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R. G. Collingwood
Historian

R. G. Collingwood
Idea of History

Robin George Collingwood, or R. G. Collingwood as he is more usually known, was Waynefleet Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford University from 1935 to 1941.

During his career Collingwood attempted to integrate and understand human experience and knowledge, and to bring together history and philosophy. He considered that worthwhile historical studies must take on board, as a key aspect of their proper function, the goal of self-knowledge of the mind.

His major work, The Idea of History, was published posthumously in 1946.
In the introduction to The Idea of History Collingwood attempted to define a "philosophy of history" and discussed the nature, object, method and value of history. He maintained that historical studies should be recognised as being potentially productive of results that should be as entitled to be condidered to be knowledge as those of the natural sciences. He sought "to vindicate history as a form of knowledge distinct from natural science and yet valid in its own right."
"History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is."

R. G. Collingwood



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The above R. G. Collingwood quote is, perhaps, somewhat reminiscent of these quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
"There is one mind common to all individual men.
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. all the facts of history pre-exist as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of this manifold spirit to the manifold world".

and again,

"In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world."


Both these quotes being sourced from Emerson's famous essay ~ History.