ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • History & Archaeology

What is History?

Updated on November 28, 2012

Writer and historian Forrest McDonald writes views on history in his article "On the Historical Enterprise." The following essay is a reflection of his ideas.

 Forrest McDonald preaches that history is a generalization. In his article, “On the Historical Enterprise,” McDonald clarifies that the term history always “refers to events that took place in the past, but never to all events” (1). Millions of things take place over time and can be sorted into different types of history, but “conventional history,” as McDonald explains, “is [based around] human affairs” (1). Although “conventional history” is based around human affairs, however, McDonald would argue that it does not include every event that has taken place between humans since the beginning of humanity. History is a generalization.

“To make a generalization,” says McDonald, “is to observe tangible particulars and reduce them to abstractions” (8). McDonald compares the way in which history is generalized to the generalization of everyday objects in saying, “when we see a number of trees, we generalize them as ‘woods’ or forest.’” McDonald would generalize history in the same way by grouping, for example, several marches and acts as a movement, or several battles for a specific cause as a war.

McDonald delves deeper into his explanation of history by stating that history “is the remembered past, as perpetuated by words or remnants of the past” (2). McDonald notes that each and every society has its own legends, stories, and myths about how certain things came to be. He continues to say that, “so as long myths are generally accepted as true, they fulfill their function of legitimizing the society,” regardless of their historical accuracy (2). The stories, legends, and myth that they adopt to answer their questions serve as a true history until proven otherwise.

History, to McDonald, is also a generalization of past human interaction. Instead of being fact after fact ordered in a timeline to “speak for itself,” he describes history as a “mode of thinking that wrenches the past out of context and sequence, out of the way it really happened, and reorders it in an artificial way that facilitates understanding and remembering” (5). It is a historian’s job, he says, to take every small detail that falls into a timeline, and bridge each and every piece of information together to create something more. By bridging together several small events into one, a historian is able to create a broader and  more generalized history, making it easier for society to see and understand.

McDonald defends the idea that history teaches; and although it does not offer a storybook moral or life lesson, history does tell a person more about who they are. “We are the products of our past,” says McDonald, “and anything that helps us understand what we have been [in turn] helps us understand who we are” (10). “[W]e need orientation,” he says. “[We] need to know where we are in time as well as in space.”

If Forrest McDonald were to be asked what history is, he would say exactly the same things that he wrote in his article. He would explain that history is a generalization of human affairs that both explain the past, and teach the present society more about itself as a whole and individually. He would say that history “transforms the concrete into the abstract [and] the discrete into a generalization” (8).


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: ""

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)