Text 1. Understanding History

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Text 1. Understanding History

Read the text and trace the development of the study of history. Make a detailed plan or formulate some questions for discussion.

The study of the past is called history. When we set out to study history, we are able to draw the people and events of ancient times closer to us. Studying the past allows us to “see” the faces of the famous and the nameless people who lived thousands of years before us. It helps us understand what their lives were like. We can see how our lives are similar to theirs and also how they are different. We can see how people of the distant past had to face some of the very same problems we face today. And we can appreciate connections that bind together people and all time periods and all areas of the world.

What can the past tell us about the problems of today? By studying the past, we can see how previous cultures dealt with similar problems. We can understand the effects of their actions, and we can make judgments about how our actions might affect the future.

In our multicultural world we must understand the history of other cultures in order to solve problems together. By studying the past we can see the roots of the present and we can better understand our world neighbours. Learning about the past gives us a framework for making decisions about the issues that wee face today. It also helps us understand how our actions will affect the people of tomorrow.

History has been called a conversation between the present and the past. People of the past communicate with people of today through the writing, artifacts and structures they leave behind.

Every generation sees the world differently. And because each generation and each individual looks at things from a new point of view, history is always open to different interpretations.

History also has been compared to a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces of the puzzle have been lost forever. Pieces once considered lost have now been found. The available pieces can be fitted together in many ways. Each generation of historians tries to put together the available pieces of the puzzle and to interpret the picture that emerges. In doing so we hope to understand not only what happened in the past, but how it happened and why it happened.

History – record of the events of human societies. The earliest surviving historical records are the inscriptions denoting the achievements of Egyptian and Babylonian Kings. As a literary form historical writing or historiography began with the Greek Herodotus in the 5th century BC, who was first to pass beyond the limits of a purely national outlook. A generation later, Thucydides brought to history a strong sense of the political and military ambitions of his native Athens. His close account of the Peloponnesian War was continued by Xenophon. Later Greek history and Roman history tended toward rhetoric.

Medieval history was dominated by a religious philosophy sustained by the Christian church. English chroniclers of this period are Bede, William Malmes bury and Matthew Paris.

The Renaissance revived historical writing and the study of history both by restoring classical models and by creating the science of textual criticism.

A product of new secular spirit was Machiavelli’s History of Florence 1520-23. This critical approach continued into the 17th century. The 18th century Enlightenment disposed of the attempt to explain history in theological terms and an interpretive masterpiece was produced by Edward Gibbon.

An attempt to formulate historical method and a philosophy of history, that of the Italian Giovanni Vico, remained almost unknown until the 19th century Romanticism left its mark on 19th-century historical writing in the tendency to exalt the contribution of the individual “hero”, and in the introduction of a more colourful and dramatic style and treatment, variously illustrated in the works of the French historican Jules Michelet (1798-1874) and the British writers Carlyle and Macaulay.

During the 20th century the study of history has been revolutionized, partly through the contributions of other disciplines, such as the sciences and anthropology. The deciphering of the Egyptian and Babylonian inscriptions was of great importance. Researchers and archaeologists have traced developments in prehistory and have revealed forgotten civilizations such as that of Crete. Anthropological studies of primitive Society and religion, which began with James Frazer’s Golden Bough 1890, have attempted to analyse the bases of later forms of social organizations and belief. The changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the accompanying perception of economics as a science forced historians to turn their attention to economic questions.

Contemporary historians make a distinction between historical evidence or records, historical writing and historical method or approaches to the study of history. Contemporary historians make extensive use of statistics, population figures and primary records to justify historical arguments. Historians do not just collect facts, they examine the information they collect and then decide how to interpret it.




Ex. 1. Complete the sentences. Use the information from the text.

1. Studying the past allows us to “see” …

2. We must understand the history of other cultures in order …

3. History has been called a conversation…

4. People of the past communicate with people of today through …

5. Each generation of historians tries to put together …

6. The earliest surviving historical records are …

7. Medieval history was dominated by …

8. An attempt to formulate historical method and a philosophy of history remained unknown …

9. During the 20th century the study of history …

10. Contemporary historians make a distinction …

11. Historians do not just collect facts, they …


Ex. 2. Answer the questions.

1. What does studying the past allow us to “see” and understand?

2. What can the past tell us about the problems of today?

3. We should understand the history of other cultures in order to solve problems together, shouldn’t we?

4. History is considered to be a conversation between the present and the past. Do you share this point of view?

5. Why has history been compared to a jigsaw puzzle?

6. What are the earliest surviving historical records?

7. What was medieval history dominated by?

8. Why the deciphering of the Egyptian and Babylonian inscriptions was of great importance?

9. What have anthropological studies of primitive society attempted to analyse?

10. What methods and approaches do contemporary historians use?


Text 2. How do We Know?

Read the text and decide which of the following headings should go before each of the paragraphs in the text. There is one extra heading which you do not need to use.

1. Written records.

2. The evaluation of sources.

3. Learning from other cultures.

4. Scientific instruments.

5. Ancient maps.

6. Nonwritten sources.

The story of the past is hidden all around us in the world of the present. Where does information about the past come from? What are the secrets of how to find it? How do we learn about the things that happened centuries ago or continents away?

A.People have been making maps for thousands of years. One of the oldest existing maps is a clay map found in northern Iraq. It dates to around 2300 BC, and shows rivers, hills and settlements with measurements of farm plots. Ancient mapmakers were able to make fairly accurate maps of areas they knew well. When dealing with unknown lands, however they often left unexplored areas blank or filled them in with their imaginations.

In his map of the world, Claudius Ptolemy showed Asia much closer to Europe than it actually is. This mistake led Christopher Columbus to attempt to reach Asia by sailing West from the coast of Spain in 1492. Columbus never reached Asia. Instead, he landed in the “New World” of the Americas.

B. Ancient people also learned how to use the planets and stars to help them determine location and distance on the earth. Two early scientific instruments that helped them were the astrolabe and the gnomon. An astrolabe is a disk with marks around its edge like a ruler. Scholars and sailors used the astrolabe to sight the positions of the sun and stars and figure out their height in the sky. This information aided them in determining latitude. A gnomon is the blade that stands upright in the center of a sundial. When the sun shines, the gnomon casts a shadow, pointing to the hour. Early scholars learned they could use gnomons to find the height of the sun at different times during the day. Then they used this information to help them figure out the distance between two points. Today’s cartographers rely on space-age technology. Like the ancient sailing ships, satellites now circle the earth, sending back information and adding to our knowledge of the world. Computers and radar also make the mapmaker’s job easier.

C. As people traveled and learned about the world, they recorded their knowledge in writing, as well as on maps. Ancient historians also noted geographic information when recording events. In the 400 BC. Herodotus included geographic descriptions to his history of the world.

We know about ancient trade partly from written records. Early explorers and traders knew the importance of keeping careful records of their journeys so that more accurate maps might be made. In some cases, they took along historians and geographers to help them keep track of their travels. The oldest remaining record of a voyage refers to an Egyptian trading mission. According to the record, around 3200 BC, Egyptian traders sailed, forty ships of one hundred cubits with cedar wood from Byblos, one of Phoenicia’s cities. Some early maps were based on records made during the conquests of Alexander the Great, one of history’s most famous military leaders Alexander ruled Macedonia, a kingdom that lay to the north of Greece. He had maps made as his huge army battled to victory from Egypt to India between 334 and 326 BC. On his marches Alexander took geographers, a historian, and astronomers. He also took “steppers,” who measured distance by the steps they took. This army of soldiers and scholars covered 20.000 miles, fighting and conquering, but also recording and mapping.

To most people written sources mean books. But to historians written sources might also be letters, diaries, speeches, popular songs, poems, business records or campaign slogans. They could be the marks of ancient tombs or old calendars and maps – anything with writing on it. Anything written down can give historians clues about the people and events of the past. However, written sources only go back t about 3.000 BC. That’s when writing developed in Mesopotamia, an ancient country in what is now the Middle East.

D. History before the development of writing is called prehistory. To learn about prehistoric times historians must rely completely on nonwritten sources. Nonwritten sources include fossils – the remains or imprints of once-living plants or animals. Dinosaur fossils can tell about the kinds of dinosaurs that lived in a certain time and place.

Other nonwritten sources are artifacts, or objects made by humans. Ancient jewelry, tools, coins, and toys teach about the customs and beliefs of people of the past. Still other nonwritten sources are tombs, monuments and even entire cities. The streets and buildings of Pompeii, preserved beneath the ashes, give a picture of life as it was in A.D. 79.

Another important nonwritten source is a culture’s oral tradition, the legends, myths and beliefs passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation. Over time many myths and legends have been written down. For example, the legend of King Odysseus was part of the ancient Greek oral tradition. It was finally written down by the Greek poet Homer between 800 and 700 B.C., and it is Homer’s version that is known today.

Once something is written down it remains in that form without changing. An oral tradition, on the other hand, may change constantly from generation to generation. It changes as the interests, opinions, fears and needs of each generation change. How useful is oral tradition to historians if accounts told by word of mouth change and become inaccurate? Historians can’t be sure that an oral tradition portrays events from long ago accurately. However, oral traditions do tell about he kinds of things that were important to people of the times. Through oral traditions the elders taught the younger members of the society about their culture. This is why historians are interested in ancient oral traditions. Historians must be careful when interpreting oral tradition. Nevertheless, oral tradition can be a useful source for information about people of the past.

E. Historians must keep in mind that everyone has his or her own point of view. Whether or not the author of a source is a man or a woman, rich or poor, or young or old will affect the way he or she sees and describes an event. Historians ask questions about a source to determine how accurate and useful it is. Different kinds of sources offer different kind of information. Letters and diaries may tell a great deal about people’s daily lives. Political speeches, on the other hand, might help-explain a government’s policies.

People learn about the past in many ways. Written records, fossils, artifacts and oral traditions are all keys to understanding the past. By gathering and evaluating these sources, historians form their ideas about past events. As you study the past you also need to evaluate historical evidence. To do this you must be able to tell the difference between facts, reasoned judgments and opinions. A fact is a statement that can be proved. There are many forms of proof. The findings of archaeologists can be proof, or proof can come from written sources or direct observation. A reasoned judgment is a statement that is based on fact but has not been proved. An opinion is a statement of personal preference, feelings or ideas. An interpretation that depends on facts and reasoned judgments is likely to be correct. An explanation that offers only opinions has little value.


Work Check

Ex. 1. Express in one word.

1) a statement of personal preference, feelings or ideas 2) a statement that can be proved, the proof can come from written sources or direct observation 3) a statement that is based on fact, but has not been proved 4) the process of storing information, or the information store itself 5) the primary activity in science, a combination of theory and experimentation directed towards finding scientific explanations of phenomena a) a recording b) a reasoned judgment c) an opinion   d) research   e) a fact


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