The Meaning Of The Word "History"

9787 words - 40 pages

The word history is used in two senses. It may mean either the record of events, or events themselves. Originally (see below) limited to inquiry and statement, it was only in comparatively modern times that the meaning of the word was extended to include the phenomena which form or might form their subject. It was perhaps by a somewhat careless transference of ideas that this extension was brought about. Now indeed it is the commoner meaning. We speak of the history of England without reference to any literary narrative. We term kings and statesmen the makers of history, and sometimes say that the historian only records the history which they make. History in this connection is obviously not the record, but the thing to be recorded. It is unfortunate that such a double meaning of the word should have grown up, for it is productive of not a little confusion of thought.
History in the wider sense is all that has happened, not merely all the phenomena of human life, but those of the natural world as well. It includes everything that undergoes change; and as modern science has shown that there is nothing absolutely static, therefore the whole universe, and every part of it, has its history. The discovery of ether brought with it a reconstruction of our ideas of the physical universe, transferring the emphasis from the mathematical expression of static relationships to a dynamic conception of a universe in constant transformation; matter in equipoise became energy in gradual readjustment. Solids are solids no longer. The universe is in motion in every particle of every part; rock and metal merely a transition stagc between crystallization and dissolution. This idea of universal activity has in a sense made physics itself a branch of history. It is the same with the other sciences especially the biological division, where the doctrine of evolution has induced an atttudc of mind which is distinctly historical.
But the tendency to look at things historically is not merely the attitude of men of science. Our outlook upon life differs ir just this particular from that of preceding ages. We recognize tht unstable nature of our whole social fabric, and are therefore more and more capable of transforming it. Our instittitions are no longer held to be inevitable and immutable creations. We do not attempt to fit them to absolute formulae, but continually adapt them to a changing environment. Even modern architecture, notably in America, reflects the consciousness of change. The permanent character of ancient or medieval buildings was fitted oniy to a society dominated by static ideals. Now the architect builds, not for all time, but for a set of conditions which will inevitably cease in the not distant future. Thus our whole society not only bears the marks of its evolution, but shows its growing consciousness of the fact in the most evident of its arts. In literature, philosophy and political science, there is the same historical trend. Criticism no longer...

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