Saturday, February 22, 2014
What is History? Why Study Anything Ancient?
What is History? And for that matter, Why study anything ancient? Well first we need to define History!
History is the study of surviving records, and evidence, namely writing, from which historians infer the past. It is basically the study of the past through written evidence. This includes the study of people and events through written records.
Notice how I say written. Some of you have probably already started to wonder, "What about artifacts and coins and buildings and all that stuff?" Well that tends to be more of an Archeologist's job rather than a historian. A historian looks at the written text rather than physical objects. Those jobs fall under the Archeologist.
Now it is important to know that we do not have a record of all events. "What we don't?" That's right! We do not have every record. My professor used an example of a historian interviewing us students about himself. The historian may ask, "What was your history professor wearing on February 11th?" We will probably say something like, "Uuuummmm....." We don't know. We don't pay attention to every single bit of detail. That's why there are always gaps in history.
For example my teacher said they actually found an inscription of ink on stone written by Aristotle. The moment they took a picture of it, the ink blew away. What had happened was the paper had degraded and rotted away but the ink remained imprinted on the stone and got buried under tons of sand. This was found in an uncovered Greek city in Afghanistan. The past is always a puzzle with pieces missing.
Now there are various kinds of studies: Epigraphy, Numismatics, Papyrology, and Archeology. Let me define each one for you.
Epigraphy - stone writing
Numismatics - coinage studies
Papyrology - papyrus or paper studies
Archeology - material remains
Here's something interesting my Professor told my class. Historians are very dangerous. It's not scientists. It's Historians. Basically whoever in the present controls the past controls the future. Interesting, ja?
But I haven't answered the other key question. Why study Anything Ancient? What's more important than the study of World War II, the 20th Century, Modernity, Contemporary Culture, Feminism, Sexual Preference, Civil Rights, and everything else that focuses on mostly 20th 19th Century and a little bit of the Early Modern Period? How can Ancient History possibly be more important than that?
Answer: Where to all our fields come from?......I got you there didn't I? All fields such as Medicine, Writing, History, Philosophy, Government, Economics, Astronomy, Religion, and just about everything else under the sun, comes from Ancient History. Who do we go to first when studying ethics and Government? Greece!!! Aristotle and Plato and Socrates: all in that ancient society! The first concepts of religion and mythology: Mesopotamia and Egypt! Great Architecture: Egyptian Pyramids and Greek Columns! First works of Great Literature, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece!
To anyone who is from Asia or Northern Europe, this also applies to you as well, but my course only focuses on the birth of these particular civilizations. They are considered the first few to give birth to the rise of Western Civilization. All other old civilizations are just as important. We just don't have the time to learn them in the particular class I am taking.
There's also something else I want to add that I want to emphasize in particular. By studying these ancient cultures, you become more accepting of others who have different cultural backgrounds. I emphasize these ancient cultures because many of them have polytheistic religions and many were a bit more...open I guess is the word. What I'm trying to say is that by learning an ancient culture, you are keeping it alive, and you are celebrating your cultural heritage whether you are related to it or not. That's why I am studying and advocate the study of Early Civilizations.
That's it for the first lecture. Stay tuned for the next podcast which highlights important moments in my professor's essay, "Egyptomania: Have We Cursed the Pharaohs?"
Study Ancient History! You will become a better person if you do!