How History And Science Shape Societies

How History And Science Shape Societies

Societies advance when exposed to the truth and regress when distorted by untruths. Sometimes this quest for truth can have a profound effect. When, for instance, Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, discovered in 1846 that women died of childbed fever because their attending doctors didn’t wash their hands, it changed medical practice, preventing millions of women and newborns from feverish deaths.

So how does a society sort out what’s true from what’s false? It needs to rely on comparative information, and this is where the study of history and science proves invaluable. In fact, many people have been so inspired by the power of truth revealed by history and science that they invest in historical autographs for sale, perhaps, purchasing the original documents penned by scientists like Albert Einstein, who showed that Newton was wrong about how gravity affected large and distant objects, or original documents by outstanding national leaders like Abraham Lincoln, who put a decisive end to the barbarous practice of slavery.

How History Shapes a Society

History is a storehouse of information that a society draws upon to shape its future.

A society will use history to develop its national identity, as well as its cultural interests and lifestyles. It will also use history to learn from the lessons taught by ethical and unethical political and military leaders, to ponder the consequences of significant historical events, and to continue to investigate the findings of outstanding individuals about the nature of reality.

While it’s fairly obvious why we should value science because we’re surrounded by the many benefits of technology, many people think of history as a dry subject, merely a collection of arcane dates and events. This narrow view of history springs from their earlier exposure to the subject when they were in school. However, history is rich in meaning and can inform our lives in many ways, helping us understand how things have changed over time and how the society we live in came to be the way it is today.

How History and Science Investigate the Truth

Although the world around us may seem like a fairly predictable place because we have developed a deep sense of familiarity with it, this is an illusion. Once we let go of mistaking familiarity for knowledge, we discover that we live in a fascinating world.

History and science approach truth from two different perspectives. History looks at something from a developmental standpoint, while science analyses something, often breaking it into its smallest observable units, to understand it better.

While history gathers records, scientists use the scientific method, a way of observing and describing and experimenting to examine a thing or a process.

Science actually consists of two fields, often informally referred to as the “hard sciences” and the “soft sciences.” A hard science, like astronomy, biology, geology, physics, or chemistry, studies tangible things. A soft science, like psychology or social science, examines intangible things. For instance, physicists smash articles in a particle accelerator to discover subatomic particles, while a social psychologist might conduct extensive interviews to discover the basic traits that create good relationships.

Although separate disciplines, history and science are also closely correlated. History reveals how scientific revolutions have changed our world. Returning the favor, science gives historians invaluable research tools, like information technology to cross reference millions of documents faster and more accurately.

The Difficult Quest for Truth
Still, despite the many benefits of seeking the truth, societies are often reluctant to accept it. After Semmelweis’ discovery, it took almost another generation of doctors to put his ideas into practice. The physicians of his time so deeply resented his claim that they were the source of the spread of puerperal fever that they ostracised the Hungarian physician, who eventually ended up in an asylum, where, ironically, he died of sepsis.

So, it’s important to point out that history and science don’t always tell the truth. Sometimes this is intentional; they are co-opted to serve a vested interest. In history, for example, a historical event may have been distorted in school textbooks for political or religious reasons. In science, too, a research project may be funded by a corporation, misusing science to increase its profits.

Fortunately, other historians and scientists come along to correct the fabrications and acts of deliberate misinformation. In this way, history and science serve as a self-corrective method of inquiry.

A society that does not value truth is destined to fail. History gives us a way to see how something came to be. Science gives us a way to examine something closely to find out more about its real nature.

Image Credit: natara / 123RF Stock Photo

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