History is Simply the Collection of Facts

Below is a knowledge claim about history.

You must unpack this claim. Briefly explain what you think it means.

Provide clear arguments with examples as to why this paints an unfair picture of the study of history.


Since no one knows the past as it really was, there is no point in studying it

Unpacking the claim: This claim means that because we do not know for sure if history happened the way it was depicted in various sources by historians, there is not a valid reason to continue to investigate or learn more about it.

History acts as “trivia” and therefore there is no point in studying it. Adding, on to how historical sources may be biased and spread out, history is a list of facts. There is often questions such as who, where, what and when in history which adds on to the reasons why it should not be studied. For example, in the United States, the line “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” is represented in a song to help children learn about Columbus day. This piece of information does not have clear relevance to why we study history as a whole. Moreover, if nobody really knows the past as it was, does this “fact” even exist? If we do not know for sure, then why are we spending time learning about a possible myth?

However, despite not necessarily knowing if an aspect of history actually existed, we are still able to gain knowledge that demonstrates individual’s and societies’ perspectives and why they thought or behave the way they did (or at least depicted to be). For example, the Exposition Universelle of 1900 was a world’s fair held in Paris during 1900 to celebrate the many achievements of the past century to look forward to the next. This fair, visited by almost 50 million people, exhibited various inventions, architecture that are (in modern day) almost all universally known. This includes he Grande Roue de Paris Ferris wheel, Russian nesting dolls and more. Putting aside whether or not this has happened, we are able to get insights into people’s opinions on the same event. For instance, the German reaction to the French announcement (and invitation) was mixed. They thought that this meant rudeness, arrogance as the French “snatched” the proposed exposition from Germany. However in the 1890s, Germany knew that it was a bad idea to fight in a battle. Most newspapers confessed that the lights of culture and pleasure burned brighter in Paris than in Berlin. This highlights the perspective of the Germans, and propels us to think of why they would think the way they do. Not only this, but studying history serves as a prompt to dive into further research on a topic.

Even though there are “trivia” aspects to history, it provides tremendous benefits to our learning in terms of understanding our diverse world and cultures even more by diving into the past. As truthful facts about the past are not necessarily determined, studying history is still valuable for the insights it provides about how people perceive events.

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