History is the study of history. Events prior to the invention of written records are often regarded as prehistoric. “historic” is a much more precise term, including all subsequent human events, the written record, and the historical record. “The history of history” includes all human societies, all cultures, all time periods, all types of human activities, and all places.
Early medievalists, meaning historians, regarded the very early medieval texts as the ultimate history, or the blueprint of human society. The historians of the Middle Ages constructed their schools upon the premise of compiling and interpreting the history of the past, especially of Europe, from a particular perspective of the crusading Church. This was undertaken in the effort to counterbalance the damaging interpretations of some recent European authors. Historians of the Renaissance regarded the religiously centered, anti-clerical writers of the Renaissance as having ignored the intellectual and emotional needs of their times, leading to a fatal denial of human rights. Consequently, the Renaissance became a largely decisive point in the development of Western society.
The term “historian” was first used by Jean-Martin Charcot, a French writer of the late thirteenth century. From this point on, the history department of most universities became a department of history. Later during the Reformation and the era of the Counter-Reformation, there was a separate discipline of history, often called the university of history. In the United States, the profession of history was made compulsory by the fourth amendment to the Constitution. Students who choose to major in history must complete a degree in any of the four-year colleges and universities, or a degree from a private, non-sectarian college or university. Some universities also require that the students specialize in a certain area of history.
Historically, the field of history is divided into two main fields: the social scientists, who study history as part of their studies in the social sciences; and the historians, who focus on primary sources, such as primary texts from which their reconstructions are based. Social scientists generally study society and history through the lenses of psychology, sociology, or history. Historians study history through the lens of history, which is to say that they analyze primary sources without relying on other fields for support. For example, literary works cannot be studied through literature, history must be analyzed with other disciplines. Primary sources, such as primary newspapers, diaries, and personal letters, can provide the most reliable information about primary events and the people who were involved in them, though other historians argue that certain types of primary sources are too subjective and unreliable.
Both political science and history can use primary sources to support their arguments. Unlike literary critics, historians make sense of history by looking at how the people in history formed their thoughts and decisions as the events unfold. Historical writers must also be careful not to romanticize ancient events or to present them in a way that gives them a slant against current politics or current conditions. If they do this, history may be seen as a justification for the status quo, rather than as an impartial form of information. As such many historians have tried to use different methods of research and writing history to show the viewpoints of those who were less fortunate than ourselves, while still trying to tell a story that tells the whole truth.
While historians do face plenty of challenges in writing history, they have made tremendous progress in using primary sources to support their arguments. While secondary sources have played a major role in our understanding of history, historians have used primary sources to great effect to tell the stories of history. With the help of secondary sources, we have learned much more about the lives of people throughout the ages, and this has made historians much more accurate in their storytelling. This is another reason why historians should write history: because it is the story told through the minds of those who shaped the world around them.