If someone does not record history is it still history?
If events happen unnoticed yet other are recorded is there a sense in which the recorded is historical while the unrecorded is not?
Is history a construct we create?
In other words, do “events” that seemingly “follow” each other through some sort of cause-and-effect actually “exist” in any meaningful way, or do we give those events meaning that is not intrinsic?
Is history real?
It’s like Plato’s cave isn’t it? I think while philosophy can help us see “beyond” the story, the events or incident narrated by the story are existant whether or not we analyze them by forming a narrative to link them. As in, I don’t think meaning is “real” if we take real to mean self-existent, objective, singularly universal (objective?). Meaning is a construct, (so I guess history is too because it’s how we give stuff meaning) but events are real. People are real, the things they do are real, even when we don’t understand them. If no one records them, they still happened, and were only ever interpretated as such; in the moment in which they occurred. So my question is, can these events (which are soon forgotten for lack of preservation) be said to be relevant, or significant, or useful/beneficial in any way?
This is something I often think about because I sometimes feel my ancestors did me a disservice by not preserving the events that shaped them to give their lives meaning to me. Like, no wonder I’m not patriotic… what do I have to be proud of?
I think history is real, to put it simply. But I think we also must recognise people report history with specific purposes in mind. Even the Scripture writers did so, hence the different emphasises of the 4 Gospel writers or the authors of Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. It doesn’t have to take away at the God-breathed nature of Scripture. But it allows for God to use real human beings for His purposes. Of course, some history is worth better trusting than others. It takes time and research to consider what is the ‘better’ history, like the studies of the 4 normative Gospels and the so-called gnostic Gospels. We are certain which ones communicate authentic history.
The answer depends on what one means by history. If history is defined as “what happens,” then history is real because there is a real world constituted by real events. On this definition, no one is needed to notice the events for them to be historical.
If history is defined as “what is written about past events,” then any event not recorded by mind or pen is not historical (I think most people will find this definition of history as inadequate). There is a subjective element in this definition of history, because historical events come down to us filtered through the perspective of the individual writing the history. The accuracy of thier historical reporting depends on their knowledge of all relevant events related to the events they are writing about, and their ability to properly discern the relationship between those events (cause and effect). The degree to which they are ignorant of these things is the degree to which we will have a distorted picture of history as “what happens.”
If I slap you upside the head and you can’t prove I did, will you still be upset about it?
@wildflower: My family did a terrible job of preserving records as well. While it is obvious they “existed” I don’t feel like I have a real “history”. I guess everyone loses data somewhere, but when it disappears after only a couple of generations that can be disheartening.
@scottL: I agree that this type of history is “real” since we have chosen to give it meaning and we may include God as an agent in doing the same. But is unrecorded events “history”? Does the cause-and-effect continue over time? For instance, what makes “church history”? What holds it together?
@Jason: Good distinctions. Events happen, yes. But what makes events meaningful seems subjective.
@Bill: Yes, I would. But if someone in a deep forest thousands of miles was slapped, and there is no documentation, or none that I could access, I wouldn’t care.
While I think there is meaning in some historical events, I don’t think history itself needs to be meaningful to be history, on either definition. Anyone who has read a lot of autobiographies can attest to that!
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