Is history a science? Essay

History and science are thought to be to completely different areas of knowledge and that there is no similarity between them whatsoever, however that is not true in many cases, as seen in the extract Is history a science from The Nature of History by Arthur Marwick. Marwick first states that there is no similarity between the scientist’s methods and the historian’s intuition, yet there is a similarity. For instance, a scientist will develop an intuition and this intuition he/she will choose to conduct a certain type of experiment and not another, and if that experiment does not work he/she will look for a new experiment. In the same way a historians intuition could suggest certain probable connections in history and with his/her intuition they will attempt to establish the probability of the existence of such a relationship or it will cause the historian to seek new sources.

In the same way, one might believe that science gives a sense of closure that is not evident in history because of all the uncontrolled variables, and once again that could be observed in a different perspective. For example, there are always scientific laws that are re-examined since the discovery of something new proved it to be incomplete. As an example, one could observe the fact that Einstein built on Newton’s theories by taking them to new and more complex levels. Therefore, closure is not necessarily given in the sciences, as in history. In history, it is sometimes difficult to establish conclusive proofs for the past.

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Likewise, Marwick states that science relies on objectivity, whereas history does not. However, I disagree with his statement because when a historian attempts to find out about the past then they first gather as many facts as possible in an objective manner and then they draw a conclusion. This is similar to how it s done in science. The scientist observes in an objective manner and then analyzes their results.

Marwick also states in this extract that there is a difference between scientific predictions and historical predications and I tend to agree with him. For a historian a prediction is made after using evidence that is collected with what he/she feels occurs in a certain circumstance. Whereas a scientist makes a prediction before evidence is gathered, before the experiment is even conducted. Perhaps the similarity here is that both these areas of knowledge use predictions but in different ways.

In addition, history is like science in that they both are about finding out the causes and effect of an event. Both great scientist and great historians want to find a new way of explaining why things occur. As Marwick mentioned “the scientist seeks knowledge of the phenomena of the physical universe as the historian seeks knowledge of the human past.” Scientists such as a chemist want to know why a certain reaction occurred when two chemicals are combined, just as a historian wants to know why the civil war occurred.

In the same way, an important point has to be taken into account, which is about value judgments. In history, value judgments should not be used or else it becomes “non-historical.” A historian must detach himself or herself from the history that they are presenting. They must transcend their own paradigms because if a moral judgment is made then their conclusion that they present is not considered history

The biggest difference between history and science is the result. A scientist goes through the entire scientific process by observing, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing their results, and repeating their experiment to obtain “a law.” Whereas a historian goes through a process of gathering resources, creating a thesis, search for more sources, drawing a conclusion, and having historians comment/criticize their work to obtain a consensus.

In the end, I believe that history and science share so much in common even though many people do not see the connection. I think that the difference between these two subject matters obscures the similarity that is there. In addition, science and history use things such as intuition and predictions, but each to a different degree, which is perhaps why people see the differences and not the similarities. Thus, there is no fundamental difference between the main aims and methods of these two areas of knowledge

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