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Restore content access Restore content access for purchases made as guest. Article Purchase - Online Checkout. We shall see, however, that it is difficult for educationists not to believe in some principles which are timeless and universal. What is history?

In writing this book we became increasingly conscious of the fact that over the centuries there have been vigorous, sometimes acrimonious, debates about the nature of history, but rather less discussion about the nature of the history of education. We have in mind two aspects of that debate. First, the specific question of the extent to which historians and history books are themselves a product of their time, reflecting current attitudes and values. Or can historians really establish a degree of objective truth?

The second aspect of the debate is an extension of the first.

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Many writers, including Richard Evans, ' begin by contrasting the two approaches represented by E. Carr and Geoffrey Elton. In other words, historians could not be expected to be totally unbiased but inevitably represented some kind of viewpoint. Elton, on the other hand, saw the historian as a trained seeker for objective truth; history would always have a backbone of political events and historians should focus on documentary records as their evidence. Both Carr and Elton believed in historical truth and objectivity but interpreted those terms differently.

One of the problems with using a word like postmodemism is that it is not only extremely vague, but those who describe themselves, or are referred to as postmodemist adopt more or less extreme points on the spectrum of postmodemism. It was a description of attempts to reject the traditional and invent something new. Modernism was sometimes a self-conscious expression of the functional and a demonstration of control over the environment Le Corbusier is often quoted as an example.

In the world of intellectual ideas, modernity and modernism began to be identified with the questioning of traditional beliefs and values which, as we shall see in later chapters, can be associated with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the elevation of scientific rationality as the highest possible authority. Modernity was not an event but a gradual process; modernism was a belief in modem styles and a rejection of the old.

In the twentieth century there was a realisation that science did not provide all the answers, that human beings were characterised by limited rationality, and that emotions and the unconscious mind had to be taken into account. This was accompanied by work in the social sciences, particularly social anthropology, which described cultures with beliefs and values very different from those in Western industrial capitalist societies.

At first, Christian missionaries had tried to convert such peoples to their 'superior' way of life, but social anthropologists preached the doctrine of respect for other cultures. For some social scientists this developed into the belief that there were no absolute values or principles: everything was relative, including truth itself.


The debate sometimes focused on the interpretation of the concept of cultural relativism which could be held in moderate or very extreme forms. Moderate relativists, including perhaps a majority of scientists and social scientists, accepted relativism as applied to other societies but would draw the line at tolerating cannibalism or female circumcision.

All 4 Introduction cultures should be respected, but a high modernisr might well assert the technological superiority of science over witchcraft in such practical matters as landing on the moon. Other late modernists might accept the general idea of tolerating and respecting cultural differences but retain some absolute or near absolute values, such as respect for persons, which would not tolerate genocide or individual offences against others' 'rights'.

Clearly, one of the characteristics of high modernity i s that views stretch right across the relativist spectrum, and at the extreme end are those who deny all absolutes, and even refuse to accept rationality itself as anything more than part of liberal bourgeois ideology.

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It would be convenient if those at the extreme end of relativism could be called postmodernist whilst those in more moderate position could be safely referred to as high modernists. Unfortunately, the terminology is confused by some of quite moderate views preferring to call themselves postmodernist.

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They tend to dislike general theories or 'grand narratives' preferring local explanations of reality. Many postmodernists have thus questioned the validity of history as an intellectual discipline. We shall return to the debate about postmodernism and history later in this chapter. Meanwhile, what cannot be ignored in a book like ours is that over the period covered, the nature or theory of history has changed, and yet we still rely, to some extent, on what historians like Thucydides and Livy tell us.

One useful rule is certainly to accept Carr's advice and to be aware of the purpose or intention of the historian in question. We will discuss other ' rules' in the course of this chapter. One of the additional complexities is that not only is the historian influenced by the society in which he lives, but also by what history is thought to be. Those who told a good story, dramatically and with style, were admired.

Many Greeks more than I , wrote about past events but we would not regard them as historians. Only a few writers showed a concern to distinguish between factual events and legends. Herodotus was influenced by the Ionian philosophers who wanted to understand the universe by means of reason, and made a distinction between myths and truly historical accounts. Herodotus wrote about his studies as 'enquiry' or historia. The Ionian approach contrasted with earlier attitudes to the past including the Babylonian and Egyptian accounts where the writing was intended to preserve and glorify heroic deeds, an expression of nationalism which we might now classify as propaganda.

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Some of the well-known Roman historians, for example, Livy 59 BC -AD 1 7 regressed to some extent by using historical accounts for 'moral' and nationalistic purposes. Livy also frequently failed to distinguish between history and legend. However, Julius Caesar, despite a tendency always to present himself in a good light, generally provides an accurate record. One way in which the Greek and Roman historians were later criticised was for their failure systematically to quote their documentary sources.

They did, however, see the need to doubt the accuracy of their sources and to check them against other evidence wherever possible. Perhaps for this reason many Greek and Roman writers usually preferred to keep close to their own times. The Jews were interested in writing history because it was seen as the story of the gradual unfolding of God's plan for humanity.

This view was carried over from the Old Testament to the New Testament by Christians, but the historical accuracy of the Gospels is, to say the least, open to question. We can assume that whoever wrote the Gospels were more concerned with the moral messages of Christianity than with accuracy about historical detail; and since part of the story was depicting the life of Christ as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies it would be surprising if some distortions did not creep in.

Eusebius AD , a bishop who wrote a history of the church, despite his difficult task of handling the role of divine providence in establishing Christianity within the Roman Empire, provided valuable accounts of the early church and also developed techniques for checking one source against others wherever possible. However, he did not always exclude what we would now regard as fiction. Medieval Christian 'history' was based on very definite assumptions about the relation between God and the world created by Him: divine intervention was a legitimate 'explanation' of events.

The early centuries of Christianity were not a high point of historical accuracy. Later, the Venerable Bede AD was, however, notable for carefully checking sources, particularly in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He is regarded as one of the greatest historians of the 6 Introduction Middle Ages. The influence of Bede and other Anglo-Saxons who carefully quoted sources in historical writings also affected the revival of learning on the continent where scholars in Charlemagne's court became conscious of the need for historical accuracy, and this tradition survived despite frequent lapses when history was sacrificed to propaganda.

Renaissance historians consciously moved away from using divine intervention as an explanation and tended to move back to the pagan world. They also had an interest in social change and were aware of the fact that medieval writers operated in a different social context and world view from the Greeks and pre-Christian Romans: they valued accuracy of detail and looked critically at source material; they even began to write about the Bible as a text that might need to be interpreted and corrected in the light of studies of earlier Greek versions.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that humanist historians rewrote much of the history of Europe on the basis of new translations of Greek and Latin texts and a more 'historical' attitude to past events.