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Encyclopedia > Universal History

Universal history is basic to the Western tradition of historiography, especially the Judeo-Christian wellspring of that tradition. Simply stated, universal history is the presentation of the history of mankind as a whole, as a coherent unit. The first five books of the Bible is a primary example of such a history. To the extent that the Pentateuch presents itself as an account of mankind as a whole, from creation to the death of Moses, it is universal history. Historiography is writing about rather than of history. ... Torah, (תורה) is a Hebrew word meaning teaching, instruction, or especially Law. ...

In the nineteenth century, universal histories proliferated. Philosophers such as Hegel, and political philosophers such as Marx, presented general theories of history that shared essential characteristics with the Biblical account: they conceived of history as a coherent whole, governed by certain basic characteristics or immutable principles. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 - November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. ... Marx is a common German surname. ...

For example, the Bible posits that the history of mankind is governed by Yawveh, and that his will is manifest in every event that takes place. The destiny of all mankind, according to this idea, is governed by man's relationship with God. This idea naturally flows into the story of the Children of Israel, whose patriarchs conversed with God and made various covenants with Him. These covenants governed mankind's destiny. This idea extends into the New Testament, which posits that the sacrifice of Jesus now affects every person, and every generation since his resurrection, into the limitless future. The Children of Israel (Hebrew: בני ישראל Bnai Yisrael or Bnei Yisrael or Bnei Yisroel) is a Biblical term for the Israelites. ...

Similarly, Hegel and Marx presented general concepts of historical development. Hegel presented the idea that progress in history is actually the progress not of mankind's material existence, but of humanity's spiritual development. Concomitantly, Hegel presented a developmental theory of how the human spirit progresses: through the dialectic of synthesis and antithesis. Marx's theory of dialectic materialism is essential to his general concept of history: that the struggle to dominate the means of production governs all historical development. Broadly speaking, a dialectic (Greek: διαλεκτική) is an exchange of propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses) resulting in a disagreement. ...

The basic ideas of universal history are so prevalent in our culture that they are difficult to identify and separate from basic Western assumptions of how the world is or should be. Below the level of the intellectuals, these ideas continue to predominate as a core of basic assumptions about the world.

For example, the teleological aspects of universal history remain entrenched in our society. Few ordinary people believe that the events of our world, and more specifically, the events within the human community, are not directed toward an end or tending toward an end of some sort. Teleology is the philosophical study of purpose (from the Greek teleos, perfect, complete, which in turn comes from telos, end, result). ...

The linear pre-suppositions of the theory are also no less prevalent. Most people living in Western cultures conceive of time, and therefore of history, as a line or an arrow, that is proceeding from past to future, toward some end. The idea that time may be cyclical, or that there is no fundamental "end" to the human struggle, is repugnant to most people in the West, although most people have trouble articulating such ideas coherently.

The roots of historiography in the nineteenth century are bound up with the concept that history written with a strong connection to the primary sources could, somehow, be integrated with "the big picture", i.e. to a general, universal history. For example, Leopold Von Ranke, probably the pre-eminent historian of the nineteenth century, founder of "Rankean positivism," the mode of historiography that stands against postmodernism, attempted to write a Universal History at the close of his career. Leopold von Ranke (December 21, 1795- May 23, 1886) was one of the greatest German historians of the 19th century, and is frequently considered the founder of scientific history. ... Postmodernism (sometimes abbreviated pomo) is a term applied to a wide-ranging set of developments in critical theory, philosophy, architecture, art, literature, and culture, which are generally characterized as either emerging from, in reaction to, or superseding, modernism. ...

The work of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee are primary examples of attempts to integrate primary source -based history and Universal History. Spengler's work is more general; Toynbee created a theory that would allow the study of "civilizations" to proceed with integration of source-based history writing and Unversal History writing. Both writers explicitly attempted to incorporate teleological theories into general presentations of the history of mankind or large portions of mankind. Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler (Blankenburg am Harz May 29, 1880 – May 8, 1936, Munich) was a German historian and philosopher, although his studies ranged throughout mathematics, science, philosophy, history, and art. ... Arnold Toynbee (1852-1883) was an economic historian, the uncle of Arnold J. Toynbee with whom he is sometimes confused. ...

See also

  Results from FactBites:
The Modern Word - "A New Universal History of Infamy" Review (3139 words)
The seven “histories” were followed by five short parodies collected under the heading of “Etcetera” – fragments of original writing that Borges brazenly attributed to authors such as Burton and Swedenborg.
Hughes’ infamous histories have neither the variety nor the subtlety of Borges’ – despite the occasional flash of wit, most of Hughes’ rogues are insane sociopaths, responsible for much useless death and misery, their misdeeds all too easily accessorized.
The droll manner in which he begins and ends his histories is deliciously satisfying, and the sketches abound with marvelous touches of sardonic humor.
EAWC Essay: The Educational Value of History (2981 words)
History is the comment made afterward, when the fight is over and ended and the combatants are cold in their graves; and the duty of history is to hear all sides and all persons, to weigh all pleas, to sift all testimonies, to be fair to all.
History is for time, what travel is for space; it is an intellectual journey across oceans and continents of duration, and of ages both remote from our own and vitalized and enriched by stupendous events.
Without history, nearly all the practical wisdom of mankind, gained through innumerable blunders and mishaps, would be lost, and the same blunders and the same mishaps would have to be repeated and to be suffered over and over again on the part of successive generations ignorant of what had happened before.
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