What is History? Part 2

Dr. Cian McMahon, UNLV

Dr. Cian McMahon, UNLV

Last week, Dr. Morton gave us a tremendous amount to think about as he equated history with experience.  This week, we shift gears a bit (and geography) and look at Dr. Cian McMahon‘s understanding of history. Dr. McMahon teaches at UNLV but grew up in Winnipeg. Does his understanding agree with that of Dr. Morton? Where are the differences? Where are the similarities? How do they inform your understanding?

Here are his comments:

Anyway, what the hell, I have locked the door and turned off the phone and am going to pound out a couple of paragraphs on “What Is History” for you–can you copy-and-paste it into your blog? I’ve actually been thinking about the question over the past couple of days since receiving your email so here goes…
“What is history?” It’s a good question because at first glance the answer seems obvious: a record of the past. And yet once you scratch the surface, you realize that history is much more than a bald catalogue of past names and events. In fact, history is just another tool used by humans to make sense of the present.
But that definition, by itself, does not really give you much to chew on, so try this: between now and the spring, when you are trying to decide what history is, try looking at how we study history. What dates/people/events do we focus on? In so doing, you will see what purposes history is serving.
Some concrete examples: in the old days, history was basically a list of names and deeds of powerful white men. Why? Because powerful white men ran contemporary society. To legitimate their authority, they presented a picture of past society that was… dominated by powerful white men. Nowadays, historians are more interested in investigating how women and indigenous peoples impacted past societies. Why? Because women and indigenous peoples have acceded to positions of power in today’s society and bourgeois liberal academics (to be honest, like myself) want to legitimate that change. They and I believe that the diversification of the polity was a change for the better. If a dog ever gets elected to Parliament, you can rest assured that books and articles will soon appear showing how dogs impacted politics in the old days.
There are two inter-twined parts to “doing” history.
The first is consumption. This is mostly through reading but it can also be through video documentaries, radio dramas, museums, etc. But the consumption of history is not a passive activity. As you consume history, you ought always be thinking. What message was the person who created this book/video/exhibit trying to get across? What parts did they conveniently leave out?
The second part is production. You need to produce new history. Unfortunately, for a long time, all students below a PhD program were expected to ONLY CONSUME history and NEVER PRODUCE it. But thanks to the internet (and fantastic teachers like Mr. Henderson), students of all ages are now being enabled to produce their own versions of the past. But as you produce history, remember to keep thinking. What message am I trying to get across? What parts am I conveniently leaving out?
Ultimately, you will find that in order to PRODUCE good history, you will need to patiently CONSUME a bunch of it first. But once you start producing it, exciting things can happen.
What is your message going to be?
Cian T. McMahon, PhD
Department of History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

34 thoughts on “What is History? Part 2

  1. Reading Dr. McMahon explanation of History i went through a bit of deja vu. In Mr Henderson’s class when he first asked us all “What is History,” I had almost the exact response, “a record of the past.” But as Mr Henderson began to assault my brain with different interpretations of History, I then began to see how history is not just a past event but it is what created the present. These significant events and moments of the past is what made and altered today and the future. Now we use these events and experiences as history. Although it is not a definite definition of history, my favourite quote from Dr. M is that “history is just another tool to make sense of the present.” It does sound sort of lame when you read it, but it does make a whole lot of sense. We use history right now to help us learn how we came to be. I do disagree that there is another way to learn about the present, as history is what makes our present. When it comes to the comparison with Desmond Morton of “what is history?” I think Dr.M’s definition is more clear. Morton talked about how history is an experience, but these experiences help us understand what makes up the present. There is also a large destination between their understandings of “doing history.” While Morton’s is more about imagining, McMahon’s is more about learning and making it. Both can be seen as correct, which makes the understanding of history so tough.

  2. Dr. Cian McMahon answers at the beginning of his comment the question” what is history?” with the same words that came to my mind when I first thought about the issue.

    It seems so clear and like a definition of a dictionary: it is a record of the past. But how we already learned, if you start thinking more about it, it isn´t as simple.

    History, how Dr. Cian McMahon describes, helps us to make sense of the present in which we are living. That´s an opinion I support.
    Nowadays people know nearly everything: we make discoveries and find out how life was before we came to earth. We can´t live with the knowledge that there is something which is a mystery to us, we just want to know every little thing. Therefore thousands of researchers try day by day to discover something new. Some things just make sense or become more obvious taking into account what happened in the past.
    The question how we study history is even more important to understand more of this curious word. In Germany we just had to read out of school books and the teachers presented facts to us. But I never asked myself the question why the stuff they are talking about is a part of history and who decides that it is?!
    Dr. Cian McMahon has the opinion that what is going on in the present has an influence of what history means to the society.

    In my point of view, history is for everybody something different.
    In China other dates and personalities are important than in Canada, and so on.
    That means history is quite subjective. The historians even can write down the history they most like, through lying or leaving out special events.

    To understand more of history it is important that we keep informed.
    Dr. Cian McMahon recommends reading books, hearing radio or watching videos. But just through these activities you can´t do history. You should question everything and try to get to the bottom of the topic. Consuming history is connected with producing it. You need to have your own opinion about the past and create your personal history.

    After looking at both comments about what history is you can see a difference between Dr. Cian McMahon´s and Dr. Morton´s point of views.

    Dr. Cian Mahon even more represents the opinion that everybody should produce their own history with the help of asking questions. It seems a bit like he tries to encourage people nowadays to be brave enough to not just read facts but to think about them.
    Dr. Morton also thinks that everybody can do history, we just need to understand our ancestors. But understanding sounds to me more like something that can be right or wrong, so you can´t really produce it yourself.

    Dr. Cian McMahon talks more about the historical significance and that not everything what happened in the past is a part of history. Dr. Morton mainly talks about the sense of learning history, to not make errors again.

    Dr. Cian McMahons comment fits better with my concept about what history is. But to read both of the articles about the topic helped me to answer the question for myself and to distinguish between the past and history.

  3. Dr. Cian McMahon said “History is just another tool used by humans to make sense of the present.’ I agree with this and it changed my view of history. The tool of history helps us fix some of todays problems because they have already happened before in history. We are able to find out how we fixed these problems with this tool. When he talked about the dog being elected to Parliament, he said that there would be books on how dogs impacted politics. This is true because similar things like this have happened.

    He also said that when you are thinking about what history is, look at how we study it. This gave me a better understanding of what history is because I was about to relate history to dates/people/events which made it more clear.

    • I think that the tool of history helps us learn and comprehend the current day. Such as these ships in the arctic that Canada is spending billions on, these ships are tools of history we must confirm to help us make sense of the present.

  4. Dr. Cian McMahon says that history can simply be thought of as “a record of the past”. But when we actually question history and use it to make sense of the present, it is so much more than a simple record. He describes that present society affects the kind of history we study and that if a particular group of people becomes powerful, we make an effort to study the history of these people because we want to learn how they came to be in a position of power today. As a result, he concludes that society’s values are what determines the history we find important. Furthermore, he explains that in order to produce good history we must first consume it and think critically about it.

    Dr. Morton had described history to be another word for “experience” and he says that we can learn from our ancestor’s experiences. He says that best way to study history and truly understand the circumstances in which our forebears took certain actions and made certain decisions is by taking our minds back to that era and studying primary documents.

    Dr. Cian McMahon and Dr. Morton both seem to agree on the fact that history is an accumulation of information we can use to help us understand the present; however, Dr. Cian McMahon discusses how the present societal values affect what we value from the past whereas Dr. Morton discusses how we can use valuable information from the past to help present society from repeating mistakes.

    In my opinion, both of these views on history hold water. I do believe that we can refer to history when making decisions and deciding what actions to take. Although it is on a smaller scale, I can refer to my own personal history when making a decision. When I look back to what I might have done in a similar situation before, it could help me determine a path of action to take next. Additionally, I also agree that the society I live in currently affects the history that I study and value. As a Canadian student living in Manitoba, it is important for us to study the history of the First Nations peoples and their interactions with the Canadian government back when European settlers were flooding to North America. When we study this history it helps us to develop an understanding as to why our society has developed racial stereotypes, why we had implemented a system of residential schools, etc., and it can prevent us from making the same mistakes when we interact with people of different backgrounds.

    After looking at both responses to the question of “what is history?” my ability to distinguish between history and the past has definitely improved because there are different elements to history and it’s significance. It’s an odd question to ask yourself because when you first think about it, the answer seems blatantly obvious. But when you start to ask questions about it and start to determine whether an event or a person is significant, the answer is not as simple as it seems.

  5. As Dr. McMahon says, of course there is an obvious answer to what is history. This being, ‘a record of the past.’ Often at times, this is the only thing people think about while reading history. History isn’t questioned very often, because it is supposed to be made up of facts. But, we must realize that the authors of the history we read are biased, and leave out what it is convenient for them to leave out.

    In Dr. Morton’s interpretation, he speaks about ‘doing’ history. He gives the advice to pretend like you are in the era you are trying to write/learn about. I agree with this advice. But, sometimes doing just this does not show history from views of others.

    Dr. McMahon recognizes that history is written from whatever the point of view historians at the time would like to look at, which I agree with.
    He speaks about ‘producing’ your own history, which allows many different interpretations to be seen and assessed. This also allows us to see the whole history, rather than just from the view of ‘powerful white men’.

    Both Dr. McMahon and Dr. Morton start off with the same dictionary definition of history, although they have different interpretations. They both agree that you must look at many different resources to view all of the facts. Dr. McMahon speaks more about biased history, while Dr. Morton voices more about using history as a learning experience. I agree with Disha’s point of view; where we live and our society affects what history we study. Nonetheless, my capability to look at history and what is significant about it is continuing to improve. Each article influence’s me to ‘think’ when reading history, in order to make sure I am fully seeing what happened rather than just certain point of views.

  6. According to Dr. Cian McMahon, history is “a record of the past” and “a tool used by humans to make sense of the past”. I completely agree with him because to understand the present we must study the past. History is relevant because it allows us to recognize the thoughts and actions of our forebears’, including their failures and successes, so that we can learn from them. It also allows us to study the nature of mankind and helps us recognize why we do what we do. Studying history also helps us better understand who we are and where we came from. It helps us figure out how life before has been affected and how it’s changed the future (the present). History is important for many reasons, but is basically there for us to learn from.

  7. It’s difficult to say whether or not the views of Dr. Desmond Morton and Dr. Cian McMahon agree with each other, based on their respective blog posts; their entries looked at different aspects of interpreting history.

    Both parties agreed that history can be, and is, often used as a tool to glean some form of experience from events that have happened in the past. Dr. McMahon also added that power equated to recognition and significance in the history books, which I found myself agreeing to. A reasonable observation. The first two points of Dr. McMahon’s method of “doing” history, consumption and thinking, tied in with what Dr. Morton was saying: explore primary sources, think as they thought, the works. However, his third point regarding the production of history was very unexpected and interesting!

    How weird is it that we’re able to produce our very own versions of the past? Personally, I feel that saying “own versions of the past” is a bit far-fetched, though I definitely agree that everyone ends up with something slightly different due to biases, values, experiences, and in short, who they are.

    All in all, I found the blog posts to supplement each other quite nicely. They are definitely instrumental in the development of my own understanding of history.

    *Note: The interpretation in my previous response still stands- it feels pretty solid, for now. The following is a chunk of text in which I go off on a tangent, far away, never to be seen or heard from again.

    History, as we know it, seems to behave almost asymptotically, aiming to approach the “truth”, yet… Okay, forget the math analogy.

    Written history is, essentially, the SparkNotes/Shmoop version of “our story”: it breaks down all of the main plot points (whatever events the particular writers have deemed of relevance to understanding the story), while incorporating a sizable amount of analysis on settings and characters. It’s inevitable that not all of it will make it into the books.

    The vast expanse of information is meticulously curated by the writers, but to what end? What could you possibly achieve by studying history? Perhaps to better understand other histories, make an argument, or one-up all of your friends by bombarding them with your extensive knowledge on the subject matter.

    Whatever the case may be, you’ll find that any rendition of a tale will differ, depending on the storyteller. Subtle variations upon the same colour, if you will.

    In the end, there’s little use in worrying about the semantics of the word “history”, because I’ll never arrive at a “correct” answer. I’ve collected some incredibly insightful tidbits from reading blog posts, articles, and the writing of my peers, and so, enough with being bamboozled by a seemingly simple question such as, “What is history?”

  8. While I agree with Dr. McMahon’s assertion that history is a valuable tool to put the present in perspective, I would argue that it also allows us to think critically.
    Desmond Morton’s idea that history can be used to learn from past mistakes is along the same lines as Dr. McMahon’s definition of history. Both agree that history can be used to help us in the future, and while this may be true, what you profit from history is dependent on how accurate the history is. We base our knowledge of history largely on evidence, especially old records of history. Yet many times, this evidence is inaccurate because of biases or circumstance.
    When historical records are written, the facts used or the facts omitted, the topic focused on or the topic conveniently left out, all depends on the point of view of the individual writing it. History has its faults. As Dr. McMahon stated, the predominant record keepers, for much of history, were white men with power. Whole cultural groups, such as the Aboriginals, were unable to represent themselves in history because they had no writing system we can follow today.
    Desmond Morton stressed the importance of looking for the most reliable sources to base our history upon and in his opinion primary sources are the way to go. However, even primary sources can be unreliable because of political biases at the time or general inaccuracies. When the Conquistadors went to South America and committed genocide against the Aztecs, they wrote records of their battles and their experiences. They painted pictures of the Aztecs as savages and claimed that their battles were feats of true bravery, with only a handful of Conquistadors against a great deal of Aztecs. We can’t expect this all to be true, because of the bias the Conquistadors had and because of the fact that they wanted to be glorified back in Europe. Aboriginal peoples were depicted as low-life savages as well, by many European explorers. Points of view change depending on what country you are in, what religion you belong to and what ideologies you have. If the Aboriginals kept written records like the Europeans, their depiction of the foreigners could have been equally distorted.
    Unfortunately, many of us don’t learn to question what we hear. We read text from a time period or even articles written by modern historians, and assume that it is all true, without questioning it. By listening to what other people tell us is “important” or “true” about history, we form strong opinion on topics we know little about, form biases on people because of what we think is the truth and therefore, do not exercise independence of thought. By beginning to question our assumptions or think about what we’ve read, we can become independent thinkers.
    I consider one of our greatest freedoms to be the ability to think critically, because when we do, we make decisions and conclusions for ourselves. Only then can we start to see the world for what it is and make changes for the future.
    So what is history in the end? History’s go-to definition (a record of the past) just doesn’t do it for me. Yes, it’s a tool to make sense of the present, yes it’s a record of the past and yes it helps us avoid mistakes through experience, but it is all of that and more too. It’s a snapshot of time, a reflection of societal values and ideologies, a vessel for change and freedom, a messy pile of confused facts and, as Voltaire said, a commonly agreed upon lie.

  9. Dr. McMahon provides us with an interpretation of history that appears to be quite different from the interpretation we received from Dr. Morton. Dr. McMahon describes history as a means of analyzing the past, and investigating how past events led up to our current situation. On the other hand, while Dr. Morton’s interpretation still includes this analysis of the past, he believes that the ultimate goal of this analysis is to better the future. In other words, Dr. McMahon wants to know how we got to where we are today, whereas Dr. Morton wishes to figure out how we can get to where we want to be in the future. For some, these contrasting conceptions of history from two distinguished historian may incite a hatred of history itself. These individuals have been trained through the education system that there is always one correct answer to a question; no other answer will suffice. However, the fact that these historians deliver two completely different interpretations of history shows the inner beauty within the subject. When we interpret events and we construct our own history, there are no limits to what we can do with this knowledge. Skeptics may argue that history is a “pointless” subject that has no legitimate applications in the real world. However, if we were to grant legitimacy to both of these interpretations, we would realize that the construction of history is applicable in virtually all aspects of time; the past, the present, and the future.
    The fact that history is used to understand the past is quite obvious. History, in and of itself, must include an interpretation of past events. When we interpret past events and construct history through creating links and interpreting significance, we can better enhance our understanding of the past. Moreover, we can understand why certain past events occurred, simply as a means of enhancing our general knowledge.
    The significance of history in the present is what Dr. McMahon primarily deals with in his interpretation of history. After understanding how and why certain historical events occurred, we can do two things with our knowledge to heighten our understanding of the present. Firstly, we can create parallels with our current situation, and through understanding why the similar historical events occurred, we can better understand why our current situation is the way is it. This is mainly done through analyzing history from a very long time ago (for instance, comparing our democratic system to that of the Greeks and using this comparison to study its evolution and how our system evolved to where it is today). Secondly, we can analyze more recent historical events, interpret them, and use our interpretations to develop an understanding of how our society has evolved into its current state. This could involve examining recent political elections, observing results and campaigns, and developing inferences for why a certain party won or lost. Ultimately, to understand the present, we must first comprehend our history.
    Finally, the analysis of history can be used to predict future events, recognize warning signs, and optimize decisions as to how future plans should be carried out. This is what Dr. Morton mainly dealt with in his interpretation of history. If we wish to have a prosperous future, we must have a solid understanding of our history and why it occurred (cause and consequence) so that we can optimize our future to the best of our abilities.

    Lastly, I would like to address the final part of Dr. McMahon’s interpretation, which was essentially a breakdown of how we can “do” history. Although I agree with the 3 steps that he proposes, I feel like more explanation is required for the “consumption” part of his analysis.
    When we consume history and intake knowledge, we ought to be cautious of the varying biases in the materials from which we are acquiring our knowledge. All history has biases; that is evident by the very nature of history itself. Sure, stating a bunch of random facts involves little to no bias at all (there aren’t many different ways of saying, “Confederation occurred on July 1, 1867”). However, the interpretation of these facts is where bias always comes into play – as does the “thinking” section of Dr. McMahon’s method. Authors will always have their own ways of interpreting history, depending on their own ideologies. For some authors, they may make it blatantly obvious. You would probably get very different views of Europe in the early 1900’s from “Mein Kampf”, than you would from “The Diary of Anne Frank”. Other authors may attempt to conceal their bias in a veil of lies – stating that their work delivers an “objective analysis of the issues”. Although it may deliver arguments on both sides of the matter, arguments on one side are always naturally going to be slightly stronger, in the eyes of the author (or in anyone’s perspective, for that matter). Furthermore, in an attempt to make their work appear to be more objective, authors may actually leave out key evidence or analysis. By not discussing the full story, whether it be due to a subconscious attempt of delivering their own ideology or a pitiful attempt of equating the arguments on both sides, readers will never truly receive the full story from a single construction of history. That is why it is essential to consume as much history as possible. Although one author may lean towards one side, another author may have conflicting views on the issue. By consuming more and more history, we learn about various interpretations of certain topics, and the different ways that people viewed these issues. When we understand more perspectives, we can better comprehend the different ways that people interpret history. By doing so, we subconsciously analyze which interpretations we agree with the most, and how all of the varying accounts of events that we read come together to create one giant story. This story, that includes facts, analysis, interpretations, biases, and varying ideologies, brings all of these aspects together, and helps us create our own history.

  10. Dr. Cian McMahon and Dr. Morton both have similarities and differences in their views on history. They both believe that history is important and we need to consume as much history as we can. They agree on the fact that knowing our history is vital to a better future. Where they take a different approach is how they consume history. Dr.Morton believes that history is “experience” and we should learn from significant events in the past to have a better future. Dr. McMahon believes that history is a “another tool used by humans to make sense of the past”. Both of their opinions help me better understand history. I completely agree with both of them because if we didn’t know our history we wouldn’t be able to make sense of the past which would not allow us to learn from our mistakes. By making sense of the past we learn about the mistakes made, learn from those mistakes and have a better future as a result of knowing our history. We need to consume history to understand the past, present, and future.

  11. I agree with Dr. Cian McMahon in his main statement which is that history is another tool used by humans to make sense of the past to an extent, but I think we as a learning community need to put more emphasis toward the fact that history is something that humans have created and therefore it is subject to change and bias, among other factors. So yes, I agree that history can be used to make sense of the past but we also have to keep in mind that history is not necessarily a true account of the past, but rather an interpretation of the past.

  12. I think both views of Dr. McMahon and Dr. Morton are very similar. Dr. McMahon says, “history is just another tool used by humans to make sense of the present.” This is very similar to when Dr. Morton says History is defined as our experience, and from those experiences we learn from past mistakes. Both see that History must be used and thoroughly studied to benefit the future.

    Both professors also think that history is changed by what influenced the historians. For example Dr. McMahon says how we have many documentations of “Powerful White Men” because that was considered the social norm of the time. Dr. Morton says how, “the young grow up in a world shaped by social media and forms of technology that simply did not exist a generation ago.” The past and present views influence how history is documented

    A notable difference in both views was Dr. McMahon’s idea of “Production”. He says how it’s very difficult to produce history when there are few of us who have a PHD to do so. We are making history at the moment and the less people who are able to record it, the less people in the future can study it.

    Both articles of “What is History” were easy to follow and very logical. History isn’t what I think about in my spare time, but the concepts the historians have provided have made it an interesting subject to learn about. I’m actually kinda interested in learning about History now, it’s more important than I thought it was.

  13. I agree with Dr. Cian McMahon’s statement that history is a “tool used by humans to make sense of the present”. I believe that history is events/records in the past that change throughout time. Our Perception of events are changing depending on location and time. I believe history is a story, and people perceive story in different ways. History is different for everyone. One the other hand, facts in history cannot be changed unless a new discovery is made, so we know that many events actually happened. History is a complex and rugged topic, but we can follow it to know questions about the present.

  14. The insights of Dr Desmond Morton and Dr Cian McMahon differ considerably. While Dr Morton perceives history as the experience of our forbears and ancestors, Dr McMahon defines history as a tool which is used by contemporary society to comprehend the present. While both Dr Morton and Dr McMahon believe that “doing history” involves the consumption of other history, including primary and secondary sources, Dr McMahon expands this concept further. He states that, as we are consuming history, we must also consider the message that the historian is attempting to convey by conveniently omitting or emphasising certain information. Dr McMahon goes further to say that the production of history, namely producing one’s own version of past events, is a vital aspect of “doing history”. Thus, Dr McMahon seems to perceive history as a subjective interpretation of the past, while Dr Morton perceives history to be the experiences of individuals and communities that have been documented in primary sources.

    I am inclined to agree with both Dr Morton and Dr McMahon’s definitions of history. I do believe that history is composed to the past experiences of our forbears, although the documentation of these experiences may vary in reliability, depending on the date of the documentation. While Dr Morton focusses on reading and analysing primary sources, which would depict the experiences of the historian, Dr McMahon also includes secondary sources, such as video documentaries, radio dramas, and museums, as “history” that is to be consumed; as secondary sources are generally documented by historians who have indirectly analysed past events, they are more subjective and are thus inclined to more bias as the historian attempts to convey a particular message. (That is not to say that primary sources contain no bias.)

    Furthermore, as there have been many events in the past which have not been documented, history can only consist of the information that is accessible to us as well as the speculation of archaeologists, anthropologists, and scholars. This ensures that, inevitably, we may develop an incomplete or slightly inaccurate perception of our past.

    By consuming, analysing, and questioning different histories instead of simply accepting the interpretation of one historian, we are ultimately gaining a better understanding of our past and how the future was and is still affected by the past in all aspects of life.

  15. Dr. Cian McMahon says that history is simply just “a record of the past”, which is what I thought of on the first day Mr. Henderson asked us. But it is much more than that if you think about it, as it affects the different kind of history we study as we only study what we think is important. He explains that to produce good history we have to consume it and then think about it. Meanwhile, Dr. Morton describes history as an experience and something that we can learn from our ancestors mistakes.

    McMahon and Morton both agree that history is a lot of information that helps us understand the present. But Dr. McMahon sees history as something that helps us determine what’s important from the past by looking at the present and Dr. Morton sees it as important information that can help us not make any of the same mistakes that were made in the past.

    I agree with both Dr. McMahon and Dr. Morton’s descriptions of history. I believe that history is made up of past experiences of our ancestors, in which we can learn from. It can helps us understand the present, but it is also a lot more than that. It shows us a picture of what was happening at that time; social values, important people and dates, and important ideologies.

  16. Dr. McMahon shows similarities and differences in Dr. Morton views of history yet both are similar. They believe that our history is very significant and helps with present time. Also being educated about these significant events ,which occurred throughout history is very essential for our future generation’s knowledge. The difference between the two views is Dr. Morton believes in more of the “experience” in the era of time the history being consumed from and believes the experience should better educate the people of the present. The difference is Dr.McMahon sees history as a tool of learning so that we can gather all the pieces of history and put them together. As he states “history is just another tool used by humans to make sense of the past”. Both opinions are very informing and help me understand the history in two different ways. As you take history as an experience you’re supposed to be thinking of the era of time the event is from . Also when thinking of history as a tool to piece events together to better understand the past you learn of the mistakes and success. So after being educated about history it helps us understand and move forward from the experience as a result.

  17. When first being asked by Mr. Henderson what is history, the first thing that came to the top of my head was significant events of the past or as Dr. Cian McMahon said “tool used by humans to make sense of the present.” I completely agree with this statement because it is true, we use history help us get where we are today and it helps us understand why we live in this world and how this world came to be. Dr. Cian McMahon’s definition to me is clearer then what Mr. Desmond Morton wrote as he said history is another word for “experience”. I am not saying I disagree with Mr. Morton, just that Dr. McMahon’s definition was the first thing that came to my mind when Mr. Henderson first asked us in class what is history. Dr. McMahon said how history is the “tool used by humans to make sense of the present” but there is more to history then just that. He tells us examples and says that we should try looking at how we study history. By doing this, it will help us get closer to knowing what history really is.

  18. History is all over the place but we still ask ourselves “What is history?” Seems like an easy enough question, but when you get into it you find that its not. Both Dr. McMahon and Dr. Morton have interesting perspectives on history.

    Dr. McMahon describes history to be a “Tool used by humans to make sense of the present” I agree with Dr. McMahon. History is a way that us humans make sense of the present and also tries to determine the future with it, for example we use scientific history to make sense and improve science and things associated with science. For example Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and based on this book future scientists were able to use this knowledge and further develop their theories of Evolution and Natural Selection, because of the impact it had on science Darwin and his book became a piece of history. Dr. McMahon is right when he says that we use history as a “tool” to make sense of the present, and that people tend to write history about what people are concerned and focused on. Dr. McMahon also says to “do” history you must first consume it and think about what in fact is actually history and what is not, and then produce it.

    Dr. Morton states that history is just another word for “experience”. He says that to “do” history one must think back into the past and put themselves in the other people’s shoes to really be able to produce history about the era.

    They both have similar perspectives in the sense that they agree that history is a way for us to fully understand our present. They also agree that one must use whatever primary sources, or books, documentaries, and etc. you can find to look at the past and determine what is history.

    I agree with both of Dr. Morton and Dr. McMahon that history is a method for us to make sense of the present. They have helped me see that you can’t take everything and say it is history, that you have to decide and really look into the past to see what people found were most concerned about and what they found important and decide whether that is history. One thing I learned from Mr. Henderson’s class is that some people will have bias to certain aspects of the past and will have different views on what is history and what is not.

  19. I agree with Dr. Cian McMahon statement that history is “a record of the past” and also that history “is just another tool used by humans to make sense of the present” so that we can not repeat past mistakes. Him and Desmond Morton are both have similar thinking concepts concerning history as a tool used to help us humans “profit from the errors our ancestors made”. I hope to learn more about the in depth meaning of history in class and maybe go even deeper into the history of not only Canada but other countries.

  20. Reading this article I found my self interested in Dr. Cian McMahon’s prospective of looking at how we study history. I think we are surrounded by so many biased perspectives from historians who think one thing is more important than another. I think that History is a study of trends that have been brought to our attention. I think the significance of each historical event, person, or time is based on how trendy it was at the time. This relates to how Dr. Cian McMahon says that history is told by what people may think is important at that time, for example white powerful men are highlighted in history because that was the trend at that time. My thoughts are that society is constantly following a trend of some sort and we are always looking for new ideas to experience different ideas from someone else’s perspective. So the concept of changing how we look at history becomes something very complex.
    By studying history are we re-discovering past trends and just repeating our history over and over again? I think this is partly why history can be so intriguing because we see how we formed modern lifestyles, but I think history reflects how people used to live and how much we function the same even today. In my opinion history can also change depending on who looks at history and how our generation interprets it. I think we develop new ideas from history by looking at the things that historians did not choose to talk about or include in an article or novel. History is a challenging subject because it often forces people to analyze the mistakes that were made and change the way we view our world so we don’t repeat the mistakes others have made. This is what makes history a tough concept and forces the next generation to keep thinking about the deeper meaning of past events.

  21. Dr. McMahon and Dr. Morton have similar, but different views on what history is that create different understanding on what really is history.

    First of all, Dr. McMahon describes history as “a record of the past”, but goes into far more detail about the purpose of history and how it helps us better understand the present. He also makes note of the idea “doing history” and comments in order to do history, one must first consume a whole bunch of history before they attempt to make their own history. On the other hand, Dr. Morton’s version of history is that of an experience where primary sources are used to actually understand past events and make better choices in the future. Both historians believe on the idea that history does help explain our past. However, Dr. McMahon’s interpretation differs from Dr. Morton in the sense that Dr. McMahon explores the idea of historical significance, and perspective.

    Often times, the history that appears in secondary sources, that being in textbooks, media, others, all have relevance to what is happening in our day in age. In McMahon’s response, he described how history is studied, what purposes it serves, and makes note that our history has been made because it helps explain our present day. For example, McMahon brings the example of how “powerful white men ran contemporary society…and to legitimate their authority, they presented a picture of the past that was…dominated by powerful white men”. Through McMahon’s explanation of how history is studied and through his examples, it is clear that he makes us aware of the idea of perspective in history, such that he clearly shows that history is made by those who have a certain bias, like the “powerful white people” in his example. Often times, history is made on the basis of our modern day bias, and not always on what happened in the past. For example, when looking at Christopher Columbus and how he enslaved and killed millions of aboriginals while on his journey to find Asia, in modern day, many people look at this event as a good one, because it helped lead to modern day America, but in reality, this event was terrible. The reason why people look at this event in the not-so-good way is because their modern day bias distorts what actually happened in the past, which is what McMahon was pointing out. Not only does McMahon present this whole idea of history being built on the bias of people in power and in modern day, but he also makes reference to historical significance.

    In McMahon’s explanation about how history is studied, he also points out that through the bias created in history also creates its significance. McMahon brings up the whole idea of “if a dog gets elected to Parliament, you can rest assured that books and articles will soon appear showing how dogs impacted politics in the old days”. In his example, he points out that the bias of our society determines what becomes significant. When looking at the three questions that determine if a historical event is significant, all the questions are in reference to what is relevant in modern day society. If an event that happened is not relevant to what is happening today, it does not become significant. As a result, this relevance issue becomes a bias in some ways. Because history helps us understand the present, history is made based on specific events of the present that people want to better understand, thus also becoming a bias. McMahon also points out that “historians are more interested in investigating how women and indigenous peoples have impacted past societies” because nowadays, there are women and indigenous people in powerful positions in society. So in other words, whatever is the trend today determines what history exists. From McMahon’s argument of what history is, it is clear that he goes more in detail about the bias made through history and how bias is always going to be present when one does history.

    In McMahon’s definition of doing history, he puts together a criterion for it, primarily the ideas of consuming history, thinking about that history and then producing history. As a result, in his definition of doing history, he address the fact that there are parts of left out. When looking at Morton’s definition of doing history, when he does history, he reads all available primary sources. To a certain point, both of the definitions are similar, for both would be using primary sources. However, in McMahon’s case, there seems to be more awareness about the range of bias in history as opposed to Morton’s. So really, what have I been trying to say? Well, McMahon seems to really drill out the definition of history by looking at all the gray areas that occur in history, like the inaccuracies, bias, purposes of history and how to do history. Morton, on the other hand, looks at the applications of what one can do with histories: to understand the past so that we can make better choices in the future. It is important to have both an explanation of the whole notion of history, like what McMahon has, and to have an explanation of how history can be used in our modern world. With these two aspects in place, the art of History can be acknowledge and respected by more people.

  22. Morton explained how history is an “experience” and the tools we need to use to understand it. On the other hand Dr.Cain spoke more about how we interpret history and how it can vary depending on who presents it to us. He explained that whoever is most important in the time will write about how their culture, race or group of people are important in history. Therefore when someone is in power, history will be written about how they are important, and not about the significance of the other people during that time. I believe that this is highly valuable to know because as a student learning history we have to be able to decipher what is being left out, and what is being said. We also have to understand the reason a piece of evidence or certain view on a story is being left out. Being able to understand history, also takes knowing every side to a story or event that has been published. This is what i believe history part two is about, showing us how history various depending on who records it and who decides what gets published. The knowledge of these techniques used in history will help us formulate our own history and realize what we leave out and why.

  23. Hello,
    I agree with Dr. McMahon on every single detail of his perception of what History is, I like how he gives different perspectives that Dr. Morton didn’t talked about, the idea of not only two parts of history (“Doing History”, and History as a subject) but adding the two ways of doing history (Consumption and Production), make History a bigger subject than what we are used to, I also think it would be very interesting if Dr. Morton would reply to this perspective of what is History, as it would make it a debate of very wise and hard working men and could give so much more to talk about and learn from the people who’s ideas are not the same. But either way, the perspective of Dr. McMahon is very interesting, and I like that is makes room for more changes and additions to the main idea. Can’t wait for the what is to come on this matter.
    once again thanks for reading and good night.

  24. To each person, history means something different. It is hard to pin point exactly what “history” is because everybody has a different view and opinion on it. When being asked “what is history”, many people answer “something that happened in the past”. But when one stops accepting every spoke and written word and one begins to question what has been delivered, one begins to think and dig deeper to find out a more robust answer to the question, “what is history?”

    Dr. Morton described history as an “experience”. He states that the best way to move forward is to not repeat the same “mistakes” as our predecessors did. He believed that history requires us to go back into the past and place ourselves in our ancestors’ shoes and question why they behaved at that time for that particular reason.

    Dr. Cian McMahon’s definition of history is “a tool used by humans to make sense of the present,” although he goes on to explain it in a deeper way. Dr. McMahon points out “what message was the person who created this book/video/exhibit trying to get across?” What I understood from Dr. McMahon’s comment was that he was saying that history explains where we should be going, and it is an experience of what we should be doing and what our future might hold. It is learning from the past so we can grow as individuals. Dr. Morton’s comment, however, was really suggesting that in order to move forward, we have to understand our ancestor’s mistakes and avoid making the same ones. Although both Dr. Morton and Dr. McMahon had a clear understanding of what history meant to them, those sentiments are not be shared by all. Having said that, each of us as the same goal: view history in order to learn and garner a better understanding of what the future holds.

    From my perspective, and with the knowledge and opinions of both Dr. Morton, and Dr. McMahon, it is simply not enough to understand what happened in the past and to know that we cannot exactly repeat it again then it is to understand what happened, why it happened, and to take that knowledge so that we can expand as individuals that will change the future.

  25. I really enjoy how simply Dr. Cian McMahon explains history in the beginning, he describes history as a tool used by humans to make sense of the present, which is a similar definition to Dr. Morton’s definition. But the meaning of history goes much deeper than just that. At this point I feel that history is heavily based on the different perspectives you can look at it on. I feel that history is best explained to someone who looks at it with an open mind, someone who allows themselves to try to step back in time and put themselves in the person from the pasts point of view. Try to to imagine what they were thinking, how could they have been feeling, and think of as many possibilities as to why they did what they did, what provoked them? This mindset is similar to what Dr. Morton explained in his definition of history, which i strongly agree with. Likewise, Dr. McMahon describes history in having two parts, one being consumption. He explains in order to properly absorb all this history you have to always be thinking and be open minded (similar as Dr. Morton’s outlook). The two have very similar views on history.

    A side from comparing the two writers, something new that I learned from reading Dr. McMahon’s answer to what is history, was the question, “What parts did they conveniently leave out?”. I never really thought about this aspect of history, which has really made me start to wonder, what parts did they conveniently leave out?

  26. In this section of Dr Mc Mhon, he exhibits us two issue about history, not like Dr Morton just explained the concept of “what is history” in his own view. The whole section answers us two questions that are “What is history” and “What is doing history”. Actually, he explains the function of history and his view to “history”.
    First, he explains the function of history in “What is history”. He gives us a good example that even a dog ever gets elected to Parliament, we can rest assured that books and articles will soon appear showing how dogs impacted politics in the old days. If our media start to describe this situation as a kind of deed which happened before of dogs, that means the human society starts treat it as a kind of normal truth which is convenient to be accepted and comprehended by public. Try to imagine, if this thing appears in newspapers or TV programs, everyone would feel unbelievable and impossible. And it could offer all medias a good issue for speculation. But when it appears on our history books and textbooks and becomes a part of common sense for being a citizen, everyone just treats it as a normal and serious issue. That s the function of our history—–understanding what we done before and making it rational. I think that s why we cannot approach the absolute objection for we cannot clear all of the conflicts which exist in our stories.
    Then is his vision to history. He talks about it in “Consume” and “Production”. “Ultimately, you will find that in order to PRODUCE good history, you will need to patiently CONSUME a bunch of it first.” “Consume” is the condition of “Production”. That means history is a kind of product of empiricism. Because of different experience in different people, diversification is existed in history. History is not like science, it cannot get the truth by inference. Sometimes we use inference in history just for fill the blank in our story to perform the function of helping us understand and accept it.

  27. I really enjoyed reading Dr. McMahon’s opinion about what “doing” history is. I found that his explanation was a lot easier for me to understand than Desmond Morton’s explanation. Although they were very similar view, McMahon’s was easier to interpret. I completely agree with what McMahon is saying. He broke “doing” history down into two groups; consumption and production. I completely agree that these are both aspects of “doing” history but what I don’t agree with is that they are split equally. I feel as though you would do more of the “consuming” than the “producing” because what you are learning about has already happened. I feel as though you have to consume a lot more history before you can make it yourself.

  28. The question “What is history?” should be a fairly obvious one to answer. As most people, including Dr. McMahon, would agree, our first answer would be that history is “a record of the past”. But once you dig a little bit deeper and explore the possibilities of the subject, coming up with an answer gets a little bit more complicated.

    Dr. Morton and Dr. McMahon have both differences and similarities in their answer to Mr. Hendersons question, so thats makes me realize that many people have the same general idea of history, but also have their own interpretation added in. Both Morton and Desmond agree that history is a tool that we use to understand the past and make sense of our situations now based off of what happened years ago, but after that main point, their ideas differ completely.

    McMahon chose to focus on the histories that we are exposed to in our modern society. He shed’s light on the fact that based on what is going on in our society, the history we learn changes. He also mentions that depending on who is running the country, the history we learn adheres to their background or ideals. Nowadays, we barely learn anything about the rich, successful, white businessmen that lived in the old days, because they are of no use to us now. Since they no longer run society, they are no longer an important aspect of our history.

    Morton, on the other hand, has a different take on history. Instead of talking about why we learn only certain parts of history, he discusses the perspectives of people living during the eras we study, and how we need to learn from their mistakes. He also discusses our pressure from the media and society to behave in a certain way and think a certain way.

    After commenting on two of these posts, I now realize that the topic of history is more complicated than most of us thought. What we once thought was just a “record of the past”, is now so much more and means so many different things.

  29. From Dr. Cian McMahon’s idea about what is history I think his thoughts has different approaches but equally satisfactory results with Dr. Morton’s. Dr. Cian McMahon’s opinion to history is “tool used by humans to make sense of the present” and the Dr. Morton thought history is “experience”. History can used to take people back to the present and see what happened at that time, find out what secrets and details had been concealed, what truth hadn’t been investigated. History is the tool to send people back and experience the past time.

    History can let you see through the time and know what the people doing at that specific time. History just like pie, you cannot know what inside before you eat it. You cannot find out anything different from the surface, only break it, lift pastry, taste it, and then you can know the pie has which kind of stuffing, and what flavor it is. There are no exactly the same pie exist, compare to the other pies, what’re the differences between the pies, where’re the differences? The incomplete answer entice us keep discovering.

    In ‘how to do history’, these two professors are all express a little bit the other person’s opinion. I think we should put these two professors’ thoughts together. Dr. Morton mainly talked about we should get the materials and evidences from the beginning of that era; understand the truth as many as possible. Dr. Cian said ‘As you consume history, you ought always be thinking’. I’m quit agree with this sentence, as long as the history is written by the people then it must contain the personal subjective consciousness, those thoughts sometime are not always right, so we need to keep thinking, from our thinking we can start to ‘produce’ our own history, those histories are belong to ourselves, they based on the same history background but we put our thinking on it, we make it different, we let people can see our past world from diverse views. So to do the history we should always try to get the first hand documents, but on the other hand we should always be thinking about those documents, ‘what message was the person who created this document/I trying to get across? What parts did they/I conveniently leave out?’

  30. After reading Dr. McMahon’s version of history, it made me realize a few things. The first thing I noticed was how different Dr. McMahon’s version of history is from Desmond Morton’s. Morton immediately describes history as experience. He says that history is basically based upon what we have experienced and what makes sense to us. I agree with this, as you form your opinions really through your own experiences in life. Dr. McMahon, immediately says that history is basically a tool that is used by humans to try and make sense of what is going on in our world. I agree with this also because we as humans need everything to make sense, and creating our own versions of history would make sense of some of it, wouldn’t it? So although the two opinions are different they are also similar in a way. They are both basically saying that we put our own opinions into what has happened in past events and we make sense of it. It is very interesting to see how even my own version of the definition of history is influenced only by reading others.

  31. I believe Dr. McMahon’s statement about how history is “a record of the past” and “another tool used by humans to make sense of the present”. It seems very obvious, but it is very true. Dr. Morton’s explanation on how he thinks history has to do with the experiences of our ancestors makes sense as well. However, if you put Dr. McMahon and Dr. Morton’s explanations of what history is together, you get the fact that humans use history to help themselves with experiences that they are dealing with today. Therefore, after reading both Dr. McMahon and Dr. Morton’s explanations, I believe that history is something that humans use to make sense of the present by using and learning from the past experiences that their ancestors have faced.

  32. These past two explanations of History have done a good job of enhancing my comprehension. Dr. Morton really solidified the idea that History is essentially an experience and that we can “do History” by thinking from the perspectives of people in the past. This assertion is somewhat similar to that of Dr. McMahon’s who suggests that History is written by people who have power and influence and that these people will write history from a perspective that best suits their liking.

    Despite most people agreeing with Dr. Morton and Dr. McMahon, I do in fact disagree to some extent on some aspects of their theories. In the publications made by both Doctors I have seen similar assertions roughly along the lines of “History isn’t just facts. History is how we interpret them to understand the present day”. In contrast to the clearness of this statement, it is simply a broadened expansion on the concepts and usages of History fused into what is thought to be one single concept or definition. I personally believe that History itself is in actuality simply a list of facts and events. When we interpret these facts and events and make various assumptions and conclusions it isn’t necessarily history… perhaps it’s merely the way that we perceive History to have happened.

    Out of everything that has been said in the past week or so the idea that has really stood out the most to me is that History (by means of my own definition: recorded facts and events from someones perspective) can be used to understand why we are shaped the way we are and to also understand the various historical influences around us. I believe that we can enhance our understanding of these facts and outcomes of events by looking at them from different perspectives to get a broader idea of why things actually happened.

    I partially believe that the reason why people consider “History” to be such an undefinable topic is because nobody really knows where to draw the line between what is and what isn’t considered History. Everybody thinks differently however I truly believe that once you consider this idea and “draw” your own line between “History” and “Not history” you will have a better understanding.

  33. Dr. Morton and Dr McMahon’s personal explanations on the topic “What is History?” have completely blown my mind and opened my path toward further questioning about history with my curiosity. Throughout the reading and multiple reviewing on the articles, my understandings of the historians’ records of history seem to become their personal things base on each individual’s ideology and ways of thinking other than the actual events happened in the past. Base on a wide varieties of historical method, primary sources and ancient artifacts, historians have often come with totally opposite records and perspectives on many past events. Because of the historians’ selfish purposes and foolish reasons, they have often added nonsense dramatic editings and decided to erase away the ugly truths that wanted to be hidden.

    In the “What is History? Part 2” Dr. McMahon has brought out the idea of the doing history. He believes that history is simply a tool used by human to make sense of the present. This is an interesting perspective that I had once believed a few years ago where humans spend billions and billions of dollars on researches and investigations into the discovery of things happened in the past. Dr. Mahon has also put up the a brilliant concept of the doing of history which are the consumption, thinking, production and keep thinking of history. The doing progress and outcomes must definitely be exciting and enjoyable. But there are a few other things that I have unfortunately decided to disagree on.

    What is History? In my opinion, history is a general summary of scattered information from the past base on existing historical evidences and ancient artifacts which can either be realistic or unrealistic. Nowadays, can we possibly travel back to time and interrupt the situations from the past? Can we possibly believe that all the historians were honest people whom recorded EVERY SINGLE historical event in their journals? No, we can’t. Who have provided these primary sources? Who have randomly decided to bury their belongings under ground until modern people can discover them after a few hundred years? We simply have no ideas. Why there are so many different questions? Why things have become so complexed? We just don’t freaking know.

    Because humans are a bunch of foolish mammals with great curiosity, we have spent countless amount of money, resources to explore things from the past. Yes, you can question about history. But no, you CANNOT produce history. In the previous paragraph, I have stated that history is a general summary of scattered information from the PAST. Past is from the past, nobody can change things from the past. You can create the history for future generations but not to edit the happened events. Doing history is like peeling the skins of an onion. The more you peel the skins, the more the tears will come out from your eyes. The more you explore about history, the more the unrivaled truths will hit right on your face. As you can see, the doing of history is about discovering events from the past where you simply learn things that actually happened in the past rather than creating something personal.

    Wouldn’t it be much easier if historians back then simply record things? Wouldn’t it be even better if they haven’t put these nonsense bs and drama into the historical records? Wouldn’t it be much MUCH BETTER if their foolish ideologies haven’t maken things become so complex? My friend, I honestly thank them for all these things that they have done. The doing of history would not be as entertaining without all these countless layers and mines. By walking the endless path of historical knowledge, I have become a better person. Thank you, history.

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