Star Wars and the Humble Historian

I believe [Star Wars] offers another important reminder to historians. The past, while often open to scholarly study, took place a long time ago in a faraway place (if not another galaxy) …. This is true even of the recent past. For this reason, historians must take into account matters of historical context when studying the past. You might think of historical context as everything that was in the atmosphere at the time of the subject you are studying …. A keen sense of historical context helps protect historians from the temptation of presentism, which is any attempt to read present assumptions back into the past ….

Remembering our distance from the past helps to keep careful historians humble. This should be especially important to Christian historians, for whom humility is both a professional best practice and a spiritual virtue. Every historian studies the past from a particular point of view. In the case of a believing historian, the Christian worldview will be integral to that perspective. Nevertheless, the past deserves to be understood according to its own terms insofar as that is possible. While there might be any number of legitimate ways to apply insights from the past to present, the past deserves to be treated as more than the preamble to the present.

The discipline of history recognizes that the study of the past is a worthwhile end in itself, even when the subject being studied has little to no bearing on the present. If God created everything that is, and if he providentially rules all things according to his sovereign purposes, then every moment in the past matters to God. The past should also matter to historians enough to be treated with the respect it deserves.

–Nathan A. Finn, History: A Student’s Guide, 29-33.

History: A Student’s Guide
Nathan A. Finn
Crossway, 2016
128 pages