History 17B Lecture 1 What is History? Page 1



I.  Telling a Story

A.  Definition

We start off this course by asking a very simple question:  what is history?  History is both a body of knowledge and a way of explaining that body of knowledge.  People, facts, and events of the past all have a story to tell.

B.  Myths

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It used to be that historians would make up these stories.   Myths, religious tales, and other legends handed down from generation to generation were powerful ways to gather people together for a common purpose; to give their existence meaning or to justify their acquisition of land or rule over another people.

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Today we know that "good history" presumes that history is made by people, not Gods or mysterious supernatural events.  Carbon testing, DNA samples, and other forms of scientific methods help make it possible to know something of what happened. iceman.jpg (28883 bytes)