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Robert Wilde

How Long Ago is History?

By November 14, 2009

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How long ago does something have to have happened for you to consider it history? BBC History Magazine recently ran a poll, and 59% of people said that history was anything older than a decade or less, including 31% saying it could be something that happened a second ago. Obviously, as a writer on the subject I'm interested by this as it affects what I cover, and I'm interested in your comments. How close to the present day do you think 'history' comes?


November 16, 2009 at 7:59 pm
(1) Michelle says:

For me personally, history happened 1000 years ago or maybe more, with my personal favorite being 1200′s-1500′s or so, European history. But I also enjoy WWII history, and history of the past hundred years or so. That probably is of no help at all! I guess for me, as long as it is some form of history, I pretty much am interested.

November 17, 2009 at 5:09 am
(2) R.H. Israel says:

To be considered history, an event should have happened no later than a generation ago, i.e. 20-30 years. Later than this you have already your own reminiscenses, and usually you feel stronger about them than about the history narratives

November 17, 2009 at 9:48 am
(3) Robert David Michael says:

As one who has studied history and writes on it, the results of the recent British poll seems to me to indicate an dismaying lack of scientific consideration by the minds who are products of public schools rather than an informed opinion let alone a judgment. Three priorities I assert have been omitted by the thinking of those who champion “anything that isn’t ongoing this second” as an idea of history are 1. importance, 2. priority and 3. lasting influence. The entire res festae of history is “everything in the past that ever happened”; but this is seldom a useful definition of the term–although it is obviously the one popular with Brits just now. The second definition normatively used has been for years “thirty years ago or more ago”, so there’s been time for men to comment upon, study or simply lose the immediacy of an event, while protecting the rights of those still living from a rush to hypothesis. A third definition would have I suggest to involve one of two components–3A. Information that needs to be saved for future study, regardless of how long ago it happened, or 3B. Something that is
no longer considered by most informed minds as belonging to our ongoing present tense as a kultur, nation, planet, etc. So according to definition 3B, for instance, those who politically date the U.S.’s history as “anything before the Kennedy Administration” have a point;
but so do those who stress the pre-Reagan Administration date. For true “history”, not recenth history to be pinpointed, much more time obviously needs to have elapsed, at least 60–100 years; while for ancient history, this concept involves approximately 520–560 year Ages,, such as the Age of Greece, the Age of Rome, the Dark Age, the Medieval Age, the Renaiisance Age, etc. Perhaps we in the incipient USer Age, 1994 onward, ought to be saving our records, and asking the latter question, “What time period is ancient history, classical history, etc? I suggest that history is a term being used now with too many meanings in relation to events past, lives completed, cultures altered to be much use without the modifiers I adduced being attached to it. The concept of Ages as I outlined probably may be vital in arriving at this definition. Thanks for asking.

November 17, 2009 at 10:24 am
(4) Royce says:

I think it could be anytime from a second ago on!

November 17, 2009 at 1:14 pm
(5) Dan says:

I’m a History A level student so this posed question is relevant to me. One could argue that anything in the past is history, which of course it is. However, as is correctly stated, for an objective and accurate opinions to be formed it must include revolations that can arise after the event. This could be recently retired politcions to shed light upon an event or epoch. Furthermore, the Freedom of Infomation Act needs to be taken into acount as it provides an accurate reflection of the period of time. Time is also needed for the reprocussions and ripples to be absored into society which allows a accurate evaluation to be withdrawn. An current example would be the war in Iraq or Afganistan. The declartion of War in 2003 is indeed history but the consequences will only be asetaned in the next decade, if not longer.

November 17, 2009 at 1:41 pm
(6) Allan Price says:

“The study of past events.” O.E.D. This study can be classified into many different catagories such as individual, country, time frame etc. I always like to remind myself that the study of History is subjective and that credible historians strive for objectivity.

November 18, 2009 at 4:25 pm
(7) Mark Ingram says:

To me, history is anything which has transpired prior to the present moment. However, enough time needs to have passed before the examination of events typically considered historical are meaninful. I don’t think those two statements are in conflict.
I believe that different types of events or histories have different timeframes within which they will become meaninful and, therefore, I don’t believe there is a unique answer to your question, as it depends on the subject. Some subject matter can be viewed through the historical lens after a day has passed, while others need decades to pass before the events can be viewed with clarity.
Thanks for asking us to share our ideas!!

March 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm
(8) kayla says:

history has always been here even when dinosours were here thats how we can find wat kind of dinosouris thats history

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