James Harvey Robinson

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Our personal recollections insensibly merge into history in the ordinary sense of the word. History, from this point of view, may be regarded as an artificial extension and broadening of our memories and may be used to overcome the natural bewilderment of all unfamiliar situations.

James Harvey Robinson (29 June 186316 February 1936) was an American historian, who greatly broadened the scope of historical scholarship in relation to the social sciences.

Quotes[edit]

  • We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship. It is obviously not the ideas themselves that are dear to us, but our self-esteem, which is threatened.
    • The Mind in the Making : The Relation of Intelligence to Social Reform (1921)

The New History (1912)[edit]

  • In its amplest meaning history includes every trace and vestige of everything that man has done or thought since first he appeared on the earth. It may aspire to follow the fate of nations or it may depict the habits and emotions of the most obscure individual. Its sources of information extend from the rude flint hatchets of Chelles to this morning's newspaper. It is the vague and comprehensive science of past human affairs.
    • Ch. 1 : The New History, p. 1
  • It gives one something of a shock, indeed, to consider what a very small part of our guiding convictions are in any way connected with our personal experience. The date of our own birth is quite as strictly historical a fact as that of Artaphernes or of Innocent III; we are forced to a helpless reliance upon the evidence of others for both events.
    So it comes about that our personal recollections insensibly merge into history in the ordinary sense of the word. History, from this point of view, may be regarded as an artificial extension and broadening of our memories and may be used to overcome the natural bewilderment of all unfamiliar situations. Could we suddenly be endowed with a Godlike and exhaustive knowledge of the whole history of mankind, far more complete than the combined knowledge of all the histories ever written, we should gain forthwith a Godlike appreciation of the world in which we live, and a Godlike insight into the evils which mankind now suffers, as well as into the most promising methods for alleviating them, not because the past would furnish precedents of conduct, but because our conduct would be based upon a perfect comprehension of existing conditions founded upon a perfect knowledge of the past.
    • Ch. 1 : The New History, p. 20

An Introduction to the History of Western Europe (1902)[edit]

  • It is impossible to divide the past into distinct, clearly defined periods and prove that one age ended and another began in a particular year, such as 476, or 1453, or 1789. Men do not and cannot change their habits and ways of doing things all at once, no matter what happens.
    • Ch. 1 : The Historical Point of View, p. 3
  • This tendency of mankind to do, in general, this year what it did last, in spite of changes in some one department of life, — such as substituting a president for a king, traveling by rail instead of on horseback, or getting the news from a newspaper instead of from a neighbor, — results in what is called the unity or continuity of history. The truth that no abrupt change has ever taken place in all the customs of a people, and that it cannot, in the nature of things, take place, is perhaps the most fundamental lesson that history teaches.
    Historians sometimes seem to forget this principle, when they claim to begin and end their books at precise dates.
    • Ch. 1 : The Historical Point of View, p. 4
  • During the tenth and eleventh centuries the rule of the Church prohibiting the clergy from marrying appears to have been widely and publicly neglected in Italy, Germany, France, and England. To the stricter critics of the time this appeared a terrible degradation of the clergy, who, they felt, should be unencumbered by family cares and wholly devoted to the service of God. The question, too, had another side. It was obvious that the property of the Church would soon be dispersed if the clergy were allowed to marry, since they would wish to provide for their children. Just as the feudal tenures had become hereditary, so the church lands would become hereditary unless the clergy were forced to remain unmarried.
    • Ch. 12 : Germany and Italy in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries, p. 157

The Human Comedy : As Devised and Directed by Mankind Itself (1937)[edit]

  • It is a poor technic when attempting to convert one's neighbor to attack his beliefs directly, especially those of the sacred variety. We may flatter ourselves that we are undermining them by our potent reasoning only to find that we have shored them up so that they are firmer than ever. Often history will work where nothing else will. It very gently modifies one's attitude. Refutations are weak compared with its mild but potent operation. To become historically-minded is to be grown-up.
    • Ch. 1
  • It is true that biologists have, many of them, given up what they call "Darwinism"; they have surrendered Spencer's notion of the hereditary transmission of acquired characters, and they even use the word "evolution" timidly and with many reservations. But this does not mean that they have any doubts that mankind is a species of animal, sprung in some mysterious and as yet unexplained manner from extinct wild creatures of the forests and plains.
    • Ch. 2

External links[edit]

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