Reason 1: in Order to Ensure That Great Deeds Are Not Forgotten

Reason 1: in Order to Ensure That Great Deeds Are Not Forgotten




Historical Reasoning: In order to ensure that great deeds are not forgotten

Herodotus wrote his history:

“in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the Barbarians from losing their due meed of glory, and withal to put on record what were their grounds of feud.”

This was a popular idea in the ancient world. Many historians made the same case. Some, notably Pliny the Younger, wanted to write history in order that they themselves might not be forgotten. Failing that, Pliny wrote to the great Roman historian, Tacitus, asking him to include Pliny’s own deeds in his history—assuming, rightly as it turned out, that Tacitus’s work would be read for centuries to come thereby ensuring Pliny’s own immortality. Tacitus himself made a similar case to that of Herodotus:

Tacitus (1st-2nd century CE):

“My purpose is not to relate at length every motion, but only such as were conspicuous for excellence or notorious for infamy. This I regard as history’s highest function, to let no worthy action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds.” (Tacitus)

Note that Tacitus added a corollary to Herodotus’s idea—he proposed that, knowing that histories would be written and future generations would remember, people would be deterred from performing evil deeds.

Info on Herodotus:

Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria (modern Bodrum, Turkey) and lived in the 5th centuryBC (c. 484BC– c. 425BC). He has been called the "Father ofHistory" since he was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative.The Histories— his masterpiece and the only work he is known to have produced— is a record of his "inquiry" (orhistoría, awordthat passed into Latin and took on its modern meaning ofhistory), being an investigation of the origins of theGreco-Persian Warsand including a wealth of geographical andethnographicalinformation. Although some of his stories were not completely accurate, he claimed that he was reporting only what had been told to him. Little is known of his personal history since ancient records are scanty, contradictory and often fanciful.

Herodotus records in hisHistoriesnot only the events of thePersian Warsbut also geographical and ethnographical information, as well as the fables related to him during his extensive travels.

Typically, he passes no definitive judgment on what he has heard. In the case of conflicting or unlikely accounts, he presents both sides, says what he believes and then invites readers to decide for themselves.The work of Herodotus is reportedto have been recited at festivals, where prizes were awarded, as for example, during the games atOlympia. Herodotus views history as a source of moral lessons, with conflicts and wars as misfortunes flowing from initial acts of injustice perpetuated through cycles of revenge.In contrast, Thucydides claims to confine himself to factual reports of contemporary political and military events, based on unambiguous, first-hand, eye-witness accounts,although, unlike Herodotus, he does not reveal his sources.


Historical Reasoning: In order to understand the present and prepare for the future

One of the most enduring reasons for writing and studying history was given by Herodotus’s successor, the great Greek historian, Thucydides.

He wrote of his history:

“…if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content.”

Thucydides focused on history’s use for understanding the future, and didn’t mention its role in helping one understand the present, but the Greek philosopher Aristotle did. He wrote:

“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.”

This idea—that everything has a past and that knowing the past is crucial to understanding, is one of the great pillars on which history stands. Three centuries later, Cicero wrote, along the same lines:

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

But was the past just like the present? Can one go beyond what the classical thinkers proposed and assert that one can predict future events and behaviors based on how things turned out in the past? My students often think so. They will often use the cliché that “history repeats itself” to justify why it is important to study history. Some Renaissance thinkers believed this. Machiavelli wrote, for example:

“Whoever considers the past and the present will readily observe that all cities and all people are and ever have been animated by the same desires and the same passions; so that it is easy, by diligent study of the past to foresee what is likely to happen in the future in any republic, and to apply those remedies that were used by the ancients…”

Few historians were so optimistic, though. During the Enlightenment, thinkers focused on the study of history not as a way to “foresee” the future but as an aid in planning for the future and avoiding mistakes. Thomas Hobbes and Voltaire both made this case:

“For the principal and proper work of history being to instruct and enable men, by the knowledge of actions past, to bear themselves prudently in the present and providently towards the future…”

“This benefit consists in the comparison which a statesman or citizen can make between foreign laws and manners and those of his own country…. The great errors of the past can also be used in this way. One cannot too often recall the crimes and misfortunes caused by absurd quarrels. It is certain that by reviewing the memory of these quarrels we can prevent them from being revived.”

In the 19th century, Aristotle’s point was made again by Jules Michelet:

“He who would confine his thoughts to present time will not understand present reality.”

Meanwhile, Macaulay was making the case, again, for using history to understand the present and plan for the future:

“No past event has any intrinsic importance. The knowledge of it is valuable only as it leads us to form just calculations with respect to the future.”

“An intimate knowledge of the domestic history of nations is, therefore, absolutely necessary to the prognosis of political events.”

By the early 20th century, this argument had become a little more sophisticated. James Harvey Robinson was well aware that no historian could ever know everything about the past—the evidence for the reconstruction of most events has been lost. But even if one could know everything (in a “Godlike” way, as he put it), Robinson didn’t believe that the actions of people in the past would be able to provide useful “precedents of conduct.” He wrote:

“History… may be regarded as an artificial extension and broadening of our memories and may be used to overcome the natural bewilderment of all unfamiliar situations….Could we suddenly be endowed with a Godlike and exhaustive knowledge of the whole history of mankind…we should gain forthwith a Godlike appreciation of the world in which we live, and a Godlike insight into the evils which mankind now suffers, as well as into the most promising methods for alleviating them, not because the past would furnish precedents of conduct, but because our conduct would be based upon a perfect comprehension of existing conditions founded upon a perfect knowledge of the past.”

By the 1930s, Huizinga was rejecting the idea that any “laws” could be ascertained for history or that the future could be predicted based on the past:

“history is pre-eminently an inexact science, …its concept of causality is extremely defective…it resists the formulation of laws…the concept of historical evolution can be considered valid only so far as one accepts the organic analogy…”

“Though the past supplies our material and compels our attention, though the mind realizes that not one minute of the future can be predicted, none the less it is the eternal future that moves our mind. The widespread and persistent opinion that history should deal with our understanding of the present rests on a misconception: a ‘present’ is as little known to historical thought as it is to philosophical thought.”

Marc Bloch, one of the founders of the Annales school of history, emphasized this further. In his view, history never repeated itself, at least not exactly:

“History is, in its essentials, the science of change. It knows and it teaches that it is impossible to find two events that are ever exactly alike, because the conditions from which they spring are never identical.”

Nonetheless, even if history can’t predict the future, even if it doesn’t repeat itself, surely it is essential for understanding the present and for our sensible functioning in the world. The classic analogy of a people who have forgotten their history (though I’m not sure who first came up with it) is to someone waking up with amnesia. This person can’t make any rational decisions because he or she has no idea about his or her personal past. We all go through our days completely dependent on the wisdom accumulated from our past experiences. So it is with societies and nations. If they forget their pasts, they have no accumulated wisdom on which to act. Individuals can’t predict their personal futures with any accuracy—anything might happen due to circumstances that are out of their control—but that doesn’t prevent them from planning their activities and making decisions based on their past experiences. So it is with history’s usefulness to the population.

Historians, even today, still go back to Thucydides’ and Aristotle’s basic idea, formulated almost 2,500 years ago:

“With the historian it is an article of faith that knowledge of the past is a key to understanding the present.” Kenneth Stampp

This idea has been expressed by many modern historians. A good example is found in the article by Peter Stearns that was distributed to the participants in this summit, where he writes as follows:

“The past causes the present, and so the future. Any time we try to know why something happened…we have to look for factors that took shape earlier…. Only through studying history can we grasp how things change; only through history can we begin to comprehend the factors that cause change; and only through history can we understand what elements of an institution or a society persist despite change.”

Info on Thucydides:

Thucydides(c.460 BC–c.395 BC) was aGreekhistorianand author fromAlimos. HisHistory of the Peloponnesian Warrecountsthe 5th century BC warbetweenSpartaandAthensto the year 411 BC. Thucydides has been dubbed the father of "scientific history", because of his strict standards of evidence-gathering and analysis in terms of cause and effect without reference to intervention by the gods, as outlined in his introduction to his work.

He has also been called the father of the school ofpolitical realism, which views the relations between nations as based on might rather than right.His text is still studied at advanced military colleges worldwide, and theMelian dialogueremains a seminal work ofinternational relations theory.

More generally, Thucydides showed an interest in developing an understanding of human nature to explain behaviour in such crises asplague,massacres, as in that of theMelians, andcivil war.

Thucydides views life exclusively aspoliticallife, and history in terms ofpoliticalhistory. Conventional moral considerations play no role in his analysis of political events while geographic andethnographicaspects are omitted or, at best, of secondary importance. Subsequent Greek historians —Ctesias,Diodorus,Strabo,PolybiusandPlutarch— held up Thucydides' writings as a model of truthful history.Lucianrefers to Thucydides as having given Greek historians theirlaw, requiring them to saywhat had been done. Greek historians of the fourth century BC accepted that history was political and that contemporary history was the proper domain of a historian.Cicerocalls Herodotus the "father of history;"yet the Greek writer Plutarch, in hisMoralia (Ethics) denigrated Herodotus, as the "father of lies".Unlike Thucydides, however, these historians all continued to view history as a source of moral lessons.


Historical Reasoning: In order to understand the will of God

Ancient historians, especially Jewish and Christian historians, had a main reason for studying history, one that is never cited by historians today: one that now falls only into the realm of theology, not history. It was expressed clearly in the 1stcentury by Josephus:

“the main lesson to be learned from this history by any who care to peruse it is that men who conform to the will of God…prosper in all things beyond belief, and for their reward are offered by God felicity; whereas in proportion as they depart from the strict observance of these laws, things (else) practicable become impracticable, and whatever imaginary good thing they strive to do ends in irretrievable disasters.”

This idea remained popular throughout the Medieval period in Europe, and elaborate frameworks of thought developed around it, based on the Bible. To these historians, God played a role in history, rewarding virtue and punishing sin. Medieval historians readily predicted the future based on what they saw as the correlation between human history and biblical prophecy.

Martin Luther agreed with Josephus that God’s will could be seen in history:

“histories are nothing else than a demonstration, recollection, and sign of divine action and judgment, how He upholds, rules, obstructs, prospers, punishes, and honors the world, and especially men, each according to his just desert, evil or good.”

Starting with the Scientific Revolution, however, and continuing into the Enlightenment, historians began to separate their studies from those of the theologians. History’s focus returned to the study of human activities and their human and natural causes. The study of God was something entirely separate.

Info on Josephus:

Josephus(37–c.100 AD),alsoYoseph Ben Mattithyahu(Joseph son of Matthias) andTitus Flavius Josephuswas a 1st-centuryRomano-Jewish historianandhagiographerof priestly and royal ancestry who recordedJewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st cent. AD and theFirst Jewish–Roman Warwhich resulted in theDestruction of Jerusalemin 70 AD.

He has been credited by many as recording some of the earliest history ofJesus Christoutside of thegospels,this being an item of contention among historians.

Josephus was alaw-observant Jewwho believed in the compatibility ofJudaismandGraeco-Romanthought, commonly referred to asHellenistic Judaism. His most important works wereThe Jewish War(c. 75 AD) andAntiquities of the Jews(c. 94 AD).The Jewish Warrecounts the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation (66–70).Antiquities of the Jewsrecounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for a Roman audience. These works provide valuable insight into 1st century Judaism and the background ofEarly Christianity.

The works of Josephus provide crucial information about the First Jewish-Roman War and are also important literary source material for understanding the context of theDead Sea Scrollsand lateTempleJudaism.Josephan scholarship in the 19th and early 20th century became focused on Josephus' relationship to the sect of thePharisees. He was consistently portrayed as a member of the sect, but nevertheless viewed as a villainous traitor to his own nation— a view which became known as the classical concept of Josephus. In the mid 20th century, this view was challenged by a new generation of scholarswho formulated the modern concept of Josephus, still considering him a Pharisee but restoring his reputation in part as patriot and a historian of some standing. Some later authorsargued that Josephus was not a Pharisee but an orthodox Aristocrat-Priest who became part of the Temple Establishment as a matter of deference, and not willing association.

Josephus includes information about individuals, groups, customs and geographical places. Some of these, such as the city ofSeron, are not referenced in the surviving texts of any other ancient authority. His writings provide a significant, extra-Biblical account of the post-Exilic period of theMaccabees, theHasmoneandynasty, and the rise ofHerod the Great. He makes references to the Sadducees, JewishHigh Priestsof the time, Pharisees andEssenes, the Herodian Temple, Quirinius' census and theZealots, and to such figures asPontius Pilate,Herod the Great,Agrippa IandAgrippa II,John the Baptist,James the brother of Jesus, and adisputedreference to Jesus. He is an important source for studies of immediate post-TempleJudaismand the context ofearly Christianity.

Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch)

Historical Reasoning: In order to provide a moral lesson—a model of good behavior and a warning about evil