History: What has happened; science
of what has happened.
If you want to know what human beings
are, have been, and may be, in majority,
minority and individually, you have to learn human history, if only to
learn about the sort of mistakes that can be avoided, and how human
beings behaved in fact, which is usually quite unlike their
ideology makes them say or think they
The following are great historians who wrote great histories:
Thucydides: The Pelopponesian War.
Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Burckhardt: Kultur der Renaissance in Italien.
And this is a well-known adequate sum-up by a great historian and
"History is little else but the
register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind" (Gibbon)
What makes a historian great is difficult to say, except that it is a
combination of knowledge, style of writing, and personal
the historian, for he must decide both what facts to present, and how to
An interesting 'potted history' is
John Carey Ed.: Eyewitness to History
that contains many brief selections from 'people who were mostly
there when it happened'. This also happens to illustrate Gibbon's
diagnosis, in a rather systematic way, since it concerns eyewitnesses
reports from 2500 years of human history.
A useful observation about
history and lesson from it, that also concerns plans for
Utopia and more moderate attempts of
trying to improve the world, is that so far nobody has been able to see
as little as 25 years into the future: History shows that all
expectations about the future have been mistaken, usually radically so.
The history of humanity will be quite different from what it is expected
- hoped, feared, guessed, predicted - to be, always excepting the
confident expectation that it will be painful for many as long as human
beings will be mostly as they have been through known history.
main reason why history will probably be quite different from what it is
expected to be is interesting, and tells something about human ingenuity
and intelligence: What has radically upset all notions of what the
future would bring is the progress of science
and technology, that again and again introduced new ways of using
nature, and of helping and harming humans.