- The Meaning of History
- The Meaning of Government
- Forms of Government
- Importance of Studying History
- Importance of Studying Government
- Sources of Information on History and Government
History is an account of events that took place in the past. History may also be defined as a branch of knowledge which deals with past events of human beings and their response to their environment over the years. R.G Collingwood, in his book The Idea of History (OUP 1994) defined history as a “science concerned with the human actions in the past, pursued by interpretation of evidence for the sake of Human self knowledge.”
That history is a science because it involves finding out things about the past Humankind. For example, the origin of Man, why he was a toolmaker, why he domesticated animals and plants. These are questions that provoke scientific curiosity.
The three definitions of History from the above are:
- History is the past of anything; of earth, man, disease or animals
- History is a branch of knowledge dealing with past events
- History is a science concerned with past Human actions
Since History at secondary level is specifically concerned with the past as it relates to humankind and his response to his environment over the years, the working definition of history is therefore;
- History is the endless story of mankind’s actions and events affecting him in the past.
Closely related to the term history is the term PREHISTORY. Prehistory refers to the unrecorded history- those activities that humans engaged in before writing and drawing were invented as ways of storing information.
Such information is gained from songs, myths, stories, artifacts, fossils and the language of a people.
A historical event needs to have recorded evidence in order to be referred to as a historical fact
- They must have evidence.
- Historical information must be written or unwritten.
- Historical events only concern man.
- Historical events dwell mainly on the past happenings.
- Historical events must contain elements of truth.
The study of humankind’s past can be classified systematically into three;
- Social history- dealing with the traditions, values and cultural practices of a people
- Economic history; dealing with the means of livelihood of a people, such as hunting, gathering, agriculture and trade.
- Political history; dealing with the control system in a society, for example maintenance of law and order, leadership and security.
Derived from the verb govern, government means to exercise authority over. To rule or control. Or having power to direct or conduct the policies and public affairs of a country or an institution. In our study, the term government refers to a group of people within a state or a country given authority to organize, direct and control the affairs of the state or country. In Kenya, the government has three arms.
Commonly referred to as parliament, this is a law making arm of government. It includes the National assembly and the president.
This is the arm of government which implements laws. It includes the president, the cabinet and the civil service.
This is the arm of government responsible for seeing that the laws made are constitutional, that they are followed and that those who break them are punished. It is commonly referred to as the courts.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, in his book, The Social Contract, describes government as “an intermediate body set up by the subjects to ensure equity (fairness) and the execution of laws while maintaining social and political liberty”
In this sense, government is not dictatorial since its authority is derived from the people. People must however be free to choose their leaders, even remove those in power and replace them with others, in order to ensure the existence of the principal of fairness.
There are four forms of government:
This is a type of government in which rulers regularly seek public mandate through popular vote. Such governments are based on the principles of free and fair elections. According to Abraham Lincoln, an American statesman, they are “governments of the people, for the people and by the people”. In such a government, freedoms and rights are provided for in the constitution that governs the law of the nation.
Aristos – best
Kratos - powers
An aristocracy is a form of government in which a group of people from the highest social class the royalty- in a society rule over others. Any member of the nobility can seek election or appointment to a government office while other citizens who are less privileged are there to be ruled. The King or Queen is the head of government while senior positions in the government are given to the privileged members from among the nobles. The nobles are considered superior to others human beings because of the wealthy family background they are born into and their superior education. They are considered a rare breed of people.
This is a form of government where democracy is practiced but aristocratical power is respected. Parliament is the supreme organ but the monarchy- the royalty that are in power be it the king or queen is retained as a tradition, and respected as head of state.
Monarchical governments are classified into two;
- Absolute monarchy: - which refers to the unrestricted power of the Head of State. The monarchy is dictatorial.
- Constitutional monarchy;- The monarchical power, which is restricted is determined by what is spelt out in the constitution. Such a system of government is found in Lesotho and Britain.
Dictatorship is a system of government where the ruler has total power over his subjects. Dictators are the sole authority where they rule. They make the law and execute justice and exercise their rule forcefully, suppressing their subjects at will. They curtail freedom of other subjects and impose their will over others. Examples of world dictators; Adolf Hitler of Germany who instigated the Germans into believing they were superior race and incited them against the Jews. Idi Amin of Uganda who ruled with a ‘rod of iron’.
NB; the most ideal form of government is where the subjects go to the ballot to elect the people to lead them. Governments play the important function of maintaining law and order.
- History enables us to appreciate people’s evolution, origin of cultures and development and hence further good relations and remove biases and prejudices about other people.
- When we study history, we appreciate people’s contribution to national development. E.g. freedom fighters hence the importance of mutual and social responsibility.
- It helps us to know the origin of mankind, his development and the progress he has made to this day.
- We are able to understand our culture and appreciate the culture of other people.
- It instills a sense of patriotism and nationalism among citizens as they learn of the past political developments of their country. Its study inspires strong feelings of one’s heritage and the sense of belonging to a particular country.
- It helps us understand the interdependence of mankind and hence the need for cooperation.
- It influences career choice. The study of history leads to various professions. E.g. law, diplomacy, church, politics, teaching, and administration.
- The study of history helps us comprehend the social, economic and political developments of our societies
- It gives time and space to past events. Through the study of history, we learn about the time and place where an event took place. E.g. we know when Mau Mau uprising broke out (1948) and know when Kenya gained independence.
- It helps us develop a critical mind as we try to explain historical events. Historians will ask why, when and how.
- It provides intellectual fulfillment to the learner. Through an in depth study of history, one’s mind is enriched.
- It helps us to appreciate the importance of government.
- Helps us understand how laws are made and enforced
- Helps us understand the organs of the state and the powers vested in them
- Helps us understand how government raises and spends revenue.
- Helps us compare our government system with other systems of government in other countries.
- Understand how development policies are formulated and implemented.
- It makes us know our roles as citizens and the roles of the leaders who govern us. This makes better law-abiding citizens.
- Its study helps us understand our responsibilities as well as the limitations within which we must operate for the well-being of every member of the society.
- It helps us appreciate the constitution and the process of making and reviewing laws and statutes.
- It influences career choices. For example, those who choose to specialize in public administration will find the study of government very useful.
There three main sources of information on history and government;
- Unwritten sources.
- Written sources.
- Electronic sources
This refers to historical information which is not recorded in writing. Unwritten sources of historical information include oral traditions, linguistics (languages), Anthropology (culture) archaeology, paleontology and genetics.
This refers to the practice of handing down historical information by word of mouth from one generation to the next. This forms a very important source of historical information especially where exists a non-literate society who might not be able to read.
Oral traditions include folk tales, proverbs, songs and stories. Songs, proverbs folktales and stories told to a younger generation have been very instrumental in the passing of information from one generation to the other.
For example, a song about our struggle for independence in Kenya passes very important information to the younger generation, who not yet had born at that time.
Advantages of oral traditions as a source of information
- Oral traditions hands over historical facts from one generation to another in the absence of written records.
- It is the best source of historical information since even the illiterate can learn their history using oral traditions
- It is also a form of entertainment. For example through songs, folktales stories and proverbs, people get entertained.
- It complements other sources of information.
- The source of information is captivating especially if it is narrated by a person who participated in the event himself. For example, an Ex- World War II veteran narrating about the war.
Disadvantages of oral traditions as a source of information
- The truth and correctness of oral traditions become unreliable especially when the narrator deliberately conceals some information or lies. People tend to conceal their failures while talking so much about their success.
- Information can be exaggerated as they are transmitted by elders to successive generations. At times it is difficult to differentiate between what is real and what is imagined.
- Some information or facts may be forgotten or omitted since oral traditions depend heavily on human memory. This makes the information passed unreliable.
- Dates of information may be lacking. The source may not give correct chronology of events because it depends on human memory. It is common that people forget important dates and information about a particular past event.
- It is an expensive method. One has to pay for the informant’s transportation, lunch and accommodation. A historian may also need to travel to far places to find information.
- It is time consuming. One requires a lot of time to interview one individual. Where many people are to be interviewed, it may take a long time.
This refers to the scientific study of languages.
Historical linguistics is the study of language as it changes in the course of time. It seeks to trace the principles of language change and establish the current genealogical classification of a particular language. Such a study helps in discovering language form, content, vocabulary and historical experiences of the people who speak the language.
Distribution of language and relationship between languages is important to a historian. People who speak related languages may be assumed to have a common origin, be connected, or had been in close contact at sometime in the past. Variations between languages of the same family can show how long ago the break in contact occurred.
Advantages of linguistics as a source of information
- Through linguistics, Facts can be obtained about the movement of people and their relationship. Such information helps experts to correctly group languages according to language families.
- It helps us understand communities better as people with a common language may have common origin. It is good for establishing facts on origin, migration and settlement.
- Linguistics complements other sources of historical information. For example, language as a medium of communication helps those using oral tradition to gather information from various sources.
- Language has enabled historical linguists to discover links between different people which were previously unknown. E.g. it is now known that the Bantus had a common origin and possibly spoke one language. However due to long periods of separation between various Bantu groups, through migrations, these groups may not understand each other’s language today.
- Linguistics helps in the dating of migration of people. Language drawn from a parent language will change in a certain way and rate through time. When comparing parent language with derived language, it is possible to know how long the derived language has independently from the parent language. E.g. Sheng language and Kiswahili (parent language).
Limitations in the use of linguistics as a source of information
- It is time consuming/learning a language takes a long time therefore delaying acquisition of information.
- There is a danger of omitting a word when translating a language. In the process, vital information about a people’s history may be lost.
- Inaccurate information can be passed on where wrong words are borrowed from other languages.
- Some words may just be difficult to understand.
- Some languages have become archaic and irrelevant hence difficult to translate.
- Misinterpretation of words may make them difficult to understand.
- Linguistic analysis for classification purposes may fail to take into account languages with time.
- One word may have different meanings in different languages. This can easily confuse a researcher. For example, Nyoro in Kikuyu means ‘smooth’, while the same word in Luo means ‘yesterday’.
- Lack of original speakers in the language under study limits research findings.
This is the study of human beings, their origin, development, customs, beliefs, and social attributes like music, dance, drama, and religious beliefs and practices.
Anthropologists have to live among the people under study in order to experience their way of life in order to understand and explain structures of societies, forms of social organization, institutions, descent, marriage, forms of government, systems of inheritance, religious customs and cultural values. The anthropological description of the beliefs and customs of a people will help the historian to determine the cultural past of the people
Advantages of anthropology as a source of information
- By living among the people, anthropologists help to discover, understand and explain structures of societies, forms of social organization, cultures, etc.
- Anthropologists assist historians to determine the cultural past of the people.
- It also gives a deeper understanding of a particular aspect of a people’s culture.
Limitations in the use of anthropology as a source of information
- It is an expensive method as it involves living among the people.
- It is a time-consuming method of acquiring information.
- It is difficult for a researcher to adapt to the environment since the people they are studying may be of a totally different culture. Where they succeed in adapting, they face the risk of losing their own culture.
- People under study may try to behave differently when the researcher is around. A researcher may therefore miss important details.
Genetics is the scientific study of the ways in which characteristics are passed from parents to their offspring. (The study of heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics.) It deals with the way human beings adapted to the circumstances in their environment and utilized available plants and animals to meet their needs. When used in relation to pants genetic studies helps us trace the origin of various species by identifying them with the region where large numbers of them are found today.
After this, interpretation of their movement is made. The appearance of new cultivated varieties can be identified with the people whose economy they form a part. Also, common genes or characteristics among a group of people may indicate some relationships.
Archaeology and paleontology
Archaeology is the study of man’s past through scientific analysis of the remains of material remains of his culture, e.g. weapons, tools, houses, clothing, utensils, paintings sculpture, pottery, coins, jewellery, cutlery, beads and work of arts. The archaeologist reconstructs the activities and way of life of people who lived in prehistoric times from various evidence remains of the material culture. Other items that can be used in archaeology include remains of charcoal and carbonized seeds, remains of cloth or garments, remains of dwelling laces. After studying the available artifacts, the archaeologist formulates his concept of a people’s civilization at the time the artifacts were used. The existence of artifacts in an area can enable the historian to deduce the material culture of the people who lived in the past.
Palaeontology is the scientific study of the evolution and structure of extinct plants and animals (fossils) through scientific examination of fossil remains. Historians and archaeologists work with natural scientists like paleontologists, geologists and ecologists and chemistry in discovering fossils, getting information about soil structure, interpreting man’s relationship to his environment and dating of fossils.
Methods used by archaeologists and paleontologists in discovering a historical site
- By looking at areas where tectonic forces (faulting) or erosion have occurred. In such areas, surfaces which may give important clues to the point of finding fossils and artefacts are exposed.
- Use of vision. Sometimes vision may help them find on the surface a small part of an early settlement such as a few stones in a regular pattern.
- Use of historical research. A place that may be mentioned in a historical document or in an oral narrative may give a clue to the geography of the area and open up further inquiries into the past civilization of such a clue.e.g Omo River Valley, Olduvai Gorge, Ur and Babylon.
- Use of experience. An archaeologist may also use his long experience and skill to identify a potential site for archaeological excavation.
- During cultivation and building construction, farmers and builders may accidentally expose ancient objects that could arouse the curiosity of researchers. For example ‘Nyayo ya Mungu’ in Tanzania was a single footprint on a rock surface that was found in 1995 and became evidence of the existence of early human beings.
Advantages of using archaeology
- Archaeology gives us detailed information on material culture that other sources may not have.
- Archaeology gives a sense of time, as the artifacts are dated.
- It complements other sources of information and thus ensures authenticity of the information.
- It provides information of varied nature depending on the materials found on the site. For example, if tools, weapons, coins, bones, rock paintings and other items are located, at a site, a lot of information maybe deduced.
Limitations of using archaeology
- It is an expensive source of information. This is because one has to hire labourers to excavate the site and get artefacts and take them to laboratories for analysis.
- It is a time-consuming method. The researcher needs a lot of time to prepare for an excavation and take material for analysis in laboratories.
- It is sometime difficult for archaeologists to locate an archaeological site.
- Some artefacts and fossils are fragile and can therefore break or disintegrate during excavation. This may result in distortion of the analysis of the artefacts.
- Archaeology is only limited to the study of the ancient period and therefore cannot be used to study recent history.
- Archaeological information may sometimes be inaccurate since it is often bases on inferences (conclusions) and reconstructions.
- With archaeology, it may not be easy to accurately determine the date when events took place. It is only estimated through the method of dating fossils.
- There are very few archaeological experts and facilities for interpreting archaeological evidence in Kenya. Quite often, artefacts excavated from Kenya are taken to European countries for dating and analysis.
What things do archaeologists use to construct the activities of people who lived in pre-history times?
- Looking for regions of tectonism (faulting) associated with fossils and artifacts.
- They look for unique features e.g. stone patterns.
- Remains of fossils and artifacts dug out by farmers and constructors.
- They dig, excavate for artifacts and fossils.
- They study artifacts and fossils found.
- They make research in regions associated with evolution of man e.g. rift valley.
- They classify the artifacts and fossils.
- They use chemical and scientific methods to find ages of their findings e.g. carbon 14-dating method
What problems face archaeologists in their work of re writing history using unwritten sources?
- The exercise is too expensive.
- It is dangerous and tedious. Animals like wild dogs can attack scientists.
- Identification of the site is not easy because some artifacts are buried.
- Some artifacts can be destroyed in the process of digging.
- Dating of fossils is difficult.
- Personnel are few hence more work.
- Poor infrastructure in rural areas where their researches are mainly based
- Archaeologists may suffer from diseases caused by changes in climate.
- Sometimes the climate of their residence differs from that of the place they are taking
METHODS OF DATING FOSSILS
There are six methods through which scientists may use to arrive at the age of fossils.
These are periods that have been given names by paleontologists and geologists for the past ages. They are characterized by the successive type of pants and animals found, and the climatic changes. The recent period is the Holocene period which began 10,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene.
They exist in two types:
Radio carbon dating
This method involves a measure of the rate of decay of carbon -14 in fossils and organic substances. Carbon -14 is a naturally existing radioactive element (isotope) of carbon of relative atomic mass fourteen and is found in the Carbon Dioxide which is present in the atmosphere. It is absorbed by plants and consequently by all living organisms during their lifetime. When plant or animal dies, absorption stops. Carbon -14 already absorbed begins to disintegrate at a fixed rate from the time of death. If the amount of carbon -14 still remaining in an organic sample can be measured and related to the content of the isotope in the modern plant or animal, the rate of decay will be known. The date at which the sample was buried will be known. The measurement tells us how long it is since the organism died. The unit of measuring is known as half-life- the number of years it takes for half the carbon -14 to decay. However the accuracy of radio-carbon dating is limited to up to 40,000 years ago.
Potassium argon method
This is the method used to date volcanic ash. During volcanic eruptions, potassium is emitted. As soon as the potassium is deposited, the radio-active potassium-40 immediately begins to decay into the gas argon. It is assumed that the argon is retained in the mineral or rock unless there is earth movement. Given that the rate of decay of potassium is known, the amount of argon-40 compared with the amount of potassium, gives a direct measure of age. Because of the slower rate of decay of potassium than the decay of carbon-14, the potassium –argon method is used for dates ranging from hundreds of millions of years to 30,000 years. Recently methods have been developed for measuring the potassium and argon simultaneously on the same sample using nuclear.
This is the study and interpretation of the layers of rock successively deposited at one place. It is useful in determining dates for areas affected by sedimentation. Through Stratigraphy, a geological time-chart is obtained showing which rock was formed earlier or later.
This is a method developed for dating Pleistocene samples. The ages of glass and other mineral objects estimated by observing the tracks made in them by the fission fragments of uranium nuclei they contain. It requires that Uranium must be present. The age obtained dates from the time the object solidified.
This method has been proved reliable by being able to provide same reading from a sample of glass with a lump of pumice from Olduvai Gorge corresponding with the potassium –argon dates from the same layer.
Lexico-statistics is the statistical study of the vocabulary of languages with the intentions of determining their ages and their historical links with other languages. The study is based on the assumption that all languages have a basic vocabulary which will change slowly at a common rate for all languages at all times. The existence of reconstructed vocabulary of the parent language in derivative languages shows the relationship between the two
Glottochronology, a subdivision of Lexico-statistics, attempts to establish that languages are historically related. By this method, there is an effort to express rates of language development by formulae precise enough to enable dates when change occurred to be calculated.
Through a system of averaging, the length of a generation can be determined for a particular society and dates estimated for events associated with certain generations.
If the number and names of successive age-sets are remembered, the same system of averaging can be used.
Advantages of using unwritten sources of information on history and government
- Information about people’s movement and relationship is given.
- It is very efficient where there still existed illiteracy and people could not write or read.
- It informs us of events in the absence of written materials.
- Data received is primary/ firsthand so accuracy is enhanced.
- Materials collected or excavated can be stored in museums for future reference.
- They create employment in museums where they are stored.
- Information not captured by written sources can be obtained from oral traditions.
- There is a sense of reality as it involves things that are seen and touched.
- Unwritten sources especially linguistics help in discovering the links between different people, which were previously unknown.
- Detailed information on material culture may be obtained.
- Dating of the migration of people is more accurate in unwritten sources e.g. In linguistics.
These are sources in which letters or any other symbols have been put on the surface for the purpose of communication. They include books, archives, constitutions, journals, novels, plays, newspapers, magazines, documentaries, dairies, annual reports, periodical and paintings.
Written sources are classified into two
Archives and early manuscripts
Archives are a collection of historical documents or records, especially those carrying classified information of a government or an organization, which after a period of time are accessible to the public. They are also places where government, public and other historical records are kept.-they are resource centres for information.
A manuscript is an author’s handwritten or typed text that has not yet been published. Early manuscripts include stone tablets and scrolls. The bible and Quran are based on these two.
They include books, journals, novels, plays, newspapers, magazines, documentaries, dairies and annual reports. Photographs employ both electronic and printing processes but basically fall under printed sources. Works of fiction such as films plays and novels are important source of historical information. (Fiction is literature in form of prose, especially novels that describe imaginary events and people). Since work of fiction involves feelings and emotions, they can give more information about history. Also reading good historical novels arouses interest in history and gives the reader intellectual fulfillment. Newspapers convey new or fresh events, which with the passing of time becomes history.
Advantages of written records
- Written records preserve history since events are recorded for future reference. They are a store of information.
- Written information can reach or be distributed to all literate people all over the world.
- Written sources are less costly compared to those of anthropology or archaeology.
- Unlike oral tradition sources which are largely dependent on human memory, written sources are more accurate as information is preserved exactly as it was recorded.
- Written records may be written or translated into different languages thus reaching different people all over the world.
- Written records are in most cases reliable as biases and prejudices coming from authors can be limited. This can be done by comparing written material with statistical data from other sources.
- Where an author omits essential information for one reason or another, a written source may be rendered quite unreliable.
- Written information may be misunderstood or misinterpreted by readers either with the intention of discrediting others or to suit one’s needs.
- Writers at times are biased since the write from their particular point of view. For example, the writings of early explorers and missionaries.
- Written records are only limited to literate people within the society. – are not useful to illiterate people in the absence of literate members of the society.
- At times, depending on the society involved, acquiring written records may be very costly.
- Reading written records is often time-consuming.
These include microfilms, films, videos, radio, and television
These are films on which extremely small photographs (microphotography) of documents and printed matter are stored. They are tiny but when magnified can be clearly read.
The importance of converting documents into microfilms is for preservation purposes and saving storage spaces.
This is an authoritative source of historical information that captures words and emotions of an event as it was. For example radio news on the president’s speeches gives listeners the actual information on national matters. However, radio lacks the vividness found in television and films.
Audio - visual sources
These include television, films and videos.
Films carry indisputable historical facts as action is recorded live. They also give better understanding of some aspects of the social history of a given people with regard to their music, dress and leisure activities. Videos and films make the past come alive.
However, since films are acted, they can sometimes be unrealistic as they may not present facts but an exaggerated version of an event.
Television on its part gives good historical information as it depicts the situation as it was.
Databanks and databases
Databanks are large stores of organized information which can be accessed in number of ways. E.g. if it is a book, information can be accessed through an index, a table of content or by browsing. Electronic databases are stored in computer and facilitate easy and faster retrieval of information. One can search for information by use of a number of search terms. Information in a database can be printed when required but can also be accessed instantly on computer.
Limitations of using electronics as a source of information in history and government
- They are Subject to bias since most audio visuals contain foreign materials carrying the bias of the producer.
- Some are limited to the literate only e.g. information in data bases and microfilms can only be accessed by literate people and even computer literate people only.
- The information may be inaccurate only giving what is appealing to the public. TV crew depict only what they want to. Censorship may leave out vital information.
- Electronic sources of information are too expensive; most people cannot afford e.g. TV, Radios.
- Some acted films are unrealistic and therefore contain exaggerated information.
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