F. So How Should We Tackle the Issue of Causation in Essay Tasks?

Confusion - Chaos, Determinism, Whigs, Annales and Marxists: Click on a link to read a summary

So how do historians cope with this confusion?

1. Avoid the two extreme views of determinism and chaos theory.

2. Instead, draw elements from both of these extremes.

· Historians will tend to occupy the broad middle ground between these two positions, both chronologically and thematically.

(a) Chronologically - be broad ranging


· Like the determinists, historians will look at long term factors (e.g. the Annales School of historians, who consider the impact of geography and climate as a key factor in causation).

· Like the chaos theorists, they will look too at short term factors (e.g. AJP Taylor, who loved to stress the role played by the “Great Man” coming along at the right time).

(b) Thematically – be broad ranging


· By looking at a broad chronological range of factors, they will be broad ranging thematically. Hence they will look at such things as Economics (favoured by Marxists, who see all history as the history of class struggle), Politics (the so-called Namierites), Geography (Annales) and the role of key individuals (AJP Taylor).

3. Result of this approach: sophistication rather than paralysis.


· By adopting the middle ground, and accepting that history is all about debate, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that there are no Final Answers or Golden Rules, only an ongoing cycle of question and answer, leading to progressively deeper personal understanding about the way people behave in certain circumstances.

· Some people argue that as it is devoid of “final answers”, history is not worth studying. This is like saying that it is not worth forming an opinion on anything because others will always disagree with you. Similarly, you could say that it’s not worth learning to read because there are too many books in the world to get through.

· Nevertheless, by accepting the fact that each event / situation has a massive variety of causes, we run the danger of concluding that none was more important than another. In other words, we fail to draw any sort of conclusion at all, and fail to learn anything from the investigation.

· How do we get around this problem? In other words, how do we identify, group, link, and prioritise our factors?

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