What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

Is it just subjective opinion?

Discussion and analysis of past events and their causes and effects.

Moderators: Calilasseia, ADParker

What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#1  Postby MS2 » May 07, 2015 11:32 am

There is a thread, not in this section (History) , but with 'Historical' in the title. It's not hard to guess which thread I'm alluding to! I want to stay well away from that topic. But I'm interested in people's opinions on a question which sometimes gets touched on there. Namely, what is it we are doing when we ask, and try to give answers, about ancient history. We aren't doing science (though we might do scientific tests on artifacts, for example) and we aren't trying to prove something (as we might try to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt in court).

So what are we doing? Just offering personal interpretations? I tend to think we at least want it to be more than that, because people talk a lot about 'evidence', and evidence is something that is used to try and make some sort of objective case. And if it isn't anything more than personal interpretation, does that mean we can't say anything meaningful about the past?

An example is found in this thread: http://www.rationalskepticism.org/histo ... l#p2062383. Some folk did some digging and found a structure. There no doubt followed a lot of hard work, a lot of tests, comparisons with other finds, etc etc. But at every stage along the way there will also have been subjective interpretation, guesswork and so on, involved.

Anyway, that's enough of my waffling. I'd be interested to hear whether other people think historical research ultimately amounts to anything more than subjective opinion? (And, if so, why and how!)
Mark
MS2
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 1567
Male

United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#2  Postby igorfrankensteen » May 07, 2015 11:57 am

As one of the few resident Historians, I'll point out that your opening post is disorganized, and strongly suggests that you made no effort at all to even so much as look up the various definitions of the term 'History.'

You seem to be leaning heavily towards dismissing all Historical research as mere conjecture out of hand, on the grounds that people have to interpret events, in order to describe what happened.

Your lack of consideration of the consequences of blindly discarding all references to the study of the past, is...amusing.
User avatar
igorfrankensteen
 
Name: michael e munson
Posts: 2114
Age: 63
Male

Country: United States
United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#3  Postby Clive Durdle » May 07, 2015 12:53 pm

Francis Prior in his book Home discusses how very careful archaeology enables a very real picture of what happened.

The problem is more that people like Herodotus, whilst discussing the motives of Helen of Troy and the actions of various gods seems to mix story with his story, possibly an attempt to create a lineage, a patina.

So I formally propose history is a science but it is badly befogged by for example gods, Arthurs and Allied views attempting to assert their truthinesses.

Ideas like orientalism have also caused huge damage to quite legitimate areas of work.

http://www.jonvonkowallis.com/readers/C ... nology.pdf
"We cannot slaughter each other out of the human impasse"
Clive Durdle
 
Name: Clive Durdle
Posts: 4768

Country: UK
United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#4  Postby Sendraks » May 07, 2015 12:58 pm

My experience with historians is that information gets broken down into two sections when being disseminated.

1 - what the evidence tells us.
2 - what we might conjecture from that to fill in any blanks in the evidence.

It's usually pretty clear where the line between 1 and 2 is.
"One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion." - Arthur C Clarke

"'Science doesn't know everything' - Well science knows it doesn't know everything, otherwise it'd stop" - Dara O'Brian
User avatar
Sendraks
 
Name: D-Money Jr
Posts: 12927
Age: 100
Male

Country: England
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#5  Postby MS2 » May 07, 2015 1:01 pm

igorfrankensteen wrote:As one of the few resident Historians, I'll point out that your opening post is disorganized, and strongly suggests that you made no effort at all to even so much as look up the various definitions of the term 'History.'

Pretty quick on to the attack. 'Disorganized', 'made no effort at all': obviously, I will take to heart the telling critique of a 'resident Historian' (with a capital H, no less) :grin:

If I had wanted to look definitions up, that is what I would have done. I wrote the post because I am interest in what contributors here have to say. Obviously, it could be that they go with one or more of the said definitions. It sounds like you do, so perhaps you would point me to the definition of history which you consider to be correct.

You seem to be leaning heavily towards dismissing all Historical research as mere conjecture out of hand, on the grounds that people have to interpret events, in order to describe what happened.

And you reach this conclusion because I asked people here what their opinion was?

Your lack of consideration of the consequences of blindly discarding all references to the study of the past, is...amusing.

Your assumption that that is what I am doing is ... interesting.

I actually think historical research is both important and interesting. But I already know what I think. I was wanting to find out what other people think.
Mark
MS2
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 1567
Male

United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#6  Postby MS2 » May 07, 2015 1:09 pm

Sendraks wrote:My experience with historians is that information gets broken down into two sections when being disseminated.

1 - what the evidence tells us.
2 - what we might conjecture from that to fill in any blanks in the evidence.

It's usually pretty clear where the line between 1 and 2 is.

It seems to me to get less clear the further you go back in time. That is, almost inevitably, there is less and more ambiguous evidence with ancient history, and so quite often conjecture is needed to conclude almost anything. But maybe I'm thinking here of those TV programmes that 'fill in the blanks' almost to the exclusion of everything else in order to tell us startling new conclusions. Perhaps the academic papers are far more circumspect?
Mark
MS2
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 1567
Male

United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#7  Postby MS2 » May 07, 2015 1:25 pm

Clive Durdle wrote:Francis Prior in his book Home discusses how very careful archaeology enables a very real picture of what happened.

I'm sure it is very careful, but (at the risk of upsetting igorfrankensteen) doesn't archeology also involve a good deal of what might be termed 'assumptions' and 'subjective interpretation'? I'm thinking of things like dating techniques which require identification of particular pieces of pottery as being of a particular style, etc.

The problem is more that people like Herodotus, whilst discussing the motives of Helen of Troy and the actions of various gods seems to mix story with his story, possibly an attempt to create a lineage, a patina.

So I formally propose history is a science

I don't see how you can do experiments to test your historical hypotheses?

but it is badly befogged by for example gods, Arthurs and Allied views attempting to assert their truthinesses.

Ideas like orientalism have also caused huge damage to quite legitimate areas of work.

Agreed
Mark
MS2
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 1567
Male

United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#8  Postby Clive Durdle » May 07, 2015 1:32 pm

Science does not mean only experimental science!
"We cannot slaughter each other out of the human impasse"
Clive Durdle
 
Name: Clive Durdle
Posts: 4768

Country: UK
United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#9  Postby Sendraks » May 07, 2015 1:38 pm

MS2 wrote:
It seems to me to get less clear the further you go back in time. That is, almost inevitably, there is less and more ambiguous evidence with ancient history, and so quite often conjecture is needed to conclude almost anything. But maybe I'm thinking here of those TV programmes that 'fill in the blanks' almost to the exclusion of everything else in order to tell us startling new conclusions. Perhaps the academic papers are far more circumspect?


Yes, definitely important not to conflate history TV shows with actual academic research. I've seen a few of those shows and they can be cringe-worthy in the sheer amount of speculation passed off as fact.
"One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion." - Arthur C Clarke

"'Science doesn't know everything' - Well science knows it doesn't know everything, otherwise it'd stop" - Dara O'Brian
User avatar
Sendraks
 
Name: D-Money Jr
Posts: 12927
Age: 100
Male

Country: England
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#10  Postby MS2 » May 07, 2015 1:58 pm

Clive Durdle wrote:Science does not mean only experimental science!

So are you saying history is/can be science? If so, in what sense?
Mark
MS2
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 1567
Male

United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#11  Postby Agrippina » May 07, 2015 4:06 pm

I have spent a lifetime studying History, and when I say lifetime, I'm talking about 60+ years.

Firstly to answer the question of what is "Ancient History?" This is the subject of my formal education for which I obtained my degree cum laude, so I think I can answer this.

Ancient History covers the period from the birth of civilisation, meaning the birth of organised civil arrangements, to the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West. That is the period from around 3000 BCE to the middle of the fifth century CE.

To answer the question of how History is examined, a historian starts with three questions:

1) What happened
2) When did it happen
3) Who was involved

Then comes the rest:

What are the after-effects, what evidence do we have, how do we test the evidence, is there any evidence outside of that presented by the answers to the three first questions.

It may not have been a science when Herodotus told his stories, and Thuycidides reported his story of the Peloponnesian War, but it is becoming more and more scientific now with what we are able to learn from archeology, palaeontology, forensics, and other sciences related to examining whatever humans leave behind.

Yes in the past it was reported by the victors from their point of view, it was filled with glorious battles won by the people who wrote the history, but that's not how it's reported today.

When you look at a newspaper report, or an "eye-witness" news report on a TV news channel, you are not looking at history. You are looking at journalism which is always biased in favour of the reporting team's opinion, and spectacle created for the purpose of making money.

History, in its purest sense, applies the same rules as science does. Take the evidence and weigh it up and accept what the evidence shows, even if it hurts.

So yes, I would say that it might have not been particularly scientific in the past, but it's becoming more so now.
Illegitimi non carborundum
User avatar
Agrippina
 
Posts: 35662
Age: 105
Female

Country: South Africa
South Africa (za)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#12  Postby MS2 » May 07, 2015 11:09 pm

Sendraks wrote:My experience with historians is that information gets broken down into two sections when being disseminated.

1 - what the evidence tells us.
2 - what we might conjecture from that to fill in any blanks in the evidence.

It's usually pretty clear where the line between 1 and 2 is.

It's interesting how you phrase 1. To my mind, evidence doesn't speak for itself. It has to be interpreted. Interpretation suffers the problem of subjectivity. I gave the example earlier of an archaeologist having to decide a pot fits a particular style. Do you not think this is an issue?

Scientists look to overcome subjectivity by repeating experiments, but historians can't do that.
Last edited by MS2 on May 07, 2015 11:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Mark
MS2
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 1567
Male

United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#13  Postby MS2 » May 07, 2015 11:12 pm

Double post
Mark
MS2
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 1567
Male

United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#14  Postby Ironclad » May 07, 2015 11:48 pm

MS2 wrote:
Sendraks wrote:My experience with historians is that information gets broken down into two sections when being disseminated.

1 - what the evidence tells us.
2 - what we might conjecture from that to fill in any blanks in the evidence.

It's usually pretty clear where the line between 1 and 2 is.

It's interesting how you phrase 1. To my mind, evidence doesn't speak for itself. It has to be interpreted. Interpretation suffers the problem of subjectivity. I gave the example earlier of an archaeologist having to decide a pot fits a particular style. Do you not think this is an issue?

Scientists look to overcome subjectivity by repeating experiments, but historians can't do that.


Yes they can. Egyptian history has been catalogued and studied, as you know, and if I wanted more 'organisation' of a particular time-period somewhere I felt was lacking, Exodus say, I can go and try. I can take earlier works and try to revise them.

The Antikythera mechanism waited seventy years from its discovery for the science to be able to examine it fully. While the historians may have 'only' inferred why it was on the ship at in the first place - heading to Julius Caesar's party- it would be them, not the lab-jackets, who could read the language on the device, Alexandrian (IIRC), and likely constructed in Corinth. It'll be the divers and the archaeologists who will narrow down the location, destination and use.

It's all science, they are all building knowledge.
"If there was no such thing as science, you'd be right " - Sean Lock

"God ....an inventive destroyer" - Broks

Image
User avatar
Ironclad
RS Donator
 
Name: Nudge-Nudge
Posts: 20875
Age: 13
Male

Country: Wink-Wink
Bahrain (bh)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#15  Postby MS2 » May 08, 2015 12:10 am

Ironclad wrote:
MS2 wrote:
Sendraks wrote:My experience with historians is that information gets broken down into two sections when being disseminated.

1 - what the evidence tells us.
2 - what we might conjecture from that to fill in any blanks in the evidence.

It's usually pretty clear where the line between 1 and 2 is.

It's interesting how you phrase 1. To my mind, evidence doesn't speak for itself. It has to be interpreted. Interpretation suffers the problem of subjectivity. I gave the example earlier of an archaeologist having to decide a pot fits a particular style. Do you not think this is an issue?

Scientists look to overcome subjectivity by repeating experiments, but historians can't do that.


Yes they can. Egyptian history has been catalogued and studied, as you know, and if I wanted more 'organisation' of a particular time-period somewhere I felt was lacking, Exodus say, I can go and try. I can take earlier works and try to revise them.

The Antikythera mechanism waited seventy years from its discovery for the science to be able to examine it fully. While the historians may have 'only' inferred why it was on the ship at in the first place - heading to Julius Caesar's party- it would be them, not the lab-jackets, who could read the language on the device, Alexandrian (IIRC), and likely constructed in Corinth. It'll be the divers and the archaeologists who will narrow down the location, destination and use.

It's all science, they are all building knowledge.

That is interesting, because I do see historical research as building knowledge, but I definitely don't see it as science, precisely because I don't see that historical hypotheses can be tested by repeatable experiments ( which I understand to be a defining feature of science). So when you say history is science are you defining science in a different way? And if so, what is your definition?
Mark
MS2
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 1567
Male

United Kingdom (uk)
Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#16  Postby Onyx8 » May 08, 2015 12:48 am

Well, every time they find a pot sherd it will either support or weaken the position held on it's probable date/culture that it was made. That sounds like science.
The problem with fantasies is you can't really insist that everyone else believes in yours, the other problem with fantasies is that most believers of fantasies eventually get around to doing exactly that.
User avatar
Onyx8
Moderator
 
Posts: 17520
Age: 60
Male

Canada (ca)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#17  Postby Ironclad » May 08, 2015 12:56 am

You only seem to want to reject it based upon your assumption that historical study is not subject to repeatable testing. But it has to be, otherwise it is all conjecture.
"If there was no such thing as science, you'd be right " - Sean Lock

"God ....an inventive destroyer" - Broks

Image
User avatar
Ironclad
RS Donator
 
Name: Nudge-Nudge
Posts: 20875
Age: 13
Male

Country: Wink-Wink
Bahrain (bh)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#18  Postby igorfrankensteen » May 08, 2015 1:48 am

MS2 wrote:
igorfrankensteen wrote:As one of the few resident Historians, I'll point out that your opening post is disorganized, and strongly suggests that you made no effort at all to even so much as look up the various definitions of the term 'History.'

Pretty quick on to the attack. 'Disorganized', 'made no effort at all': obviously, I will take to heart the telling critique of a 'resident Historian' (with a capital H, no less) :grin:

If I had wanted to look definitions up, that is what I would have done.

If you had wanted to ask a cogent question,instead of stating a prejudice and requesting comment, it would have helped you tremendously to do at least a tiny amount of research into the words you used in your question.

You seem to be leaning heavily towards dismissing all Historical research as mere conjecture out of hand, on the grounds that people have to interpret events, in order to describe what happened.

And you reach this conclusion because I asked people here what their opinion was?

No, I reached that deduction, because (as you have repeated since) you said
So what are we doing? Just offering personal interpretations? I tend to think we at least want it to be more than that, because people talk a lot about 'evidence', and evidence is something that is used to try and make some sort of objective case. And if it isn't anything more than personal interpretation, does that mean we can't say anything meaningful about the past?


and
There no doubt followed a lot of hard work, a lot of tests, comparisons with other finds, etc etc. But at every stage along the way there will also have been subjective interpretation, guesswork and so on, involved.


...thereby indicating that you are starting from the firm conviction that attempts to describe the past, all require subjective guesswork "at every stage."

Hardly an unbiased starting point for you.
User avatar
igorfrankensteen
 
Name: michael e munson
Posts: 2114
Age: 63
Male

Country: United States
United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#19  Postby igorfrankensteen » May 08, 2015 2:06 am

As to History being a Science, or similar to a Science, I personally disagree, and further, would point out that the suggestion that it NEEDS to be one, and the way that some people try to suggest that it is, is an excellent example of something the Historians disciplines can illuminate, and that no hard sciences can. It is an indication of the modern, extremely UNscientific near worship of Science, which some Historians have been tracking.

Make no mistake, I am certainly not even remotely a fanatical warrior Historian, dedicated to proving the worthiness of the subject, or anything like that. I am concerned entirely with correctly recognizing reality, via the appropriate use of the many tools that Humans have to work with.

Which leads to a point which should be noted in connection with the idea of trying to turn History into an official Science of some sort.

I suggest for consideration, that using the wrong tool, or the wrong mechanism or the wrong experimental concepts to attempt to conduct Scientific investigations, is considered by scientists to be non-scientific behavior. Demanding that something which is obviously not repeatable be tested for repeatability, is more than absurd. It's ingenuous.

I also suggest for consideration, that the Sciences themselves, do not consist entirely of the study of repeating mechanisms. Simple example, the scientific examination of how the Universe came to be as it is, does not require that someone repeat the creation of a universe in order to provide support for it.
User avatar
igorfrankensteen
 
Name: michael e munson
Posts: 2114
Age: 63
Male

Country: United States
United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#20  Postby zoon » May 08, 2015 7:42 am

Perhaps the study of how the universe came to be is a science because the researchers are looking for explanations which come down to the mathematical regularities of physics, while historians look rather for explanations in terms of human motivation, where the physical sciences do not, so far at any rate, tell us anything useful? Human brains are still effectively black boxes as far as science is concerned because they are so complex; many of our dealings with the non-human world have been transformed by science, but our dealings with each other still need the evolved brain processes of Theory of Mind, which have not (yet) been either described or superseded by science.
User avatar
zoon
 
Posts: 2635

Print view this post

Next

Return to History

Who is online

Users viewing this topic: No registered users and 1 guest