Download the article: A Phenomenological Approach to the Subject of History
In our study of the natural sciences we observe phenomena. Our study of the humanities is different, for, as in history, the occurrences happened in the past. For example, the Norse historian Snorre was in the city of Haugesund on his journey to Norway in 1218. Modern historians have reports, documents and the remains of buildings to help reconstruct the occurrence. With this material they can create a picture of the event, which can be contemplated later. To study history we distance ourselves from the standards of today and try to experience how people in earlier ages thought. And when new discoveries come to light, we can even expand or change our interpretations!
What about the origin of events—what led to the occurrences? Halvdan Koht spoke about “motives for occurrences in history.” In the early twentieth century, a strong generation of historians at the University of Oslo were trained in Marxist historical interpretation. This influenced the material in textbooks. For example, in my high school history book, the following interpretation was given for the origin of the Viking raids: “As land in Western Norway became over-occupied, the desire to travel abroad was awakened.”
Rudolf Steiner developed a historical perspective in which the search for motivating forces is on a broader level, in which the actual occurrences are symptoms and one does not search for the active impulses within them. Let us use a comparison. If a young girl blushes, should we look for the cause in her skin or in her blood system? The cause lies on a broader level in the form of a message she received that brought a blush to her cheeks.
In history one should never overlook outer or peripheral causes of events. Often there is a complex of active forces behind the event. The story of the French Revolution provides an obvious example for studying with the pupils in the eighth class just how the causes of events may be found on different planes. The teacher can begin by presenting how in 1664 Louis XIV built his Versailles at the expense of the people of France. Year after year the palace buildings were created in Baroque style, the gardens filled with hedges, alleys, symmetric flower beds, fountains, statues, a fish pond and much more. Then paint a picture of life at the court of the Sun King who was the sovereign center of the universe of orbiting servants and royalties. He had 3000 house servants, 3500 mounted guards and 10,000 foot soldiers. His daily routine was divided into a morning celebration of mass, meetings with ministers, extravagant meals, and evenings with garden parties, fireworks, balls, theater, or concerts. Amusement was not only a right, it was a duty. The court was filled with mistresses and superficialities. Once a beautiful court lady asked an older woman for advice as to a marquis who made advances to her. The answer was: “My dear, mademoiselle, marry him….then you will be rid of him.”
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