History and Historians- Book Review

The book “history and historians”, basically a survey of western historiography is written by “Mark T. Gilderhus” who is a graduate of Texas university. This book is undeniably a mesmerizing contribution to the discipline of history, as it covers facts, events, historical thinking, rationalization, philosophical interpretation, and an overview of determining the successes and failures of writing history. It deals with the questions concerning rationality, utility, usefulness and logic of studying history for enabling homo sapiens to reach a reasonable and rationale conclusion in the prevailing predicament.

The author has given too much credit to the Greek philosophers like Herodotus and Thucydides for laying the rudiments of critical historiography in order to seek truth and deploy more secular and rational techniques. The Romans on the other hand cling to the linear world view, resulting in being subservient to church and divine providence. This was the age of innocence and historians walked the garden of Eden, without a scarp of philosophy to cover them, naked and ashamed before the god of history.

The author then lambasts the debate between the positivists and idealists in a specific chapter, quoting philosophers like Hegel, Marx, Arnold Toynbee, Oswald Splenger etc. Moreover, the chapter of analytical approaches is more concerned about the ideological debate of Marxism, Leninism, feminism and postmodernist progressive school of thoughts.

In the end the author, sheds some light on the importance of responsibilities of reading, writing, and research holding. He tries to warn the readers of the academic crimes like plagiarism and in a very limpid way gives the outline for conducting research and writing history.

The book “history and historians” has both positive and negative aspects in it. Maybe I should not make justice whilst identifying these aspects but as C.P Scott says “facts are sacred and opinion is free”, I will try to give my personal opinion about the book.

The first ever strength of this book lies in the fact that the author has “build a bridge over the bridge” in illustrating upon different aspects of western historiography. The reader gets an absolute idea of the past and how history was written in the times of early Christians, Jews, and Greeks. This reminds of a quotation which goes like this “to be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to always remain a child”.

Secondly, the schema of dispensing the ideologies and theories of different scholars in this comprehensive work is just applaud able. From the philosophers of classical Greek to that of renaissance, and from the reformation to that of enlightenment, the author has summed up the important developments in historical writings, critically and rationally evaluated the subjective and biased elements in the philosophy of history. For instance, he has quoted Arnold Toynbee who sought to obtain high levels of generality by presenting “civilization” as proper unit of historical study.

The negative aspect of this book is that the author has neglected some prominent actors that played a vital and significant role in putting the western society on the track of prosperity and also proved fruitful in contributing to the cause of historiography. Although the writer talks about renaissance but he totally denies the role of art and the people who burn midnight oil in order to make people aware of historical consciousness and secular thoughts. Leonardo da Vinci, Coluccio, Leonardo da Vinci and other Italian philosophers of renaissance are totally neglected.

Second negative aspect of this book is that the author has explained some topics in detail whilst neglected other important topics. At times the central theme of the certain topic is missing. The author while discussing a topic capers to another topic leaving the former one unfathomable and incomprehensible. Furthermore the vocabulary and terminologies used in this book are difficult to grab and understand. For example though there is mention of Nazi historiography and Stalinist history as propaganda history but there is no solid explanation of what aims and objectives are achieved? And what is the modus operandi of propagating state propaganda?

Moreover, the author throughout this historiographical introduction coveys the caricature that history writing in the west developed in isolation from ancient till modern times. He modestly omits the role of foreign invaders, travelers, Persians, Arabs etc. it is undeniable and undisputable that parts of Asia and Africa remained colonies of Europe but how is it possible that western historiography got no influence worthy of mentioning?

The author seems to be influenced and inspired by the European scholars and philosophers like Herodotus, Marx, Toynbee, Collingwood, Hegel, Giambattista Vico, but has not mention a single philosopher from other parts of the world. Eurocentrism flutters from each chapter and sentence of this book.

All in all “history and historians” is a master piece of western historiography. The students of history with less knowledge of western historiography are highly recommended to go through this concise and comprehensive work of “Gilderhus”. This will enact a sense of historical consciousness, academic values and how history was written in the ancient and modern times.

In a nutshell, this book covers almost all the important events, and developments from classical times to the age of reason and rationality, cue to enlightenment.