The Pursuit of History by John Tosh

The Pursuit of History by John Tosh

In chapters one and two of John Tosh’s The Pursuit of History, Historical Awareness and The Uses of History, the author discusses the “different dimensions of social memory” to try and understand what it is that historians do and how it relates to different ways of analyzing the past. Tosh’s main arguments about social memory are that it is an essential means of sustaining a politically active identity, it can take on the form of foundation myths or focus on a moment of heroism, and can sometimes be based on consensus and inclusion. He also claims that the task of historians is to challenge socially motivated misrepresentations of the past, and that do this, a historian would need context to study a historical situation because “the subject of our inquiry must not be wrenched from its setting” (pg 10). Basically, to truly understand why people acted they way they did, Tosh claims that the best way for a historian to do this is to see the world through their eyes and judge it by their own standards.

 

I thought this reading was interesting because it made me look at analyzing history in a different way. The main challenge in studying history is making sure that what you conclude as a historian is as accurate to the truth as possible which is why context is essential. Something else Tosh mentions that should be considered is historicism. Historicism is the theory that social and cultural phenomena are determined by history. This means that the history we know has been influenced by social and cultural experiences, which in turn brings the historian to look at the context of the situation at the time. A quote that helps explain this is on page 7 where the author states “the passage of time has profoundly altered both the conditions of life and the mentality of men and women- even perhaps human nature itself.”

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