Saturday, August 29, 2009

Position Paper #6 Friedrich Nietzsche


Historical Understanding

Friedrich Nietzsche, the revolutionary German Philosopher deals with problems which have been ignored in many ways but which are really essential, important and practical in studying History. He asks us “Why do we need to study History and in what way does it serve our life and societies?” His questions are really practical and giving us foundation where we are going to build up our historical knowledge. I believe that those questions are those that we should profoundly think about and carefully answer before we study History. I strongly believe that study of those questions will give us clear and distinct object in studying history.

In order to answer these questions, Nietzsche proposed the three different model of History the ‘Monumental’, ‘Antiquarian’, and ‘Critical’ and says that each model of history serves different types of people in different ways. And each of them has positive and negative points as a historical model.

First, Monumental History, it is simply about monumental events and beings in the past which can give great inspiration and hope to the people in present. It serves our societies in which people seek teachers and role model whom they may follow. Nietzsche states in his book “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1873)” about Monumental History that The greatest moments in the struggle of single individuals make up a chain, in which a range of mountains of humanity are joined over thousands of years. For me the loftiest thing of such a moment from the distant past is still vital, bright, and great. (Nietzsche, 1873) Monumental historians seek a return to or affirmation of the continuing presence of the great achievements of the past. In so doing, they manage and even avoid the complexities and crises of the present day world. (Marie Hughes Warrington, 2009)

Second, Antiquarian History, this model of history accepts events and things in the past without reserve. Antiquarian Historian according to Nietzsche (1873) preserves, honors and love look back in the direction from which he has come. Aiming to bring order to archival traces, the antiquarian historian seeks to preserve the past for the present in an authentic fashion. (Marie Hughes Warrington, 2009)

Third, Critical History, actually it sees History in different view from Monumental, and Antiquarian History. However it has objective, unbiased and practical view on History. There is no beautification or any decoration on History. Staloff (1995) has once described its function that “It serves the need among humans, to liberate us from the shackles of, for example, a conservatism born of mindless antiquarianism.

I admire Nietzsche’s precise analysis on the models of History. And I quite agree with his view on those three different types of view of History. Actually in Historical understanding those three methods of Historical must take important role in our study as a Historian.

I believe that a Historian should not prefer only one model of those three. In Historical understanding, I think all of three methods of analyzing History are crucial and needed. For me, a good Historian is a historian who is able to harmonize these three models.

I strongly believe that the great value of History is that we can learn something from the past regardless of the method and means. Is it too monumental, antiquarian or critical? It is ok if we can still get something good from it. But we can maximize the value of History by combining and harmonizing three methods of Historical understanding.

From Monumental History, we should take as much as we can great inspirations and hopes which our ancestors inherited through their actual experience. Even if there are some lies, we do not need to harshly criticize and dig it unless we can learn something from it.

We should also learn from Antiquarian Historian. In fact some of them accept everything of past thoughtlessly. But I admire their attitude in treating History. They are the people who realize great value of History therefore, we should learn their reverence and respect to History.

However, we should not accept everything of past. Sometimes, we need to see History as itself by properly judging and criticizing. If we are biased too much toward Monumental and Antiquarian History, we might possibly live in untruth. And there are some events of past that we can learn something from by criticizing them. For example, we can specify bad example not to follow by criticizing.


Historical Writing

When we analyze and interpret the Historical events or individuals, we may as well use all of three approaches of historical understanding- Monumental, Antiquarian and Critical. Each of them can give us different teachings but all of them are valuable. In understanding History, we may take any view of Monumental, Antiquarian and Critical because we can still learn something through those views in studying History.

However, in field of Historical writing, I say that it is better for us to take critical method than another two methods. I do not say that critical method is the best. But when write about Historical events we ought to use the critical method because it is most objective and factual among three methods.

As a Historian, I strongly believe that addition should not be added to the any Historical material. Inevitably, the styles, ideas, and views of Historiographers are reflected in most of their Historical writings. It is quite impossible for them to completely avoid it. But Historiographer must try to be objective and factual as much as possible.

Interpreting History and Writing History are different. I insist that in interpreting History any views and approaches are allowed unless they can get certain teachings from the past. However in writing History, personal views or idea should not be reflected because it might lead readers to have the biased and distorted views.

Only an objective and factual writing of History can give us great teachings. The Truth has a power. That is why I insist that the Historiographer should be very objective. History is valuable because it is Truth so a Historiographer must be able to offer pure History itself to people. That kind of Historiographers can offer great teachings of History for those who love History and are willing to learn things from the past. And those Historiographers are great Historians.


Marie Hughes Warrington (2009). 50 Key Thinker on History New York: Routlege

Staloff, D. (1995). The search for a meaningful past philosophies, theories and interpretations.
NY: The Teaching Co

Nietzsche, F. (2007). On the use and abuse of history for life (I. C. Johnston, Trans.).
(Originally published in 1873). Retrieved March 27, 2008, from


  1. How do you achieve objectivity in history? Are not the original sources themselves subjective in the sense that the witnesses of the past were biased? There are even sources that contradict each other.

    What is fact in history?

    Perhaps the subsequent philosophers will shed light on this issue. Don't close your mind to the possibility of subjective history being true.

  2. I think it is not possible for Historical sources to be totally objective. but i believe that the original sources i mean the records about past event should not be subjective because the accurate subjective interpretation and analysis would come from very objective sources. that is why i insist that historical records should be objective. but I am not insisting that historical analysis and interpretation(it may include some historical writing) must be objective..

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  4. how to be critical if history in the meantime changed course in major way (paradigm shift), and looking back in linear way has no use.
    Our values and ethics around those values cause judgements like saying to a stone age person: "traffic that comes from the right side goes first"