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History Vs. Literature -What do you prefer?

  1. Jun 1, 2008 #1
    As everyone know learning history gives us the ideal of the past and it also helps us learn from our mistakes. On the other hand, learning literature teaches us to communicate with others. What if one day your government want to get rid of one of the subject. What would you choose? Would you choose history over literature or the other way around?
     
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  3. Jun 1, 2008 #2

    marcus

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    You are talking about getting rid of SCHOOL SUBJECTS taught in the Government schools.

    The poetry and song of the people are part of the people's culture. If the Government stops having textbook literature taught in all Government schools, the people will still have their songs and their poems. And they will still tell stories.

    If the people do not have a living culture like that, independent of all State-run schools, then the people are already not human and nothing matters. Their humanity is dead.

    You say Literature classes teach one to communicate. I say that if the people have a living culture then the Government can stop teaching Literature in the school and the people will still go on evolving their language and communicating effectively. But in a big country they may lose UNITY.

    Like in China the language might break down into regional dialects and people stop understanding all the same Mandarin.

    Government schools are a force for UNITY AND UNIFORMITY. I don't say whether this is good or bad, or how much is good.
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    I say this. School should be voluntary. Only if child and parents want. Some can go to school. Others can do something else. And what they teach should be what the families want their children to learn. If they want history, then history. If they want literature, then literature. But they must make up their mind and keep to it, so as not to waste money.

    I will not put my own preference up about what EVERYBODY in the whole nation should do, in a uniform decision. Let them decide what they love to learn.

    But I hope that if the Government tries to prevent everybody learning History and Lit that the people will rise up and change the Government.

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    If you ask me what subject I PREFER that is a different question. Just for myself. For other people I prefer they have freedom to choose. For myself the best Literature is history and vice versa. I have Xenophon and Herodotus (historians) beside the bed right now. But I think that the best social history of England 1790-1810 are the novels of Jane Austen. The best history of 19th century Russia are the novels of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy. etc. The historians are the STORYtellers and the first job of a novelist is to capture and pass on the real history and experience of a timeperiod.

    What poems do you know by memory? I am curious. In English if you can recite a poem, we say you "know it by heart".
    So I am asking what poems you "know by heart".
    do you think it is a good thing for students in school to have to memorize poems?
    In US schools we used to do this 60 or 70 years ago, but the schools do not teach learning by heart any more. What about where you live?
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2008
  4. Jun 1, 2008 #3

    turbo

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    Formal education in history is rife with problems, because history books are written by the winners of war, the successful agents of oppression and genocide, etc. Children are not taught about how native americans were slaughtered during the "Indian Campaigns" nor how they were herded onto reservations where they were often refused access to weapons with which to hunt and feed themselves. Often, the agents would take the meager rations sent to the reservations and sell them to miners, settlers, buffalo hunters, etc, leaving the native tribes with little recourse but to try to fend for themselves. I love history, as much as I love poetry and music and prose, but I have found that written history is rife with lies and omissions.
     
  5. Jun 1, 2008 #4

    marcus

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    you are talking about UNIFORM STANDARD TEXTBOOKS laid down by the government.
    that is why I said I prefer people to have freedom about those things.
    There are many books about the European settlement of North America from alternative viewpoints. If the families and children want alternative books to read. Let them learn about those things you are talking about. Why not?

    Maybe everybody should have to learn a standard math and a standard physics. But history and literature should be made to live in the heart and grow there by free choice.
    I love Mozart's opera Magic Flute, but I can't imagine forcing every teenager in America to sit down and listen to it, or learn to sing its songs. A person must want to.
     
  6. Jun 1, 2008 #5

    turbo

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    I understand, marcus. The problem is that students will never learn about the seedy parts of their country's history from history books. They would have to take it upon themselves to find some independent sources of information and check those against others to sort out the reliable and the unreliable. For many people lacking the inclination, their public-education exposure to history is all they will ever have, and it is less than worthless. Learning lies and half-truths is worse than never having studied history at all. I have been involved with vetting military artifacts from all stages of US history, including the colonial era when people here were pressed into service by the British and forced to fight the French and Indian wars in militias in proxy for a non-existent large standing army. There is a whole lot about our history that will never make it into any history book because it would be offensive, non-PC, etc. My French-Indian heritage on my mother's side has a lot to do with the tendency of the French to acclimate to this area and intermarry, and very little to do with the tendency of the English to conquer and pursue empire.
     
  7. Jun 1, 2008 #6

    Astronuc

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    I'm puzzled by the question of 'what if one day your government want to get rid of the subject - what would you choose?' Why even ask that? Why not ask, which does one prefer history or literature.

    Both history and literature are part of the humanities, and both are part of a well balanced academic program. I enjoy some literature, although I don't really enjoy plays, e.g. Shakespeare, but that's me. I like the old Greek classics though, and the ancient works from India, China, Japan, . . . .

    I enjoy certain science fiction authors, and certain pieces of work, or certain types of stories, e.g. Isaac Asimov's series on the Foundation and Empire, but not all.

    As for history, turbo has a point about how governments seek to have a favorable view of a nations history reported, but there are many independent minds who provide more objective and less filtered work. I never let myself be restricted by what the school (government controlled) taught, instead I visited libraries and book stores to read well beyond school textbooks.

    In the case of the indigenous peoples in what is now the US, Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a compelling book. http://www.amazon.com/Bury-My-Heart-Wounded-Knee/dp/0805066691

    Last night I watched some program on the History Channel about the Greco-Persian Battle of Thermopylae (480 BCE), which followed the Battle at Marathon (490 BCE), and which preceded the Battle of Plataea (479 BCE), which was the final major battle of the Greco-Persian Wars in southern Greece. At Paltaea, an alliance of Greek city-states Sparta, Athens, Corinth, Megara and others fought against the Persians, and their allies. I find ancient history intriguing and fascinating.

    Those who do not learn from the past may find themselves repeating the same mistakes.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2008
  8. Jun 13, 2008 #7
    If one had to be gotten rid of, I think it could be history. This is because your argument of history's main benefit is being able to learn from the past mistakes of others...but in literature we learn from the mistakes of others constantly. We are given tons of hypothetical situations in the stories and the author provides a solution to that situation. There are many more outcomes that could have occurred had the situations been handled differently. English teaches one not only to communicate, as you put it, but also to analyze the information.

    Finally, it seems as if literature and history are mutually exclusive and I don't think this has to be the case either.
     
  9. Jun 13, 2008 #8

    symbolipoint

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    korko - why do you ask your question?

    Someone once said that in the 'choice' to lose either governance or journalism, losing governance but keeping journalism would be best, because at least the people would be informed and could think and choose their actions.

    Why not try to answer your own question! What are the reasons for studying History? What are the reasons for studying Literature? One more thing for you to think on: Why were some of the Mother Goose Nursury Rhymes written?
     
  10. Jun 13, 2008 #9

    arildno

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    Literature is, essentially, ENTERTAINMENT. It is made up stories about non-existent individuals conjured forth by authors. It doesn't provide us with any major insights at all, despite what lit-crits are constantly telling us. You'll learn more about human nature by interesting yourself in your neighbour's life than reading a novel.

    History, on the other hand, has the potential of providing insights into actual human behaviour, on the depressive side of things.
     
  11. Jun 14, 2008 #10

    stewartcs

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    I'd choose history simply because I have found it more interesting.

    CS
     
  12. Jun 16, 2008 #11
    I love history, very interesting. I could never take it in school because it was a choice between biology and history. It was a pity.
     
  13. Jun 16, 2008 #12
    After spending the last two days covering the French Revolution in my history course, I would say get rid of history. Today however, I started reading the confectionary Heart of Darkness which makes me want to say get rid of literature. It then boils down to this: which bores you the least?
     
  14. Jun 16, 2008 #13
    As an aspiring mathematician who enjoyed reading about the French Revolution, as well as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness I don't think either should ever be eliminated. Both subjects complement each other quite well. Literature is usually rooted in historical events. A lot of science fiction from the 60s and 70s reflected the threats of nuclear proliferation brought on by the cold war. Heart of Darkness is based around the colonization of Africa. A Tale of Two Cities relies on aspects of the French Revolution. Literature doesn't exist in a vacuum.

    In the same way, history would be incomplete without reference to literature because these works comprise the culture of a given location and era. For example, while studying the judicial system of ancient China, I found it beneficial to read traditional Chinese detective novels in order to get a more nuanced feel for how court proceedings were handled. It was also a lot less painful then plowing through textbooks. Plus much of our view of history exists from the documents and literature of a particular time period, not what a textbook says about it.

    To push for one over the other reveals a narrow grasp of what history and literature are really about.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2008
  15. Jun 17, 2008 #14

    fuzzyfelt

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    Being interested in the boundaries of subjects, I wondered if this may be a trickier question than it first seems, because studying one would not necessarily prohibit studying the other, but could be like sub-categories, or along the lines of Turbo 1’s objections, much the same thing.

    Even restricted to a view that the two are more separate as they are taught in school, I agree that there is a lot that can be learnt about history from literature, and a lot to be learnt about literature from history and more! (I remember some of the books we studied in our history lessons gave us an even broader education than probably intended, as ancient authors seemed to escape the scrutiny of censoring Nuns at my all girls boarding school.)

    But given a narrow perspective and a choice between them, although I personally much prefer to read more objective historical fact to fiction and agree there are a lot of mistakes to learn from, a book I’ve just finished claimed ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ ‘spoke to the conscience of a nation and helped change the course of history’, (although I don’t know enough about the events there to have a view on the accuracy of this example) and it may be that fictional entertainment can wield greater power than more factual information alone.
     
  16. Jun 17, 2008 #15

    arildno

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    As for Conrad, sure he wrote a great book.
    More credit, though, should go to E.D. Morel for actually exposing, in a substantiated way, King Leopold's horror regime in Congo.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2008
  17. Jun 17, 2008 #16
    I definitely agree with you. I have read excerpts from Morel's book Affairs of West Africa and I think that this man did a tremendous job of revealing the atrocities that were occuring in the Congo. But Conrad actually did spend time as a captain of a steamboat in the Congo and saw what was happening first hand.

    While I think that Morel played a much more important role in fighting for reform, I think that more people are aware of what happened in Africa during this time period because Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness and because he wrote it as fiction. Even in more recent times, the story has provided the framework for Coppola's Apocalypse Now as well as other works. This is because literature allows stories and universal themes to be recycled in a greater literary tradition. This has powerful implications for history because events not only survive through historians' documentation, but also through the stories passed on to a broader audience.
     
  18. Jun 17, 2008 #17

    turbo

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    The problem with history in academic settings is that it is painted with a VERY broad brush. There are entire books written about single battles or campaigns in the Civil War, for instance. While these may or may not be biased toward the author/historian's pet theories, they generally contain far more substantiated information than broader books. One historian that I get along well with haunts auctions and memorabilia shops, looking for journals, collections of letters, etc from Civil War veterans to get the viewpoints of the participants of these battles. He's a fun old guy, and sharp as a tack. I have a hard time getting off the phone with him because he knows I'm interested in CW history, and he always wants to tell me about new insights that he's gotten from obscure sources.

    This is the history that I know and love. It's not taught in schools, though you'll get better military history courses at VMI and West Point than at most other schools. It may seem strange that a person who is a pacifist and hates wars of aggression (as opposed to defense) would be fascinated by military history, but sometimes it seems that of are too willing to "put that behind us" instead of studying the roots of war, how it comes to promoted as "inevitable" when often it is not, and what happens to common people who are forced to wage it at the behest of higher powers.
     
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