History Art or Science

Is History Art or Science?

Authored by James Muñoz

History is the academic discipline that gives the human species the ability to understand the present through past events. History allows for a more comprehensible illumination of the present; the possibilities of our future; and the exuberant lineage under a basic past that molds and shapes the outcome of nations, the many traditions and our human endeavors. History is most important in times when the mysteries of the present day can be traced back to its root causes or influential catalytic events of the past. Without history we as a species would not fully understand the present and the future, as the present would have been directly created and molded from humanities historical past. History with some scholars is a discipline that collects data from the past and pieces together such data to create a historical event. Within the collection of data we find the epicenter of art and science within the study of history. Interpretation of data begins and the fragmentation of historical data is linked together to form a historical event or finding. Now when data is interpreted or understood; the art of this academic discipline would be the ability to conclude or deduce lost pieces of history to establish this historical fact or event. Therefore History is thought to be an art to some scholars while to other scholars’ history is science or both. To further understand this concept we must dig deeper and fully understand history as an academic discipline and unearth history’s academic systems and definitions. Next, as we examine the academic discipline of history, we must take its composition and determine how this discipline correlates to science and or art. Finally let us re-assemble the fine pieces of the academic discipline of history and see how history functions under a scientific schema or under an artistic schema or both. We will then conclude with our findings, if indeed the academic discipline of history stems from science, stems from art or a combination of science and art.

To fully understand history and its conceptual aspects as an academic discipline; we will need to unravel history’s many systems in order to begin our investigation of history as an academic discipline and unearth history’s academic systems and definitions. First we must find the answer to the question, “What is history?” As this question brings to light of the broad spectrum of history entails; we then appreciate how scholars may distill information or interpretations of the past. “History is not a collection of facts about the past whose primary value is to improve one’s skills while playing trivia games; it is an interpretation of the past based on the weight of available evidence.”[i] History, therefore allows for a perspective into the present from the past. History provides a basic platform of the present; rooting itself from the past which is history. We may see history as a vital link of present and past and the historian’s interpretive narratives with facts and how they are associated to one another. “What is history?, is that it is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.”[ii] History therefore can be seen as a continuous relationship between the historian and his facts. Now without the interaction of the historian and his facts; these facts would not be found or used and the historian would not have evidence or a basis for interpretive conclusions. With all these aspects of history we may also understand the study of history in a combination of art and science respectively. “Hence the study of history offers living proofs of the complementary nature of art and of science. One might think that this would be a source of pride to historians.”[iii] As we further define history we begin to merge the science and art of history and how these concepts merge with one another. History at a broader scale utilizes various academic disciplines and merges these academic disciplines to better ascertain historical facts and how these facts have emerged or played out in history to the present. “Historical scholarship has begun to establish firm ties with such neighboring intellectual disciplines as economics and sociology.”[iv] Historians utilizes many tools at their disposal; such as various academic disciplines in sociology, economic, anthropology, religion, and many more academic disciplines to assist with facts and interpretive nature of deciphering facts and figures. The historian often finds themselves in the realm of science while some historians begin to combine the areas of art such as literature interpretation and the human psychological nature. It is at this point where we begin to contemplate history as science or a combination of art with science. “The evidence for the past events is therefore always incomplete and fragmentary. Many pieces of evidence are lost, and others are often faded and warped. Historians fit the pieces together as carefully as possible, but holes remain in the picture they try to reconstruct…What emerges may closely resemble what happened, but we can never be completely sure that what we know as history is an exact replica of the past.”[v] Therefore with this understanding the beginning of filling in the gaps of historical facts begins the aspects of art of history and the historian’s ability to deduce a subjective narrative to piece together the facts to form a reconstruction of history. This is where the art in history begins. Although with the pieces of fact and gaps being managed by historians we still have the aspect of hypothesis and theories within history and historical findings. A balance by the historian must be achieved to better enhance historical facts and historical narratives. This area of balance is often a point at which the historian may eschew evidence or interpret such facts to be interpreted subjectively. “Whereas historians might find it impossible to eschew their own point of view, they must be aware of their own prejudices and guards against letting these intrude into their approach to historical study.”[vi] We find the battle between objectivity and subjectivity of historical data and evidence, which at most instances are bits and pieces of a much broader historical event or perspective. Thus in this scenario we see how the historian may test the evidence under a hypothesis or under a theory. Under these testable scientific conditions the historian often finds himself with gaps and fragments at which art begins its path for the historian as he must begin to piece together or create a basic structure with missing links or paths toward the historical past. As we begin to further isolate interpretation, subjectivity and objectivity; under the context of history we must further dissect the academic discipline of history to fully see the range of the mechanisms of history; as associated with how history is a form of art and or science.

As we explore the academic discipline of history, we must take its elements and investigate how this discipline correlates to science and or art. “Historiography, or the study of the history and methodology of historical interpretation, is of great interest to historians.”[vii] We now must understand the processes of history and its methods of interpretation. “Understanding historiography is important to historians in that it shows what questions have received much or little attention, and reveals question of the past that might be ready for a second look.”[viii] Historiography allows for an understanding of historical interpretation upon how the information was constructed in its associated context. With better understanding of different scholars or schools we may better understand the contexts and format for the use of science and art within the academic discipline of history. School of Ranke or the Ranke method, “…argued that while the historian could attempt to understand the past on its own terms, it required a certain leap of imagination.”[ix] We may see clearly with Ranke’s method “imagination” begins the point at which history is an art. With the emergence of further scientific approaches with regards to Ranke’s methods; these scientific approaches began to yield from the Ranke school what was called Positivism which claimed, “…to be objective, and in the extreme, argued that by using the scientific method, historians could efface themselves of their biases, report what had occurred, and ultimately uncover the laws of human behavior. By claiming to be scientific historians could confidently make truthful claims about the past.”[x] This aspect was further carried forward and a Progressive school emerged from the scientific approach more into a sociological approach. The Progressive school began to think in terms of the methods of a social scientific emergence with history. Further progression occurred and another interpretive school emerged which was the Annales School approach to history which, “sought to write total history that examined history over the long term. Their interest in studying the rhythms of everyday life…” Through these different interpretive schools we mostly see the aspect of the emergence of the interactive ability of social science and scientific method. As each method evolved or emerged with a scientific objectivity for history; therein we have fragmentation by which is relevant with history, and thus emerges postmodernism. “For postmodernists, fragmentary evidence and the inability of an observer to escape his or her point of view make the past unknowable. Instead, they believe that history is little more than an artistic representation of the past that reveals more about the author than the period discussed.”[xi] We now may begin to link past historical fragmentation even with the use of scientific methods; as a rendering of the artistic approach to gaps and missing links of historical events and or the past. Furthermore such meanings as gender, race, class, and ethnicity have a greater range to institutionalize within history. Thus these elements will lead the historian to the inevitable spectrum of the social science spectrum within the gaps and imaginations of piecing together the artist spectrum. As an artist creates his painting so does the historian with all their methods as his paint brush of history he begins to piece together a portrait of history. The historian next has different genres or subjects which begin the specialization of history into unique categories such as political, military, diplomatic, intellectual, religious, economic and social history. Perhaps many more are evolving in the field of history as there becomes further expansion of history’s ability to merge with various academic disciplines. Now with each vast specialty therein lies its philosophical attributes and unlimited historical nature of historical examination. Within each historical context lies its scientific and artistic approach to history.

Finally let us re-assemble the fine pieces of the academic discipline of history and see how history functions under a scientific schema or under an artistic schema or both. Now that we have looked into the different components of history and have a larger understanding for the academic discipline of history; let us go ahead and relate history in its entirety with regards to science and art. “The two processes, that of science and that of art, are not very different. Both science and art form in the course of the centuries a human language by which we can speak about the more remote part of reality, and the coherent sets of concepts as well as the different styles of art are different word or groups of words in this language.”[xii] We may now visualize the adeptness of art and science within history in its entirety and how both shape historical outcomes for the historian. “If a scientific hypothesis is a metaphor, so is a plastic design or a phrase of music. At the same time as metaphors they are radically incommensurate.”[xiii] Thus we now may see that the study of history offers both spectrum by which compliments each other through the endeavors of historical writing and analysis. Science and art complement each other in history as to various aspect of gathering historical facts and events; while art brings the broader approach that the historian investigates, examines, and correlates through years of historian experience the ability of solving mysteries as a true artistic approach. Science and art within history is the essence to historians, due to the fact that historical facts are often extracted orally or secondary through many avenues such as eyewitness testimonials, artifacts or manuscripts; from which the historian begins the creation of historical writings from his previous discovered facts. Thus we may now see the merge of science and art from the historian’s perspective as historical fact or event come to light. As the historian find these fact or testimonies; the historian may have used scientific methods to extract his findings or a more artistic approach of piecing together his finding from other findings or past discoveries. “Historians-in contrast to investigators in almost any other field of knowledge-very seldom confront their data directly. The literary or artistic scholar has the poem or painting before him; the astronomer scans the heavens through a telescope; the geologist tramps the soil he studies; the physicist or chemist runs experiments in his laboratory. The mathematician and the philosopher are abstracter from reality by definition and do not pretend to empirical competence. The historian alone is both wedded to empirical reality and condemned to view his subject matter at second remove.”[xiv] Thus by the historians realm alone; the historian faces the combination of art and science enabling the historian the ability to write their accounts.

We may now conclude with our findings, that indeed the academic discipline of history stems from science, stems from art or a combination of science and art. “Historians are by nature wary of precise definition; they hate to be confined within tight terminological boundaries, and they are ever alert to the fallacy of misplaced concreteness; they much prefer to write ordinary words in their common sense usage and then let the reader little by little become aware of how these words have subtly changed their significance through time.”[xv] We may learn that historians through their literary uniqueness tend to gravitate to the artistic medium despite the usage of the scientific medium. A historian with their nature to not pinpoint themselves with precise language therefore leaves room to navigate within the realm of the artistic approaches to history. Again from this standpoint we may conclude the ability for science and art to merge in the event of a historian avoiding precise language in their writing. History allows for a more comprehensible illumination of the present; the possibilities of our future; and the exuberant lineage under a basic past that molds and shapes the outcome of nations, the many traditions and our human endeavors. We are reminded of the influence of history from our daily lives as our traditions, nationalism, and human achievements blossom from a historical past, but yet it is with these influences that artful literary prowess progress and scientific facts adorn each other. History influences the present through its artful historical depictions and records. History is most important in times when the mysteries of the present day can be traced back to its root causes or influential catalytic events of the past. Without history we as a species would not fully understand the present and the future, as the present would have been directly created and molded from humanities historical past. History, therefore allows for a perspective into the present from the past. History provides a basic platform of the present; rooting itself from the past which is history. We may see history as a vital link of present and past and the historian’s interpretive narratives with facts and how they are associated to one another. As we further define history we begin to merge the science and art of history and how these concepts merge with one another. Science and art complement each other in history as to various aspect of gathering historical facts and events; while art brings the broader approach that the historian investigates, examines, and correlates through years of historian experience the ability of solving mysteries as a true artistic approach. With better understanding of different scholars or schools we may better understand the contexts and format for the use of science and art within the academic discipline of history. The historian often finds themselves in the realm of science while some historians begin to combine the areas of art such as literature interpretation and the human psychological nature. It is at this point where we begin to contemplate history as science or a combination of art with science. Science and art for history is of essence to historians due to the fact that historical facts are often extracted orally or secondary through artifacts or manuscripts; from which at this point the historian begins the creation of historical writings from previous discovered facts. “Solving such puzzles of history involve both science and art. Science is a synonym for knowledge. But knowledge of what? History includes data-evidence, the names of people and places, when things happened, where they happened, bits of information gathered from many sources. It also includes interpretations of historians and others in the past who have written on the topic that the writer decided to treat in an essay. The art of history lies in combining fact and interpretation to tell a story about the past…”[xvi] As we have seen, history’s methods of recording and deciding where interpretations of the historian would best fit; establishes the formulation of stories from the past. We have seen the different aspects of which the historian may correlate his or her findings from the past. The historian may seek a better understanding through various aspects of interpretive notion or beliefs; yet the historian’s scientific approach obligates the historian to seek past facts. The historian’s interpretation and approach influences the historical data and depending on the scientific method or objective school of thought (Ranke, Annales, Postmodernism); the historian will still need to utilize a format or artistic additive in order to piece together the fragmented historical data. Next the historian’s actual present day life may also affect the ability of the historian to interpret the historical facts; thereby often influencing the historical events and its context. As the historian may influence the historical context through his daily life it is at this point where art again affects the historical data and better fits the historian’s arrangement of his interpretation for the historical data or finding. Thus we may see that the historian with his known variables must be an artist of making sense to the historical data through such an array of influences. “He cannot escape it, its pressured are all around him. And if his trade has more than antiquarian meaning for him, he will feel impelled to comment on the recent past. For the same dilemmas of personal loyalty and ideal allegiance, of the inborn ruthlessness and good will toward men, which have troubled his mind in his study of remote ages will force themselves upon him when he rests his weary eyes for a moment on the circumstances in which he is actually living.”[xvii] The historian must understand that his own time may affect or influence his interpretation of the past. This present time affect may develop in the form of present day influential factors such as politics, ideology, and or groups that could change the psychoanalytical objectiveness of the historian. These tremendous variables that affect the outcome of the historian’s interpretation greatly influence the outcome and it is in these variables that the art manifests into the academic discipline of history. The psychological spectrum that influences the imagination and the environmental vectors are mechanisms to art as it is utilized within historical connotation. Through various schools of ideology within the interpretation of history; we may clearly see the evidence of history being a science and an art despite interpretive conclusions. No matter how scientific the historian may administer his ideology of interpretive findings; there will be a point where science ends and art begins. Science alone within the field of history would not be able to piece together the entire historical event as proven by scientific limitation and through the fragmented historical past actualities. “For the historian who sees not incompatibility between his different roles- who is at least as much an artist as he is a social scientist-is uniquely equipped to lead others toward the imaginative fusion of these attributes, and thereby to illuminate the era in which we live.”[xviii] The historian yields the ability to utilize science within many scientific disciplines and further fuses the imagination to balance a historical outcome and sort through the past and piece together a historical time frame. Perhaps the comparison would be how an artist finds shapes and sizes of material that nobody would see or comprehend and begins to sculpt and piece together a work of art. Where the ordinary person fails to see the possibilities or imagination to construct the art is where also the historian begins to find and see the possibilities of piecing together historical facts and stories. The artist utilizes the laws of science as in molding, sculpting, recreating pieces; thus we have history as an art and as a science.

Notes:

1. Chris J. Arndt, Michael J. Galgano, and Raymond M. Hyser, Doing History Research and Writing in the digital Age, (Boston MA: Thomson Corp, 2008), 1.

2. Edward H. Carr, What is History? , (New York: Random House, 1961), 35.

3. H. Stuart Hughes, History as Art and as Science: Twin Vistas on the Past, (New York: Harper

and Row, 1964), 3.

4. H. Stuart, 2.

5. Richard Marius and Melvin E Page, A Short Guide to Writing About History 7th Edition, (New York: Pearson Education Inc, 2010), 4.

6. Arndt, Galgano, and Hyser, 5.

7. Arndt, Galgano, and Hyser, 6.

8. Arndt, Galgano, and Hyser, 6.

9. Arndt, Galgano, and Hyser, 7.

10. Arndt, Galgano, and Hyser, 7.

11. Arndt, Galgano, and Hyser,12.

12. H. Stuart, 2.

13. H. Stuart, 2.

14. H. Stuart, 4.

15. H. Stuart, 6.

16. Marius and Page, 3.

17. H. Stuart, 106.

18. H. Stuart, 107.

Bibliography

Arndt, Chris J., Galgano, Michael J., and Hyser, Raymond M. Doing History Research and

Writing in the digital Age, Boston MA: Thomson Corp, 2008.

Carr, Edward H., What is History? , New York: Random House, 1961.

Marius, Richard and Page, Melvin E. A Short Guide to Writing About History 7th Edition,

New York: Pearson Education Inc, 2010.

Stuart, Hughes H., History as Art and as Science: Twin Vistas on the Past, New York: Harper

and Row, 1964.

Bibliography

Arndt, Chris J., Galgano, Michael J., and Hyser, Raymond M. Doing History Research and

Writing in the digital Age, Boston MA: Thomson Corp, 2008.

Carr, Edward H., What is History? , New York: Random House, 1961.

Marius, Richard and Page, Melvin E. A Short Guide to Writing About History 7th Edition,

New York: Pearson Education Inc, 2010.

Stuart, Hughes H., History as Art and as Science: Twin Vistas on the Past, New York: Harper

and Row, 1964.

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