Historical Consciousness & Mapping the Discipline

Today, for my History Colloquium class, we had to read chapter three of Mark T. Gilderhus’  History and Historians.

The third chapter, entitled Historical Consciousness, looks at how the views on history have changed within the last 500 years. Around the time Francesco Guicciardini published History of Italy, the well-to-do during the renaissance took up philology as what may as well have been a hobby. This was done more out of respect for the classics than historical interest. Though this trend did lead to the discovery that Constantine did not give political authority over to the bishop of Rome. Later, various Protestants, including Martin Luther, would use history in an attempt to discredit the Catholic Church. Ultimately, it became a job to teach the version of history that one church would preach. This was one of the first examples of a history professor. The process for teaching history would later be improved by Jean Bodin, who reformed the teaching methods and held that primary sources are superior to secondary sources. The chapter goes on with the secularization of history, the problems faced with historians that wrote apocryphal stories, and the close documentation of current events for future review. Historians began writing about the histories of their cultures and kingdoms. Of course, these were subject to the biases of the individual historians. When the enlightened historian Edward Gibbon wrote The Decline of the Roman Empire, he pinned the blame almost entirely upon the Christians. These types of writings would later be heavily criticized by future historians.

The chapter highlights the difficulties that historians have had with people re-interpreting or rewriting history to suit their own needs. Some did so for religious purposes, some did it to further an agenda, others did it just to romanticize the past. However, it also highlights the gradual triumph as history grew more and more secular and historians began recording the events around them to help later historians.  Such things helped in keeping modern interpretations of history as being based more on fact, rather than bias.


We also had to read chapter two from History in Practice, by Lyudmila Jordanov. She covered a similar topic as Gilderhus’, but her focus is less on the historical progression of the practices of historians and more on the modern practices of historians and students. She commented on the difficulty with secondary sources and their flexibility depending on who has authored them. She specifically referred to The Diary of Anne Frank, which, depending on which publishing company the reader purchases it from, may have been omitted due to a conflict with the publisher’s ideas. However, this is not to say that Primary sources can be free of bias. Journals and letters are subject to the biases of their authors. That being said, such opinions would still provide a litmus test for the opinions of the people in that time. The personal accounts and journals also open up the possibility of a psychoanalysis of the author.


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