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Thread: Universal Histories and the theories on historical development - Useful or Not?

  1. #1

    Default Universal Histories and the theories on historical development - Useful or Not?

    Do you find such things useful or have some historians and others wasted their lives in the study of such things. To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, here an article from wiki

    Universal history is basic to the Western tradition of historiography, especially the Judeo-Christian wellspring of that tradition. Simply stated, universal history is the presentation of the history of mankind as a whole, as a coherent unit. The first five books of the Bible is a primary example of such a history. To the extent that the Pentateuch presents itself as an account of mankind as a whole, from creation to the death of Moses, it is universal history.

    In the nineteenth century, universal histories proliferated. Philosophers such as Hegel, and political philosophers such as Marx, presented general theories of history that shared essential characteristics with the Biblical account: they conceived of history as a coherent whole, governed by certain basic characteristics or immutable principles.

    For example, the Bible posits that the history of mankind is governed by Yawveh, and that his will is manifest in every event that takes place. The destiny of all mankind, according to this idea, is governed by man's relationship with God. This idea naturally flows into the story of the Children of Israel, whose patriarchs conversed with God and made various covenants with Him. These covenants governed mankind's destiny. This idea extends into the New Testament, which posits that the sacrifice of Jesus now affects every person, and every generation since his resurrection, into the limitless future.

    Similarly, Hegel and Marx presented general concepts of historical development. Hegel presented the idea that progress in history is actually the progress not of mankind's material existence, but of humanity's spiritual development. Concomitantly, Hegel presented a developmental theory of how the human spirit progresses: through the dialectic of synthesis and antithesis. Marx's theory of dialectic materialism is essential to his general concept of history: that the struggle to dominate the means of production governs all historical development.

    The basic ideas of universal history are so prevalent in our culture that they are difficult to identify and separate from basic Western assumptions of how the world is or should be. Below the level of the intellectuals, these ideas continue to predominate as a core of basic assumptions about the world.

    For example, the teleological aspects of universal history remain entrenched in our society. Few ordinary people believe that the events of our world, and more specifically, the events within the human community, are not directed toward an end or tending toward an end of some sort.

    The linear pre-suppositions of the theory are also no less prevalent. Most people living in Western cultures conceive of time, and therefore of history, as a line or an arrow, that is proceeding from past to future, toward some end. The idea that time may be cyclical, or that there is no fundamental "end" to the human struggle, is repugnant to most people in the West, although most people have trouble articulating such ideas coherently.

    The roots of historiography in the nineteenth century are bound up with the concept that history written with a strong connection to the primary sources could, somehow, be integrated with "the big picture", i.e. to a general, universal history. For example, Leopold Von Ranke, probably the pre-eminent historian of the nineteenth century, founder of "Rankean positivism," the mode of historiography that stands against postmodernism, attempted to write a Universal History at the close of his career.

    The work of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee are two examples of attempts to integrate primary source -based history and Universal History. Spengler's work is more general; Toynbee created a theory that would allow the study of "civilizations" to proceed with integration of source-based history writing and Unversal History writing. Both writers explicitly attempted to incorporate teleological theories into general presentations of the history of mankind or large portions of mankind.
    Huntington and Fuykeyamea also fall into this class of scholars. I am myself partial to Spengler and Toynbee, but I would like to know what others think of this area of historical study and who perhaps is their favorite of this type of historian. Very broad topic I know, but I want everyone to be able to put their two cents in. :)
    "Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."
    - Napoleon on fame

  2. #2
    agitated Member master of the puppets's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    where destruction lay around me from a fight i could not win

    Talking Re: Universal Histories and the theories on historical development - Useful or Not?

    uh...well...hmm. i can't really see the point of it except the overpowering thirst for knoledge.
    A nation of sheep will beget a a government of wolves. Edward R. Murrow

    Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. —1 John 2:9

  3. #3
    Mad Professor Senior Member Hurin_Rules's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Alberta and Toronto, Canada

    Default Re: Universal Histories and the theories on historical development - Useful or Not?

    I hate Fukuyama. To tell you the truth, I can't believe any professional historians take him seriously (and I think less and less do every day).

    Anyway, the theories of Marx and Hegel both have some value I would say. They tend to oclude the individual differences that give each culture its distinctiveness, but there is no denying that they offer interpretations that do help to explain many historical developments.

    Ranke's achievement may actually be the greatest of all, however, especially when you read some of the stuff that came before him.

    As a sidenote, universal histories also proliferated in the Middle Ages. If you're interested in them, that I think is the first place to look. I can provide examples if anyone wants.
    "I love this fellow God. He's so deliciously evil." --Stuart Griffin


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