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Is History a Science or Art/Literature?

Contents

Abstract

Introduction

History as art 

History as Science

History as an independent field of study

The interrelatedness of arts and science in the context of history

Conclusion

References

Abstract

History is an academic field that is dedicated to studying the past. Historians study past events by using various findings, filtering relevant findings from irrelevant ones, formulating a hypothesis, analyzing the data found and interpreting the data into something meaningful. The findings and interpretation of historians are subject to the historian's perspective and hence, are subject to change. Unlike scientific discoveries that formulate laws and remain unchangeable over time, historical findings are often visited and revisited. Therefore, since historical findings cannot be used to formulate laws, history then, cannot belong to science.

When it comes to history as art, scholars debate the historical findings written in the history books with the use of extensive literature devised. Historians focus on effective communication through the use of language and in doing so, history is often said to be art. Since historians pen down historical findings in history books rather elaborately and extensively, unlike scientists who are more to the point, history is often perceived as art. However, scientific fields such as geology, cosmology and many others study previous events within a given timeframe, much like historians do, history can then also be said to be science.

This paper aims to study the field to which history belongs – science or art and literature. With the use of various journal articles, the researcher uncovers that at the root of it, however, history is neither science nor art or literature. Indeed, historians make use of both science and art in combination to fulfill the needs of their studies and findings, but history itself cannot be confined to one field. It is rather a combination of both which has emerged into an independent field of study on its own. History belongs neither to science nor art but rather stands on its own and uses knowledge and findings of science, art, and various other fields of study in understanding and interpreting historical findings and putting these findings within a defined context.

Introduction

History is an academic filed which helps people understand the present through the past, particularly human past (Kelly, Meuwissen&Vansledright, 2007). The study of history dates back to classical times and the contributions made by the study of history have been subjected to much scholarly debate. Whether history is looked upon as a science, art or literature will be discussed later in this paper. However, an important consideration ought to be taken into account that regardless of the domain of study, history itself and the study thereof have had major contributions to man's knowledge and natural phenomena. However, to understand and trace how historians view history, it is important to understand who historians are, and the definition of history in general.

A historian is a person who studies the past. Historians research past events in relation to the human race along with the study of all history in time. The study of science, on the other hand, focuses on the nature and behavior of natural things. The study of science provides knowledge that is testable and helps provide predictions about the universe based on scientifically discovered facts. This paper aims to evaluate how historians view the field of history and their perspective on whether it is a science, art, or literature. This will be done through an extensive literature review.

History as Art

History is often associated with the Greek word ‘Historia’ which essentially translates to ‘information’ (Talekau, Nayak&Harichandan, n.d.).In ancient times, when there existed no written forms, stories of the past were passed down from generation to generation as stories told the famous campfires of ancient men and women. Hence, in this context, since storytelling is an art, Drewery points out then that history has its origin in the art (Drewery, n.d.). This is because for as long as human beings have existed, stories have been told about related events and things which they either may have seen or done in the past. The Greeks were the first to write down the important contemporary events of posterity. Additionally, the Father of History, Herodotus set the tone for others to follow when it came to writing history. History was to be written in a flowing and engaging narrative and also told in chronological order – all of which is a form of art (Drewery, n.d.).

Much like scientists, historians too, seek the truth, and use objective techniques to find facts and come to generalized conclusions (Shafer, 1960). As mentioned earlier, the writing on history, the shape it takes has an appearance of art due to the form a shape thereof. However, Shafar argues against the concept of history belonging to either field. He argues that history has its own methods of studying and exploring the past. Additionally, the purpose of history is completely different from both science and art and it has its own unique and individual meaning and use. Furthermore, a historian is perceived as more of a storyteller and a technician who attempts to recount the occurrences of the past by joining pieces together from a particular historical period but attempts to describe a particular piece or segment from a particular time from the past.

It is important to remember that history deals with a series of events that are each unique on their own. Science, on the other hand, deals with a pattern or routine appearance of things and uses them to establish laws and regularities. According to Talekau, Nayakand Harichandan (n.d.) historians do not arrive at generalized conclusions nor the findings of a historian be used to create laws or regularities. Moreover, the study of history in itself is a copious filed which comprises various other subfields such as the history of the human race, the history of art, history of literature, history of the earth, etc. Since the beginning of the 29th century, scholars of history and historians alike have argued of the multifaceted nature of the field of history. While history aims to discover facts from the past, it also comprises of the interpretation of those facts which is also commonly known as the process of historical thinking (Suh, 2013). The findings of historians are used to start historical debates and engage in and create historical arguments.

Ajaegbo (2013) points out that the study of history is an age-old field of study which dates back to classical times. When a historian digs into the past and finds collective evidence, a myriad of facts come through along the way. However, since not all facts which are encountered are historical, the historian has to filter and sift and select only those facts which are considered to be significant to history while discarding the rest of the findings as unhistorical. The presentation technique used by a historian is artistic in nature and hence, can be considered an art in itself. Historians pay careful attention to literary skills and present long papers, skillfully employ the power of communication, creativity, and imagination to make the presentation of the outcome appealing and interesting. Communication is an art; hence, history is considered an art or literature by many, even by some historians themselves. The nature of the presentation of historical texts is literary due to the use of literary devices to make the piece of presentation attractive and to keep the reader interested. Hence, it is the presentation of historical findings and interpretations that are art, however, the study of history itself cannot be fully defined as art itself.

History as Science

The field of science focuses on analytical studies by employing various methods and techniques to discover the reasons behind things. In this sense, then, history can be considered a science as historians also make use of various methods and techniques to establish and interpret results. Scientists have a structure of thought process which involves methods, inquiry, observation, classification, experiments, formulation of a hypothesis, analyzing the findings and pieces of evidence, and then finally interpreting the findings and in doing so, reconstructing the past. Although historians also employ scientific techniques, the step of conducting experiments is omitted by historians in the study of history as history deals with events that have already taken place and cannot be repeated through experiments. The underlying facts in history and as often discovered by historians are of a wide variety and uniformity is very seldom (Jacob & Adebayo, 2014).

A historian uses scientific methods because he observes systematically and develops a hypothesis like scientists. Additionally, a historian collects and organizes data and tests the evidence and then eventually reaches a logical generalization or conclusion based on the observations, findings, and interpretations. However, a historian cannot arrive at a definiteconclusion or a defined law such as scientists. This is because a historian himself is a victim of his own thought, own prejudice, and own societal conditioning.

While data in science is often gathered through experiments (often multiple experiments), historians cannot use historical data for observation and experiments as these are unchangeable, have already taken place, and one cannot repeat that which has already been done. In this regard then, history cannot be a science because historians do not follow scientific methods of research. Additionally, historical data cannot be used to formulae laws and regulations such as scientific data. Data discovered or found by historians are used to find meaning through interpretation according to the understanding of historians. Hence, this may change with time new findings are discovered and as the understanding and perspective of historians evolves.

Scientific findings, on the other hand, remain the same as they can be tested again and again and while science may evolve like history, newer scientific findings may only add to the existing findings rather than completely change their interpretations. Since scientific data is based on equations, formulas, and laws, they remain unchangeable unlike the discoveries of history. Additionally, the presentation of these findings and data may be the same for both scientists as well as historians, but the use of language differs heavily,

A scientist pays little or no attention to presentation or communication but rather on simply getting across the findings to relevant readers and other scientists. Although scientific findings are also presented in the same way as historical findings which are mainly through journals and articles, the core content to the two differs in their use of language. Scientific reports are short and to-the-point in nature and often contain equations and scientific collaborations and illustrations. Historical presentations of data and findings are presented in a manner that evidently pays careful attention to literature, communication, and the use of language.

On explaining how history is a science, Haskell Fain (1970) elaborates how the study of geology involves the historical study of the earth and in doing so, and cosmology is the historical study of universe. In other words, various branches of science involve tracing back and investigating the history of certain fields such as the universe and the earth, etc., Geology is a branch of science that studies the earth. Part of this is studying rock formation and how certain locks came into being which entails having to dig deeper into the history of rock formation and how certain rocks came into being. In this sense, then, history is a science.

History as An Independent Field of Study

History is a unique field of study which comprises elements of both sciences as well as art. The study of history revolves around the study of people. Historians study the society, the actions of people in the society, the beliefs and prejudices, and the past and the present. It is through the study of history that the past is linked to the present and puts into consideration the manner in which societies have changed and evolved over a period of time. Furthermore, science history links the past to the present and is the interpretation and analysis of the past of human beings, it enables the continuity of study. In order to understand the past, historians examine, revisit, interpret, revisit, and reinterpret the past. Since the interpretations of history differ after revisiting findings, it is evident to the sheer variety of the mentality and achievements of human beings. Since history is essentially a narration from the point of view of the narrator (historians), it is subject to change because absolute impartiality is not possible in history. Hence, history cannot be a science.

Pointing out Aristotle’s view of science, Mikael Karlsson (2007) asserts that science only concerns itself with phenomena which as governed by law. Therefore, studies that are not law-governed (such as history) are not scientific and hence are not part of science. However, history aims to acquire the truth and can thus be classified as science on this basis. It is also based on providing a narrative account of the past and on this basis, it is an art or a literature. The study of history is an independent study that uses both science and art. For example, to know why an apple falls downwards from the tree, a historian will have to study the law of gravity, to understand fully what happens to a person when one suffers from a heart attack, a historian will have to study and understand something of cardiac specialists.

Also, to write about the 17th-century discoveries, one must know the sea and have knowledge of the vagaries of the sea. To be a historian of the Elizabethan drama, a historian will have to acquaint himself with the poetry and drama of the period. Being a historian, one ought to have a vast knowledge of both science and art. Furthermore, a historian, in discovering the truth about human history and the past, serves other fellow human beings and this principle lies at the core of a historian.

The Interrelatedness of Arts and Science in The Context of History

Various types of research have been developed to understand and analyze the relationship between art and science. While one line of research considers how scientific practices and artistic practices have been linked and have interacted during human history, the other line of research considers how scientific research can help in improving the understanding of art (Bullot, Seeley & Davies, 2017). Furthermore, a common denominator between arts and sciences is the use of exemplification. Exemplification takes place in both arts as well as science which suggests that both these fields of study rely on at least one common cognitive skill. Since art and science share a cognitive skill, it may mean that they are mutually dependent in many ways.

If science and art are interlinked, then history can fall under either one of them. It must be emphasized that the study of history may not be based on scientific methods and that the presentations of historic data and findings often employ literary style, however, history also mirrors many scientific methods such as observation, and requires cognitive skills. Hence, it may be said that history is both science as well as art. History is art due to the sheer variety it studies. Studying human existence, history of places, and literature uncovers a segment in the human time of the past and that in itself is the study of history. When it comes to science, studies such as geology and cosmology or even the study of evolution is essentially the study of human history and the history of the earth. Although the arts and the sciences use very different methods of research and history does not use scientific techniques, however, at the core of it, history is essentially both art and science.

According to Haskell Fain (1970), since the narration of history and the way the presentation of historic findings aim to keep the reader enticed by using literary devices, history then, cannot science. Additionally, in relation to history and art, especially in the context of literature, the study of literary texts dating back to ancient times is a part of the study of history and in being so;history is then art instead of science.In describing the role of a historian, Shafer (1960) says that historians aim to know what has been thought, and by using this knowledge they "stream of fresh and free thought upon a stock of notions and habits.”

Conclusion

The study of history dates back to the classical times and its study have ignited multiple debates among historians and scholars. The nature of history and the definition of history is complex in nature. As evident from the above report, history has elements of both arts as well as science. In investigating historical events, historians make use of methodologies, develop hypotheses, and interpret the data found to reach a logical conclusion. However, history cannot be fully science as historic findings are ever-changing and data collected is interpreted according to the understanding and perspective of the historian. Hence, historians do not formulate laws and rules such as scientists. History as an art, on the other hand, can be found in the use of language when narrating historical events and findings. While penning down historical findings, historians use literary devices to make it interesting to the reader and to keep readers intrigued. However, this is limited to the narration of history only. The findings of history and the study of history belong neither to art nor to science.

History is an independent field which can be said to be a combination of both science and art but not belonging fully to either one. Although the debate of whether history is art or science is an age-old one, the answer is not fully known and is subject to one's understanding. Historians themselves look upon history as belonging to neither. History is an independent field which is unique on its own. In order to be able to fully understand history, it is important for a historian to understand the context of new discoveries. This entails the knowledge that ought to be attained by a historian in terms of various other fields such as geography, literature, scientific laws, etc. It can then be concluded that, history is an amalgamation of art, science, and various other fields of study which help put historical findings in context.

References

Agaegbo, D. (2013). The unity of knowledge: History as science and art. An International Journal of Arts and Humanities, 2(3).

Drewery, J. (n.d.). History: Art, science, or both. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/5494882/History_Art_Science_or_Both

Shafer, B. (1960). History, not art, not science, but history.Meanings and Uses of History. 29(2), 159-170.

Kelly, T., Meuwissen, K. &Vansledright, B. (2007). What of history? Historical knowledge within a system of standards and accountability.International Journal of Social Education, 22(1), 115-145

Bullot, N., Seeley, W. & Davies, S. (2017). Art and science: A philosophical sketch of their historical complexity and codependence. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 75(4), 453-463.

Ijah, A. (2013). The unity of knowledge: History as science and art. An International Journal of Arts and Humanities, 2(3), 1-19.

Jacob, O. & Adebayo, A. (2014). History, science and the social sciences: The relationship of humanities to other knowledge domain. Global Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Science, 3(5), 34-36.

Karlsson, M. (2007). Can history be a science? Þekking – enginblekking: tilheiðursArnóriHannibalssyni, Germany: Háskólaútgáfan:

Fain, H. (1970).History as scince.History and Theory, 9(2), 154-173.

Suh, Y. (2013). Past looking: Using arts as historical evidence in teaching history. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301553496_Past_looking_Using_arts_as_historical_evidence_in_teaching_history

Talekau, P., Nayak, J. &Harichandan, S. (n.d.). History. Retrieved from https://ddceutkal.ac.in/Syllabus/MA_Education/Education_Paper_5_history.pdf

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