Historians from many different eras and contexts have viewed history and historical change as either linear or circular in nature. Giambattista Vico (d. 1744 CE), the Italian philosopher and historian, organized history in a cyclical way as different nations and peoples rise and fall. At the same time, according to Vico (2000), humanity was destined towards equity. Sima Qian of China (d. 86 BCE) viewed the past as a series of circular attempts to restore the Mandate of Heaven and consolidate central power, attempts that were then followed by breakdowns into feudal states (Qian, 1995). For Qian, history seemed to favor evildoers as much as followers of Confucian principles; historians therefore had a moral duty to bring justice to the past. Leopold von Ranke (d. 1886) was the originator of modern, primary source-based historical science in Europe. He promoted a largely linear, narrative view of the past. Change occurred at a granular level. Events and peoples of the past should be described for their own sake, not as a tool for understanding or reifying a larger philosophical, moralistic, or deistic destiny (von Ranke, 2010). More recently, the French historian Fernand Braudel (d. 1985) combined both linear and the broader cyclical approaches. For Braudel, history occurred on different levels. There was the past of the long term, which tended towards patterns determined by geography, and the short term, which was more linear and event dependent (Braudel, 1996). Today, historians are sharply divided between progressivists and Marxists who see humanity on a line towards some destiny that will embrace a global vision, and relativists and determinists who view the modern and the postmodern system as a particular cultural artefact of the West, doomed to collapse and be replaced, in the optimistic view, by a cosmopolitan vision. For pessimists, however, the replacement of the West will be far more traumatic (Appiah 2019; Fukuyama, 2006, 2018; Pinker, 2019).
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