Great man or Individualistic History

“Let him who cuts individuals out of history but pay close attention and he will perceive that either he has not cut them out at all, as he imagined, or he has cut out with them history itself.” ~Bernadetto Croce (On History 107)

One of the problems with history is that it is fundamentally a study of people, yet historians often try to extricate persons from history. “People”, that amorphous concept which encompasses us all and strata (classes) of society are acceptable, but the person is not. Gone are the days where the history of the world could be defined as the lives of all the great men. No, for it to be politically correct a history of the world needs to be a history of every single person ever to live upon it, and since that is far too impractical we will speak in term of “peoples” and “strata.”

Sterilized history is the result. Sure, the details can get nitty and gritty, especially when examples are made, but to just speak in these terms is sterilized, a-historical history. Instead of an art and an exercise in thought, it is an attempt to make history a science, justifiable in its own right and explanatory. And I find it much duller. Sure, this sterilization can provide trends, themes, explanations and valuable insights into what is going on, but even when this is done, it is through human examples and specific instances that demonstrate the scientific analyses.

What is my point? I am not sure I have one. Just that if the individual examples are going to be used anyway and at a fundamental level history is about humans, why is there a need to invalidate histories of the individual? If well done, the history of the individual will need to account for these other schools too.

History should not have to be valuable in its own right. For as long as there is a government there will be at least some impetus for history, no matter how biased. If that is not a good enough reason, the past has value and the academic historian needs to teach forthcoming generations to think, to write and to have open debate. Despite movements to the contrary,the world still needs the liberal arts; science alone is insufficient.

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