September Media and Arts Domain Newsletter: Is History an Art or a Science? 1

Is History an Art or a Science?

September 21, 2021
Daniel Mendosa
Daniel Mendoza

September's Artist of the Month: Daniel Mendoza

Yeshua Recordz is a Christian music group that loves hip hop, and JESUS. They are not rappers; they are ministers of hope created to encourage believers with a desire of their heart to touch lives and reach the Tucson community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through music.

Founded in January 2020 by four brothers, Daniel and Ruben Mendoza, Jaime Cazares, and MK Chantharaj. They especially love working with those who use their gifts to express the inexpressible and serve a great God. It’s the heartbeat of who we are, and we’ve been on a journey to discover how to live that out in music and in culture.

Yeshua Recordz theme verse is Romans 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation”.
Media&ARTS: Is History an Art or a Science?
by Timothy Loraditch

When I began to study American history, my first assignment was to answer the question, “Is history a science or an art?” There were diverse responses to this question and there were valid points on both sides of the discussion. The question remains an excellent launching point for considering what history is and how to study it. Spend time reading historical accounts and researching deeply into any topic and you will discover that we are always learning new things that change our understanding of the past. An important step in the study of any historical topic is to research how our understanding has changed over the years.

Historians call this historiography, and it is a necessity to be able to speak and write credibly on a chosen topic. Still, it is hard for humans to remain objective and resist classical storytelling characterized by well-designed plots populated with great heroes and terrible villains. It is the story in history that excites us, and storytelling is very much an art. This question of history being an art versus science has had a lasting impact on my study of history. The discussion over this question gave me an understanding of the need to remain as objective as possible as I wrote about history.

Historians of all types often interpret the past shaped by their individual world view, ethnic background, and political goals as well as scholarly research. Storytellers want a good plot with heroes and villains. Historians want accuracy. The difficulty in avoiding individual bias often means that most histories fall somewhere in between the two genres. This problem is often well illustrated by histories about early European encounters in the Americas. Few historians manage to negotiate the field without bias. Often the crimes of our villains become the focus of our story and the victims are elevated to an almost spiritual innocence. God’s word tells us, “No one is righteous. Not one.” (Rom 3:10) This does not mean that a human may not start out with good. Each one of us has benevolent acts we can claim responsibility for, but all humans have weaknesses and guilt.

Complexity is an aspect of humanity that is universal. To remove that complexity from an individual’s story is to rob him of his humanity. It is also true that when an individual is cast as a villain, someone else is made a hero by implication. Storytellers often take advantage of the value of contrast. If a hero is to be made epically heroic, an epically evil villain helps make that point. The more evil the villain, the more heroic the hero. Storytellers fall into this trap when we overemphasize story value of the historical account. The story is entertaining, but it isn’t always true.

When great English storyteller William Shakespeare wrote Richard III, choosing to portray Richard as a villain, he blamed Richard for several acts of regicide, betraying friends, stealing the throne of England, as well as playing with the affections of others just for sport. The science of history caught up with Shakespeare in 2012 when the discovery of Richard III’s remains proved much of Shakespeare’s story to be false.

What was Shakespeare’s motivation for all this? That is hard to know. He likely based his play on the records of prominent historians of his time. Shakespeare could have referenced Edward Hall and Thomas Moore, both loyal to the House of Tudor. Historians now know that the House of Tudor not only captured the throne of Richard III after his death but committed many of the crimes they blamed Richard for. In the event that Shakespeare did know the truth, it may be that the author just would not risk his reputation by writing an explosive historical drama that would expose the crimes of his patrons, the Tudors. Shakespeare’s Richard III, however, is an example of how politics and historical subjectivity can unfairly impugn the character of historical figures and leave readers with a seriously biased understanding of the past.

I maintain a great appreciation for Shakespeare’s work overall. What we can learn from Shakespeare’s Richard III is that to use history to villainize any person, or group of people, may at some point be exposed as an inaccurate record. Conversely, to elevate them above the mistakes that they made is to make them no longer human. They become characters in a fictional story. If the author’s intentions match our ideology, our ethnic preferences, and our world view, then it will support the bias we choose to believe in. It’s not that I am against heroes. We use heroic stories all the time to pass on our culture to the next generation, but if we remove humanity from our heroes, we end up creating a house of cards that the next generation will reject when the rest of the story comes out.

Historical heroes are a major aspect of biblical content. Nearly all the major biblical heroes had major flaws. They lacked faith in God, committed adultery, lied to protect themselves, stole, killed, coveted, and so much more. The Bible hides none of it. We see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon for who they are. They are held up as heroes, but we still see the mistakes they made. We see these mistakes so that we can learn that God didn’t make any perfect people. He made humans with human weakness so that we would learn to rely on God.

Post-modernist historians tell us that no one can ever really know what happened in history. In some ways, this is true since new information is always coming forward that significantly changes what we thought we knew, but as my history professor said, at some point, conclusions must be formed. This is why history is an art. It is the art of telling a story. We just need to tell the story in a way that respects the humanity of individuals–even the ones we don’t like for one reason or another. In the end, there is fiction and non-fiction. Even the best of storytellers needs to be aware that history is an art that can be practiced, but the science of history will eventually have its say.
September Media and Arts Domain Newsletter: Is History an Art or a Science? 2

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