A lot of people think that history is the study of all past events, with all participants dead and their stories told. And while that is a part of it, it is actually much more. History is the process of understanding why and how things happened the way that they did. It involves thinking about the larger context in which those events took place and attempting to connect past and present.
That is why it is not as easy to define as the study of a subject like biology or physics. It is a very fluid discipline that changes as the world around us changes. For example, the rise of feminism and black studies have added new dimensions to history by allowing historians to look at historical events from different perspectives.
Historians are constantly reexamining their assumptions and methods. They are not performing heart transplants or improving highway design, but they do have a very important function: they help to shape the mental frameworks of future generations. They are a key element in the process of building a democratic society that is open to new ideas and challenges.
History is the process of understanding how and why the world we live in came to be as it is now. That is why it is such a fascinating and complex field of study. The field is also full of controversy and debate. Historians are divided about how to interpret their sources and they often disagree with one another over what events should be included in the history books. Some even disagree about whether or not there is a such thing as a definitive chronology of history.
Probably the earliest record of an event was made by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia around 2900 bc (and possibly earlier in Egypt). This cuneiform writing marked the first step towards the formal recording of events. This is regarded as the dividing line between pre-history and history.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, new fields of inquiry such as archaeology and anthropology began to provide new information about the past. These new insights challenged the old paradigms of the academic profession. Historians moved away from epic nationalistic narratives that glorified the nation or great men and attempted more objective analysis of the forces that brought about specific outcomes. These analyses could be described as a combination of hermeneutic explanations (why the outcome occurred) and causal explanations (what social and natural processes were at work).
It is not uncommon to find debates over what should be considered history and what the best method for studying it is. This is because, unlike other disciplines such as medicine or engineering, the functions of history are less clear-cut and more elusive to pin down. In addition, the scholarly method of studying history can be subject to various interpretations that reflect the values and beliefs of individual scholars.