samuel, an important figure in the People’s History movement, called on historians "to actively recover the history of ordinary people and their movements".

How would this approach influence the way historians wrote about the English Civil War, Chartism, Votes for Women and the First World War.

(6) Is objective history possible?

Source 38 Notes 15-21

In 1896 Lord Acton stated that we were close to being able to write history in a scientific way. This is what he called “ultimate” history. All we needed to do was to employ large groups of international scholars to examine all the primary sources available.

During the 20th century this view of history has been completely rejected. It was of course a British imperial view of the past. The nationality, gender and political opinion of the historian would have an impact on the way they interpreted the past.

Historians today would consider sources that would have been ignored by people like Lord Acton. It is now accepted that it is not possible to write objective history. The historian is an artist, not a scientist.

Ernst Troeltsch "We get our ethics from our history and judge our history by our ethics."

All historians now agree that although the past changes the present does. Each generation has different questions from his predecessors.