Historians must necessarily place somewhat arbitrary frameworks on the events and trends of bygone eras in order to make any sort of concrete sense about overall historical trajectories. Some of these frameworks might be more prone to subjectivities and/or require perspectives to become more artificially forced than others, but despite the problems and inconsistencies that can be found in any framework scholars have vetted and approved of many frameworks that, though different, are not at all mutually exclusive. Different frameworks can be seen as complementary of each other, in fact with the problems and inconsistencies in one resolved by an integration of certain fundamental concepts in another. An examination and integration of the Marxist and Cyclical views of history reveals that taken together, these theories can provide a more accurate and more comprehensive view of history.
The Marxist view of history, thanks to Marx’s own opening salvo in the Communist Manifesto, can be summed up quite succinctly as a perspective in which all historical events can be seen as the result of class struggles. This perspective is misleading in its simplicity; though it is not at all incorrect to say that the Marxist view attempts to boil everything down to the basic conflict between classes, the implications of these attempts and the ramifications on other social, economic, and political issues are quite far-reaching and profound. According to this view, the upper-classes have always exploited the lower, and in the modern age of capitalism the upper classes have coalesced into one single and shrinking ownership class—the bourgeoisie—while the lower class of labourers—the proletariat—are exploited more directly, openly, and completely than at any other point in human history.
There are several problems with this theory, not the least of which are that it ignores power struggles among the ruling classes and the power and contributions of individuals in all classes, but the fact that the Marxist view of history sees history as essentially a straight-line trajectory with an ultimate conclusion in the overthrow of capitalism and the eradication of private property in a Communist revolution. It is not simply that Marxism sees this conclusion as inevitable that creates a problem, but also that history is seen as such a strictly linear progression. E. P Thompson’s description of the Industrial Revolution shows this sense of definite, unique, and irreversible progress, describing the mill as a, “symbol of social energies which were destroying the very course of Nature,” though technologies had never before or would never again alter life and social structures as completely as through individualization (Thompson, E, 1970, p. 189). There might indeed be a notable increase in inequality and increasing conflict between the classes as well as an increase in the pace of change, but these conflicts and transitions and the history they create can hardly be plotted on a straight and constantly moving line.
It is here that an integration of the Cyclical view of history provides assistance to the Marxist view, increasing its validity and accuracy. Developed in ancient Rome and Greece. According to this interpretation of history, the same basic trends come and go in all identified historic epochs, with a repeating cycle of tensions, problems, conflicts, and resolutions occurring in largely the same pattern, with only the specific details of each part of the cycle varying as the decades, centuries, and millennia roll by. Oswald Spengler went so far as to develop a “seasonal” framework that describes in great detail the rise and fall of the major civilizations throughout human history, incorporating everything into these basic stages (Spengler, O, 1991, pp. 104-7). While, Arnold Toynbee argued that the West was under severe danger of collapse. And for Edward Gibbon, Roman decline was rooted in loss of warrior spirit and luxury.
The major flaw here is that there is no room for any deviation from these described cycles and phases. Hence too comparative, pessimistic and conservative. Viewing societies as organic. Rise, prosper, decline and disintegrate. Whereas Marxism sees everything as a linear progression of class conflicts. The ahistorical Cyclical view, simply shoehorns everything as part of some repeating pattern of rising and falling. Hence ignoring progress.
These flaws actually complement each other and help make the two theories more effective when integrated, however: while there is a basic pattern that history tends to follow, there is no reason to think this pattern could not be altered through radical change. Class conflicts certainly exist and have come to the fore in the modern era in a manner arguably unlike other historical epochs. Understanding the way in which the cycle of history is progressing through changing class dynamics provides a more effective and accurate view of history than either of these frameworks can provide on its own.
2a) Identify and describe two primary historical sources. Explain how they can be applied or used in a historical study and describe some of the methods by which they can be authenticated as valid evidence.
The Rosetta Stone is an extremely important archaeological artefact from Ancient Egypt that provided the initial key in translating Egyptian hieroglyphics. The large stone stele contains what is essentially the same text in three languages—Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, a later Egyptian writing system called the Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. It was used to translate the hieroglyphics by comparing them to the known languages on the stone, and these translations provided the key to translating other hieroglyphics. Originally created to publish a royal decree, the fact that the stone proved an effective key to translation was in many ways the most effective test of its authenticity; because it is a stone, however, ageing tests of the physical material are not possible, and the stone was also moved probably many times from its original location making a definite provenance impossible.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The collection of parchment and papyrus texts from the Hebrew Bible and so-called “extra biblical” texts that make up the Dead Sea Scrolls are useful for several reasons. They provide evidence of the way religion was interpreted and how lives were lived during the period when the texts were written, and display the consistency (and inconsistencies) of what became canonized as the Hebrew Bible. A variety of physical as well as comparative tests have been performed to ascertain age and authenticity, although there is still significant debate regarding which group actually authored the scrolls and no real way of ever solving this debate.
2b) Identify one secondary source and explain the value of secondary historical sources.
This newspaper article from the July 10, 1940 issue of the New York Times describes an air force attack from a second (or even third) hand perspective. Such sources are useful not only in providing potential facts, but also in demonstrating how those facts were perceived—or how some people wished them to be perceived—at the time they actually occurred.
Spengler, O. (1991). The Decline of the West. (Helps & Atkinson, trans). New York: Oxford University Press.
Thompson, E. (1970). The Making of the English Working Class. New York: Pelican.
(Than, K) National Geographic [online] (27th July 2010) Available from
<http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/07/100727-who-wrote-dead-sea-scrolls-bible-science-tv/> [Accessed 24th October 2011]
(Author?) The British Museum [online] Available from <http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/t/the_rosetta_stone.aspx.> [Accessed 24th October 2011]
(MacDonald, J) The New York Times [online] Available from <http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0710.html#article> [Accessed 24th October 2011]