History is the science that studies the past of humanity to understand the present and to be able to project our future.
Like all sciences, history has its specificities, it works with its own forms of reasoning, it has its limits and its demands. A great difficulty we encounter when we want to talk about our studies is to establish the difference between what historiographic work is about. a certain theme and what is simply a judgment of values. For example, when we talk about racial prejudice , we all have an opinion about it. Some are against it, others are in favor; some say that it is the fault of the discriminated, others say that prejudice is pure injustice.
It is just different opinions on the subject. Another and quite different thing is to analyze racism historically, research its origins, who it served or still serves, what interests are behind a racist theory and in what context it is was elaborated.
Let’s think about African slavery in America. What set of events did the idea belong to that blacks had no soul? Certainly to the question of slavery. Who was interested in spreading these ideas? Not to slaves, for sure.
This is the big difference! It is not just about giving an opinion or judging who is right or wrong. It is about historically locating and understanding the event, trying to understand why the men of that time acted that way and, finally, contributing to the formation of values and a more just world formation.
Historical knowledge is dynamic [ edit | edit source code ]
This approach to history does not mean that we have the capacity to recover “the truth”. Historical knowledge is a reconstruction of facts from historical sources, that is, it is our thinking today, trying to reach the way of thinking and living from other times and other peoples.
Historical knowledge is dynamic: it changes, restructures based on new discoveries, the appearance of new documents and even new ways of reading documents already known.
Let’s do an exercise. Read the following text:
We have already indicated that, as far as possible, the city must be in communication, at the same time, with the interior of the country, the sea and the whole of its territory. The city must offer its citizens an easy way out; first of all, it must have abundant natural waters and sources. That is why in the wisely governed States, if all sources are not equally pure and if there is a lack of good quality sources, the waters that are used for food must be separated from those that are destined for other things.
Apparently, it is the text of someone concerned with water pollution, a process that became itemized after the Industrial Revolution . The contamination of urban waters is still a major problem today. Is this the author’s concern?
Knowing who wrote it and in what context, we realized that it was not. This text was written by Aristotle , who lived between 384 and 322 BC, and its title is Politics . Now, read the text thinking that it was written by a philosopher from antiquity, and notice how the meaning of the text changes. This is not an ecological discourse, but a discourse with political concerns: Aristotle was teaching Greek rulers ways of governing well.