This is a philosophy question.  How can the understanding of historiography be used in addressing issues such as the difference between primary and secondary documents, the question of...

This is a philosophy question.  How can the understanding of historiography be used in addressing issues such as the difference between primary and secondary documents, the question of supernaturalism, cyclical vs. linear concepts of history, secular vs. Christian notions of progress or the goal of history?  

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Historiography is rooted in a dialogue.  It is a discourse whose contributions might be more reflective of an event or reality than the actual occurrence itself. To fully examine all the implications of historiography in such cosmic realities as the goal of history or the question of human identity in the name of social progress is beyond what can be done here. For thousands of years, scholars have devoted their life's work to such issues.  The most that can be done here is to explore how historiography enhances understanding of such critical issues that define who we are and how we shall live.

The presence of historiography is evident in the discussion of academic concepts related to the notion of history.  Historiography regarding history is reflected in the "meta- narrative" being told.  In understanding issues such as the use of primary and secondary documents, conceptual frameworks of history, as well as its goals, one sees that historiography helps to further understand the concept.  Historiography adds to the understanding of the dialogue.  For example, in recognizing the historiographical contribution of thinkers like Marwick, the value of primary sources becomes evident.  Ideas such as how the primary source is "essential" to the understanding of history confirms this.  At the same time, the historiography behind primary and secondary sources contains another aspect, expressed in the thoughts of thinkers like Iredale:  "Original material may be ... prejudiced, or at least not exactly what it claims to be."  Historiography allows a greater sense of understanding to emerge because it represents different sides of a dialogue on the topic.  

A similar discussion can be seen in analyzing the linear or cyclical nature of history and its end result.  For example, thinkers like St. Augustine see historical progression in a very linear nature.  There is not recurrence, but rather an understanding that historical progression advances towards a specific and sacred end through Christianity.  Hegel offers another dimension to the historiography in his assertion of the dialectics as representing the central force of historical advancement.  In the historiographical discourse of the nature of history and its end goals, the Augustinian idea of a specific design being revealed through historical progression can be set against the Hegelian idea of dialectics providing a ground where cyclical patterns emerge through thesis and antithesis.  The historiography between both thinkers allows students of the discipline to emerge with greater understanding.  The nature of history as well as its direct end are complex topics.  They cannot be answered with a single voice. It is here in which historiography is essential.  It allows for divergence of thought.  Historiography does not put its students in the positions of ultimatum, forced to make arbitrary choices.  The choice element is not as present as historiography does not demands that individuals "choose." Rather, it allows a greater understanding of the topic to emerge because thinkers posit their own ideas in discourse.  Though intellectual clash, greater awareness develops.  

The issues of spiritual identity are rooted in the same notion of historiography. Given how spiritual identity is always more intense than secular and academic understanding, there might be a greater desire to force a choice.  However, the same element in offering potential thoughts about a large- scale issue is evident.  The scholasticism intrinsic to the historiography of Christian and secular notions of progress and the question of supernaturalism reflects an array of thought in which individuals can accept different understandings based on criteria that they find appealing.  For example, thinkers like David Strauss were critical forces in the emergence of the historiography surrounding Christian supernaturalism.  In being able to distinguish if the Gospels should be accepted as logical truth or as part of a more revelatory notion of the good, Strauss developed a third approach that analyzed the Gospels as example of narrative structure.  Strauss's work suggests that historiography surrounds the sacred texts.  Students must be aware of these political biases that govern religious scholarship.  This same type of progression can be seen in the historiography that surrounds Christian vs. secular notions of progress.  Social progress was viewed in a Christian dominant frame of reference.  As a result of the emergent scholarship in a secularist notion, it becomes evident that "the modern concept of progress depended on the suppression of religion." Enlightenment thinkers were critical in this shift, and whose influence can be seen today in thinkers like Fukuyama and Rorty.  Historiography reveals the biases and presuppositions that govern different points of view and the emergent field of scholarship in a given topic.  This is where I think one can see how historiography's understanding can address particular issues that define human identity.