History Is . . . ?

Clyde N. WilsonWhat is History? What do historians claim to be doing? What is it that historians are actually doing? What is it that historians should be doing?

My desire is rather to provoke discussion than to lay down the law. —Sir Walter Greg

Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge. —Proverbs 22:17


According to John Lukacs:

History is a certain kind of memory, organized and supported by evidence.

History is the memory of mankind.

The past is the only thing we know. The present is no more than an illusion, a moment that is already past . . . . And what we know about the future is nothing else than the projection of our past knowledge into it.

Everything has its history.

. . . there is no essential difference between the “professional” and the “amateur” historian. . . . History is the knowledge human beings have of other human beings. . . .

History may be characterized by the absence of laws and the multiplicity of causes.


He who does not know what happened before he was born will remain perpetually a child. —Cicero

History is philosophy teaching by example. —Plutarch?, Bolingbroke

History is a great drama beginning and ending in the mind of God. —Aquinas

History is a vision of God’s creation on the move. —Toynbee

The duty of a historian is to help us understand ourselves and our situation. —Belloc

He who does not study history will live to regret it—if he survives. —Unknown

History is lies agreed upon. —Napoleon I

Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past. —Orwell

History is the spiritual form in which a culture is taking account of its past. —Huizinga

History is an art, like all the other sciences. —C. Victoria Wedgwood

History is humanity’s knowledge of itself. . . . Like John the Baptist it is not the light but sent to bear witness to the light. —Droysen

The middle sort of historians (of which the most are) spoil it all; they will chew our meat for us . . . they pass judgment and consequently twist history to suit their fancy! —Montaigne

History is the self-consciousness of humanity. —Unknown

History is an imaginative construction of past events. —Becker (Carl, not Peter)

History is the selection of those threads of causes or antecedents that we are interested in. —Justice O.W. Holmes

History is reasoned knowledge of what is transient and concrete. —Collingwood

He who marries the spirit of the age will soon become a widower. —W.R. Inge

History is the projection of ideology into the past. —Unknown

Is a historian more like a lawyer or a novelist? —Unknown

The socialist crusader interprets the conduct of others according to his own idea of History. . . . Because he proclaims the universal truth of a single view of History, he reserves the right to interpret the past as he pleases. —Raymond Aron

After losing a war, one should write comedies. –Novalis

Days are long, but years are short. —Unknown

History is not a science—it is a perspective, a way of thinking. —Wilson

History is a common meadow where anyone can make hay. —Unknown

As values change, so does one’s evaluation of the past and one’s impression of long gone actors. New myths replace the old. —Evan S. Connell

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