Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/318

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
314
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

to know to which royal family the king at any given period belongs; nor is science particularly concerned with the list and the peculiarities of the wives of Henry VIII. Science does not even care tremendously whether Marie Antoinette spent her summers at Versailles or at Medicine Hat; nor yet whether the jewels of the mother of the Gracci were real diamonds or only paste. This sort of information, which seems to he of paramount importance in what popularly passes under the name of history, has no part or place in the type of history in which science is interested.

Just exception might be taken to any attempt on the part of a specialist in science to define what constitutes the right sort of history—even though it be history of science. Fortunately, however, some specialists in history have given us a definition of history to which the scientist may give a hearty consent. Traces of this interpretation of history may be found in a number of historical works of the past half century, but it has only recently found extended expression in the writings of Carl Lamprecht and his followers. A good summary of the philosophy of this school of historians was given by Professor Lamprecht in a course of lectures delivered by him in 1904 both in St. Louis and in New York. These lectures have been published in English under the title "What is History?"

For science the most important points in the doctrines of this Leipzig school seem to be these: (1) That history—real history—consists in the portrayal of a series of culture epochs; (2) that the character of these culture epochs is determined by the higher spiritual or psychic attitude of the more gifted of the people, and not by the whims and idiosyncrasies of a line of sovereigns; (3) that the most telling criterion of the psychic attitude of a people at a given epoch is found in the productions of their creative imagination. Hence, if we would understand the nature of the culture of any people at a given epoch, and trace the mechanism of its changes to the next epoch, we must study first of all the products of their creative imagination, i. e., their art, their poetry, their philosophy, and their science. Important, but of secondary importance, are the political, social and economic conditions. In other words, the psychic character of any nation at any epoch is determined by the spiritual attitude of the best people; and this condition is expressed more directly in the works of their creative imagination, and less directly in their political, social and economic conditions.

To sum up this first point, then, we may say that the sort of history needed by science is a portrayal of culture epochs, their character having been determined by a study of the works of the creative imagination of the best people of the time; and hence the importance of the history of science is derived from the fact that science is one of the