History, Its Theory and Method
This well known book studies three aspects of history in a single volume theory, methodology and historiography. The merit of this book lies in interpreting ideas and explaining difficult concepts in a lucid and intelligible manner. A special feature is
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B. Sheik Ali simplifies the complexity of “the theory, the methodology and the historiography of history” in an understandable way to the Indian readers in his master piece entitled History: Its Theory and Method. It is a scholarly well written book with a descriptive style for the academic purpose. Ali clearly explains the Cyclical and Linear perceptive of history and he is neutral in his position.
Ali argues that the nature of history is subjective. He gives various reasons for his case and argues that “history is, therefore, necessarily subjective and individual.” I believe that history is the investigation and interpretation of facts. I agree that history can be studies subjectively but the conclusions should be made from an objective perspective, hence history is neither subjective nor objective instead it has both elements in its nature. In fact, the data that we collect from the first hand information which we call as primary sources also may contain subjectivity and biased feelings. Therefore the secondary sources also needed to interpret the primary sources. History has such a huge scope which includes all branches of study.
Ali informs that the subject matter of history is “reflective thought,” on past incidents and his explanation is noteworthy. The historian “re-enact the past” in his mental exercise to interpret the documents. Indeed, history is reflective thought on past incidents and actions. His philosophy of history is that historical objectivity is quite logical but it should be critically evaluated, because he makes an exclusive statement saying that “historical objectivity is not attainable.” If it is so, history cannot be trusted and Christianity cannot be qualified as “Historical religion” as argued by Christian historian, Herbert Butterfield. It is true that every historian will be biased with their own background, external and internal circumstances and there is difficulty in attaining the objectivity of the truth. It does not mean that we cannot attain the historical objectivity. He considers History as a science which predicts the future on the analytical study of the past. Even though Historical study collects the data from scientific methods, it cannot follow the scientific approach of a laboratory instead it tests the past in the light of scientific principles. He illustrates Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) as history of science which cannot be qualified as historical document because it became an outdated fiction in the present century.
The methods that are discussed for effective writing of History by the author are significant. He talks about three activities (addition of new data, new interpretation of known data and subordination of the data to a principle) in historical research. He explained the research elements such as different methods of note taking, requirements of a research scholar, selection of a subject, bibliography, preparation of an outline. Since the book had been published in 1978 when there was not much computer skills are available, the author doesn’t mentions about the computer skills for the historical research. His explanation on useful concepts in research such as criticism, analysis, imagination, doubt, certitude and interrogation are much use for the researchers. Since the task of analysis brings out the in-depth implications of the data, it should be taken seriously. Ali highlights the importance and significance of analysis aspect of research. Although Ali talks about “positive interpretive criticism,” his stress is more on “negative interpretive criticism.” His dominating hermeneutical principle is “doubt” and he says that “doubt is the starting point of historical reconstruction” which I don’t agree because doubt may not leads to truth all the times. His methodology is not positive in nature and he thinks, “If errors and fallacies are removed what remains is truth, which is the core and soul of history.” Here the question is who defines what is error and what is truth? Since