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Historical Understanding: The Cognitive Comprehension of the Causal and Functional Relationship to the Human Society

Updated on March 30, 2012
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Christopher F. Bueno is currently the Dean of the College of Education, University of Northern Philippines, Vigan City.

In the study of history, it is not simply related to the past events, persons and places as Philip Guedalla (1889-1944) explained that “History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other.”Let us take deeper insights on the academic inquiry in the interpretation of character and significance of event as originally defined from the Greek term “ Historia” . The academic interpretation of this subject through the cognitive comprehension of the causal and functional relationship to the society is called “Historical Understanding.”

This term provides the explanation of social facts is not merely in the capacity to learn the basic knowledge of the story as still may be based on historical evidence but the academic comprehension as events unfolded in a certain setting of society. The historian not simply interested to lay down basic social facts to provide historical dates, events, places and other form of artifacts for the reader to know the story. The idea of historical understanding is not the mere knowledge the reader gets but intelligent academic interpretations of social phenomena.

The academic comprehension may take into two folds in the historical understanding :

1. The causal explanation and comprehension of historical phenomena. The historical event is not distinct in its character and feature as to causality of the complex societal action. The historical implication has complementation and inter-relatedness of factual events. This is the most exciting part in history as you present a historical case analysis as to the deeper meaning on the causality of facts.

When you deal the historical study of absolutism, revolution, dictatorship, invasion, imperialism and etc. the causality is more projected by the real essence of human motive and interest. The psychological response of the individual actors and collective players dealt so much not simply on causality event X and Y in the social, cultural, religious and political dimensions of the societal activities.

The historical diagnosis of causality reflects the inter-play of the various phenomena to understand and apply this historical experience to the daily life of the reader. It is also imperative to know the cause-effect relationship of certain historical phenomenon being studied.

2. The functional relationship of historical phenomena . It is not simply you would like to know the cause-effect relationship of the social facts but the consideration as to the functional relationship relevant to the multi-disciplinary analysis in the social sciences. The social process plays the important role in the unfolding of historical events .

We now take consideration to the following concepts and features of Historical Understanding:

1. Those who enrolled in history subject must not concentrate the memorization of historical facts. The general rule of historical understanding is the critical interpretation of historical facts to discover the real intent of the causal and functional relationship as may liberate their mind on what is being studied. This provides a more objective interpretation of historical phenomena to reduce the personal bias and prejudice may give them important lessons in societal life

2. The Guedalla Model of the Historical Analysis (“History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other) provides the students better opportunity to become just like any other historians by giving their own insights about social phenomena. This prepares them to come up with the historical inquiry to review, analyze, interpret and conclude as their own understanding about the historical event being reviewed. This is called “historical case analysis” that may be done in historically reviewing the social phenomena being unfolded in the past that can also relate to the contemporary time.

3. There is nothing important to know about the past as we can no longer change them as a historical phenomena. This is probably the reason why students are being bored to know about “Historia”. However, the richness of the social phenomena in the past has significant role to provide the right path of the present and future time. It is in this reason we can say that “ History repeats itself” (not with The Guedalla Model of the Historical Analysis) They can give us the “wisdom and intelligence” to predict the historical consequences to derive a prudent decision and action as they have similarly defined in the past.

Once you appreciated the study of history, you will learn to intelligently think about the possible consequences of your action in the future. A good example in our personal life story, there are times that we commit mistakes as we thought that is the right action to do. There will always come at time to repeat the events as we always say “history repeats itself”. At this point, we will no longer follow the same mistakes as we can learn to digest the “lessons of the past” and decide the right path in our life.


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