Theory Of Knowledge To what extent can disagreement aid in our understanding of history? October 2012 International School of Curacao Wordcount: 2,691 Historical Disagreements To what extent can disagreement aid in our understanding of history? Disagreement has been present in the world ever since the first biotic and abiotic factors roamed the Earth. In order to understand what the question is asking, we must define its key words. Disagreement is defined as a difference in opinion and diversity.
Even though the word disagreement has a negative tone, it does not necessarily have to be bad. Disagreement offers people a different point of view and can help the world’s population improve its understanding of each other. This brings me to the next key word in the question: understanding. Understanding is described as the comprehension of a certain topic and as having a mental grasp on something. People encounter disagreements during discussions, which makes the conversation richer. I find it is important, for every human being, to understand that disagreements are healthy.
Without disagreement, there will be too much familiarity and similarity, and life will be lacking adventure and uncertainties. Disagreement and lack of understanding are often, if not always, seen in history. Many wars start because of a disagreement and/or because of the lack of willingness of understanding. History is defined as the study of the past. Much of the study of history is factual. Facts are statements supposedly set in stone and true. From a young age on, children are taught that facts are not to be altered. As they grow up, they find that this is false: history is not entirely set in stone.
And that is exactly what this paper will be covering, with the help of Jared Diamond, Galileo Galilei, Gavin Menzies, Fritz Fischer, Charles van Doren, and Reuben Abel. Historiography is the writing of history. According to Reuben Abel, different historiographies are influenced by the history of civilization. This history of civilization is depending on climate, soil, and geography. Geography brings up another historian that helps support that disagreement aids in the understanding of history. Jared Diamond did research on why historiography is different in different continents.
He published his findings in a book called “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Diamond argued that the gaps in technology and power between human societies are not caused mainly by cultural and racial differences. He states that the geography and ecology of European and Asian landmasses gave the societies there an advantage over those on other continents. Although Diamond’s findings sound realistic, his work was critiqued for ‘factual errors’. Diamond, although criticized, is important to mention in the discussion on how disagreement aids in the understanding of history.
His findings may not all be correct, but some are. This shows that there were many different factors playing in the different historiographies in different continents in the world. Reuben Abel goes on by stating that the history of civilization is also dependent of race, hereditary ability, and psychological factors. Additionally, it depends on the motif of power and on the theory that history is the history of class struggle. This is an idea taking from Marxism, and the first kind of approach to history: that it is cyclical.
Reuben Abel goes on by stating that historiographies should be appraised and assessed, but that there is no crucial experiment that can test the validity of a theory of history. Abel’s claim that “History is far from being exclusively scientific or factual; it is also a larger part creative” is one I can agree with. History is not just facts. Between the factual sentences, there has to be at least one sentence linking one fact to another. The main reason why Reuben Abel is important to mention in this essay about disagreement aiding the understanding of history is that humanity has not yet discovered every bit of evidence in the world.
Abel mentions that the past is “inferred from present evidence”. What he means with this is that the evidence found in modern times indicates the past. With this, Abel concludes that present evidence is not complete. Hence, the past remains a mystery. A good example of historical deception is Stalin’s photograph taken with Nikolai Yezhov, which was altered later to remove Yezhov. Disagreement has been present in history and often a source of major (bloody) historical events. A good example of disagreement aiding in the understanding of history is the three different views of any historical event.
You have the Orthodox view of a historical event, which is the traditional outlook and interpretation of historical ‘facts’. The second view is the revisionist one. These historians take a second look at the evidence of the first view. The third view is the post-revisionist view. Historians look at both the traditional and the revisionist view of the same historical event, and conclude ‘something’ based on both views. This is important in discussing how disagreement aids in the understanding of history. The three views obviously have a different opinion of what caused a certain historical event.
But this disagreement, that is healthy, provides the world’s population with a better understanding of history. The disagreement gives the world the option to choose which view they support the most. Gavin Menzies is another great example of one who argues the truth of history. He states that it was not Christopher Columbus who discovered America in 1492, but the Chinese. He says that the New World was ‘stumbled upon’ by the Chinese in 1421. This is seven decades prior to Columbus. Menzies is relevant in the discussion about disagreement aiding in the understanding of history, because he questions and challenges history.
He has found and states his evidence, in his book, supporting that China had been actively sailing around the world during the 1420’s. The reason why he is arguing the truth of America’s discovery is because he himself found out that many historical Chinese events happened in 1421. This is the main reason why he decided to write a book about the Chinese discovering America before Columbus. Additionally, Menzies is important to mention in the discussion of how disagreement can aid in the understanding of history because of his thesis.
His thesis changed the Western age of discovery and altered the common belief that Europe discovered Asia. Some of his arguments include finding Asian jade in Aztec tombs, and allegations of Chinese ideograms found on pre-Columbian pottery. Another argument he uses to defend his statement(s) is the idea of maps that show countries that were not yet discovered by Europe in the 15th century. His third supporting argument is that not only many academics in China support him; also academics on the West Coast of America believe Zhang He found North America and Australia during his two-year journey over the ocean, which began in 1421.
Menzies re-opened the discussion of truth in relation to history in 2008 when he stated that the Chinese sparked the Renaissance. With his book, Menzies received much criticism. Oxford professor Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, for example, counters Menzies’ evidence of maps by saying: “What [Gavin Menzies] doesn’t understand is that maps at that time were as much acts of the imagination as cartography”. Menzies replies by stating that there are over 6,000 references that support the idea of ‘diffusion theory’. This is the idea that there are various alternative theories that discuss America’s discovery.
Menzies goes on by stating that it is “Virtually impossible to still argue that Columbus discovered America, that Cook found Australia or that Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the world”. This is also because evidence was discovered that the Vikings discovered America 500 years prior to Columbus, and 430 years prior to the Chinese. Menzies also states that in the 1400’s, only the Chinese had the capacity and knowledge to explore the world. The article on his website summarizes that Menzies says that the Chinese fleet could have circumnavigated the world four times between 1421 and 1426. The key word to view is could.
By using this word, Menzies assumes that the Chinese could circle the world four times, while there is hardly any sign of evidence to support this argument. If Menzies had evidence to support his statement, he would not be using the word could. Another reason why Menzies is significant when looking at disagreement aiding in the understanding of history is because he introduces the idea of ‘diffusion theories’ to a younger audience. He is able to make people question what they were taught at school and think about their sources. But then this question comes to mind: is Menzies’ goal to prove China’s role in the discovery of America ethical?
This means that many historians that studied the topic of discovery should and will be questioned. Many people will be questioning their beliefs and Spain (as well as various other countries) will be suffering under a ‘bad image’. Menzies is making the public question their authority and textbooks. Another man who made the public question their authority and textbooks was German historian Fritz Fischer. In 1961, he introduced that Germany intended to start a (world) war to gain more economic and political dominance over Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Germany had a strong sense of colonialism, and found imperialism very important. Fischer, as a revisionist, concludes that therefore Germany is responsible for the start of the Great War, or the First War. His colleagues and the (German) public received his contributions with shock as it challenged the traditional view that Germany stumbled into the war, just like the other great European powers did. Younger historians later found truth in some of his evidence and Fischer became Germany’s best-known living historian to the world, until he died on December 1st of 1999.
The main reason why Fischer is important to mention in a discussion about disagreement aiding in the understanding of history is because his statement opened up the discussion of the world wars. Before, German people were not allowed to speak of the war, as it was still a very sensitive topic. Fischer blew new life into the topic of Germany’s intentions. The disagreement among him and his supports and other historians has shown that there is more evidence to what humanity is aware of now. Back then; the causes of the Great War were debatable, yet one was seen as set in stone.
Now children are taught that there are various causes of the Great War. This disagreement caused by Fischer has resulted in a better understanding of the intentions of Germany in the Great War. Another important subject related to disagreement in aiding the understanding of history is truth and reality. Before and somewhat after the Renaissance, religious populations believed that the world was flat, and that one could fall off of it. This was, however, proven wrong by various scientists in BC and in AD. Another example of human deception and ignorance of truth and reality is Charles van Doren’s game show appearance.
In January of 1957, he entered a game show and won more than $1 million. It became later known that Van Doren was given the answers to the questions and that he therefore cheated. Van Doren’s cheating shows that even something as simple as a game show, can be manipulated. When viewing this problem on a larger scale, one will make the startling discovery that certain things are happening that ‘ordinary’ people are not and will never be aware of. The manipulation also shows and supports the idea that what happens in the present, and what happened in the past, may be believed to be true, until one knows the actual truth.
Sometimes people do not want to have a disagreement about history and present knowledge. A good example of this is the Renaissance, specifically Galileo Galilei. Galileo was famous for his scientific findings and believes. In 1632, he published a book in which he stated that the Earth was moving around the sun. By doing so he was proving the common believe of the Earth being central in the universe, wrong. This angered the Pope, and Galileo was found suspect of heresy and was forced to say that his findings were wrong. Additionally, he became imprisoned and persecuted by the church.
Galileo is important to mention in the discussion of disagreement aiding in the understanding of history as he demonstrated the advantages of experimentation and change. He was among those who began the Scientific Revolution in Europe. Disagreement is necessary in discussions and in life. Without it, life would be dull and too familiar. Because of disagreement, many people are given the option to choose who and what they want to believe. This is when historiography comes into place. Historiography is the writing of history. There is someone who writes the history that children are taught of in class.
This someone can be a traditional Orthodox historian, a revisionist historian, or a post-revisionist. The lessons for history that we, the ordinary and educated part of humanity, are taught were once determined by one of these categories of historians. Their view is what we value as truth and factual. Galileo, for example, was one among many who proved the truth of a flat Earth wrong. He discovered, with a telescope and calculations, that the Earth is round. Although found mad at first, Galileo proved something that was found true by many religious people, false. Another example of this would be Gavin Menzies.
He argued that it was not Columbus who discovered America, but the Chinese. Although he receives many critics on his book, he has proven that there is new evidence supporting that Columbus was not the first on America. This has made many people question their textbooks and take a second look at many historical facts. Fritz Fischer has done similar and made Germans and other countries in the world take another look at their textbooks. He did so by stating that Germany is responsible for the First World War, as they promoted imperialism and colonialism. Germany was greedy and therefore to blame for the First World War.
Jared Diamond has also made people check their textbooks. He introduced the idea that there are various factors influencing each historical event. Diamond proved that Europe and Asia were able to conquer the New World due to their geography and agriculture. Charles van Doren did not prove anything wrong either, but proved that humanity may be deceived by their lack of knowledge. By entering a game show and winning through cheating, Van Doren has proven that something as simple as a game show can be manipulated. This raises the question of what else is manipulated that humanity is unaware of?
To conclude, disagreement is important when looking at history. History is not set in stone, and can never fully be. Reuben Abel said that the evidence found today, determines the history. This is true as much information is still lacking from history, and certain events are still lacking cause and reason, which would be determined by the evidence. The disagreement among historians wakes up humanity. It forces us to study certain events better in order to fully understand all of its possible causes. We will be able to understand history better by viewing different possibilities.
The people present during the historical events are gone, and only psychical evidence is left over. From this, historians conclude their professional opinions. Disagreement aids in the understanding of history as it provides humanity with the possibility of variety. Bibliography BBC News. (2002, October 22). Experts hope to emulate Chinese Columbus. Retrieved September 21, 2012, from BBC News: http://news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2349929. stm Clark, J. (2012). Did the Chinese beat Columbus to America? Retrieved October 1, 2012, from How Stuff Works: http://history. howstuffworks. om/european-history/chinese-beat-columbus. htm Dictionary. (2012). Disagreement. Retrieved October 3, 2012, from Dictionary: http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/disagreement Dictionary. (2012). Fact. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from Dictionary: http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/fact Freudenrich, C. C. (2011). World History. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from Curiosity: http://curiosity. discovery. com/question/how-know-vikings-north-america Gavin Menzies. (2011, August 11). Australia as surveyed by Zheng He fleet voyagers before 1433 -paper delivered in Brisbane, August 2006.
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