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The Role of Causation in History: Chaos, Free Will and Determinism L/O – To identify the problems historians face when dealing with causation.

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Presentation on theme: "The Role of Causation in History: Chaos, Free Will and Determinism L/O – To identify the problems historians face when dealing with causation."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Role of Causation in History: Chaos, Free Will and Determinism L/O – To identify the problems historians face when dealing with causation

2 Why is Causation important? Every historical investigation begins with the simple question – ‘why?’ Identifying the most important causes of events allows us to decide how best to deal with it. This gives meaning to situations which otherwise would leave us feeling helpless.

3 Why is Causation important? However… History is the flawed product of incomplete evidence which is interpreted by Historians with their own values and preoccupations. So… historians answer the question ‘Why?’ in different ways, based on the evidence they choose to work with, and the conclusions they choose to draw. TASK 1 – Read through the quotes on causation on your worksheet. Which one do you like the most and why?

4 The Death of Billy Elliot Billy Elliot (35) finished his last can of super- strength beer and reflected on his predicament. He had been unemployed since the last factory in his area closed down a few years earlier. Like his father before him, he had taken to drink. Just recently, his wife had left him after finding out about the fling he’d had with Tasha Slappa down the road at a friend’s party. He told his wife that the summer heat had made him drink too much, but she told him to shove it.

5 The Death of Billy Elliot He decided to get another 6-pack of beer from the local off-licence. The government had recently cut back on unemployment benefits, but the bloke behind the counter, Akaash, had promised him a discount for being such a good customer lately. So, he grabbed his coat and put his shoes on.

6 The Death of Billy Elliot Just as he was leaving, his mother rang up to give him some family news. He had a quick chat with her, then left the house. As he strolled down the road, a boy came round the corner on a bicycle in a panic. Billy, who was still reflecting on what his mother had told him, was taken by surprise and leapt into the road.

7 The Death of Billy Elliot Sadly for Billy, a steam roller was passing at just the moment, resurfacing the road after it had buckled in the hot summer weather. The driver was still tired because his baby had been crying all night and didn’t see him. As a result, Billy was squelched into the shape of a pancake.

8 The Death of Billy Elliot Having read the story, answer the following questions: 1.What three factors would you pick out as being the most important causes of the tragedy? 2.What one further question could you ask to deepen your understanding about the tragedy? 3.Here are the three verdicts on the death of Billy Elliot. Take a class vote on which verdict you each find most convincing: AB Death by Free Will Billy’s death was a freak accident that has no meaningful cause Death by Marxist Dialectic Billy was a sad victim of economic forces Death by Determinism Billy was the victim of an inevitable chain of circumstance traceable right back to climate and geography

9 The Historiographical View of Causation Key Factor of change TimescaleBig Question Concept of Progress Details Whig Historians (18 th and 19 th C) Great Men & Actions of Individuals Short-Term Where have we come from? Peaceful, Evolutionary progress Thomas Macaulay had two key ideas: 1.The driving force of history was individuals acting with free will 2.History was a story of progress leading up to high point of the present age: the past was judged on present day values Leopold von Ranke led a reaction against this by trying to show things how they actually were and assessing periods on their own terms using evidence = historicism. Do you agree with Ranke or Macaulay more?

10 The Historiographical View of Causation Key Factor of change TimescaleBig Question Concept of Progress Details Marxist Historians (19 th and 20th C) Economics Social Class Dialectics Mid-Term Where are we going? Violent, revolutionary progress Karl Marx said that economic forces dictated the overall strategy of history; individuals just provided the tactics Like Macauley, he saw history as having its own momentum, but felt that class conflict not individuals provided it. Does the collapse of so many communist regimes in the 20 th century mean that the Marxist interpretation of history is worthless?

11 The Historiographical View of Causation Key Factor of change TimescaleBig Question Concept of Progress Details Annales Historians (20 th C) Geography Sociology Long-Term Are we going anywhere? Question whole notion of progress Fernand Braudel – argues that individuals and even societies are merely short-term ripples on mid-term waves subject to long- term tides. It is these tides of history which provide the driving force in history: climate change, discovery, floods etc… Does this view of history essentially mean that it is pointless to study individual figures when trying to explain the causes of events?

12 The Approach of Philosophers to Causation The three positions discussed are sandwiched between two extremes of philosophical thought that reject the idea that human beings can influence the world around them in any meaningful way, whether they learn from the past or not. 1.Chaos Theory – The idea that everything is down to chance events which we have no control over. 2.Determinism – The idea that everything is the inescapable result of what went before.

13 Conclusion The only essential difference between chaos and determinism is one of focus. A chaos theorist find an endless number of trivial accidental causes, whilst the determinist finds an infinite number of profound causes. Both make the same essential point: tracing any historical event backwards in a chain of cause and effect quickly leads to absurdity.

14 Conclusion Not only is this chain endless, but there is an endless number of chains. To add to the confusion, each event many have several causes, which in turn many have been caused by several events, each of which in turn may have several causes. Quickly, any attempt to sketch out the cause of an event will resemble not a chain, or even a series of chains, but a gigantic tree with an endless number of branches.

15 So how do we tackle Causation in essays? 1.Avoid the two extremes of determinism and chaos theory. 2.Instead, you should draw elements from both of these extreme. Historians will tend to occupy the middle ground between these two positions, both chronologically and thematically.

16 a) Chronologically – be broad ranging Like the determinists, historians will look at long term factors like the Annales School of historians who consider the impact of trends in geography and climate. Like the chaos theorists, they will look too at short term factors like Whig Historians who stress the role played by the ‘Great-Man’ coming along at the right time.

17 b) Thematically – be broad ranging By looking at a broad chronological range of factors, historians will also try to be broad ranging thematically. Many look at Economics (Marxists), Politics (Structuralists), Geography (Annales), Ideas (Hegelian), and the role of Key Individuals (Whig).

18 Result of this approach By adopting the middle ground, we have to reside ourselves to the fact that there are no final answers, only a cycle of questions and answers, leading to progressively wider understandings of history. However, by accepting that each event has a massive variety of causes, we run the danger of not making any conclusion at all! How do we get round this? We need to consider how we identify, group, link and prioritise causes.

19 Practical Approach to Causation – Categorising Causes Content Causes Social Political Economic Religious Military Time Causes Long-Term Medium-Term Short-Term Role Causes Trigger Catalyst Transformative Pre-Condition Importance Causes (Absolutely or Relatively) Necessary – If no X, then no Y Sufficient – X was enough for Y What is the best way to categorise causes OR is a combination of methods best?

20 Practical Approach to Causation – Categorising Causes – Example 1 Causes of the First World War Political Alliance System, Imperialism as an political ideology: Empire was the only way to be a Great Power, Nationalism: created the desire for power and security Military HMS Dreadnought, Naval Arms Race between Britain and Germany, Growing size of conscript armies in Europe Economic Germany needed to secure new markets, Britain wanted to protect existing markets, Russia wanted access to Mediterranean Social Nationalism – created culture of superiority within and between nations, led to belief that war was a valid policy option for states, led to assassination of Franz Ferdinand?

21 Practical Approach to Causation – Categorising Causes – Example 2 Causes of the First World War ContentTimeRoleImportance 1 Political – Imperialism led to competition between states & subjugation of smaller nations which increased nationalist violence i.e. Serbia Long-term Pre- condition Sufficient for war to happen, made it more likely 2 Military – Naval Arms Race, raised fears about German intentions, led to Alliance System Short-termCatalyst Relatively Necessary for war to happen 3 Social/Pol – Nationalism and independence movements, new nations i.e. Serbia Medium- term Trigger Absolutely Necessary for war to happen, triggered assassination

22 Practica l Approa ch to Causati on – Linking Factors

23 Homework Using your guide to historiography, research one school of historical thought of your choice. Write a 150 word summary, identifying what historians of that school believe about why things change in history, what famous historians there are and any famous works


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