This past Monday in Senior Seminar, students stepped back from their research projects in order to consider broader questions: What is history? What is it that historians do? We considered the nature of historical research, differences with and similarities to other fields and disciplines, and the applications of historical scholarship in the present day (if any). For their seminar journals, students continued to reflect on these questions, writing a short (25 words or less) answer to the question, “What do historians do?”, and then adding some clarifying or expanding comments.
First, we’ll hear from Dana Morrison (’12), who finds historians standing at the intersection of past, present, and future.
WHAT DO HISTORIANS DO?
Historians aim to connect the past with the present and future. History has a tendency to repeat itself, and historians are prepared to respond.
A goal that historians aim to fulfill is finding the connections between the past, present, and future. Humanity is fulfilling a continuing story: I, as a history student at Bethel University in 2012, have been influenced and shaped by the likes of the ancient Roman civilization, the medieval English crown, and the Industrial Age of the early 20th century. Had these events never occurred, my life would not be exactly like it is now. For instance, the ancient Roman civilization used the basis of the republican government. Their influence shaped how the United States chose to operate its government after the Revolutionary War, and it is still how we run our government today. There is an endless list of examples where history has determined, shaped, or influenced how the present and future events will occur.
History can also prepare people for what can occur in the future. History usually repeats itself in some form or another. An instance where this is true is the World Wars. Occurring within almost 20 years of each other, the unresolved problems of the war (and the new problems created by the war) paved the way for a Second World War to erupt.
Apart from determining how history has influenced the future, the goal of historians is to discover truth. Historians should never take historical accounts and interpretations as absolute truth. They act as researchers, detectives if you will, to find the truth within history. There are many discrepancies among historians and some of them are not necessarily bad, but the fact that there are differences should alert historians. What is the truth? How do we find the truth? Our job is to do our best to find that truth. In order to find that truth, some use their religion as influence. As a Christian and a historian, truth is an integral part of my life. Just as I aim to find truth in my research and historical findings, I want to find truth in all places, influenced by my faith.
– Dana Morrison