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Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The Angel of History.

"There is a picture by Paul Klee called Angelus Novus. In it, an angel is depicted who appears as if trying to distance himself from something that he stares at. His eyes and mouth gape wide, his wings are stressed to their limit.
The Angel of History must look this way; he has turned to face the past. Where we see a constant chain of events, he sees only a single catastrophe incessantly piling ruin upon ruin and hurling them at his feet.
He would probably like to stop, waken the dead, and correct the devastation - but a storm is blowing hard from Paradise, and it is so strong he can no longer fold his wings.
While the debris piles toward the heavens before his eyes, the storm drives him incessantly into the Future that he has turned his back upon.
What we call Progress is this storm."

On tbe Concept of History IX
Walter Benjamin

History comes from the classic Latin word historia, which means “finding out, or narrative.” It refers in Old English as staer, which means narrative, or story. But the use of staer has died out as words like hystoire, estorie, and histore from Middle French begins to be more frequently used. In the beginning of the 12th century, the word histore means the account of events of a person’s life. The word ἱστορία of the Ancient Greeks, which also had ties to historia, means “inquiry,” “knowledge from inquiry,” or simply “judge.” Later on History enters the English language in 1390 as a meaning of “relation of incidents, story.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, history is the narration, representation, and study of an event. The actual documentation of history can be represented in a variety of ways. It can be studied from paintings, books, and buildings. These chronological recordings can be of events, people, and countries. The study of human history branches off into many topics including religious, cultural, political, and military. Religious history and cultural history as the name suggests, is the study of a country’s history of culture and religious development. Political history is the study of political events, movements, ideologies, and leaders that influences the course of the military history. When we learn about history, it is presented to us as facts, and objective accounts experienced during the time that it was recorded.  But it can be altered based on the bias of the recorder, the time of occurrence, and the particular region. Especially in classical history where recordings of history are rare, it is hard to find any parallel. History can also act as propaganda by controlling truth, and presenting an altered version of it for the society to believe in. This is particularly apparent in military history, backed by the unrecorded but famous saying: “history books are written by the victors.” Even in modern society the representation of military history in terms of context and telling, varies from country to country. Each country will direct specific history about their own nation’s achievements to induce feelings of nationalism in the younger generations.

There is also the scientific history of earth and all of its natural phenomena, including animals, plants, and natural objects. In the medical field, history represents the chronological development of a disease. It can also be the record of an individual’s past illnesses, or the record of a family’s past illnesses that spans over several generations.

History not only preserves our past for the future generation, it also serves as a provider of teachings. By reviewing history we learn from past failures, and mistakes, in order to avoid them. To record significant events we further solidify ourselves and preserve our identity for the future generation to reflect on.   

1) Oxford English Dictionary. "history n," http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/87324?rskey=eTzWqO&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid

2) Budget, Graham. "The angel of history," http://www.arts.ucsb.edu/faculty/budgett/angelus.html

3) Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology, "history," http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=history&searchmode=none

4) Benjamin, Walter. "On the concept of history," http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/CONCEPT2.html

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