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The Article of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, third edition 1788-1797

History, The Article of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, third edition 1788-1797
URL: <http://www.eliohs-unifi.it/testi/700/history3>
Html edition for ELIOHS by Silvia Sebastiani, sebastia@datacomm.iue.it and Mario Caricchio, caricchio@dada.it (December 1998)

General definition | Civil history | Ecclesiastical History | Composition of history | Historical Chart

General Definition [560-561]

HISTORY, in general signifies an account of some remarkable facts which have happened in the world, arranged in the true order in which they actually took place, together with the causes to which they were owing, and the different effects they have produced as far as can be discovered. The word is Greek istoria (in greek alphabeth); and literally denotes a search of curious things, or a desire of knowing, or even a rehearsal of things we have seen; being formed from the verb istorein  (in greek alphabeth), which properly signifies to know a thing by having seen it. But the idea is now much more extensive, and is applied to the knowledge of things taken from the report of others. The origin is from the verb ishmi, ‘I know’; and hence it is, that among the ancients several of their great men were called polyhistores, i.e. persons of various and general knowledge.
Sometimes, however, the word history is used to signify a description of things, as well as an account of facts. Thus Theophrastus calls his work in which he has treated of the nature and properties of plants, an history of plants; and we have a treatise of Aristotle, entitled an history of animals; and to this day the description of plants, animals, and minerals, are called by the general name of natural history.

1. History
how divided.

But what chiefly merits the name of history, and what is here considered as such, is an account of the principal transactions of mankind since the beginning of the world; and which naturally divides itself into two parts, namely, civil and ecclesiastical. The first contains the history of mankind in their various relations to one another, and their behaviour, for their own emolument, or that of others, in common life; the second considers them as acting, or pretending to act, in obedience to what they believe to be the will of the Supreme Being. Civil history, therefore, includes an account of all the different states that have existed in the world, and likewise of those men who in different ages of the world have most eminently distinguished themselves either for their good or evil actions. This last part of civil history is usually termed Biography.
History is now considered as a very considerable branch of polite literature: few accomplishments are more valued than an accurate knowledge of the histories [561] of different nations; and scarce any literary production is more regarded than a well-written history of any nation.

2. Of the study
of history.

With regard to the study of history, we must consider, that all the revolutions which have happened in the world have been owing to two causes. 1. The connections between the different states existing together in the world at the same time, or their different situations with regard to one another; and, 2. The different characters of the people who in all ages constituted these states, their different geniuses and dispositions, &c. by which they were either prompted to undertake such and such actions of themselves, or were easily induced to it by others. The person who would study history, therefore, ought in the first place to make himself acquainted with the state of the world in general in all different ages; what nations inhabited the different parts of it; what their extent of territory is; at what particular time they arose, and when they declined. He is then to inform himself of the various events which have happened to each particular nation; and, in so doing, he will discover any of the causes of those revolutions, which before he only knew as facts. Thus, for instance, a person may know the Roman history from the time of Romulus, without knowing in the least why the city of Rome happened to be built at that time. This cannot be understood without a particular knowledge of the former state of Italy, and even of Greece and Asia; seeing the origin of the Romans is commonly traced as high as Æneas, one of the heroes of Troy. But when all this is done, which indeed requires no small labour, the historian hath yet to study the genius and dispositions of the different nations, the characters of those who were the principal factors of their actions, whether kings, ministers, generals, or priests; and when this is accomplished, he will discover the causes of those transactions in the different nations which have given rise to the great revolutions above mentioned: after which, he may assume the character of one who is perfectly versed in history.
The first outline of history, as it may be called, is most easily obtained by the inspection of an historical chart; and that subjoined to the present treatise will answer the purpose as well as any. Along with this it will be proper to peruse a short abridgement of general history, from the creation of the world to the present time; but in this way there have been but any few attempts attended with any tolerable success. The following is collected from respectable authorities, and may serve to help the ideas of the reader on this subject.

General definition | Civil history | Ecclesiastical History | Composition of history | Historical Chart