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Meaning and Importance of History
Background of the topic
History is an academic subject taught as part of a primary and secondary education. This chapter tackles the significance of history as a discipline in both primary and secondary levels. It gives the basics of history and lays a solid foundation of this subject. It traces the different definitions of history, the importance of studying history as a subject as well as the different ways by which information that constitutes history is obtained.
The Meaning of History
Explain the meaning of History
Definitions of history
Various definitions have been put forward to define history as a discipline some of them are:
- History is a record of events pertaining to human activities, his social, economic and political development from the past the present and the future.
- History refers to the study of past events, present situation and prediction of the future or it is the study of changes in the process of material production.
- History is defined as knowledge that entails chronologically presented narrations about human activities pertaining to social, economic, technological and political aspects from the past to the future.
In general history can also refer to an academic discipline which uses a narrative to examine and analyse the sequences of past events and objectively determine the patterns of cause and effect that determine them. It’s the record of human activities which enable man to survival and attain essential needs from the environment.
The basic needs of humankind include food shelter and clothing. Due to social, political, cultural, economic and technological transformations humankind’s activities have to change from time to time.
Actions taken against nature aim to change natural objects into conditions that can satisfy human needs; these activities against nature are what we call material production. Material production includes can be observed in sharpening of sticks to make a spear, digging trenches to trap wild animals and many more.
The Importance of Studying History
Explain the importance of studying History
Studying history is important because it allows us to:
Understand how African societies were formed, how they developed and the factors that influenced this development. It also allows us to develop an understanding of the events, conditions and factors that shaped the past and those which have shaped the present conditions of the world in order to predict the future.
Historical knowledge makes the present comprehensive which is why journalists and writers of sensational stories spend some time explaining the history of a particular incident; it is only when one knows the past of a person or an incident that the present can became meaningful.
Develop an understanding and appreciation of the cultural, political, economic and technological advancements made by African societies before and after colonial rulership.
Develop the basic skills of critical thinking, reasoning, judgment, empathy and effective participation in human developmental activities. Studying history also helps us to understand and appreciate the efforts made and strategies used by African people to regain their independence and resist neo-colonialism
Develop, understand and appreciation the need for African unity, cooperation and interdependence, conflict resolution and effective participation in social, economic and political development of Africa. It also helps us to develop an understanding of the relationships between African’s development problems and foreign intrusion, colonial domination, cultural subjugation and economic exploitation at various stages in history.
Acquire knowledge for its own sake as you enjoy a novel with fiction, a film with an interesting plot. It is not clear why people are interested in these ventures and in the same way people do enjoy to know the history of particular topics.
Develop our patriotism, history students know their heroes and heroines and traitors. This make history a sensitive subject in places where political leaders are not sure of their legitimacy.
Enlightens people about the advantages of certain economic practices for example, the way the development in the world today is measured by the industrial revolution that took place in Europe in 1750
Understand the level of development at different stages of human development. Without history it is very difficult to determine or to tell what humans were doing in the past. Therefore, it is through history that one can extensively understand the level of development that humans have reached at in a given period in time.
Helps us learn about technological transformations, for example primitive livelihood to advanced livelihood (using of stones and wood tools to iron tools)
Understand how humans adapted to their environment and how the struggled to earn a living from the environment. This therefore looks at the long struggle of man by exercises of his reason to understand the environment and to act up on it.
Understand the relationship that existed between humans, and between humans and the environment.
Acquire skills in historical issues and becoming professionals in history, some people such as archaeologists and historians study history for career purposes.
Sources of History
Identify sources of History
Sources of history refers to the avenues that can be used to get historical information. It requires an inter-disciplinary approach in order to get the actual historical information. Replying on a single source of history evidence will not satisfy your curiosity as one source links you to the other. It is therefore crystal clear that no single source of history can stand on its own.
Therefore, the following are sources of history/historical knowledge:
- Oral traditions
- Historical sites
- Written records
- Linguistic studies
- Ethnographic sources
The Functions, Advantages and Limitations of the following Sources of History;
Oral Traditions, Historical Sites, Written Records, Archives
Assess the functions, advantages and limitations of the following sources of history; oral traditions, historical sites, written records, archives
This refers to the history handed down by word of mouth from one generation to another. It is usually done by talking and listening usually to elders who are believed to be more knowledgeable about past events. It is also the study of our past as revealed by what has been handed down by word of mouth from one generation to another. Its manner of transmission differs from written sources thus making it a historical source of a special nature. Oral traditions are widely used in areas where people did not practice the art of writing.
Types of oral traditions
- Cultural practices e.g. art, music, religion riddles an jokes
- Proverbs, superstitions, poems and stories
- Narrations of past events (primary and secondary sources)
Advantages of oral traditions
- Can easily be understood by everyone, oral traditions does not segregate; it can be understood by everyone. It is therefore convenient for both the educated and the uneducated as it only requires one to listen as long as it is in a language that everyone can understand.
- It is accessible as in every area narrators are present,; here the historian is in better position to assess the value and his reliability source because he is working with the living people. At any time and place the historians or the person who is searching material can easily access the information as the information are available
- It is cheap or costs less.Generally, elderly people are are willing to provide information free of charge, this makes the source cheap. One does not need to pay his/her grandfather/mother in order for them to tell one a story. In many societies people used to sit beside a fire and the elders will tell them about what happened in the past and this was passed over from one generation to the other.
- Helps in the reconstruction of history, it does require several sources in order to tell a story, oral traditions bridge the gap as it is provides evidence to written sources or primary source. Many historical sources including the most ancient ones were based on oral traditions.
- It is two way traffic form of communication. This means that when someone does not understand questioning is possible, this therefore makes it a live and interactive source and interesting source of historical information.
- Avails us with unwritten or un documented history. Through oral tradition it is easy to reveal information which is not documented or recorded. In African history the major source of information is passed through oral traditions simply because much of what was taking place was not written down.
- Bridges the gap left by other sources of history. As artifacts cannot talk it is oral tradition that does the talking there by filling in the gaps that might have been left by other sources.
- First hand information. Many people who tell stories through different oral tradition are the primary source or the people who were present at the scene of the matter. This therefore means that the historian will be in a position of getting firsthand information from the respondent.
Disadvantages of oral tradition
- Can easily be lost if someone who knows the data dies.In many societies it is the elderly who have the information which is passed over from generation to generation, in case the elder dies it means the information he/she had has disappeared with that person.
- Language barrier.As oral tradition involves the passing down of history by use of the word of mouth, the problem of a language barrier is a big hindrance. For example, a person who might have valuable information might be using a language the historian does not understand this therefore will limit the process of communication.
- Cannot stand on its own. Poems, stories, jokes etc. do not tell history directly they simply contain valuable information of how people produced and reproduced themselves leaving out the important aspects of the historical touch. It therefore gives the historian a hard time to supplement and analyse the given information critically.
- Their reliability is rather problematic. It is impossible to judge how much is true history and how much only folklore fiction, legends and myth. This can be evidenced in the stories that are told to young children for example stories of the hare, the lion and many others. Therefore, it is difficult to distinguish what is the fact and what is imaginary.
- Conscientiousness of that person. Is he/she transmitting them the way he heard them or he corrected them for some purpose or other. It is very difficult to understand if someone is telling you the event as he was told or is he adding in other information.
- Variation in language. In some instances different languages might have similar words but with differing meanings. This will therefore result confusion on the side of the historian or researcher as some of the information might be lost.
- Most of narrations are centered on people of status in society. Kings, chiefs, queens are often talked about in such stories, there is often little consideration about the masses.
- Its preservation in many societies mainly depends on the power of the memories of successive generations of human beings. All oral traditions are influenced by the culture of the society that produce them, this means that the traditions that exist in a given society chiefly depend on the political organisation of a given society.
Other disadvantages include:
- Can also pass over immoral cultural acts.
- Translation might be difficult because some languages have become extinct.
- It requires too much patience, attention and the power of the memory.
- Usually is limited to a given locality and to recent information.
- Easily awakens hatred amongst different societies.
- Full of biases.
- It can be time consuming if the narrators are in accessible.
These do contain remains which show humanity’s physical development, activities and the tools they made and used. The major function of historical sites is to make historical facts more practical.
There are two types of historical sites namely;
- Areas with physical remains of man and his artifacts.
- Ancient towns with both ruins of old buildings and old buildings which still exist.
Examples of historical sites with physical remains of man and his artifacts include the following:
- Olduvai Gorge, Isimila, Engaruka and Kondoa Irangi in Tanzania.
- Nsongezi, Biggo, Ntusi and Magogi in Uganda.
- Olorgesailie Gilgil and Lake Turkana in Kenya.
- Koobi for a in Ethiopia.
- Ingombe-Ilede in Zambia.
- Ishango in the D.R.C.
On the other hand examples of ancient towns in Africa with ruins of old buildings and existing old buildings include:
- Timbuktu, Gao, Jenne and Aoudaghost in West Africa.
- Bagamoyo, Zanzibar and Kilwa in Tanzania.
- Lamu and Mombasa in Kenya.
Through the study of historical sites we can reveal the works of art by previous generations for example rock paintings etc. As time elapses more historical sites are being discovered due to extensive research being carried out. The remains that are discovered in the historical sites are worked on by archaeologists.
The major function of historical sites is to represent actual materials of man’s existence and preserving the material remains of man for the coming generation, plus acting as symbol of social heritage and referral point to the society that are concerned.
Advantages of historical sites
- As a symbol of social cultural heritage of different societies. Here the society concerned will be symbolized in the site.
- Historical sites do break the boredom that is evidenced in the theoretical nature of history as a discipline. In this sense history is given a practical touch as people can see or observe what they were studying practically for example past human tools, rock paintings and human remains.
- Helps in the building or the reconstruction of history, as they bridge the gaps that might have been left by other sources.
- The sites also act as a source of revenue for both the government and private individuals. This is achieved when they act as centre of tourism, and when the tourists visit.
- The sites act as avenues for research for archaeologists and other scientists. People who carry out research in regards to man’s past will use historical sites as their libraries and laboratories, for example Dr. Leakey and his wife.
- Generally, discoveries from historical sites can be used to reveal past settlement patterns, levels of technology, economic development and political organisation reached past societies in different times and environments.
Disadvantages of historical sites
- It brings confusion to interpret the remains found in the historical sites, for example, rock paintings can bring about different interpretations between historians.
- Historical sites cannot stand on their own to tell history. This means that historical sites do not fully cater for all historical information required even for societies without documented history.
- History found in the sites cannot be interpreted by everyone and requires a qualified personnel to interpret the information.
- Historical sites are located in remote areas which are not accessible. This makes it time consuming and expensive working on them. Places where the historical sites are located are often also poorly developed.
- The historical sites may disappear, as they are often destroyed by natural hazards and changes in the earth like weathering and denudation.
- Many of the sites are selected on the basis of probability, for example it is assumed that early man lived in caves where there was water nearby and plenty of animals to hunt, fish or catch. This therefore brings in the issue of try and fail that in turn becomes costly in terms of time and resources.
Examples of historical sites in East Africa include:
- Nsongezi- western Uganda
- Magosi- eastern Uganda
- Biggobyamugenyi (Biggo)- central Uganda
- Lolui, Mubende in Uganda
- Rusinga Island- southern Uganda
- Olorgesailie- Kenya
- Lake Rudolf- Kenya
- Njoro in Kenya
- Bagamoyo- Tanzania coast
- Kilwa- Tanzania coast
- Isimila- central Tanzania
- Kondoa- central Tanzania
- Lake Eyasi southern Tanzania
- Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania etc.
This refers to the history which has been written down or documented. This is the most common and modern source of history as it cuts across different boundaries. It is the principle source of materials for historians in east Africa as they have been valuable for the past 200 years or less.The written records are grouped into two the primary sources and secondary sources as for the historians it is better to first deal with the secondary source and then handle the primary sources.
Written records include: Books, letters, magazines, newspapers, minutes of meetings, official and private documents, official publications by the governments and parliaments of the colonial powers, peace treaties and other agreements concluded by the great powers between one another and African chiefs, legislative acts, edicts, dispatches of the colonial administration, documents from African companies and individual merchants, letters etc.
It also include books written by contemporaries, produced by aliens, narrative of explores, reminiscences of soldiers, missionaries or colonial officials, the impressionistic sung of the journalists and the imaginative reconstruction of the novelists. The written records can easily be accessed in the libraries, schools, colleges, archives and in some offices.
Functions of written records
Reconstruction of history, history can be reconstructed through a multidisciplinary approach. The written records play an important role of constructing history as they do bridge the gaps that might be left by other sources.
To collect and preserve written historical information, as this is the modern and most common source of historical information it plays the function of preserving written records so that those who come in the future will also be able to use this source of historical information.
Advantages of written records
- Covers a wide section of ideas and different views. Different aspects concerning different views can easily be accessed in one written material for example a text book can contain historical information concerning different aspects and areas. Therefore, this simplifies the work of the historian as he will concentrate on that one source and discover a variety of given information. Therefore, it’s true to say that written records cover a wide coverage as different aspects can be commented up on.
- It is easily accessible, as almost all areas have books, written materials are like a stone thrown into a pull causing ripples that flow out right across its surface.This therefore means that in at least any place there is at least a written source of something. In addition to that written records are easy to keep and to retrieve, the accessibility therefore simplifies the work of the historian as she/he has the material at their disposal.
- Usually well explained and well elaborated. Many written records for such as textbooks are well researched, explained and elaborated by the authors. This therefore gives the person using the source actual and vivid material. Usually contains well-researched and concrete data which gives confidence to the researcher or historian
- Bridges the gap left by other sources . The written records as a source of historical information play an important role of bridging or filling in the gaps that have been left by other sources. As it is well known that no single source of history can stand on its own to tell history the written records do fill up the gap that other sources might have left. For example it gives evidences to oral traditions.
- Cannot easilydisappear.As in the case of oral traditions, if the narrator dies the historical information is most likely to follow him on the deathbed, for written records this is not the case as material that is written down is very difficult to fade away as it is documented and usually in many copies.
- It is very helpful when carrying out research. For research purposes the most helpful source can be found in written records as it has guidelines, which help the researcher in his/her research. As the information in most cases is well researched and elaborative this gives the researcher ample time in his research.
- Easy to get valuable and rare information. It is mainly from written sources that valuable and rare information can be obtained. Many written records are very important as they provide evidence were needed.
- Easy to make references. If written material is well organised; many of the written sources act as reference material for the different needs and written records as a source of reference.
Disadvantages of written records
- It is expensive. Written records require a lot of time and resources to prepare, this makes them expensive to produce as compared to oral tradition. Also purchasing the written material is very costly.
- Can easily be distorted or misunderstood. As written records are in most cases written in English which recipients might easily misunderstand. Also there might be distortion in the sense that writers might be biased when writing or they might have different approaches on to the same issue.
- Applicable to educated people only. Written records are limited to a few people in a society. As the people who do not know how to read and write will not benefit from this source of history as he/she will not understand what has been written. This therefore makes it limited to a given section of people.
- Based mainly on the writer’s opinion. Many writers are biased in the sense that they write in their favour of example Eurocentric and Afro centric ideas.
- Historians cannot be expected to come to the same conclusion, this therefore means that written records are continuously rewritten and revised Unless the historian is able to sort out relevant information many written records contain some information that might be irrelevant to the historian there by wasting a lot of time in a given source. Generally, it is very difficult to understand history unless you understand the historian himself first.
This refers to collections of private and public documents. This means the place where such documents are kept or found. Archives are collections of public and private documents.
They includes books, and the written records of early missionaries, explores, traders and colonialists kept in books or files. Examples of archives include: Arusha in Tanzania, Entebbe national archives in Uganda. They also contained current records of government, parties and other organisations. The major function of archives is to collect and preserve historical information
Advantages of archives
- It is the best method of collecting and preserving historical information. Most written documents which do contain historical information are preserved in the archives for future use.
- It archives a variety of information. It is very easy to get historical information of different people and issues at a given time without wasting time and resources.
- Getting firsthand information is possible, as the documents in archives are the extract materials that were written by the people concerned. For example political parties documents, memories etc.
- It is very easy to get and identify the exact date of historical events, such as the travels of Vasco Da Gama, African resistance, the scramble for and partition of Africa plus many other important occurrences.
- Understanding the ideas and the literacy level of the past is very easy. This can be done by analysing the documents in archives and relating them with what we have at the present time and also borrowing ideas from them. For example a current government can use a document of a former government to recognise itself.
Disadvantages of archives
- Preserving documents is very expensive. This therefore makes the source more expensive as compared to other sources. Keeping the documents in archives requires much attention and care.
- This method is also discriminative, as it is only the literate (educated) that can utilise the information as it is usually written in a language that someone who is not educated might not understand.
- Societies whose information was not documented will not be represented. Societies with no recorded past will not be represented.
- Retrieving information from the archives is not easy, as it requires a lot of time and perseverance. This therefore makes it hectic on the side of the impatient historian.
- Archives are not evenly distributed when compared to other methods like oral tradition. For example, in Tanzania one has to travel to either Dar es Salaam or Arusha in order to find an archive.
- Generally, in the case of societies without history that is written down the archives is less meaningless as there is not any trace of their history in that place. This therefore means that such a community will have it history missing in action.
Museums are special places created for preserving historical information. These are places where information about people and past events are stored.
Specialists in a museum who help explain objects to the people are called Museum Curators. They date and arrange the remains and artifacts which demonstrate in the easiest way possible the technological, cultural, economic and social development of the people.
Museums are created to preserve historical information and also act as tourist centers. Museums contain a collection of all sorts of items which show cultural, social, political, technological and economic developments from the past to the present.
There national, regional, district and local museums of East Africa. Examples of museum in Tanzania are Kalenga in Iringa, Bujora in Mwanza and Halwego and Handebezyo in Ukerewe. In Kenya the Hyrax Hill museum site in Nakuru district, Kawanda in Uganda and many others.
Advantages of museums
- They preserve the historical information and material, Itis in the museum that many of historical remains are preserved for future use and referral.
- They contain a variety of historical items. It is only in the museum that one can be find a variety of historical remains ranging from artifacts to written records and oral tradition. Therefore a museum is relatively important to historical study.
- Museums provide objects that give history a practical touch, as they working as teaching aids. Students of history have the opportunity to put into practice what they study as they see the objects in museums.
- It is possible to learn about the development of technology of early man from museums.The curators play an important role in explaining artifacts to the people and how they were used.
- Museums arouse creativity and craftsmanship on the side of the learner. This comes about as the learner sees more and more remains and became more eager to discover more.
Note other advantages may include:
- Attracts tourists.
- Generating income for the people working in the museums and the government.
- Source of foreign exchange.
- Provision of employment for example the museum curators.
- Easy to identify the social, political and economic developments of a given society from the museum.
- Many of the museum act as the major source of information for those carrying out research for educational purposes.
Disadvantages of museums
- They are very expensive to maintain and build. Starting up and maintaining A museum requires a lot of funds. Obtaining and maintaining artifacts is also relatively expensive.
- Require skilled manpower to operate. Museum curators should have historical bearings and know about the artifacts in the museum.
- Distortion of historical information, in the museum is possible when the curator is biased. The curator will therefore distort the historical information, as he is subjective in the way he interprets the historical facts.
- Attitude of the people affects the museum so much that some museums have been forced to be closed. People are not visiting museums due to unknown reasons, a case in point the Hyrax site museum in Kenya says that it receives only 10-20 customers on a busy weekend which is very small number compared to the inputs in the museum.
- Poor preservation of artifacts, for example the pieces of cloth, chains if not well handled can distort the information and the relevance of the historical facts. Due to poor preservation many museums have lost their historical artifacts to the fires other unforeseen circumstances costing them dearly.
This refers to the science that deals with the study of past materials historical remain of man. Or it is a study of artifacts that have been dug from the earth. Artifacts are the remains of the material culture made by the people of the past. People who study archaeology are called archaeologists.
Archaeologists like Dr. Leaky have concentrated on the period of early man; others like Dr. Posnansky have worked on sites relating to the Chwezi Empire, Chittick and Kirk man have excavated coastal sites of the 12th -16th centuries. How they carry out their excavations is a long story.
Excavation is a long and laborious process as each piece of the material found has to be examined carefully and recorded so that the archaeologists can give a complete reconstruction. A historian studies the artifacts with the hope of reconstructing patterns of settlement, level of technology and skills acquired by the inhabitants of the site after excavating them. Archaeologists removes layer after layer carefully recording all what they find and in try to explain the relationship between the different objects.
The major function of archaeology is that it reveals important information about man through the different stages of his transformation. Not only that but also plays the function of arousing curiosity of searching past historical information on the side of historian.
Advantages of archaeology
- It provides evidence or authenticity on to historical facts, as the remains are examined thoroughly by the concerned there by supplementing the other sources which might be lacking evidence.
- Knowledge of artifacts is exposed after excavation. For example, pottery, building, rooting plus telling us a great deal about the life and culture of the people long ago through uncovering the buried objects.
- Archaeology simplifies the past as it helps us to know the past relationships between different people such as in trading activities immigration, emigration, birth and death plus political relations.
- It is probably the only source that can help us in knowing when and how people lived in a certain place and at what time. This is attained through the use of carbon dating which is a scientific method of finding out the age of dating objects and artifacts.
- Archaeology helps us to reveal the technology, pastoral agriculture and commercial activities of the past societies. This is achieved through cross examining the remains excavated by the archaeologists.
- Archaeology is relatively important in supplementing facts that are given by other sources of history. As no source can stand on its own to tell history, therefore it can be reconstructed by the use of archaeology.
Disadvantages of archaeology
- Archaeology demands much patience. Many artifacts are fragile and delicate which calls a lot of care in the handling of for example fossils.
- It involves many processes to obtain data out of remains,. For example in excavations require radioactive elements and many other procedures which make the process very expensive.
- Archaeology consumes a lot of time. The archaeologists or researchers take a lot of time during the preparation for excavation, testing the artifacts and in the interpretation of the data.
- The remains that are excavated cannot tell the full details of a given historical phenomenon. It is therefore clear that one cannot fully depend on archaeology as the complete source of history.
- Generally, the first discovery of an archaeological find or of an archaeological site is commonly found by an ordinary person who does not have the techniques of excavating the remains.
- During the excavation process remains of less historical importance for example a richly furnished royal tomb, works of art of great beauty are not seen as important. Excavation is not a treasure hunt, what they are seeking for is knowledge, information and data which will enable them fill up the picture of the past more accurately.
This means the study of language. It refers to study and analysis of languages, their sounds, structure and formation. There is a relationship between the different and various language groups. It is believed that people who speak the same language have been in close contact in the past. Linguistics can suggest approximately when and how the language spoke in East Africa came into existence.
Languages are never static but constantly changing and adapting some survive while others die. For proper classification and grouping the people of East Africa the work done by the linguistics is a principal way. Many linguists insists that the original language of mankind consisted of a few short words, possibly not over 200, since many now use only about 300.
Advantages of linguistic study
- Linguistic studies are a lubricant of oral tradition, as it is through oral tradition that given information is acquired from the different sources. This therefore shows the interconnectedness between different sources of history.
- Through the linguistics it is possible to tell the possible origin of our languages and how the languages have been distorted. As languages that we do use need to be understood in order to understand who we are and where we are going.
- Bridging the gaps left by other sources. Linguistic studies assist in bridging the gaps that are left by other sources. Basing on the fact that the reconstruction of history requires an interdisciplinary approach therefore linguistic studies are relatively important like other sources.
- Assists in the development of language. It assists in the discovery of different links between the people of a given communities. Through the use of languages it’s possible to say that at one time the people in the world lived together due to the similarity of some words in the different languages.
- Language barrier is the major factor that is limiting linguistics. It is clear that not everyone understands all the different languages. It is therefore possible that useful historical information might not be understood due to the language problem.
- It might result to the omission of some important information, thereby creating a gap in historical information. In the process of translating given historical information from one language to another
- It is expensive in terms of time and money, because is not easy to learn a given language this therefore means that one has to take a given period of time and resources in terms of finance to learn a given language.
- It can easily be diluted by external influences. Different languages have been influenced by external forces which causes those languages to change drastically from their original forms and this therefore disturbs the historian in his effort to reconstruct history. For example many Swahili words have been mixed with other languages.
This is concerned with the study of existing social institutions and their relationships. The scientific study of the origin, behavior, physical, social and cultural development of humans. The study is concerned with present day societies but much of it can be used in interpreting the past especially where we have a good reason to believe on that societies in certain areas have not altered so much in recent times.
It is no coincidence that anthropology has its roots in the Renaissance; it is a discipline that is firmly grounded in the modern era, no longer drawing on metaphysics but instead looking to the here and now of human existence. Combining philosophical ambitions with physiological and psychological questions, thus from its beginning, anthropology looked at issues which are today considered medical, psychological and philosophical as well as anthropological in the modern sense.
An anthropologist is a person who studies the above aspects of society; he has to live among those people and learn their culture thereby enabling him to understand the aspects of life of a certain society and to determine the truth about that society.
Advantages of anthropology
- Helps the historian to find traces of the past in the present social structures of the society. Therefore using the current reliable information helps us to understand how the past was.
- Helps the historian to reconstruct the past elements of all cultures. The historian studies the information and research techniques used by the anthropologist to arrive at a certain conclusion.
Generally, anthropology enables a comparison of social institutions of various societies which helps the historian in tracing the original homeland of social features.
Disadvantages of anthropology
A comparison of the social institutions of various societies over a wide area might indicate the influence of one culture upon another and the time when these cultures developed and spread which may create misunderstanding and hatred between the different societies
The works of anthropology are very limited to time and environment. In the present people may be living in a condition far different from what their ancestors lived; in the long run the anthropologist will not get the necessary information required in his study.
The knowledge of the anthropologist in this case is very important as one can easily exaggerate or underestimate or interpret basing on his knowledge a thing that will affect the whole process of trying to reconstruct history. This therefore means that objectivity of history does not mean objectivity of facts but interpretation.
This method is too tiresome. The anthropologist has to live among the people and learn their culture which enables him to understand all the different aspects of life of a given society and to determine whether it is authentic and worth studying.
This is another source of history which is not commonly used and usually neglected by many scholars however, it is relatively important as other sources. Ethnographic evidence does involve two aspects the material and immaterial.
The material things in nature are the artifacts while the immaterial include culture, custom and beliefs or cultural evidence which is written down. Under this the historian is mostly interested in cultural documents because of the unique characteristics as they are timeless
NOTE:As already elaborated no single source of history can stand on its own to tell history but rather it requires interdisciplinary approach for successful history reconstruction. This means that no source is better than the other on the side of the historian carrying out his/her research in any field of study but rather each supplement the other.
Dating in history
Refers to the assigning of dates or time on given historical events or facts, to record history properly a good knowledge of dating or calendar is needed. Historians divide time into seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, age, periods, centuries, millennia and generation.
A decade is a period of ten years. A century is a period of hundred years. Millennium is a period of thousand years. A generation is the average of time between one groups of period in a family to another group of family. Period is determined by one continuous event, which is in year.
Age refers to a period based on man’s activities and the types of tools that are being used. In history there are different ages namely:
- Stone age
- Iron age
- Industrial age
- Nuclear age
- Copper age
- Bronze age
Ways of determining dates
There are two sets of ways to determine dates.
- Local methods
- Scientific methods
are simple methods whereby dates are fixed through;
- recalling facts relating events
- tracing family chronologies
- tracing the origin of languages
involve experiment in laboratories whereby material remains are studied through such processes as;
- Radio Active Dating (Radio metric)
- Radio Carbon Dating (Radio Carbon 14)
Dividing time is in starting of 0, which is the year when Jesus Christ was born .A.D. (Anno Domino) is the years after the birth of Jesus Christ and they are known as years of the Lord. B.C. are years before the birth of Jesus Christ. (Before Chris)
Muslims start their calendar at Hijra A.H (Al Hijra or after Hijra) this is when Prophet Muhammad S.A.W fled from Mecca to Medina in order to spread Islam in the year 622 A.D.He was born in the year 570 A.D. and died in the year 632 A.D.
Historians use chronological order of events, periods and ages such as family tree, time lines, time charts and time graphs to tell time.
TABLE SHOWING TIME PERIODS AND THEIR DURATION
|1 day||24 hours|
|1 week||7 days|
|1 year||12 month|
|1 month||4 weeks|
|1 year||365 days|
|1 decade||10 years|
|1 century||100 years or 10 decades|
|1 millennium||1000 years or 10 centuries|
|A generation||A group of people born in the same period, or it refers to the average differences in age between a child and his/her parents.|
Methods of dating in history
This is the scientific method of determining dates in history and it is the most common and modern method of determining dates in history. The archaeologists commonly use this method after discovering remains.
During the life time all living animals and vegetable matter absorbs a minute amount radioactive carbon (carbon 14) from the atmosphere. After death the level of carbon 14 in the object gradually declines at a steady, measurable rate. Thus by measuring the amount of carbon 14 in ancient fragments of the former living matter such as born or charcoal, scientists are able to calculate the approximate age of the object. The results are never very accurate but they are an invaluable aid to the archaeologists concerning more with the chronology than with the very precise dates.
Historical events can be dated by the use of language. Here some word used in a given language can help to understand when a given event occurred. For example in Kiswahili there are some words that are used that they do tell when a given events took place for example the use of the word ‘Karafuu’ marks the beginning of the use of cloves in East Africa.
Remembering changes and event dating
Events can help in dating history for example famine, harvesting period, tsunami, hurricanes etc. By using these changes one is able to tell what event took place and also reflect the time at which that event took place.
Order of events dating
This shows the arrangement of events in series for example family and clan chronology (family tree), chronological order of events (time line, time graph and time chart)
|300 BC||200 BC||100BC||100 AD||1000 AD||1800|
|COLUMN I||COLUMN II|
|1000AD||The discovery of iron|
|1498||Vasco Da Gama arrived at the cape|
|1500||Emergence of Ntemi system of organization|
|1698||Fall of fort Jesus|
|1700||End of Portuguese rule in East Africa|
|1741||Mombasa establishes itself as an independence sheikhdom|
|1840||Sultan Said shifts his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar|
|1800||The industrial revolution in Europe|
|1900||Signing of the Buganda agreement|
|1961||Independence of Tanganyika|
|1964||The Zanzibar revolution|
|1992||Multiparty politics in Tanzania|
|1999||Death of Mwl. Julius Nyerere|