Posted by: constantinakatsari | February 23, 2010

Comparative History and Science

Firstly, I would like to point out that I do enjoy the module, and although I question the actual subject matter I do believe that it is beneficial to my degree, and I do enjoy it.

Obviously we do make comparisons every day, but all your examples, I would argue, can be tested and can be shown to have strong connections and similar foundations. Asda sell Heinz Baked beans for 60p, Sainsbury’s may be 80p, we have a set similarity then we can see the variable. But how can we compare emotions, or feelings or individual ideas? Fair enough if we can get one Roman slave’s account and one American slave’s account we can give a comparison, but this would be down to their individual ideas and nature. Even to do such a comparison still there are so many variables.

The main problem i find with comparing any such ages is that there are major historical differences, the only consistencies are that they both involve humans, and because we only ever look through someone else’s eyes we may even be missing the blindingly obvious things about their society that they took for granted. This makes history hard enough as it is, but then to try and contrast I think you will lose the very minute parts which are based in reality and lose all sense of the history.

I feel that history is a subject that wants, but never can be, a science. Even in your reply you used such words like; historical methodology, material, valid hypothesis (i know i mentioned this word too) and analysis (especially the latter because this shows that we have possibly done a test and now are looking at the results, which obviously is impossible in history). These would all be used in a scientific situation. History is the perception of the past from another era. I question whether we can really call any book written by a historian as ‘research’, I don’t know what it is, and I’m not trying to weaken it by taking this word away from it, but I’m trying to point it towards the idea of being purely perception and heavy opinion, this leads it away from scientific words and matters.

When looking at history (through my definition) it will always be compared to our own era, we look at the Romans and see how they were compared to us, like Constantina mentions we do naturally compare everything. With his in mind all history is a comparison, but then to compare two comparisons I feel you lose touch about what it was really like, and you are too far away from ‘now’ to make it seem valid. It sits in limbo.

I’m not trying to say that all comparative history is a waste of time, but I would say that trying to compare societies is incredibly different due to the massive amount of variables, not only between the two ages, but also by the variables we place on it too.

Something I feel which is more valid as a subject is looking at the historiography of two eras and comparing it, seeing how historians perceived each time in a certain era. Obviously there will be variables in such a subject, but they are more obvious. Looking at what the historian wrote, instead of what actually happened means any variable connected to the time as a society is not important because we would be looking at what he/she wrote, not what actually happened. This allows for a much easier comparison.



  1. The questions you raise have been answered in the past. I remember a conference in the States, when one of the researchers claimed that comparing historical periods is like comparing apples with oranges (hence dissimilar). The answer he received was that they are all fruits.

    Behind every comparison there is a basic similarity. For example, in our case, the existence of a slave system is the main similarity on which we built the comparison. On top of that we explore in depth also dissimilarities, because these show us the parameters that led one society into one instead of another direction.

    You also brought up the issue of science and the fact that history is an art. Who told you that science is exact or proven? Scientists also use various hypotheses and theories in their research. Their results are likely but often are proven wrong. For example, the Theory of Einstein is just that. Another theory. It belongs to the sphere of science, it sounds plausible but it cannot be definitely proven correct.

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