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Sample essay topic, essay writing: The Impact Of Postmodernism On The What Is History? Debate - 1,525 words

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... s to discover the truth.Having briefly mentioned in passing objectivity and subjectivity with regard to Descartes' philosophy, it would be fair to offer a basic denotation of their individual meanings. Elton and Carr basically shared the belief that history amounts to the search for truth. However they established a division of two principle theories on 'what is history?' in their respective objective and subjective approaches. It is commonly a shared belief among historians that reputable historians recognise 'the need for a sense of objectivity and impartiality,'(14) and condemn those who fail to adhere to the critical standards and methods used (perhaps the lack of diversity of sources or the usage of completely biased accounts). Elton sought to achieve an approximation of truth and appreciated that just as future adjustments were to be expected it remained an objective fact.

The assimilation between Von Ranke and Elton is evident in the traditional albeit scientific and objective approach to recording history. Both shared the belief that a truthful account of historical events could be recorded having collected all the facts.Nevertheless, although the historian seeks impartiality when writing a narrative, Walsh (1967) considers that the 'value judgement,' commonly referred to as a 'moral perspective upon some form of past or present action, custom or society,' (15) cannot realistically be omitted. Carr explains this with simple eloquence... 'We can only view the past, and achieve our understanding of the past, only through the eyes of the present. The historian is of his own age and is bound to it by the conditions of human existence.'(16) Therefore it is with some scepticism that Carr would view the validity of historical interpretations by historical writers. Carr does not accept the logic behind an absolute truth and argues that 'since the facts of history...

are always refracted through the mind of the recorder, when we take up a work of history, our first concern should not be with the facts it contains, but with the historian who wrote it.' (17) Suffice to say; in as much as Elton believed that the objective truth could be discovered from a perhaps infinite array of resources, Carr believed that there was no, nor could ever be, external or objective truth due to the subjectivity or prejudices of the author. His relativist theory therefore nullifies Elton's empiricism as flawed and impossible as history written in such a manner is essentially based on observation. Conversely, he reasoned that a historian without facts is 'rootless and futile', while the facts without their historian are 'dead and meaningless'. What appears to be contradictive to his belief and probably due to the fact that he was first and foremost a historian, he did accept that history is 'a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.'(18) Collingwood involved himself in the philosophy of history, an interest which was described by Carr as 'being concerned neither with the past by itself nor with the historians thought about it by itself, but with the two things in their mutual relations.'(19) This maxim refers to the two adjective meanings of the word history: the enquiries undertaken by historians and the respective series of past events being studied. He believed that 'the act of thinking is not only subjective but objective as well.'(20) It could be considered definitive considering, his book entitled, 'The idea of history,' (a compilation of his work) was published in 1945 - 16 years before that of Carr and 22 years before that of Elton.Collingwood shared the same principles as Lord Acton, in as much that he believed the historian should pose his own questions and draw answers and format conclusions based on factual evidence from the available sources. However it could also be argued that he questioned the reliability and validity of historiographies as they stored their own hidden agendas.

Callinicos suggests that 'the historian, by placing ones own questions rather than taking them ready made from the sources, displaces the attempt to reduce historiography into narrative;' (21) a conviction which he associates with Collingwood's theory.The ongoing argument about what is history appears to lead us nicely into the realms of postmodernism, which reveals that there is nothing, which can be explained in only one way. Postmodernism does not purely exist within the realms of historical debate. In his palpable claim that it is not a theory that one can argue in favour of or against, Jenkins argues that we are living in a state of postmodernism, which may encompass anything from the d'ecor of a room through to 'communal and economical shifts' of entire societies. Initially it might appear that Carr would gain more credence from 'new age' philosophers (from the mid to late 20th Century and beyond) as he, like others involved in similar intellectual disciplines, is essentially breaking with the accepted traditional concepts of his respective field of practice. However on closer inspection this is not necessarily the case. Throughout the last two hundred years there has been a movement from one kind of reflection on history to another; just as European society may have used the enlightenment to move away from the church, Western society has now distanced itself from the scientific history synonymous with the 19th century, through a culmination of education, modern technology and travel; all of which have led to progression. The post-modern era allows us to view situations and histories from different aspects, as resources alone are much more readily available; although this should not be seen as the only reason. Without going into detail about the contributions of social sciences to postmodernist debate, it is evident that they have played an intrinsic part.Within the last forty or so years the efforts of postmodernists, like Hayden White, to deny the existence of a past, independent of their representations of it has given reason to believe that postmodernist historians choose to dismiss the theories of Collingwood, Carr and Elton entirely.

According to Bentley (1999), it is the assumption of postmodernists that knowledge is ultimately unobtainable and consequently the 'postmodernist' debate detracts from the historical enquiry, as it seems more interested to make claims about 'truth'.Writers and novelists linked with the post-modern era have found an area (perhaps a money making niche in the marketplace) in which they can embellish their talents. The writers of non-fiction novels and films offer their interpretation of past events, which provide yet another 'alternative' past. A prime example of this could be the blockbuster film 'Titanic' which was, by and large, based on true 'facts,' about the ship at least.The rhetoric of postmodernism basically allows different reasons and ideas to determine the truth. On the whole scheme of things, not only does it accept the conflicts but it also recognises the impossibility of seeing things from one perspective. Therefore in today's post-modern world, it would be fair to conclude that 'truth' is an opinion, which is flexible to change. Yet the debate rages on...BIBLIOGRAPHYAbbott.

M. History skills Routledge 1996Allen.R.E The Concise Oxford Dictionary BCA 1990 editor New Edition,Bentley. M Modern Historiography Routledge 1999 An Introduction Burke. P. History & Social Theory Polity Press 1992Callinicos. A Theories & Narratives Polity Press 1988 Reflections on the Philosophy of History Carr.

E.H. What is History? Penguin Books 1961 Carr. E.H. What is history? 2nd edition Harmondsworth 1990Collingwood. R.G. The Idea of History Oxford University Press 1945Gardiner.

P The Nature of Historical Explanation Oxford University Press 1961 Kierkegaard. S. An Introduction to Philosophy. Harcourt Brace & Co, 3rd edition. Johnson. J. Making Histories University of Minnesota McLennan. G. Studies in History Writing and Politics Press 1982 Schwarz.

B. & Sutton D. Foreword by Maynes. M. Vincent. J An Intelligent Person's Guide to History Gerald Duckworth & Co 1995Walsh. W.H An Introduction to Philosophy of History Hutchinson of London 1967Web sites Maynes (1982), Making Histories Studies in History Writing and Politics, p4 University of Minnesota Press (2) Burke.

P. (1992), History & Social Theory, pviii Polity Press (3) Burke. P. (1992), History & Social Theory, p2 Polity Press (4) Hooker. R. (1996), (5) Hooker. R.

(1996), (6) Hooker. R. (1996), Kierkegaard. S. (1995), An Introduction to Philosophy, p74 Harcourt Brace & Company (8) Bentley. M.

(1999) Modern Historiography: An Introduction, p142 Routledge (9) The Concise Oxford Dictionary New Edition, p559 BCA 1990(10) Burke. P. (1992), History & Social Theory, p127 Polity Press (11) Vincent. J . (1995), An Intelligent Person's Guide to History, p59 Gerald Duckworth & Co (12) Vincent. J .

(1995), An Intelligent Person's Guide to History, p59 Gerald Duckworth & Co (13) Cited from Carr. E.H. (1961), What is History? P7 Penguin Books(14) Walsh. W.H. (1967), An Introduction to Philosophy of History, p21 Hutchinson of London (15) Abbott. M. (1996), History skills, p116 Routledge (16) Carr.

E.H. (1990), What is history? 2nd edition p22 Harmondsworth (17) Carr. E.H. (1990), What is history? 2nd edition, p22 Harmondsworth(18) Carr. E.H. (1961), What is History? p30 Penguin Books (19) Carr. E.H. (1961), What is History? p21 Penguin Books (20) Collingwood.

R.G. (1945) The Idea of History Oxford University Press (21) Callinicos. A (1988), Theories & Narratives: Reflections on the Philosophy of History, p77 Polity Press.

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