The Corso of History
While this theory seems intuitively illuminating, it also betrays the unscientific nature of history. The value of history does not lie in its demonstrative capacity, but rather in the narrator’s ability to understand the various features of others. Ultimately, the value of history lies in its pedagogical value, which must be accounted for in any discussion of history. In this vein, Collingwood’s meta-theory is not as logically rigorous as many of his colleagues, but is nonetheless highly suggestive of how the past works.
In the age of Gods and Heroes, people believed in divine sign language and metaphoric images, speaking in direct object language and with metaphoric images. By contrast, in the Age of Men, people communicate using abstract generalities and assume that all people are equal in social associations. Rather than focusing on the origins of practices, historians should instead seek to uncover moments of conflict between differing discourses and disparities between them. This is the corso of history, and every nation must live it out.
For instance, when writing a history, students should analyze each paragraph to understand the thoughts and actions of specific individuals and their context in time. Using the historical data to create a narrative, students can explore the personalities and behaviors of individuals from the past. Revisions should be aimed at putting those individuals at the center of the story. This approach allows students to develop historical knowledge in an interdisciplinary way and foster critical thinking. But it should not be confused with a literary critique.
The field of history is rich with examples. Often, history can be used to explain events and shape national identities. Using history as a weapon in the culture wars is a dangerous misuse. Instead of serving a greater purpose, history has become the handmaid of identity politics and self-flagellation. This practice inevitably promotes inaccurate perceptions of the past and reduces the field’s usefulness. If used correctly, history is a powerful tool for teaching critical thinking and developing moral awareness.
Philosophers of history have also developed a more rational approach to the subject. For example, Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet, a French philosopher, believed that the progressive ideals of the Enlightenment would lead to an equality of wealth and suffrage. His ideals were based on a non-theological and non-Christian framework. Thus, history is now viewed as a form of social science, rather than a means to an end.
Other historians focus on factors that produce significant changes in the past. They call these factors ‘winds of change.’ These winds can shape societies or individuals in a variety of ways. Usually, these ‘winds of change’ are motivated by influential people. When they grow into larger forces, they may influence economic conditions and political events. The historical causes of these ‘winds of change’ can be understood as manifestations of those forces.
Historians can also choose an appropriate scale for the study of history. They can choose a scale that encompasses enough time and space to be interesting but does not stray too far from valid analysis. The scale can be national, regional, supranational, or local. The scale may be as simple or as complex as the historian’s imagination. However, it should be a guideline, not an exclusive guide to history. This way, historians can make the best of their field.