The post-Enlightenment definition of History describes human recorded history. (The Oxford English Dictionary first definition is “a continuous, usu. chronological, record of important or public events.”) History sticks to the record, going so far as to equate its science with the recording and analysis of its data.

Originally, the Greek ἱστορία, historia, translated as “inquiry” from the Greek verb historein, “to inquire”, meant something perhaps slightly different. Guido Schepens in Marincola’s edited volume, A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography, writes:

“History” came into existence as a self-conscious break with epic literature as soon as an author – assuming the persona of “inquirer” – took responsibility himself for giving an account of human affairs in the past.     (Schepens 2007 p. 40)


Do you think this original meaning involved a connotation of history as what is recorded in writing, of researcher as writer, or is the Greek definition really so broad, to be free of the written word altogether?

One thing is certain, that history is a scientific investigation, not a subject for the Humanities which are a collection of creative folk musings. Its problems are shared – by other historical sciences. The historical sciences of developmental biology, evolutionary biology, computer science modelling such as cellular automata and other artificial life, geological history, paleontology and astronomical history have all discovered patterns in historical sequences and invented methods for studying them. Some of these patterns and methods may be generalizable, an exciting prospect. When I imagine how the historical sciences will benefit once they communicate and share research tools, I am flabbergasted that they have not yet done so.

Schepens, G. 2007. History and Historia: Inquiry in the Greek Historian. In: A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography, vol. 1 (ed. Marincola, J.) Blackwell.


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