Dividing the Past

When contemplating the legacy of the past, historians and citizens should always think in terms of histories rather than History. When one merely studies History, what exactly is it that they study? As defined by The American Heritage Dictionary1, History is a narrative of events or a chronological record of events. So to answer the question, they study a narrative of events or a chronological record of events. The term “events” poses such a broad generalization of the past that it is impossible for one to know every single event in History. So in theory, historians would literally spend their entire lives studying History and when they die they will still only know a very small portion of events that has happened in the world. But a better way of thinking about the past and studying History is to study many different histories as opposed to studying all of History.

One might ask what the difference between studying History and histories is because they seem very similar if not the same. But in reality the difference is vast, one may more fully study several specific histories than History in its entirety. One is able to study art history, musical history, history of English literature, or the history of Egyptian architecture. In each of these different histories there is already an enormous amount of knowledge to study about. In Time Magazine’s article Past Masters: John Burrows’ History of Histories, it states Burrows’ problem with trying to record all of history by saying, “Inevitably, the immensity of Burrow’s task requires as much omission as inclusion, and from the get-go he states his intention to bypass memoirs”(Worth)2. Every one of these histories had made its own impact on the world as well as an impact on the greater History.

When one studies multiple histories rather than History, they are able to more efficiently study and learn about the past. Learning about History would lead to such a scattered variation of events that would not be cohesive. But learning through different histories allows one to take their attention and focus it to different facets of history. Some may argue that one could study History this same way but there is not a natural order in which to study. When studying multiple histories one could more easily direct their focus to certain ideas or aspects of history that one would like to learn about. For example, if one wanted learn about sports in the United States during the 1940’s then they would want to learn about the movies and Broadway musicals that came out that year. Also, one would not just learn about WWII and civil rights but rather about how many athletes stopped playing to fight in the war and how in 1947 Jackie Robinson was broke barriers and was the first African-American to play in a Major League baseball game. It is things like this that make studying histories much easier and enjoyable than studying History.

As previously stated, all historians and any other person that is thinking about the past should think about it in terms of histories rather than History. One is able to divide their attention to studying several different ideas or concepts throughout history as well as study these things more efficiently.

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