What is History? Part 1

Desmond Morton with Governor General Johnston

Desmond Morton with Governor General Johnston

Throughout the year in Canadian History, Law, and Canada in the Contemporary World, we will be exploring an incredibly rigourous and difficult question: What is History? Over the past few thousand years in both the West and East, historians have been grappling with the how and why of history.

As such, as a learning community, we will be exploring this question together and we will try to offer new understandings as a group and as individuals. To do so properly, however, we will need to speak to elders and experts in the field and listen to what they have to say. Each week we will look at a text, listen to an historian, and/or look at alternative perceptions of history and the doing of history.

As we use Desmond Morton’s A Short History of Canada as our main text in this course (and because Dr. Morton is an SJR alum and Rhodes Scholar), we will seek his wisdom first. Last week, he emailed me his interpretation of history:

History is another word for “experience”  and experience is our best way to profit from the errors our ancestors made because they had not really understood what was happening. At the moment, this is most apparent in U.S. policy toward the Middle East.

When I “do” history, I try to move my mind back to the era I am considering and to read whatever survives or is available in writing from that era.  Our forebears lived in an environment of belief and custom that, in many ways, has changed out of recognition.  

Usually we have some understanding of why our contemporaries behave and react as they do because we are pressured by parents, teachers and other authority figures to behave in much the same way that they were taught. The young grow up in a world shaped by social media and forms of  technology that simply did not exist a generation ago.  If we look at the Great War of 1914-18, we must look back a full century, to a time no living human being can now remember directly. To know how and why our ancestors did what they did, we must do our best to understand them and their time.  Those who enjoy history welcome the chance to understand those strangers we call our forebears.

                                                                Desmond Morton, OC, CD, FRSC.

                                                                Hiram Mills Professor of History emeritus

                                                                McGill University

Now it’s your turn. Based on Dr. Morton’s insight here and the introduction to his book, what do you take from his understanding of history? Can you take it and further it? Spin it? I look forward to your thoughts and ideas.


44 thoughts on “What is History? Part 1

  1. History is basically events from the past that have been recorded then summarized. It is meant to be pass down toward the future generations for further study and investigations. History was often written by the victors/leaders among the ancient battlefields around the world which unfortunately resulted constant errors and fake editing about the actual history inside the history. History was sometimes also been ridiculous rumors and unrealistic fantasy stories that have been believed to be real as ages gone by. A good example would be most people’s misunderstandings about the fact that Vikings did not wear horned-helmets. Therefore, History is a general summary of scattered information from the past which can either be realistic or unrealistic in my personal opinion.

  2. Desmond Morton sees history as the understanding of what our ancestors did and why they acted like they had. From history we can learn a lot, because errors which were made before we were born can be understood and won´t be done again. But how you can learn from the past, wars were made several times so not everybody learns from history. If we want to understand history we need to think back how the life of the people was at this time. Sometimes that´s quite hard, because life nowadays changed a lot, how we can see for example through all the modern communication technologies. So like Desmond Morton describes, we need to be open-minded enough and also motivated to give us a chance to understand our forebears.

    If you want to learn more about history, the easiest way is to read from primary sources. Like Dr. Morton explains you need first to move your mind back to the era you want to learn something about. Second, you need to consult historic documentation or sources to get a better understanding of the people´s motivation they behave or react as they did.

    The understanding of history Desmond Morton covers seems to me very clear and wise. To really understand history you need to get more into the special topic and you should ask yourself questions about it.
    In addition, you should decide which part of all these things and facts that happened in the past are very important and could form a part of the history.

    To sum up, there isn´t a real definition of history but what Dr. Morton said as a comment is an important point where you can and should start thinking more about this interesting question “What is history?”.

    For me, history tells stories through which we can learn about how life was in the past, how it influenced our current time and how it became possible that our humanity is like it is now at the present time.

  3. *Note: The definition of history is a mystery to me, and my grasp of it is still relatively infantile, so please keep that in mind. Hopefully, that will change over the course of this year! As I side note, I think that Alicia’s interpretation of what Dr. Morton’s said is pretty spot-on, so I focused less on that.

    My understanding of Dr. Morton’s view of history is explained best through the quote that Mr. Henderson brought up in our second class together: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

    History, when viewed as another word for “experience”, is only a valuable tool if you make it so, in the same way that any experience is. Those who gain the experience have to apply it properly to any future situations, or risk disastrous results that will inevitably occur from their ignorance, reminiscent of past failures. Sounds simple enough, eh? Not quite.

    So, how do you apply experience properly? Throughout history (whatever that is, just bear with me), there have been scandals, embargoes, battles, wars, you name it, many of which have been conveniently written down by individuals living and going through the experience during that time period. Those accounts of past events are referred to as “primary sources”. Primary sources, which seem to be the preference of Desmond Morton when studying history, are certainly the best way to develop a keener sense of the world that the individuals were living in: their beliefs, values, behaviour, mindset, fears, and opinions. To take a walk in their shoes, so to speak, is to take a step closer to gaining this experience called “history”.

    That’s only half the battle. (Heh.) A good deal of Dr. Morton’s interpretation discusses the contemporary world, very much different from the world, say, a century or two ago. However, it did not seem to receive enough in-depth attention. Although we still live on the same planet Earth, there have been drastic shifts in technology, beliefs, values, fears, and methods of warfare. In medieval times, war meant cannons, flaming spears, and even heated sheep droppings if things really got rough. Nowadays, they are replaced with machine guns, grenades, and nuclear weaponry.

    Personally, I think that the key to applying knowledge of history effectively is to keep a good balance of understanding past events and their causes, but also acknowledge the dynamics of the contemporary world. To solely understand crises of the past would only promote “presentism”, a term used in a New Yorker article that we read in Mr. Henderson’s class. It’s a term that refers to exaggerating present problems to be more unique and threatening than they are, as if they surpass all other incidents to date.

    There’s a quote on a Wikipedia page that I found to be incredibly relevant.

    “History is not to be searched for practical lessons, the applicability of which will always be doubtful in view of the inexhaustible novelty of circumstances and combinations of causes, but just this, that the mind acquire a sensitiveness an [sic] imaginative range.”

    Maybe if we look past all the special circumstances and cast aside the specifics, we can arrive at a more astute perception about the inner workings of our world, and maybe then we can begin to tackle the conflicts that will undoubtedly arise from its fickle inhabitants.

  4. I think Morton has a very insightful view on history. Many people see history only as events that may have happened in that past, and possibly even shaped our future. Morton see’s history as this, but also believes that history is almost like the mistakes that our ancestors made, which we can learn from now.
    I think Alicia and Jennifer’s interpretations make a lot of sense. We try to get more understanding of what it was like in the era, by using primary sources, so we can understand our forebears’ actions. It certainly helps us understand (sometimes) why things played out in the past the way they did.
    The world has evolved so much that sometimes it seems we put off history just as events that happened in the past rather than events we can learn from. We have evolved and changed in technology, religion, war, beliefs, and various other aspects. To learn from what happened in the past, we also must take into account what is happening in the present, so we don’t make the same mistakes in certain critical situations, such as warfare.
    Personally, I believe there isn’t an actual definition of history, but Morton’s book introduction pushes you to think of what that explanation may be.
    I believe we can use history to learn from mistakes our forbears may have made, and let it influence the future for the better.

  5. Dr. Morton’s perspective on history is very interesting. Dr. Morton states that to fully “do” history one must think about how the people of the era we are looking at lived their lives. We use the experiences of the past to understand what is happening right now and in the future. I thought Jennifer and Alicia’s comments were good.
    To me history means educating someone on the major events that happened in the past and how that shaped society now. We have to look at how society became the way it is, so we have to look into the past. It is important we use primary sources to document important events so that we can be accurate. It is important for us to look at our past, and learn from it for the future.

  6. Desmond Morton interprets history as this: History is an experience acquired from primary sources of a specific time period. He also states that history “is our best way to profit from the errors our ancestors made because they had not really understood what was happening.” When Morton makes the connection between history and experience, I myself agree with it. When one lives while history is being made (that is when important events occur when one is alive), one can truly understand why the present is the present, because they fully understand the past. Nowadays, we as humans cannot actually “relive” events because time travel doesn’t exist. Because of that, then if one does not “live” through a piece of history, and cannot find primary sources from that time period, does that part of history cease to exist because of the inability to find past information?
    Morton stresses on the fact “to know how and why our ancestors did what they did, we must do our best to understand them and their time,” and he claims the best way of doing this is simply by reading a whole bunch of old texts from the time. That begs the question; what if there are no texts? Mr. Henderson mentioned this whole notion of “does history need to be written down to be considered history?” I personally think it does not. When looking into the past, great civilizations like the Mayans didn’t actually have a written language, in our terms at least. Yet their history still existed through the stories told to one another via speech. Unfortunately, history via speech often gets morphed and lost, and either ends up as myths like dragons, or just disappears and becomes forgotten. When looking back at Morton’s definition of history and his whole idea of reliving the “experience” through primary sources that have been written down, his definition doesn’t actually address this notion of “no text sources”. However, after reading a bit of Morton’s A Short History of Canada, I found that he later comes to address how to “do history” with no primary sources.
    In Morton’s A Short History of Canada, when he begins to talk about the Aboriginals in Canada, he states that “to know more of pre-Contact history, we must rely on evidence of archaeologist, anthropologist and ethnographers, all of whom draw vast inferences from a few tiny fragments of stone, clay or bone, from speech and language patterns or from legends” (12-13). In other words, Morton states that when no primary sources exist, go to secondary sources. This whole backup idea, in a sense, contradicts his personal definition of doing history, such that when “when [Morton] “[does]” history, he tr[ies] to move [his] mind back to the era [he is] considering and to read whatever survives or is available in writing from that era”. Because secondary sources will never be as accurate as primary sources, in the end, it is often harder for individuals to actually “profit from the errors our [of] ancestors” and truly understand the past and “relive” the experience, and therefore not letting history be defined as an “experience”. This idea probably explains why the First Nations section in Morton’s A Short History of Canada, is only like four and a half pages long. Given the fact that there are times when there is not enough primary sources for one to truly understand the past, I personally think that Morton’s definition of history could be changed a bit.
    When we look at all the history textbooks out there, all the information once existed on a piece of rock or papyrus or sometime that has characters etched onto it. All this information was actually accessible to humans and not lost through time. However, some past information is intentionally left out, primarily due to its irrelevance to the actual modern world. For example, if it was known that woolly mammoths liked using rocks as back scratchers (I’m not even sure if that’s actually true), it would be somewhere in our history because it was a fact of the past. However, because woolly mammoths are extremely irrelevant in our day in age, therefore it’s not made an “official” piece of history in all those history textbooks. As a result, I think Morton’s definition of History as an “experience” could be a bit modified to this: History, as we know it, can be the study of events that are 1) relevant to modern day society and 2) accessible to us as humans. In Morton’s explanation about the U.S. policy with the Middle East and kids these days with technology, and how these events today are a cause from knowing the past, his examples are both relevant to society and both were accessible through past media. However, in Chapter 2 of Morton’s A Short History of Canada, he provides history that is definitely relevant to society, but was lacking content, because the information about people millions of years ago was less accessible. Therefore, First Nation’s history in his book becomes somewhat less relevant in comparison with the rest of his book because there isn’t much information out there about First Nation history in general. Mr. Henderson also made note of how one determines what is significant history and what is insignificant history, and stated that when one asks “why”, they are doing history. However, I personally think that if one can’t find an answer to that “why”, that history is either irrelevant or simply inaccessible. Often times, when we look at why the present is the present, we are able to find answers that relevant and accessible through the past. History is often referred to the study of past events, but moreover, when one looks at history as a whole, and its impact on society, it is more the study of past events that are relevant and accessible to us.

  7. Based on Dr. Morton’s insight, I believe that history is the is experiencing events that happened in the past. With this experience, you create your own little bit of knowledge based on the way you interpret the fact and based on your opinion.
    To further it, I believe that history is understanding how the human race has came to be and being able to trace back, event by event, why our world is as it is right now.

  8. History as stated by Desmond Morton is another word for “experience”. A lot of people in the world believe history is anything that has happened in the past and has a date on it. But Desmond Morton believes history is significant events in the past in which we learn from to have a better future. He talks about how we shouldn’t make the same mistakes as our ancestors did many years ago because at that time they didn’t “understand what was happening”. If this is history then we don’t know what is going on right now and future generations will learn from our mistakes so they don’t make the same mistakes we made yet they won’t know what’s going on with them. I think what Desmond Morton is trying to say is to learn what is going on with us at this very moment. And to do so we need to know about our past and significant events and not make mistakes that were made in the past to best understand how to live at this very moment.

  9. I believe history is simply everything that has happened in the world that has already passed. The past and history can be considered as different things, but history is just the recorded past. History also teaches us lessons from our past mistakes and achievements. We are our history, it is what we are made of, without the history of our lives and the world wouldn’t be what it is today. History also allows us to understand different views of events that has happened in the world, and how people interpreted these events.

  10. I agree with Desmond Morton, that history is “experience”. What history and experience have in common is that they both better prepare us for the future. Someone with experience is built from their mistakes, just like how the mistakes of others throughout history have built us as a society.
    I believe that history is events/records in the past that change throughout time. We are loosing and discovering more about history everyday. If you ask a historian about the war of 1812 today compared to one who lived 50 years ago, their answers will be quite different. I think what makes knowing what history is, is complex due to “holes in history”. People often add their own opinion to history, because we don’t know the full story behind an event. This means that there can be dozens of theories of what happened at a moment in time, due to the fact that we cant recorded every angle of a event.

  11. Dr. Morton has a very insightful knowledge on history. I definitely do agree with what he has written above, and truly do believe that history itself, is another word for “experience”. History allows us to learn from our ancestors mistakes and try not to repeat the past, which is a valid point, however is everyone taking the chance to learn from the pasts mistakes? I agree with Dr. Morton on how history is a great learning tool but I feel like very few are using history as a learning opportunity. I mean look at all the wars, and destruction going on in the world. I think history is so very important and if everyone took the chance to go deeper and recognize the mistakes that have taken place in the past, the world would be a better place. Why repeat your mistakes if the answers are right in front of you? “I try to move my mind back to the era I am considering” as Dr. Morton states above, which is a very good point, but this can be a tricky challenge, as times have changed and many people are stuck in their own world. As Hannah Bugas says in her comment “sometimes it seems we put off history just as events that happened in the past rather than events we can learn from” and I feel this is something that should be given more attention.

    What I really took from Dr. Morton’s insight is that if we truly desire to learn about history, the best way to get a good understanding is by trying to understand our ancestors and their time, it’s all about putting yourself in their shoes.

  12. I agree with what Dr.Morton has written above about how history is experience and and it has made me thing that when we have no living person left to share his or hers experience with us it becomes very difficult to accurately tell all sides of what happened in that time period, and that is when telling history becomes “hurting porcupines with your elbows”. Right now the definition of history is very vague and confusing to me and i hope to learn more from this class and Mr. Morton.

  13. After reading Dr Desmond Morton’s insight and the introduction to his book, A Short History of Canada, I understood that he perceives history to be the experience of those who have come before us, which illustrates their errors and their triumphs. He also believes, however, that the distance between the present and the past makes it difficult for us to understand our ancestors and the beliefs and customs of their time.

    In order to have a better grasp of history, Dr Desmond recommends that we read the written accounts of the event that have survived. I agree that these recorded accounts depict the experiences of our ancestors and forebears, although there may have been different experiences arising from the same event or circumstance. Therefore, we cannot necessarily consider the experiences of one person or community to be an accurate representation of the past, as this experience may vary from the experiences of others. For example, certain events in Canadian history may have favoured the European settlers more so than the Aboriginals who also occupied the country. Since more has been documented through the perspective of the settlers in writing, we may only have one perspective to shape our understanding of past events. Thus, we cannot truly experience the events of the past as our ancestors have, but we can attempt to read about differing perspectives in order to gain a wider understanding.

    Furthermore, I agree that, although we may understand some of the motivations behind the actions of our ancestors, we ultimately cannot know all of the circumstances that influenced their decisions, especially since the times have changed considerably. I think that, although we can learn from some of the errors and mistakes that were made in the past, we cannot necessarily prevent similar errors from occurring in the future if we do not understand the motivation behind the actions that led to the errors. Thus, I believe that we can learn more from history if we understand the motivations of those who have influenced the past. This may be immensely difficult, however, as there many distortions that occur, due to bias, when we try to understand the motivations of an individual or a community.

  14. Desmond Morton seems to have a real insight into what history really is. I would agree with him that history is an “experience” and that we have to take what our ancestors did and learn from them. In order to grow and function more efficiently as a society we have to figure out what works, and the best way to do that is by knowing what doesn’t already work. Our ancerstors made mistakes so we don’t have to make the same ones. I believe that history isn’t just about the major events that happened in the past, I believe that there is more to it. I think the small things that happened are just as important as the big things. Everything that has happened in the past has helped to shape the world we live in today.

  15. I believe that our ancestors are a huge part of the human kinds understanding of what history really is. Without our ancestors significant information about the past, history wouldn’t be alive. I believe that history is significant events that have happened in the past to our ancestors. The sharing of history changes the way people think about the world and it gives people a better understanding of where they came from and how everything came to be to this day. Understanding where our ancestors came from is very important because it teaches us that they have learned from their mistakes and achievements, which will help us do that in our futures. This understanding of our ancestors pasts will help human kind to create our own histories that could have a huge impact on the next generation.

  16. Dr. Morton delivers a conception of history that appears to revolve primarily around the concept of experience. He focuses mainly on the importance of analyzing our ancestors’ errors, and using our interpretations of these errors to prevent ourselves from making similar miscalculations and mistakes we otherwise would have made. The analysis of past events occurs very often everyday, as a means of making decisions, and deciding whether or not to implement policies.
    However, interpreting the past is more than simply noting our ancestors’ errors and being cautious of similar situations occurring in the future. To truly understand history, we must analyze the past in a few different ways, in order to achieve the ultimate goal of effectively predicting the future ramifications of certain actions.

    Firstly, it is essential to ask ourselves why certain events occurred, and why certain actions were taken. Rather than simply recognizing that a certain event occurred in the past, we must understand the reasoning that individuals of that time used, when deciding to take certain measures that led to that event occurring. When we comprehend the justifications that people used when making decisions, we can better understand why the consequences of these decisions arose.
    It would be ultimately beneficial to use primary source documents when doing this, and here’s why –>
    Obviously, it would be beneficial to have an accurate understanding of history, so that we can later make decisions that are idealized and justified on the basis of accurate historical events. If we accept the assertion that history is something that must be interpreted, we must also accept that if our interpretations are more accurate, our view of historical events will also be more accurate, and ultimately, the actions that we take with the use of our newfound historical knowledge will be more legitimate. In order to enhance our own interpretations of certain events, we must use resources that provide us with direct answers to the question, “Why?”. “Why did this event occur?” “Why did these people decide to carry out this action?”. If we do not have this information, we have 2 pieces of the past, that we must put together by ourselves, in order to create “history”. We recognize that an event occurred, and we also have knowledge of the ramifications of this event. However, we are missing a key piece of information; Why did the ramifications happen? Why was it that the certain event led to a set of certain later effects? When we do not understand the indirect causes of certain effects, we are left to make the interpretations by ourselves – and this is what historians do every day.

    Although it is true that all actions have consequences, we must recognize that the consequences of the actions are dependent on the reasons the actions were carried out. For instance, if we view a case of a poor, homeless man stealing from a store, we would assume that the homeless man entered the store quietly, snuck something in his pocket, and left – doing this because he was merely hungry, and did not wish to be arrested. However, if we then realize that the store was left in flames, and the man was later arrested and imprisoned, this information contradicts our primary interpretation of the situation, and leaves a problematic hole in the story; “Why did the man do something that we would not have expected him to do?” This hypothetical example elucidates a key flaw with the formulation of historical inferences. The simple fact is that strange things may occur unexpectedly, and historians may not always be able to develop an accurate answer for why these events took place. Here, an important advantage of primary source documents – that people often disregard or miss – suddenly arises: Primary source documents allow modern historians to receive a more legitimate understanding of why someone carried out a certain action. In the example of the homeless man, if we were to find the homeless man’s diary, or even simple police records of that time, we may realize that the man had an ongoing conflict with the storeowner of the store he desecrated, and that was the reason he destroyed the store. If we do not have the primary source documents of that time that accurately explain the context behind, we are left to infer why events occurred, and these inferences may potentially be false. This is incredibly harmful, because although we may have “history”, this history is inaccurate. Later on, when we are to make certain decisions, we may be using false interpretations as justifications for our decisions. Here, my argument finally comes around full-circle; we will not be able to accurately predict the ramifications of future actions when using past events as references, if our interpretations of past events are false.

    For instance, in order to decide whether or not an invasion of Iraq would be beneficial, President Obama and his administration must first analyze the United State’s previous attempt at intervening in the Middle East back in 2003, and use this history to make a decision regarding their future actions. However, they must use primary source documents to analyze the past, and examine the true intentions of the historical action (again, the question of “Why did they do this?). If the US decides not to intervene due to the harmful economic, political, and social effects of the previous intervention, the justification of them doing so resides upon their interpretation of the reason the past event occurred. If they interpret the last intervention using the general reasoning that countries use for intervention (help the people in the other country), they may believe that the previous intervention was executed with the intent of improving the situation in the country. However, these are simply inferences that have not been directly supported by primary source documents. Was the intervention necessary, and did it serve a purpose at first? Was it simply random? Using accurate information from primary source documents, they can draw parallels with their own intentions, make accurate predictions of the later ramifications of their own proposed actions, and use their predictions to make a decision that will most likely have beneficial long-term effects.

  17. History is commonly viewed as a branch of arts and humanities, but can also be seen as a social science. I feel that history is the study of past events, particularly how it relates to mankind. It can also be defined as a chronological record of significant events that have happened in the past, often including an explanation of their causes. Through the study of history, we learn useful and relevant information so that we can avoid mistakes made by our forebears.
    We can understand the present by studying the past. At another level, we can understand others by acknowledging and understanding their past, their history. Each of us, as individuals, have our own individual history, which shapes who we are today and influences who we are tomorrow.

  18. My views on history are very similar to Dr.Morton’s insight, I believe that history is significant past and an experience that’s been passed down on to generations to gain knowledge. It’s meant to help people learn from the mistakes made in the past by taking these significant events and use the information to better understand them. The easiest way to learn about history be using primary sources for that specific time and putting yourself in that time when thinking about the topic. This would allow us to really learn and be influenced by what has already taken place.

  19. In my first Canadian history class just four days ago, Mr. Henderson asked every one of us in the class what we thought history was. At that time, after thinking for a few minutes about it, I couldn’t find a sufficient enough answer for myself. I was slightly puzzled by this because history is a word that I have known since the first year of grade school and basically every year in school since then many teachers have expanded on the word, teaching me historical events that I should memorize for the next test, quiz, or exam. I supposed that is what I once thought history was, something that I needed to memorize from a textbook in order to do well in school. But even in the last couple of days through discussion I realized that I was way off. I believe now that history changes every single time someone new discusses it. The past might not change, but history does. History will never be in black and white but all we can do is continue to question it, test its limits, and figure out our version of what history might be. I believe that is what Desmond Morton has been doing for a very long time, and that is what I will attempt to do in Mr. Henderson’s Canadian History class this year.

  20. Many people can have different opinions and views on how history is defined. It can be a very vague and confusing topic. Some may say it is just anything that has happend in the past. It is much more complex because if you are not there to experience certain events in history it is hard to know what to believe, what is fact and false. Stories can be bent and told differently by different people. Dr. Morton states ” experience is our best way to profit from the errors our ancestors” We must never forget our past because we need to learn from our mistakes made by our ancestors in order to have success in the future.

  21. To many, history is just an event that has occured in the past. I however agree with Desmond Morton in saying that history is just not a past event, but learning and gaining experience from a past event. Experience that has taken many generations to get to us. We have and are still currently learning from previous’ generations successes and mistakes. However history in order to truly understand history (if that is even possible) we must analyze different opinions and views of the same events. There is always more than one story on an event. Humans cannot fully experience the past aspect of history because we can not go backin time to live it. We must create a way to accurately trace history in order to understand it.

  22. Based on Desmond Morton’s interpretation of history and the comments, I realized that it’s almost impossible for people to completely agree on what history actually is. “History is another word for “experience” and experience is our best way to profit from the errors our ancestors made because they had not really understood what was happening.” This is true because we learn from past events which makes us smarter then the people from the past. Just like in the future, conflicts from today will become history and people in the future will learn from us.

    For me the most important thing about history is that the explanation of the event should have come from a primary source. For example I would like to have a book about the battlefields of WWII written by a soldier who was fighting on the battlefield, rather than someone who never actually was on the battlefield and is writing the book based on secondary sources. This is important for me because I feel that it is the best way to get history is from a person who actually experienced the event. If you are getting history from someone who did not experience the event than the history might not be 100% accurate.

  23. Hello,
    After reading Desmond Morton’s thoughts on what it’s history, I can say I agree with some parts of the thought, but some parts do not agree on, for example: I don’t understand why it he has to go back to the writing of the era to investigate a certain past event, I don’t think that information would be the best, I think using information from current historians is a good way to understand it, because as time goes on, historians learn more and add more to history in general, or to an individual event as well, historians from that era might have give us a better idea of what was going on in that point in time, but current historians do help out to see the whole picture, it can give us a better understanding of the whole picture, rather than being encapsulated in one point of view or just what was going on that present day, maybe even before the actual event, we can have information ahead of that time and even get some details people from that era had no clue about. That is just one of the things that caught my attention, I don’t know for sure if what I am saying is right, but that is just my opinion on this blog.
    Thank you for your attention.

  24. Dr. Morton describes history as an “experience” and believes the best way to move forward is to not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. Philosophically I agree with this. History is the record of how people behaved at that time for that particular reason. However, it is important to remember we need to understand errors which people made in the past are reflections of that specific time. Always in hindsight, errors occur and will continue to occur but we will not know they are errors until at some given point in the future. As a result, in the future we will know what was an error and what was not. We will continue to make errors and as a result, we will continue to make history. What may seem right today may be wrong in the future. We learn from history and it creates the present.

  25. Dr. Morton understands history as an experience and the mistakes that were made in the past, in which people of the present can learn from. We try to understand what living in past eras would be like by researching primary sources from back then to know the reasons for their actions.
    To me, history is teaching someone of past events and explaining how it has affected the present. But history isn’t just about the major events, minor events are just as important. Almost everything that happened in the past has altered society today.

  26. Like we were taught in class, History can be distorted depending on simple things like the historian’s gender or the time period. This makes defining History pretty hard since everyone has a different interpretation of it. I always thought History was just written records but after reading that article I realized the records are written to correct mistakes. So I think History is learning from mistakes by studying written records. For example, the advancement in technology in the last decade has been significantly more than the last century. We build on research we have learned in the past to create newer inventions. By learning from mistakes and previous records, we are able to have a more advanced society. So I realized that History is actually a very important subject since it ties into a lot of different studies like Science (which has many branches).

  27. There are many opinions on what history truly is. I used to believe history was simply events that have happened in the past, whether we know it, don’t know it or even care about it. If I fell asleep at 10PM last night I would have considered that to be history even if there was no relevance to it. However, looking deeper into what history actually is, I would say history is an experience that we have accurate evidence of, that took place in the past, and has an event that we can learn from to benefit us today and in the future. History has to be from a source that is accurate like from a person who has lived in that history, or pictures and videos from that history, or maybe even journals from that history as long as the information is accurate. If the information isn’t accurate, then we can’t benefit from that history as even a small amount of false information would skew the event. Then the history (now just a story) would unlikely be applicable to today or the future. However, I believe that as I research and look more into what history is, my definition will change.

  28. Mr.Morton’s view is exhibition of a kind of moral actually. Or he just tells us the method to reach this kind of moral. That s the objective i said. In fact, there is no absolute objective in human beings. Historians either. We always exist with our selfish and self-interest, and that will create and influence our view and position. They build our personality and nature. And we use them to build our world and do more ‘History’. That s why this is a society of diversification. But that is looking head, not looking before. The difference between those two sides is the former is for ”be remembered”. but the latter is for “remember”. If we really want to remember something, we need our comprehension of things we need to remember. That the reason we can t reach the absolute objective cause our comprehension is dependent on our selfish and self-interest in subconsciousness. Everyone just choose the fact which is benefit to them. That is the nature which can t be ignored in us. So, the only way we can do is trying to synthesize different kinds of views from different kinds of people, and reach the objective in utilitarianism.

  29. When I see, hear, and read the word history it comes as a basic, easy work to take in. Everyone knows the word but understanding it is different. Mr. Desmond Morton see’s history as an “experience,” and we use these experiences to clarify our past and “errors our ancestors made.” But this experience is just a piece of a gigantic puzzle of which we are living in.
    History to me is everything of the past. It is the background of everything. It is the series of events that led up to the creation of something. Everything has history. Countries, people, jobs, names, technology, wars bathroom appliances, the world, all have history. How did they come to be? It was these past experiences D-Morton is talking about. These past affairs and events are what created what is now. A big example is the pyramids of Egypt. These wonders of the world did not just magically appear. It was the experiences and events that created the Pyramids. Now we use these events to create history where we put the experiences in books, computers, and stories. History is what made our world and it is what will make up the our future.

    History can be seen as many things like a story, or just an educational subject, but if you think about it, you can find and make many explanations of what history really is.

  30. History is people put their views on what they saw, they noted them down from the truth but not the actual truth because they put their own private emotions on it.

    For example, there was a emperor who was regarded as Taizong of Tang dynasty. He killed his brothers to get the throne, but people didn’t think he was a badman because he made people live in a peacful and prosperous country. Actually his act were really unfilial but the historiographers just mentioned very little about his unfilial act and said he was really good.

    In a sense, no one can judge, or say know about the whole history only by a little discription by some specific people’s perspectives. In order to conprehend history one should not only from one angle but also from more first and second hand materials. We need to maintain our curiorsity keep discovering and doing history. Then we can get our own history thinking.

  31. After reading this small part of Dr. Morton’s book, I both agree and disagree with it. To me history is like a puzzle any one peace of information is one puzzle piece of the puzzle, you must look at all of the information about the event you are wanting to learn about in order to assemble the puzzle or to correctly assemble your interpretation of that particular historic event.
    why only look at the articles from the time period that you are researching/interested in? That is only part of the puzzle. There are many articles written by people today who also may have information about any given event. Just because it isn’t from that era doesn’t mean that it cant help you understand the history in it. history used to be harder to peace together but as technology expanded our capabilities, it will be easier to figure out anything we want to know past or present

  32. History is people put their views on what they saw, they noted them down from the truth but not the actual truth because they put their own private emotions on it.

    For example, there was a emperor who was regarded as Taizong of Tang dynasty. He killed his brothers to get the throne, but people didn’t think he was a badman because he made people live in a peacful and prosperous country. Actually his act were really unfilial but the historiographers just mentioned very little about his unfilial act and said he was really good.
    In one sense, no one can judge, or say know about the whole history only by a little discription by some specific people’s perspectives. In order to conprehend history one should not only from one angle but also from more first and second hand materials. We need to maintain our curiorsity keep discovering and doing history. Then we can get our own history thinking.

  33. Apart from the majority of the responses on this column, I disagree with Dr. Morton’s definition of history. I do not believe that experience is another word for history because you cannot experience history, you can only experience the past. The distinction between past and history is that I believe history is our interpretation of the past. To be put simply, the past is what has happened, apart from bias or opinion or interference of any kind. Yet, the past is impossible to look back on or read about because anyone who writes a book about the past or thinks about the past will either inadvertently or purposely change the exact events that happened through bias or opinion. Therefore, I believe that the past is what has truly occurred and that history is our interpretation of what truly occurred. My understanding of history is that it is not experience but the past that has been altered through bias and opinion among other things.

  34. Dr. Morton and I share the same beliefs on History to some extent. I do agree that history is an “experience” that society has gone through together, however I feel that this is only the fundamental concept behind the idea of history. I believe that history is the study of past events and how they have shaped the present day and forced us into the circumstances that we currently live in. Not only has history changed our surroundings today, it has also changed the way that we subconsciously think. For example: After the allies emerged victorious at the end of the second world war, western countries like the United States promoted the capitalist economic system throughout various countries. Throughout the past people living in Western society have become accustomed to believing that equal opportunity and economic freedom are essential for a society to function. These ideas have become engraved into peoples minds because of events that have happened in the past.

    History hasn’t just changed the way we think, it has taught us the mistakes that have been made in the past and taught us to not make the same mistakes although we still have continuously made those same mistakes (for example the U.S invasion of Iraq or Russia’s annexation of crimea). I agree with Dr. Morton’s statement on “doing history”. By using various resources such as primary source documents and actual people we can educate ourselves on the way people saw things during their time period. To give an example, there is widespread speculation stating that Adolf Hitler suffered from severe childhood trauma and drug addiction giving him some form of mental illness. By obtaining knowledge about the way people’s minds were shaped, we can understand the actions they made and how they shaped history.

  35. “experience” is the word how Dr.Morton understands history. So I think first of all I have to understand what is “experience”.History is not just try to find the facts or make the “truth”.I think history should be as close as possible to the truth, even through we can’t go back to the past time and see what happened. however,” the history is always read by the winner.” So we can’t think about history in one way.
    Everyone will have their own opinion of history, how it affected the present and how it will help the future.
    History is how people study and try to give the facts back to what it was.But the precondition is that we need to find the truth and respect the facts. On the basic of this, we can try to find how the things become that and how it goes, for make an example for future.

  36. If you ask google “What is history?”, Its first answer will be that “history is the study of past events, particularly in human affairs”. If you ask Desmond Morton the same question, he will tell you “history is another word for experience”. So who’s right? A website that is supposed to know the answer to every possible question, or a trained and experienced history professor?

    How do we really know what interpretation of the word history is correct? Does an event need to have a name, date, time and location to be considered history, or does it just have to involve humans? Where does the barrier between history and the past form? 65 million years ago, there weren’t any humans around to record the existence of dinosaurs on the earth, but we still know that these animals existed. So should we consider dinosaurs to be part of the words history, or are they just considered to be part of the past?

    Dr. Mortons perception of history is that it only involves our ancestors and their experiences, and that we have those experiences to learn from. He says that since they didn’t know what was happening at the time, they didn’t understand what to do. With that logic, one would think that now, since we have their experiences to judge, we are supposed to always know what to do and always understand our situations. But is that really true when it comes to how our human race operates? World War 1 was already part of our history when we went to war once again about 20 years later, so why didn’t we learn from the past situation to avoid this one? Should we really rely on the mistakes of our ancestors to guide our judgment, or are we just bound to let history constantly repeat itself?

    Dr. Morton is quite right when he tells us that history is something we do and something based off of our ancestors experiences, but I think that his statement of “experience is our best way to profit from the errors our ancestors made because they had not really understood what was happening” is not as beneficial. It would be hard to explain to a holocaust survivor that the reason our ancestors let WW2 happen is because they didn’t understand what was going on and now we can profit from that mistake. Why is it that we have to make other humans go through these experiences so that we are able to learn from those mistakes many years later? Is history really reduced to experiences used to teach us how to handle future situations, or is it more than that?

    Personally, I think that history is our understanding of the past and how it got us to where we are now. Without history we wouldn’t know how the car was invented or how Canada came to be or what life was like hundreds of years ago. We wouldn’t be able to grow as a species without our history behind us.

  37. Dr. Morton believes history to be an experience. To me, history is a painting made using records of the past events made by people based on their biased perspectives as the paint. One must use the perspectives of different people to create one’s own perspective on the event, and use their own knowledge and opinions on other events similar to that as the canvas. Then the unified product can be shown to others to get their opinions on it and help forge another person’s perspectives. In my opinion history is something that is different for each person, but at the same time similar due to each perspective affecting another.

    • Dr. Morton believes history to be an experience. To me, history is a painting made using records of the past events made by people based on their biased perspectives as the paint. One must use the perspectives of different people to create one’s own perspective on the event, and use their own knowledge and opinions on other events similar to that as the canvas. Then the unified product can be shown to others to get their opinions on it and help forge another person’s perspectives. In my opinion history is something that is different for each person, but at the same time similar due to each perspective affecting another.

      Sorry, accidentally used the wrong name

  38. Dr. Morton believes history to be an experience and how that history is the best way to learn from the mistakes our ancestors made. When I first thought of history I thought it to be a significant event that occurred and would be talked about through generations. But after reading what Dr. Morton wrote, I agree but at the same disagree with his opinion because you cannot experience history, you can only experience the past. When people write or talk about history, their stories differ from others because everyone alters how it actually happened. I would rather have a primary source such as someone who experienced the significant event then someone who did not experience the real feeling. With this, the past to me is what really happened and history are altered stories and we will never know what really happened.

  39. After reading this passage and a lot of the replies, I have noticed that my views are similar to Mortons. Yes, history can help shape our future, but we must take into account how things have changed since then. “experience is our best way to profit from the errors our ancestors made because they had not really understood what was happening”. Although this is true, a lot changes between the time that those mistakes were made, and the present. For all we know, we could do the exact same thing people did a century ago and it would work out perfectly fine now because we have the technology for it to work out. So I agree with Morton, to an extent because a lot of things change over the period of a century. I do not agree with the idea that you can experience history though. You cannot experience something that has already happened. You can hear stories about it but we all know those stories have been altered and tailored to others personal opinions. You cannot experience history but you can learn about it.

  40. I agree with the part where Dr.Morton said that history is an experience and mistakes from the past is the way that people in the present can learn. How i got better grade by studying what i got wrong in the previous tests, I think learning is based on the mistake i have made in the past. There may be an event that made our lives harder. However rather than grumbling about it, we should try to not to make the same mistake for our descendants. Also we have to think “what we are doing right now may cause our descendants’ lives” .

  41. Desmond Morton states that history is simply another word for “experience”. Although history is just an accumulation of past experiences, he believes that present society inherently benefits by learning from them because they help us to avoid making mistakes that have already been made by our ancestors. In order to understand why our ancestors made their decisions, he explains that we must attempt to take our minds back to the era in question, and adopt those same ideals and mindsets (and we can do this by using resources such as primary documents).

    Mr. Morton’s definition of history makes a great deal of sense to me; however, I feel as if society doesn’t always learn from the mistakes that our ancestors have made. We tend to repeat the same error a few times and this is evident in our past experiences and problems in foreign policy. We can’t justify repeating these mistakes because we do “not [understand] what [is] really happening”, especially when we have history to refer to. Additionally, I don’t think that people particularly try to understand history because most people find it quite boring. But if we tried to further appreciate history by asking questions and trying to adopt the perspective of our ancestors, I believe it can further our understanding as to how our society came to be and how to continue developing our society into what we want it to be.

  42. Mr. Morton has a similar definition as the 1st artical , they both said that you must go back to that time period and get as much information about that time from the best sources not just textbooks but things like recordings for that time. i thing that this is very important to understand a more accurate history.

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