Keith Jenkins – Re-thinking History.

Jenkins is quick to establish that History is not, as most commonly thought, the past but rather it is the study of it. There are many differences between the two besides their definitions. Firstly, there were millions of people in the past, yet there are only few in History. This is linked to the idea of historical significance and the role of the historian in writing History. The past is something that can never be relieved; immediately causing problems for the historian. He must use interpretation to invent meanings, however this cannot be checked against the narrative for truth. Instead, accuracy is judged by comparison to the work of other historians. This leads us to realise that there is no fundamentally correct version of History, but rather just variations. Another contrast is that those in the past did not have the pressures which we in the present do – for example, the historian must deal with scholarly pressures such as deadlines whilst working. Hindsight gives the historian more knowledge but is also yet another example of the disparity between the past and the study of it ( History ).The strongest link between the two is that ” the past is contingent upon the present. ” Now we move on from the past and instead focus on History; both its meaning and purpose. Historians aim to be objective in their work and therefore adopt a certain methodology to try and prevent subjectivity. However, Jenkins notes that History is a personal construct and therefore will always include personal bias. Also, it is written by the dominant perspective again meaning some aspects remain unknown. A commonly asked question is ” who is History for? ” Jenkins establishes that texts are read in different ways and suggests that construction is to please yourself.

Jenkins discusses the idea of truth. He proposes that the aim of historical study is to gain true knowledge. However, it is argued that this is unachievable due to the role of interpretation. As mentioned before, there is no narrative to check against for truth and therefore, although historians have a desire for certainty, they cannot achieve it. Even the most detailed discrimination between rival accounts of the same phenomenon would not discover truth because both would be equally credible in terms of accuracy. Jenkins also notes that truth is always created and never found. This leads us to question the meaning of truth and indeed what is its purpose? The answer is that truth acts as a censor and exercise control. It is vital for all historians to aim to discover to truth, regardless of how difficult that may be. Science is truth and knowledge whereas art is interpretation. Which is History more closely related to? The answer to this is complex, although Jenkins concluded by naming History a Semi-Science. It does rely intensely on interpretation and rhetoric, although it does use real historical pasts.

Historians are not concerned with discrete facts because they serve no purpose. It is therefore up to them to decide which facts are significant and this choice is controlled by the meanings the historians give to their facts. Due to the already established intensive role of interpretation in History, Jenkins says that it is important to study what actually happened rather than what historians have said. This leads us to question the role of secondary sources in History and whether they offer any truth to those studying. However, History, as previously discusses, is not the past, it is just a historians work. So, surely we should be most focussed on the secondary sources rather than the primary. A balanced historian aims to be objective in his work. This effectively means, viewing things from the centre. Yet Jenkins argues that there is no centre in History because of the inevitable role of bias. It is something that is used in opposition to being unbiased. Historians play a major role in the writing of History because facts cannot speak for themselves and therefore rely on the historians to give them meaning. This means that everything is bias because it all comes from someone’s point of view who would have been inclined to write in a certain way. This again links to truth because one persons bias is another’s truth – we have already established that truth is created.

Empathy is important in History. Historians try to get the perspective of the people of the past in order to understand their behaviour. Jenkins states that they need to get out of the present and into the past. However, this is difficult due to the pressures that are faced in the present. Those who read History hope to reach historical figures indirectly through the historian. This again emphasizes the importance of the historians relationship with the past, in that they need to provide it to their readers. Jenkins suggests that all history is the history of mind. If this is correct then we must empathise with the historian to understand the mind-set he was in whilst writing. Overall, it is impossible to the into another’s mind and therefore, historians must rationally calculate past behaviour with knowledge of things such as human nature. This will allow them to fill in the gaps – however given the differences between the past and present, how accurate can their guessing be?

Sources and evidence are most commonly associated with History, Jenkins discusses their role in his book. Primary sources are traces of the past. Past traces are not evidence because they do not have an explanation. Their sole purpose is  to document what happened not why. Historians created evidence when they study sources and analyse meanings and evaluate their purposes. E.H Carr argues that the past only becomes evidence when it is used to support an argument. This makes sense as the sole purpose of evidence is to substantiate the historians opinion and it is selected to do so. However, some historians argue that evidence speaks for itself. This would lessen the effect of bias and indeed make objectivity much more achievable. Ultimately, the role of the historian in making History is irrefutable, without him there is only the past and no History. Jenkins summarises in sayings that the past occurred and traces remain. However, it is down to the historian to order and make sense of them. The evidence does not speak for itself.

Rethinking History asks ” how do you answer a question on causality?”. There are infinite answers because most historians have different interpretations of events which are all equally valid – there is no single correct answer. It is instead more important to establish how much weight the causes have. How much did each cause effect the consequence and how did they all interact to produce the known outcome? These are two questions which historians must be able to answer in order to make their interpretation acceptable. It is difficult to know how far to look back when studying causality. Arguably, events that happened way before 1914 shaped the societies which brought about WW1. However, does this mean that they caused the war? No. Historians can categorise their causes into long and short term to ensure they cover the necessary time period. Jenkins asks whether History is just the study of cause and effect. Do we strive to understand why bad things happened to prevent the reoccurrence and indeed, how to make the best outcomes most likely? I think causality does have play a major role in History – it is one of the most important things historians are concerned with.


Labour leadership

Who’s who?

Liz Kendall has been the  MP  for Leicester West since 2010 and Shadow Minister for Care and Older People since 2011. She is a relatively new MP and henceforth, claims that Labour needs a fresh start. Although I do agree that the party needs to change in order to win again, Liz does not have the experience needed to succeed as leader. Economic competence is important to her and this has lead to comparisons between her and the Tory party. She believes in strong welfare reform and recently revealed that she does not oppose the proposed cuts to child tax credits. In my opinion, this is completely wrong and proves that she lacks key Labour principles. I also disagreed with Liz when she said that her party should not have voted to recognise the Palestinian state. As a pro-Palestine advocate I am disgusted with her approach, but also as a human being I cannot understand how she would deny those who have suffered for so long a chance for peace. Despite my obvious disapproval of her as a candidate for leadership, I do greatly respect her as a strong woman. Throughout the campaign we have witnessed her address gender inequalities including when she was asked how much she weighed. This is very important and I do admire her as one of the top women in politics.

Yvette Cooper has been the MP Pontefract and Castleford since 1997 and Shadow Home Secretary since 2011. She gained a lot of experience and knowledge by leading a £100 billion government department when she was secretary of state for Work and Pensions. Mainly, Yvette has impressed me with her commitment to opposing the Tory government and in particular, Theresa May – She held her accountable for her record on domestic violence and refugees. She was also quick to condemn  plans to cut tax credits due to them targeting the vulnerable working people who Labour stands to represent. However, she did abstain on the welfare vote and subsequently, I have no choice but to doubt her legitimacy on this matter. Again, I must show my support to Yvette as a strong, powerful women. She has always strived to help mothers and children during her time in parliament. Labour does need to change and Yvette has a strong view for a Labour future. She is one of the few to address the role of the digital economy, showing that she is modern as well as experienced. Overall, Yvette has failed to capture my attention, she does not stand out from the rest.

Jeremy Corbyn has been the MP for Islington North since 1983. He has been in politics for a long time however, I would like to put forward the point that he lacks the experience the other candidates have gained in the Shadow Cabinet. I agree with Jeremy on many matters, particularly foreign policy. He opposed the Iraq war in 2003 and the Afghanistan war in 2001, which have lead to the rise of extremism. He also was a campaigner against Apartheid in South Africa, and today continues to fight for justice by promoting  the Palestinian Solidarity movement. I plan to attend university in 2  years and therefore welcome Corbyns calls to scrap tuition fees and respect him for voting against the rise. However, the rise in national insurance and higher corporation tax does not appeal to everyone. In terms of the economy, Corbyn is very much a socialist and this had lead to scrutiny from those who see him as unelectable. To an extent, I understand why people oppose Corbyns candidacy – his plans to increase the tax for the rich ( those earning 50k or more ) are certainly disputable. Also, His lack of interest in the deficit and his economic strategy would not win back previous Labour voters who turned to the Tories. Although, a Labour party lead by Jeremy would definitely appeal to Scotland!

Andy Burnham has been the MP for Leigh since 2001 and Shadow Secretary of State for Health since 2011. Time and time again he has expressed his disbelief in the Westminster elite and instead focusses on devolved powers for local government. I feel that this is absolutely indispensable for two reasons – firstly, Labour was wiped out in Scotland due to an overwhelming surge of support for the SNP. This was because people connected with Nicola Sturgeon who provided an alternative to the out of touch Westminster bubble. Secondly, political apathy is a major concern. Many did not vote due to disillusionment whereas others turned to UKIP in despair. Labour needs to reconnect with people, and Andy will make this possible. Andy was strongly opposed to the Tory plans to cut tax credits. I was shocked at his decision to abstain on the vote. However, I believe that he did what he felt was necessary to keep the party together for a collective vote – a true display of leadership skills. Andy has recently proposed a national care service which aims to integrate the NHS and social care. I believe this is an outstanding policy that would help end the suffering of many. His dedication to keeping the public NHS is just one example of his Labour values. I will be voting for Andy Burnham for Labour leader to help everyone get on in life. He has taught me that competence and compassion can go hand in hand.

E.H Carr – What is History?

Book Analysis.

Carr focusses on the idea of objectivity and whether it is possible for an historian to achieve it. He argues that historians select their facts to support their own perspective; immediately making their work subjective. They will deliberately omit information that discredits their argument and instead put emphasis on that which strengthens it. The historian has a purpose to substantiate his opinion and is therefore unable to be objective in his research. Carr also comments on the role of the historian in making a fact historical. Facts don’t have meanings, they are given them by those who study them. It is argued that the facts should be allowed to speak for themselves, however most often this is not the case. As stated earlier, the historian wants to use facts to support his argument and he therefore will give a meaning which best suits his purpose. This leads us to question whether there can be such thing as a true historical fact or do facts have no meaning aside from that which the historian tells us? We are only made aware of facts that are deemed historically significant by those researching and Carr highlights how this again limits our knowledge of historical truth. He takes a post modernist approach to History and in doing so he successfully teaches us the importance of interpretation. However, this does not mean that he believes there is no use to be made of History.

Carr later addresses and compares the importance of both society and the individual in History.  He immediately establishes that society is of higher importance. This is because all choices are driven by context and it is easier to discover the context of a society rather than an individual. There has always been morality within society and this is indispensable in allowing the historian to connect with and understand the past. Actions that have happened in the past will easily be condemned in the present. However, a good historian will be able to distinguish between what was acceptable then and what is now. When evaluating the role of the individual, Carr uses the example that ” Hitler was a bad man ”. This is a quick dismissal which would be made by those who have no understanding of the context of the time. Carr then goes on to explain that this is of limited utility because it doesn’t allow historians to make generalisations. Historians are concerned with the general rather than the unique because general events repeat themselves whereas the unique do not. So in terms of this example, it is most important to discover in which conditions Hitler rose to power and why his extremism was deemed acceptable.

The most common debate seen in historical theory is that which questions whether History is a Science or an Art. One of the key principles in Science is evolution and Carr argues that this shows progress in History, subsequently linking the two. Both historians and scientists also work with a hypothesis which they go on to prove with evidence. However there are many limitations that prevent History from being classified as a Science. Firstly, Carr states that although not necessarily in a negative way, bias affects the historian’s work greatly – this is not the case in Science. Also, one of the main purposes of Science is to develop a deep enough understanding of why things are the way they are to predict the future. Historians are unable to do so with such certainty due to the differing opinions of individuals. Science is a subject which is concerned mainly with the facts, whereas art involves both interpretation and imagination. History is a combination of both and can therefore only be viewed as a social science; supported by the historians interest in human behaviour. Now progressing to the idea of morality and religion, two ideas which have no role in Science. Carr is quick to explain that he feels they should also have no role in History. This is because morality of the present cannot be used to successfully judge that of the past.

Carr addresses Historical determinism and how certain causes make the consequences inevitable. Any good historian will usually produce a hierarchy of causes. This is necessary because most frequently events such as an outbreak of war are the culmination of many factors. When these factors interact the outcome becomes predictable; meaning that historians can use causes to predict future consequences. Accidents in History should always be placed at the bottom of the causal hierarchy. This is because they have less of an impact in determining the results. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, generalisations are vital in studying History. Accidents can not be used to make generalisations because they are unique and will most likely not be repeated. Although they can not be entirely dismissed by historians as they have the ability to alter the process of Historical determinism. Carr himself did not believe in accidents instead he felt that everything occurred due to prior happenings. For him, cause and effect are of major importance for all those studying History. It was more important to understand why things happened rather than attempting to justify them. He was not a fan of counterfactual history as he was only concerned with what had happened rather than what could have.

Carr discusses why people may study History and indeed what is its purpose, if anything. He describes History to be an ever progressing subject with no end or beginning. It is impossible for historians to agree on when History began to progress and indeed what it is moving toward. As time goes on change occurs and this will continue to occur indefinitely. However, Carr suggests that History can only by written by those who have a sense of direction, they must feel as if they are advancing toward an end goal in order to piece evidence together convincingly. History stands to progress and allow stronger links to be formed between the past, present and future.The overarching argument made is that historians can only be objective when reviewing from the eyes of the future. This is because there would be no present day motive and no argument to support with readily selected historical facts. Instead, historians would look back with no other intention than to see the past for what it is. The Whig interpretation states that History is an inevitable progression towards liberty. It allows people to reshape society to best fit its purpose. Carr believes in this, particularly that man moves within History himself and indeed, progresses.