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History

historical writing past events

History, study of the past through documents, reports, and other artifacts. The past can be inferred through many sources—chronicles, myths, buildings, monuments, business documents, newspapers, works of art, archeological objects. Earlier times for which no such sources exist are known as prehistory. History as a branch of knowledge is generally confined to the written records of human activities, which limits its scope to the invention of writing, about 5,000 years ago.

The oldest historical writings stem from China, where archeologists found historical records written before 1,000 B.C. In the older civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia historical records also appear soon after the introduction of writing. The conscious writing of history is generally considered to have begun in Greece about the 5th century B.C. with Herodotus's description of the wars between Greece and Persia. What made his work history was his conscious attempt to record events of importance and to set forth the motivations of the people involved. This causal approach to events of the past earned Herodotus the title “Father of History,” although, unlike modern historians, he did not try to verify all his facts and mixed tradition, oral remembrances, and fable along with actual occurrences and customs. A more analytical method of writing about the past was developed by his successor, Thucydides, whose History of the Peloponnesian War is a grave, authentic account of the 27-year war between Athens and Sparta. A third great Greek historian, Xenophon, concentrated more on the purely narrative aspects of history. These types of historical writing, the compendious, the analytical, and the narrative, are still in evidence today. Roman historians include Livy (History from the Founding of the City), Tacitus (Annals and Histories), and Julius Caesar (Commentaries), although Caesar's work tends more towards reportage than pure history. During medieval times, Christian monks developed the idea of a universal history, which attempted to unite Christian history with the Greek and Roman records. Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History is an example, as is Saint Augustine's City of God, which presented, in addition, a philosophy of history. At the same time, annals of events called chronicles were compiled, mainly by members of the clergy. Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation was the great historical work of the Middle Ages. In more modern times, history developed into a serious discipline pursued by scholars. Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88) is an early example of dedicated and thorough scholarship. In the 1800s critical, objective history developed into an academic discipline, as exemplified by the works of the German historian Leopold von Ranke and his followers. This German school established canons of criticism and methods of historical analysis that are still in evidence today. The 20th century saw a broadening of the scope of history to include more than the concentration on political events that characterized history up until the 19th century. Today, events of the past are analyzed using tools from many disciplines, including economics, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Our technological society also fostered an interest in the history of science and in the effect technology has on society. Today, all aspects of the life of peoples and societies form the proper concern of historians.

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