Sunday, July 02, 2006

What is a historian?

This is something I have been pondering lately: "what is a historian?".

Why this question formulated itself now has to do with a radio programme I listened to earlier this week. In it there was a historian working as a researcher of the future, a scientist who dealt with hypotheses about how future technology will affect the work and lives of people. It came to me, then, that just as much as delving into the past and getting lost in details and different times' different habits and ways of life, a historian acquires knowledge about the structure of human life.

People of all times have put their thoughts and ideas into action, into a pattern of life, have poured their thoughts about what life is and how it should be lived, into systems, into some kind of organisation. Often this has been done consciously, but I believe that just as often a "world order" (locally as well as globally) has been derived out of a set of ideas living in the people at that time. That a powerful current of ideas actually materializes itself through the people thinking, imagining and seeing them, that these people actually work as an instrument for the prominent ideas of their time.

A historian, who sits at a distance from these events, has the power to see the long lines and developments in human nature and how we execute our insights and powers.

So a historian can, by use of his imagination and comparative intelligence, transfer this knowledge about old times to how we might behave in the future.

Therefore, the term "historian" might not be the best to describe the real function he fills - or can fill.

Human systems scientist, perhaps? Not as catchy, though.. I admit that!

Any better suggestions?


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