ON TRENDS, FACTS AND IDEAS IN HISTORICAL WRITING

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I.                   WHY TRENDS MATTER

Teaching history in the Philippines is highly flawed. Textbooks pepper students with dates, names and events that studying it in the Basic Education Curriculum reduced it to mere memorization of who, what, when and where that shaped the Filipino nation. Teachers often forget that the subject is Araling Panlipunan or Social Studies, a study of a people in their journey towards nation building.

A study of a people does not necessarily mean a study of its politics. Rather, it means studying the lives of the unnamed that is not in Philippine traditional high school textbooks. It means asking questions about our culture and seeking answers for it for our culture is our history.

Therefore, in studying and writing history, it is necessary for the historian to have a “particularized logic concerning a real-world phenomenon”, also known as a theory.[1] Otherwise, the historian becomes a mere walking encyclopedia who recites facts. He confines history to the center that is, with politics, war and affairs of the state. This is the traditional paradigm, the content of majority of Philippine high school textbooks.[2]

So that the historian can study a people’s journey towards nation building, he must veer away from the traditional paradigm and concentrate his study on “virtually human activity”[3], one concerned with the analysis of social structures since society is a cultural construct. The periphery then takes the limelight and the collective movements, trends and events[4] combine into an unchangeable chain. This is the New History, the content lacking in majority of Philippine high school textbooks.

To write aligned with the New History, the historian must use the historical method, the equivalent of the scientific method in the field of history. The historian must:

  1.  “recognize a historical problem or the identification of a need for certain historical knowledge;
  2.  “gather as much relevant information about the problem or topic as possible;
  3. “if appropriate, the forming of hypothesis that tentatively explain relationships between historical factors;
  4. “collect and organize evidence rigorously and the verify the authenticity and veracity of information and its sources;
  5.  “select, organize, and analyze the most pertinent collected evidence, and the drawing of conclusions; and
  6.  “record conclusions in a meaningful narrative.” [5]

It is in the third step when utilizing the theory is most important. A theory is “an instrument to be used in the search for truth.”[6] It should not be believed as the truth as the historian may use one that suits his study. History then reveals its relative nature through the various theories used in constructing historical narratives.

To teach History using this new perspective, the historian must take note of the prevailing trends in historical writing. These trends explain in depth the historical processes of the past and gives new light on how things were back then.

There is the Interdisciplinary approach or the combination of any field of study to history in tackling a topic. The Annales School is most famous for using this approach, particularly the historian Ferdinand Braudel and his geo-history. The Annales is the journal of Annales d’Histoire Économique et Sociale, an organization of historians and social scientists how sought new ways of interpreting history. Members were not contented with the way previous historians of their time wrote history that emphasizes famous persons and events. They thought that the synthesis of the varied intellectual trends could provide a total history.[7]

Braudel’s geo-history is often referred to as macrohistory, one that “takes a long view of history, looking at multiple societies and nations over the course of centuries to reach broad-ranging conclusions about the march of history.” Using this approach, the historian concentrates on a single community or individual and through study and analysis, attempts to understand the issues during the time of that individual or community.[8]

Braudel combined geography and history to narrate the reign of Philip II. The book, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World at the Time of Phillip II, used the Mediterranean Sea as the unifying factor of history: how structures emerged from this space that eventually formed conjuctures of economic, political, social and cultural practices during the sixteenth century. The discussion of the people in history took a backseat as Braudel implicitly emphasized how historical processes emerge because of geography or the space where people live.[9] This view received many criticisms, among them is that it overgeneralizes and it estimates. Since historians using this trend paint history in broad brushstrokes, they tend to use social science techniques and verifiable data in filling in gaps in their narrative to reach overarching conclusions. The end product, at times, are estimates and generalizations.

Opposite macrohistory is another trend in historical writing known as microstoria or microhistory, otherwise known as local history. This trend focuses on “the past at the level of a small community, whether village, street, family or even individual; an examination of ‘faces in the crowd’.”[10] It “Usually written by experts in the field, they can often give valuable insight into the complex currents running through local areas and within small cultural groups as well as within societies at large.”[11] Historians writing in this perspective examine archival documents that reveal the life during a given time. These may be records of courtrooms, testaments of last will or government statistics. Their goal is to portray the social setting using a person that represents the era.

Like its counterpart, microhistory received criticisms as well: the subject does not represent the era and so it does not contribute to the study on how the world emerged, neglecting the duty of history to explain the underlying processes that lets a historian understand the past. Practitioners defended that since microhistory reduces society, it reveals “how political and social rules often not work in practice and how individuals make spaces for themselves in the interest between institutions”.[12]

There is also ‘history from below’ that narrates the history of ordinary people using their own point of view. This perspective gives way to the unnamed people that has been overlooked in “elitist historiography”. It portrays the “experiences, culture and aspirations of dominant groups.”[13] It encourages the use of oral history (or interviews) so that the historian will write history using their words. History from below encompasses the study of the dominated group—the peasants, blue-collar workers, the colonized and the women. There is an emerging trend in this perspective to link the relations of the conquered group to the conqueror rather on studying these groups separately.

The final trend that this author shall discuss is cultural history. Historians also call this perspective is as the history of everyday or “alltagsgeschichte”. Cultural history is a cross between microhistory and social history since it reinserts human experience into the understanding of the past while ignoring the political trends of a given era. It focuses on the small things, what its critics call ‘trivialities’.[14]

These trends enrich the study of history making it a study not of wars, generals and statesmen but a study of people, places and ideas.

 II.                USING A THEORY ON STUDYING AND WRITING HISTORY

The aim of this section is to discuss the need for a theory in studying and writing history, especially Philippine history. The author shall compare two essays discussing the topic of the rise of Filipino nationalism in the 19th century. The section shall explain how the narrative of a traditional history differs to New History, that is, how the use of a theory can make a 19th century event a contemporaneous one.

 a. Summary: The French Revolution and the Rise of Filipino Nationalism[15]

Dr. Florentino Hornedo’s essay traces the roots of the 1898 Filipino Revolution to the 1789 French Revolution. Dr. Hornedo explains how the ideas of the Enlightenment reached the country through a continuous change in politics and technology in Europe.

Since the Philippines was a Spanish colony at that time, it was inevitably affected by this political connection. When Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Spain and found the ruling Spanish King Charles IV incapable, Napoleon replaced Charles with his brother, Joseph. The latter, imbibed with the spirit of Enlightenment[16], attempted to introduce a government of laws and not of men with the framing of the 1812 Cadiz Constitution.[17] Hence, a French King and ruled the Philippines while governed by a constitution whose ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity echo the French Enlightenment.[18]

The 19th century is a fraction of the Industrial Revolution, an age of inventions that facilitated ease of transportation and communication. This was an era of the engines, automobiles, trains, telegraphs, telephones, photography and lithography.

All inventions were instrumental for the birth of nationalism in the country. When the last galleon left in 1815, Manila opened itself to free trade. Steamships arrived and brought products and ideas through some papers. These papers were impossible to make without the use of telegraph, telephone and the camera. Upon the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the shortened Manila-Barcelona route facilitated an “increased international shipping and trade relations.”[19] Foreign merchants slowly connected the Philippines to the world through their need for transportation and communication conveniences. This pushed the Spanish government to construct telegraph, electricity steamship and railway lines locally.[20]

With the increase in the levels of transportation, communication and commercial relations is the intensified intellectual growth of the Filipino. More and more liberal papers entered the country and there arose the desire to catch up with European ideas among the Filipino youth.

Quite a number of Filipino merchants benefited from the free trade. Their wealth and their intent to educate their sons of the European way of life triggered la emigracion Europa. Thus, “the reformism of the young Filipino ilustres during the last quarter of the 19th century and the eventual development of a more radical separatist nationalism in the 1890s.”[21] These ilustres, or ilustrados, were educated in the liberal arts and upon their return, stepped up to spread the liberal ideas in the country.

The educated were not alone in calling for reforms. The plebeian awareness manifested itself when Andres Bonifacio established the Katipunan in 1892. This association reflects the ideals of the French Revolution with

  • the name of its newspaper, Kalayaan (Freedom);
  • the use of the phrase “Mga Anak ng Bayan” (sons of the nation) which implies that members of the Katipunan are all brothers;
  • the name, Katipunan, is Assembleé in French—that entity which was formed as a transitional body when the Estates-General was abolished to give way for the National Constituent Assembly;
  • the intention of liberation by using force to introduce a new order.[22]

The founding of the First Philippine Republic and the framing of a republican constitution institutionalized the awareness on the Enlightenment ideals. The Malolos Constitution was inspired by the various philosophes. Among them, John Locke and his idea that the constitution is an expression of the general will of the people and Baron de Montesquieu’s division of powers in a republic. The enumeration of the rights of a Filipino resembles the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The essay concludes by equating nationalism with social justice. As ideas from France intertwined with the desire of the Indio, a vision for a budding nation emerged. The question of right between the Regular and Secular clergy became a race issue as the idea of equality of races in dignity ensued with the framing of the Cadiz Constitution. When the movement gained momentum, Spain executed three Secular priests in 1872.[23]

What was once religious became a civil issue as the ilustrados founded La Solidaridad in 1899. They vouched for the recognition of equal dignity among individuals in civil office and that there should be no privileges. Their calls fell to deaf ears.

Recognizing the failure of peaceful means, Andres Bonifacio called for acquiring the dignity of the Filipinos through independence, or completely severing ties with Spain. For Bonifacio, dignity is being independent. Proponents of the Revolution then established the First Philippine Republic after the Declaration of Independence on 12 June 1898.[24]

Decades after, it became clear for the Filipino that independence “was not simply a Declaration or a recognition of it, but a concrete state of affairs…” a national struggle towards “a state of economic development and sufficiency.”[25] The country apparently attained this in the mid-1960s, when a number of Filipino families amassed wealth leaving the majority poor. The result was an oligarchy and this was the new battleground for the struggle for dignity. “This time, the name of Nationalism was Social Justice [26] for devoid of social justice, a Filipino has no dignity, no independence no true human development.

To regain social justice is to salute the ideals of the French Revolution—to go back to France and repeat what the ilustrados did a century earlier. This way, then President Corazon Aquino can plead for foreign aid so that social justice, or nationalism, may be achieved.

b. Summary: Ang Diwang Makabayan [27]

In a Revised Basic Education Curriculum, authors of a freshman textbook discuss the awakening of the Filipino nationalism because of convergence of factors, which are listed below.

  • The name “Felipinas. A single name unified that the country is under the rule of the King of Spain;
  • A single religion that the friars made popular incorporated different tribes into a body that can be easily governed;
  • Opening of Manila to free trade led to the increase of prices of native sugar, tobacco, abaca and indigo. These were sold at the world market, as there is a high demand for them. Production of the said products led foreign businessmen into the country. As more and more income came in, banks were established along with decent and durable roads and bridges. There was faster communication that led to the growth of the Filipino thought and the desire to be independent;
  • The opening of the Suez Canal made it possible for a shorter travel time from Barcelona to Manila and vice-versa. It also aided in the entrance of the foreign ideas that also kindled and awakened the Filipino thought;
  • Arrival of liberal ideas from Europe and America, particularly the cry of the American Revolution, “Give me liberty or give me death,” and the French’s “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” The Filipino realized that he should not be a slave of the Spaniards and that he has rights that he can fight for;
  • Education and Broadening of the Filipino thought which is a result of the emergence of the middle class. They were those were able to study abroad and noticed the wrongdoings of the Spanish officials. It was them who thought of ways to improve the sorry state of the Filipinos;
  • Archbishops and Bishops favor the Regular clergy. This was eventually opposed by the Secular clergy (the Filipinos) to fight for their right to be assigned a parish;
  • The Liberal Age of Governor-General Carlos Ma. dela Torre introduced to the Filipinos the benefits of a liberal government when dela Torre lifted censorship and hosted parties in the Palace for the Governor-General for both Filipinos and Spaniards; and
  • The administration of Governor-General Rafael de Izquierdo revived censorship and removed the privilege to be exempted from paying taxes and in forced labor among the workers and soldiers in an arsenal at Cavite. This resulted to an uprising at Trece Martirez that the officials misinterpreted as a rebellion. This declaration allowed them to arrest the perpetrators and punish the suspected masterminds, Father Jose Burgos, Father Mariano Gomez and Father Jacinto Zamora.

c. Comparison of the two works

While the first essay was written for a different audience as it was previously used in a lecture series, the second essay is aimed for freshmen in the high school. It is no surprise therefore, that the tone of the essays differs. Yet in terms of achieving the goal of academic inquiry, it is the first essay (Hornedo’s) that succeeds.

When this writer asked Dr. Hornedo if he used a certain theory in writing the essay, he said that he did not use one, but he used the concept of diffusionism. He was referring to the anthropological concept on how culture—in this case, ideas—traveled from one place to another. Hornedo began by tracing the place of origin of the idea (France) then combined facts from the three levels of human activity (Political, Human and Technological) from the time of the 1789 to 1898 and linked these to construct a narrative of the Filipino Nationalism. He did not simply enumerate the facts. He discussed how political events and technological developments abroad affected the Philippines and how Filipinos—who were then at Europe educating themselves of the political ideas produced by the French Enlightenment—brought these to the country. Hornedo’s discussion tackles not only the names of historical figures; he explains in depth the connections of the underlying processes of human activities and how all these resulted to the dawn of Filipino nationalism in the 19th century. Hornedo did not use any words to deride Spain. Instead, he enumerated the facts, built a hypothesis that all of the facts are connected before he interpreted them using a theory that also served as the backbone of his narrative.

The second essay was a mere enumeration of events that brought about Filipino nationalism. While the facts on this essay are the same as that of the first essay, the treatment of these facts differs. The authors confined the whole discussion to the Philippine setting. There should be nothing wrong with this since it is a freshman textbook but if the discussion of Philippine history continues to be the enumeration of every name, every date and every event, then the Philippine educational system is not developing learners. They are developing experts in memorization, those who can enumerate but cannot explain.

III.             THE METHODOLOGY, IMPORTANCE AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF ORAL HISTORY [28]

What also lacks in the regular history textbooks is the “local content” of the narrative. A narrative that bears this content displays an inductive flow of events that shows how the national history affects the people. To write history using this perspective, the historian must do the necessary field research or fieldwork since oral history deals with mental constructs becoming concrete. That is, how original evidences of a certain event transform the metaphysical study of history in Philippine schools to a physical study of it: one that a student can see, touch or hear.

Since the historian is dealing with something concrete, he must search for artifacts, relics or memorabilia that reveals the past of a particular person, place or event. These reveal congealed information on how people used the artifact, how it people produced it then and if there are other goods that people  manufactured because of that product. The artifact, relic or memorabilia reveals not only the economic dimension of the past but also the technology at the time of its creation. Hence, the historian must do a careful inspection of any of these should he encounter it in his fieldwork.

The historian may also use the private communication of individuals. Letters reveal a lot of description of events that are not in the textbooks. It gives a human dimension of things in the past.

The written and oral testimonies on the other hand are required for oral history. These need to be corroborated by written witnesses. Since the human mind is not a trustworthy instrument, the historian must have a recorder and take note of the facial expressions, gestures or sudden rise of intonation. These may indicate idiomatic nuance or the added layer of meaning than the speaker’s intention.

Diaries, field notes and assessed geographic factors give the historian the proper dates, time and some literary devices his respondents may use during the duration of his research. It is necessary that the historian know these literary devices to avoid placing another connotation of terms that are endemic to the research area.

Philippine local history reached its golden age during the 1980s to the early 1990s when historians wrote about their provinces but emphasized on the differences of each province. The result is the difficulty of writing a national history, one that does not divide but unites the differences among provinces. To explore this perspective is to tap the resources of the students of history. Teachers must teach them how to ask the right questions and how to examine critically the answers. They must not be trained as experts in recitation of facts for they must be interpreters of facts.

IV.             CONCLUSION

 Unless high school textbooks use the historical method in writing textbooks, students will never learn, neither they are interested to learn, the value of our history. To study history without the dates is similar to what Nick Joaquin in his book Culture and History says, “The conflict was between a history with dates and a history without—and we begin to see what a change was brought about by the tools that created a Philippine historical culture.”

As a teacher, this writer would like to experiment teaching history using this approach. It would take a lot of research in education, particularly in curriculum development, and guts to clash with the traditional way of teaching history. Nevertheless, the author is more than willing to expand the limitations of education so that questions will not lie in limbo as teachers train students to appreciate and understand our history.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Antonio, Eleanor D., et. al. Kayamanan I Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas Binagong Edisyon.Manila: Rex Book Store, Inc., 2010.

Burke, Peter ed. New Perspective on Historical Writing Second Edition. PennsylvaniaStateUniversity Press, 1992.

Busha, Charles and Harter, Stephen P. Research Methods in Librarianship: techniques and Interpretations.  New York: Academic Press, 1980.

Gordon, Scott. The history and philosophy of social science. New York: Chapman and Hall, 1991.

Hornedo, Florentino. Ideas and Ideals Essays in Filipino Cognitive History. Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2001.

Scaff, Alvin H. Current Social Theory for Philippine Research. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1982.

Encyclopedia

 The Social Science Encyclopedia, 2009 ed., s.v.“History”.

Nielsen, Donald A. “Annales School,” in Encyclopedia of Social Theory, 2005 ed.

Electronic Resource

Steele, Helen. Microhistory and Macrohistory:Different Approaches to the Analysis of History [Research paper on-line], accessed 2 October 2011; available from http://historiasenconstruccion.wikispaces.com/file/view/macromicro.pdf.


[1] Scott Gordon, The history and philosophy of social science. (New York: Chapman and Hall, 1991), 624.

[2] Peter Burke, ed., New Perspective on Historical Writing Second Edition (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992), 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Burke, Op. cit., p. 5

[5] Busha, Charles and Stephen P. Harter. Research Methods in Librarianship: techniques and Interpretations.  (New York: Academic Press, 1980), 91.

[6] Alvin H. Scaff, Current Social Theory for Philippine Research (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1982), 37.

[7] Donald A. Nielsen, “Annales School,” in Encyclopedia of Social Theory, 2005 ed.

[8] Helen Steele, Microhistory and Macrohistory:Different Approaches to the Analysis of History [Research paper on-line], accessed 2 October 2011; available from http://historiasenconstruccion.wikispaces.com/file/view/macromicro.pdf.

[9] Nielsen, Ibid.

[10] The Social Science Encyclopedia, 2009 ed., s.v.“History”

[11] Steele, Ibid, p. 3.

[12] The Social Science Encyclopedia, Ibid.

[13] The Social Science Encyclopedia, Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Florentino Hornedo, Ideas and Ideals Essays in Filipino Cognitive History (Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2001), 53-80.

[16] Joseph ruled from 1808-1813, when the Enlightenment ideas were fully accepted after the reign of the Bourbon dynasty. French advisors to the King aimed to eliminate superstition so that culture may be redefined and place science at the helm of reform.

[17] Loc. cit., p. 54-56

[18] Hornedo, citing Horacio dela Costa, S.J. (on p. 57) says that the 1812 Cadiz Constitution is applicable not only to Spain but to her colonies as well

[19] Hornedo, op. cit., p. 54

[20] Hornedo, op. cit., p. 65

[21] Hornedo, op. cit., p. 66. Italics are on the original.

[22] Hornedo, op. cit., p. 74

[23] Hornedo, op. cit., p. 77-78

[24] Ibid.

[25] Hornedo, op. cit., p. 79

[26] Ibid.

[27] Eleanor D. Antonio and others, Kayamanan I Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas Binagong Edisyon (Manila: Rex Book Store, Inc., 2010)

[28] This is a summary of the author’s notes from the seminar she attended, “Varying Perspectives & Research Resources in Philippine History” held on 19-20 May 2010 at the Tanghalang Teresita Quirino, USTGraduateSchool.

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