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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/356

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

plain in a measure the reason for the rise and fall of specific nations, parties and principles. Before broad and reasonable generalizations can be drawn an enormous mass of exact and uncolored historical data must be gathered and digested. This material must relate not merely to political events or to the work and ideals of certain great and more or less spectacular personages who have stood in the foreground in the generations which lie forever behind the present. This data must, if it be highly valuable, tell the true story of the life, ideals, customs, industrial and social relations of the mass of the common people. Each locality, class and individual can add its quota toward the accurate knowledge of the true history of a given nation.

In the past our historians have often been guilty of presenting a false picture of the history of a nation. Their conclusions have often been very much prejudiced and distorted. In part this unfortunate situation was the direct and inevitable result of a lack of minute and local historical data. In part, it was due to a false idea of patriotism which led the writers to over-emphasize the good qualities of certain historical personages and to accentuate the moral weakness of others; it caused the historians to find altruistic and broad-minded ideals where in reality egoistic and particularistic ambitions were uppermost. Not only were false ideals presented, but the glorification of the past inevitably made the student and reader pessimistic in regard to the present and the future. The past was seen constantly surrounded by an unreal halo. The imaginary good old days and the more or less mythical heroic heros of the past when placed in comparison with the somber, but actual, present checked the enthusiasm of many a young idealist. "With this contrast in view the present seemed hopelessly degenerate; corruption, graft and political chicanery were believed to be of recent origin, whereas in reality these evils are as old as history. It is often difficult for the student to realize that the men of former generations were not supermen, but men liable to be influenced by prejudice, partisan bias and ignoble motives. American history has suffered greatly in the past because of superficial and prejudiced interpretation of facts, and because of the lack of definite and accurate data.

The forces concerned in history-making are a multitude in comparison with those more simple and tangible forces which operate in the laboratory of the physicist or the factory of the manufacturer. Each nation and each age has its own peculiar problems, balance of social forces and rate of change. The complexity and the magnitude of the forces involved insure the existence of social inertia. The first law of social change is that social formation and deformation take place gradually. Revolutions, signifying great and abrupt changes in national economic or social life, are more apparent than real. The revolution is a mere surface manifestation. Deep-seated changes never occur in this