chapter  5
30 Pages

History and Historicism

History is the branch of human knowledge that deals with people, things, events, and cultural

phenomena of past periods in time. As such, the discipline relies on eye-witness narrative,

memory, record-keeping, and analysis. Historicism refers to the theory that history is determined

by laws, not by human agency, and that contemporary social, political, and cultural phenomena

are in turn governed by the past. Each period of history possesses specific underlying conditions

of “truth” that constitute what is “acceptable” for the time.1 Interpretations of the past are

subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, and new

perspectives gained by the passage of time. There is no single, eternal, and immutable “truth”

about past events and their meaning. The unending quest of historians for understanding the

past-that is, “revisionism”—is what makes history vital and meaningful.