Another Essay I had to write for College back in April 2010
analysis of History
through an interpretation of Alfred Schutz
an Austrian social scientist
, whose work bridged sociological and phenomenological traditions to form a social phenomenology
The course of study I chose at Florida Atlantic University was Interdisciplinary Social Science. Within this field there are several minor fields one can choose from to primarily focus on. I chose to mainly focus on History. There are many different definitions for History. According to Florida Atlantic University History major’s website, history majors use the study of the past to make sense of a complicated world. Developing insights into past human experiences prepares students for a wide variety of fields, including law, teaching, public history, business, government, communication, and even medicine. Professions and professional schools in today's world look for applicants who have broad interests and backgrounds and analytical and verbal skills rather than narrow field specialization. History is a flexible and broad discipline and majors learn how to think critically, evaluate evidence, and write with clarity and strength.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary there are four different definitions for History. The first one would be that History is a tale or a story. The second definition of History goes more in depth saying that History is a (a) chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes (b) a treatise presenting systematically related natural phenomena (c) an account of a patient's medical background (d) an established record such as a prisoner with a history of violence. The third definition of History states that history is a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events such as medieval history (my personal favorite definition of History.) Lastly, the fourth definition of History in Merriam-Webster is (a) events that form the subject matter of a history (b) events of the past (c) one that is finished or done for i.e.: the winning streak was history, you're history. Lastly, Merriam-Webster states about history; (d) previous treatment, handling, or experience (as of a metal). It is a field of research which uses a narrative to examine and analyze the sequence of events, and it sometimes attempts to investigate objectively the patterns of cause and effect that determine events.
In Schutzian terms we should look at History in a phenomenological or philosophical way. The term history may be employed in two quite different senses: it may mean (1) the events and actions that together make up the human past, or (2) the accounts given of that past and the modes of investigation whereby they are arrived at or constructed. When used in the first sense, the word refers to what as a matter of fact happened, while when used in the second sense it refers to the study and description of those happenings. The schemes use to interpret the world our predecessors lived in are different in the ways that they used to interpret the world they lived in. The notion of philosophical reflection upon history and its nature is consequently open to more than one interpretation.
The kind of interest the historian has depends on the time he lives in, his attitudes of the time he lives in and his attitude on the time he is studying. Some historians have distinguished philosophy of history in the traditional or classical sense; this is conceived to be a first-order enquiry, its subject matter being the historical process as a whole and its aim being, broadly speaking, one of providing an overall clarification or explanation of the course and direction taken by that process. On the other hand, they have distinguished philosophy of history considered as a second-order enquiry; here attention is not focused upon the actual sequence of events themselves but, instead, upon the procedures and categories used by practicing historians in approaching and comprehending their material.
Alfred Schutz believed that history, along with economics and jurisprudence (the theory and philosophy of law), are a study in man’s mind, which is a contrast to physics and chemistry which study external process. When he says that history is the study of man’s mind he means this objectively. He states that history is a system of cultural objects and institutions, together with the meanings they bear, that is the object of these “science of the minds.” He also states that the most important aspect of the mind or the study of history is the lived experience or the immediate experience.
I believe he looked at history such as the notion that history conforms to a “dialectical” pattern, according to which contradictions generated at one level are overcome or transcended at the next. This is called the “Theory of Social Change.” Man is a creative being, situated in a material world that stands before him as an objective reality and provides the field for his activities; this primitive truth, affords the key to a proper understanding of history as a process finally governed by the changing methods whereby men seek to derive from the natural environment the means of their subsistence and the satisfaction of their evolving wants and needs. Schutz also says that a historian looks to make "sense" of the past. That is to describe it consistently with his total previous knowledge of the world of predecessors and of the world in general.
We should also look at the basic concepts of history or the study thereof in the Schutzian way. Concepts are born of the necessity that individuals have to organize the information they learn or to systematize the experiences they go through. The term derives from the Latin language (“conceptus”) which means to conceive. Thus, a concept is general idea, created by the mind from specific occurrences, whose purpose is to categorize objects or events that, despite their seeming singularity or uniqueness, have in fact a great deal in common. If the objects or the events were not categorized, they would all appear as a shapeless mass and it would be virtually impossible to learn anything from them. When formulating concepts, it is vital to avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping in elevating single characteristics to the rank of the typical and thus the general, or over generalizing by creating categories from too few examples.
According to Dr. Claude Bélanger, Doctor of History at the Department of History in Marianopolis College in Quebec, Canada; “For a long time the discipline of history, with philosophy among the oldest of the fields of knowledge, attempted to avoid the use of concepts. In consequence, the studies were inevitably descriptive and rarely produced a satisfactory understanding of events or issues. In time the discipline evolved and developed concepts specific to its objects and, as well, borrowed from other disciplines when they developed concepts appropriate to the study of history.”
It could be said that Schutz would believe that if two events were said to be causally related, this could only be in the sense that they instantiated certain regularities of succession that had been repeatedly observed to hold between such events in the past: to presume otherwise was to fall back upon an unacceptable belief in “intuitable” connections that had no warrant either in reason or experience. This amounts to the claim that explaining a given historical occurrence in terms of some other event or set of events necessarily involves an appeal, which need not be more than inferred, to laws or general propositions correlating events of the type to be explained with those of the kind cited as its causes or conditions.
Schutz says that all scientific thought is to be derived directly or indirectly from tested observation. In the cultural sciences it is chiefly interpretation of statements by informants. In the cultural sciences specifically, there is the postulate of subjective meaning or interpretation, which Schutz got from Max Weber. There is a distinctive method to the studying of History. The study of history means reading. That statement is a simple fact. However, there are other methods to consider such as the historical method, qualitative research and the making of historical ideal types. The historical method comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write histories in form of accounts of the past. The question of the nature, and indeed the possibility, of sound historical method is raised in the philosophy of history, as a question of epistemology. Qualitative research is a method of inquiry appropriated in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences, but also in market research and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such behavior.
The qualitative method investigates the why and how of decision making, not just what, where, when. Hence, smaller but focused samples are more often needed, rather than large samples. A central issue in qualitative research is validity (also known as credibility and/or dependability). There are many different ways of establishing validity, including: member check, interviewer corroboration, peer debriefing, prolonged engagement, negative case analysis, audit ability, conformability, bracketing, and balance. The most common analysis of qualitative data is observer impression. That is, expert or bystander observers examine the data, interpret it via forming an impression and report their impression in a structured and sometimes quantitative form.
Schutz says that while studying history, because there could be several different types of experiences, and in interpreting the research and data, the historian will continuously make ideal types of both persons and actions, all in order to understand the same facts. However to figure out what is relevant while studying History, the historian will ask which acts are relevant to his predecessors, his consociates and to his contemporaries. According to Schutz, a historian should try, in a certain sense, identify himself with the personality out of the past whom he is studying and should ask what this person could have been intending to do just prior to the act in question. The historian should, in general, pose the question how would things have turned out if event B occurred instead of event A. However, the problem with this type of thinking is that usually the historian already knows what the object of his research intended to do because he knows in fact what he did do. Likewise, the historian knows the course of historical events right down to the present. Now with the knowledge at hand the historian can place himself in a point in time right before his moment of choice or prior to the moment of event A. Next a historian should ask, accounting on the basis of knowledge that he already knows the 'because-motive' of his subjects in question 'about-to' act, what purpose the subject could possibly have had in his mind.
One must remember, according to Schutz, that only the past can be regarded as part of history, never the present. In the present, all is pure process, he states that every action is planned and takes place freely without any consciousness of a because-motive on the part of the actor. However, in the past, there is neither freedom nor probability, and it is at least in principle possible to discover any given action’s genuine because-motive by seeking the latter in the events before the action. While looking back in the stream of history Schutz explains that it is a continuous manifold similar in a certain respect to our own stream of consciousness. But there are differences. History takes place in objective time, but our stream of consciousness takes place within the inner-duration flow of the individual. He explains that the stream of history can be reduced to the genuine experiences of other men, experiences which occur within the immediacy of individual streams of consciousness.
The historical sciences are different because they extend their explanations beyond the realm of contemporaries into that of predecessors, while social sciences confine their explanations to the realm of contemporaries. The study of history is the study of man, his mind. History should be studied because it is essential to individuals and to society, and because it harbors beauty. History helps us understand people and societies, it helps us understand change and how the society we live in came to be. History is important in creating knowledgeable and engaged citizens for our nation. By teaching us to analyze the social, political, and economic threads of the past, the study of history gives us the skills to analyze those threads in the present.