Theory of Critical Total History of Civilization

Theory of Critical Total History of Civilization

Andrew Targowski (Haworth College of Business, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 29
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-004-2.ch008

Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is to define information- based tools for the study of the human story in order to “informate” traditional historic findings. By “informate” one may understand a gain of additional information above that found by traditional processing of historical information, by applying modern cybernetic techniques that allow for the modeling and understanding of complexity. After literature, history is the most universal discipline of knowledge, passionately held (in their own particular versions) by millions of people on Earth. History makes us curious, perhaps because in it resides the puzzle of human existence, its successes and failures. We want to know the past because we want to learn “lessons of history” (Howard, 1991). Hence, history is popular and rich in its public role and its scientific methods are even the subject of philosophical debates. It is still debated, as Hegel (1956) stated, whether history is not chance but is rather a rational process operating according to laws of evolution and embodying the spirit of freedom. The 19th century’s positivism stipulated two roles for historians: to be disinterested observers and to find, in the records of the past, laws of human behavior. The 20th century’s tremendous progress in research and technology has influenced historians to consider history as a pure science with the emphasis on large-scale forces or structures instead of individuals (Breisach, 1983). As we move into the 21st century, new trends in the evolution of civilization, informatization and globalization, guide our awareness. These trends emphasize the application of information engineering skills and offer an expanded picture of human undertakings. The emerging world’s history of civilization in the making is no longer “sequential” and “slow” but now “instant” and “fast.” To understand such a dynamic civilization and take a pro-active role in it, one must develop new skills and new approaches to its study. Perhaps one should take examples from other sciences, for example, physics and chemistry, where modeling is applied in order to discover some common observations, rules, and laws. Of course, models do not completely reflect reality, but they are useful tools in grasping its essence and suggesting further investigations and quests for truth.
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Introduction

The purpose of this chapter is to define information-based tools for the study of the human story in order to “informate” traditional historic findings. By “informate” one may understand a gain of additional information above that found by traditional processing of historical information, by applying modern cybernetic techniques that allow for the modeling and understanding of complexity.

After literature, history is the most universal discipline of knowledge, passionately held (in their own particular versions) by millions of people on Earth. History makes us curious, perhaps because in it resides the puzzle of human existence, its successes and failures. We want to know the past because we want to learn “lessons of history” (Howard, 1991). Hence, history is popular and rich in its public role and its scientific methods are even the subject of philosophical debates.

It is still debated, as Hegel (1956) stated, whether history is not chance but is rather a rational process operating according to laws of evolution and embodying the spirit of freedom. The 19th century’s positivism stipulated two roles for historians: to be disinterested observers and to find, in the records of the past, laws of human behavior. The 20th century’s tremendous progress in research and technology has influenced historians to consider history as a pure science with the emphasis on large-scale forces or structures instead of individuals (Breisach, 1983).

As we move into the 21st century, new trends in the evolution of civilization, informatization and globalization, guide our awareness. These trends emphasize the application of information engineering skills and offer an expanded picture of human undertakings. The emerging world’s history of civilization in the making is no longer “sequential” and “slow” but now “instant” and “fast.” To understand such a dynamic civilization and take a pro-active role in it, one must develop new skills and new approaches to its study. Perhaps one should take examples from other sciences, for example, physics and chemistry, where modeling is applied in order to discover some common observations, rules, and laws. Of course, models do not completely reflect reality, but they are useful tools in grasping its essence and suggesting further investigations and quests for truth.

Of course, a new method of historical investigation, such as is presented here, must take into account concepts that have been formulated in the past. But because some tools were not widely applicable in that era, they were not introduced to historians’ practice. One must mention here the work of Fernand Braudel (1993) of the French historical school of the Annales, in the second part of the 20th century. The founder of this school proposed a structural approach toward the Universal Total History of civilization. In his numerous books, the author sought the driving forces (“wheels”) of civilization; however, his contribution focused at the level of analysis rather than synthesis.

A similar approach has been presented by the English historian Arnold Toynbee (1995), who over the course of 52 years (1920-72) investigated civilization’s processes and described them in several volumes. At the end of his life, he abandoned the civilization approach, since he was convinced that religion rather than civilization had exerted a stronger influence upon human life (Breisach, 1983).

In the past, several historians have undertaken efforts to investigate a total history or so-called World History, but the applied narrative method did not allow for grasping the essence of large-scale historical processes and structures. In this respect, one may mention the German historian Leopold von Ranke, who in the 19th century published fifty-four volumes filled with historical and political writings. The author declared his intention not to pass judgment on the past but simply to report how it actually was (Breisach, 1983).

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