Inspired by: Maps of Time by David Christian.
To question the benefits of a fundamental approach to the study of history, is to essentially pose a question of insight and certainty. It is not merely about a holistic view, but more about if a holistic view is even possible within history. Is it possible to encapsulate the whole of eternity into a defining moment and still remain tangibly accurate? Is the macro and micro interrelated and interchangeable? And most of all, what kind of answers does a big approach provide that are beneficial? Would it, possibly, solve the nature of the human phenomenon? Can the way history is viewed contribute towards a Utopian world?
Science, the pioneer of the empirical method, is at its core very fundamental; for millennia it searches for a total explanation for the question of why and how. History too, in order to hold any sense of credibility, must adapt a scientific process, so it is inevitable that the fundamental nature of defining truths has rubbed off on the study of history. The search for full illumination, the unveiling of a masterful design, is the core propellant in our documentation of history. The hope remains that in revealing the mystery of the human nature through a historical view, some reconciliation would be possible for the current world paradigm. The hope remains that a Utopian society can be resolved. One could almost say that all detailed closed-space studies of history are subconsciously constructed as a piece of a bigger puzzle. For science itself is a manner of viewing history, branched into separate yet connected approaches.
In fair consideration, the core criticism for a total view of history is that it would be a generalisation that would be contradicted by certain small-scale studies. Where there are so many historical contradictions and paradoxes, a full view is implausible. Yet the argument stands that for the true historian, there are no contradictions, only undiscovered patterns. That the true historian is more than a simple documenter of events, but also a sociologist. A study of cause and effect is a necessary proponent of historical documentation, so it is understandable that sociology and history work hand in hand. David Christian, for instance, is insistent that history is not merely documentation, but that it also holds a message. Weather the message is that humanity is ultimately violent or peaceful is the cause for discovery. This is perhaps the primary intent of a big approach to the study. Seeing as the past is thought to be a definition of forming who we are and where we stand today, it was unavoidable that some underlying meaning is not only sought, but also, necessary.
It is an issue of contribution to one’s identity. If the history of a town contributes towards their personal identity, it is only rationally intrinsic to formulate a historical world identity. The opposing argument has been that it is naïve to think that a positive historical identity would have any effect upon the individual, and what is worse, that history seems to present a negative human identity. So, inevitably this becomes an issue of unified vs. separatist. Collective vs. segregated. If history holds any markedly poignant message it is that differences are the primary cause of conflict. Unification has always been the resolution. This intensifies the responsibility of the historian to think in unified terms. Perhaps the aim of seeing the big picture is to cause a revolution in the ways in which history is viewed and taught.
Which leaves the question, would it help improve anything? This is the debate that has perhaps captured historians at this period in time. The conclusion of which, if it transpires, will hold immense changes. With the technological freedom of communication, the internationalist view has sprung the world with a reckoning force. Ideas of a collective human identity have become an imminent reality. A shift in paradigm has taken place following the ability of one person to speak to another across the world. As such, historians are now being affected by the paradigm-shift, and it is arguably the cause for emphasis on the big picture. It seems that a holistic view would in itself be the actual cause for improvement.
At this point, perhaps it is useful to substantiate how much a government and society is affected by history. On the power and benefit of unification. The nature of the debate calls for an embarkation into the human psyche. The efficiency of the map that historians create determines the effectiveness of the journey. Just as a bad road-map would detrimentally influence the safe passage of traffic, so too does mutant ideas of history affect the sanctity of a nation. A world-view of history is akin to seeing the forest for the trees. If one but looks, for instance, at the example provided by the period of the silk roads, where an influential interchange of commodity as well as ideas took place, it is also noticed that political fragmentation severely impacted the exchange of resources.
The first evidence to negate a Utopian view to be a naïve one is the nature of the universe itself: ever changing, expanding, and as some theorise, due to begin imploding. With ideas such as these, the implication is that societies also are ever changing: moving from disruption into unity, then, perhaps back to conflict. Ironically, history as thus far documented all too keenly reveals that this change is the only overwhelming constant. From galaxies to geological cycles to the birth and death of an organism. Even societies transferring from barbarianism into a peaceful nation, such as the Tibetans. Or the Indus Valley civilization once reputed to be rich in their innocuous wisdom now amounting to a corrupted and scavenging race in comparison to their past.
The idea of random change has infiltrated much of the sciences and modes of thought – so much as to entertain the notion of the primordial soup: the creation of life is often philosophically and scientifically indulged as an accident. This is a colossal contradiction for a life-form whose very intelligence relies on and is defined by pattern recognition. It is irrational to assume that wherefore there are patterns that dictate every other action, the very birth of this order would itself be an accident. Thankfully, with the emergence of quantum physics formed a powerful advocator of inert order within the big picture. And most of modern biology is concerned with discovering the hitherto undiscovered underlying patterns.
What remains profoundly captivating here is that history is not merely a study of economic or social change or of conquest and globalisation, but markedly a study of ideas being born and destroyed. With the industrial revolution arrived an idea now known as modernism – which lead to which, is still debatable. Perhaps it was a slow building idea that gave fruition to what we now call modernism, and the idea allowed for the discovery of machinery. The point, however, is that at the turn of the revolution occurred an expotential leap in population, the cause of which continues to baffle historians. Ecological research regarding population growth has come to conclusions that the level of population as well as species is directly proportionate to availability of habitat space. That after an equilibrium number is established, this number will remain constant irrespective of the introduction of new species or the extinction of pre-existing ones. Which leads one to ponder what form of new space was created by the industrial revolution to affect the equilibrium so sporadically.
This form of interlinking has proven itself empirically sound. It is an exchanging of ideas, of seeing the big picture. The question must be asked, what is history for? Upon what motive does one procure a detail of their past? And the obvious answer is, to provide a meaningful system of existence – to substantiate that there is most definitely an evolution and a purpose that is transpiring. In this case, it is interesting that the failure of the industrial revolution to provide a Utopia, that the birth of post-modernism, coincides with the period in time when we are finally ready to see history as a whole. Kicking and screaming perhaps, but we are at a point where we are looking at the big-bang - almost juxtaposing it with the industrial revolution, in order to see a principal truth. Besides, universal history has always been synonymous with mythology – it simply wasn’t an aspect of science, until now. Notwithstanding that the idea of world history arose alongside cosmology and evolutionary biology, perhaps it is the debate of revolution vs. evolution that has prompted us to consider the nature of a Utopia. Because after all, what are we evolving towards?