What is the role of History?

So as kind of weekend deep thought question.  What is the role of history or historians in general?

In the view of John Tosh Professor of History at Roehampton University (UK) he sees it this way:

Our human awareness is enhanced by the comtemplation of vanished eras, and historical re-creation will always exercise a hold over the imagination, offering as it does vicarious experience to writer and reader alike.  At the same time, historians also have a more practical role to perform, and the history which they teach, whether to the students in schools and colleges or through the media to the wider public, needs to be informed by an awareness of this role.  In this way a historical education achieves a number of goals at once: It trains the mind, enlarges the sympathies and provides a much-needed historical perspective on some of the most pressing problems of our time.1

 I personally think that Tosh has described the desired role of most modern historians.  I would also say that most academic historians view their role to present an argument based on their research which presents a new way of percieving an older situation or concept build up around a historical event.  Or they seek to take a view which collides with other historians and generally cringe at popular history.

 I see the role of history is as a two fold device, one to be used to understand and give context to the changes in our world, second I think create a bridge between the past and the present so that significant events and insignificant events do not slip out of the mind of the world.  It is a difficult and time consuming process but when you a hundered years later look at some collected work describing the neighbourhood where you ancestors grew up, or a historians work on your ancestral homeland and how they lived 1000 years ago you come to appreciate just how important history is. (Ok maybe history geeks like me do…)

When one looks at historians and history I think each party plays a role in keeping history alive, a public historian helps to develop sites or physical evidence of history in life through museums and historical places.

A popular historian helps to make complicated subjects and arguments and transfer them into a simpler and easily digested form, using computer models, reinactments or some similar devices.

An academic historian balances all this and keeps everone honest by trying to dig into the past and find information which as I stated earlier gives light to new ideas, evidence or arguments about an event, person, movement, culture or tribe.  They also talk about macro events as well as micro ones, they may talk about the political foundations of the 100 years war with one breath and then talk about a yeoman farmer and his wife in Jamestown, Virginia in the next.

That is my take anyway, so what is your view of the role of history?  And even about religious history such as Mormonism. 


1. John Tosh, The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods, and New Directions in the Study of Modern History, 2nd Edition,(London: Longman Group), 1996, 29. 

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2 Responses to What is the role of History?

  1. S.Faux says:

    I love my Mormon ancestors, but I would never want to practice the same version of Mormonism that they practiced. I MUCH prefer 21st century Mormonism to the 19th century version. History reminds me of improvement and evolution over time.

    The study of early Mormon history teaches me that there is a strong cultural overlay to our religious practices. I strongly appreciate how Mormonism has changed over time. As a result, I strongly believe in continuing revelation, etc.

    In some sense, I think the “restoration” process is still taking place. Yes, Joseph Smith finished most of it, but I think later prophets had significant concepts to add.

    History is not the basis for my religion, but it adds color and intelligence to it. It reminds me that Mormons were never perfect, and probably never will be — at least in this lifetime.

  2. Luis says:

    Bueno cada quien con su tema, pero me permito recordarle la historia de la masacre de los inocentes. Esa tambien es historia mormona.

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