Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/495

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annalist and demand of every historical source proof of the truth within it. We must know which of our sources we can trust and how far we can admit them as witnesses of the fact and what was the fact.

Every period of the past offers difficulties and obscurities peculiar to itself. The sources are either too meager for the precise determination of the event, or as in the modern epoch, so multitudinous that the historian is bewildered by the reports of special commissions and the published and unpublished documents, so that he can only hew a pathway through the wilderness. Further the very personality of the writers makes his task more difficult. If they are ignorant, can he trust them? Are they prejudiced, will he not be deceived? Are they learned, can he give due allowance to the ideas and ideals, social, political and religious, with which they weight their narrative? Thus at the very beginning of the science, in seeking to get at the phenomena, there is endless research to obtain information more or less questionable. For this purpose there has been elaborated a method which is scientific both in spirit and in the results obtained. Yet at this point, however cautious the examination of the sources, there enters an element of doubt into our knowledge of what occurred in the past. On such foundations historians should not seek to build too imposing an edifice. A careful study of the means of construction should be made in order to raise a superstructure whose form and weight have been carefully adjusted to the weakness of the substructure.

The historical problem must, therefore, be stated with a full consciousness of the peculiarities of the phenomena. Now a scientist may attempt to analyze his phenomena and disclose their constituents; he may seek to discover the essential laws of their being; or he may simply trace their growth. This last is unquestionably the point of view of historians. As Dr. Bernheim says:

History is the science of the evolution of man in his activities as a social being.

The idea of evolution is peculiarly an historical one; that events are not isolated, but fit together as cause and effect of an ever-changing whole, is the assumption which underlies all historical knowledge, without which no progress can be made; every movement of the world's history conditions the next, although the finite mind is unable to follow the line of connection at all times. The fact that history traces an evolution separates its problem definitely from that of sociology, with which there is such danger of confusion, for the phenomena of the two sciences are almost the same. Sociology is the science of social statics, history of the social dynamics; the one studies the average of masses, the other individual facts or events; sociology would explain the mechanics of society, history the development; the former seeks to discover the general laws underlying the particular phenomena, while the latter is contented to trace the life history of the particular event. It