History as Science

Is history a science? The disciplines concerned with man in his social relations are known as social sciences and History is very clearly considered to be part of the social sciences. The difference of opinion is probably more apparent than real. The discussion practically revolves around the meaning one chooses to attach to the term science. In practically all instances where the claim of history to be a science is denied, the denial is based on the assumption that the term science means an exact science. The crux of this discussion begins with a definition of science.

Most would agree that science is a systematized body of general truths concerning a definite subject matter and established by an efficient, effective method. This definition is sufficient, thought there really is no hard and fast, universally accepted definition of the term. Following is a breakdown of the four elements essential to the concept of science as has been defined:

A body of systematized knowledge – Data or information that is ordered, organized and classified. Not just a heap of isolated facts or truths, but a complex of them knit together according to some principle of rational, logical order, such as time, space, topic or causation.

An effective method – Science relies upon sound method more than anything so that conclusions derived from its practice can be deemed legitimate. The method must be correct and effective. History as record employs a recognized correct and effective technique, or method, from which the writer of history, at least scholarly history, cannot afford to depart. The use of a recognized method is a prime factor qualifying history to rank as a science.

A definite subject matter – Material can’t be vague or limitless. A science must work within some sharply defined field of human knowledge.

Formulation of general truths – History deals primarily with particular happenings, with the unique, but a broader conception makes it pass at will beyond the unique to general and universal. There are two kinds of general truths: those restricted to time and place and those not. It is from broad, comprehensive truths that history derives its practical utility. History as record of human past has been understood to include the reporting of particular facts and interpretation and generalization based upon the facts.

It can be concluded that History is a science, though not an exact science, because History includes the above four elements. Thus, we can designate it as science, but only in a broad, qualified sense, as has been described.




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