Recorded History

To understand history is an immense task. There is prehistory, or the history before any recorded history; protohistory, which is the period of transition between prehistory and recorded history where written language was being formed; and then you have recorded history. Recorded history means written accounts of happenings in the past. Many cultures only had an oral tradition of history, and sometimes written history in some countries has only started recently. Let us look at the beginning of recorded history, and see how it unfolded.

Though there is some argument has to what constitutes written history, as there were Jiahu symbols around 6600 B.C., Vinca signs around 5300 B.C., and more examples of very simple scripts (Smail, Daniel Lord), writing systems were being developed starting from the early dynastic periods of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Sumer. At this time, approximately 3500 B.C., these three regions were developing writing systems at roughly the same time and composing chronologies (Kott, Ruth E). However, the earliest written history was mostly concerning Pharaohs, though the reliability and quality of the accounts have been put into question. These accounts were found at archaeological dig sites (Greer, Thomas H.). The languages used for the earliest historical records were Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Sumerian archaic cuneiform script.

Traveling to China, around 2000 B.C., history started being recorded in oracle bone script (Acta Archaeologica Sinica). Later, in 5th century China, the Zuo Zhuan was written by Zuo Qiuming. This document is the first written narrative historical record, and covers Chinese history from 722 to 468 B.C. (Boltz, William G.). Not long after, historical records were taken to a new level with The Book of Documents, or Shujing, which had recorded speeches of the Zhou Dynasty, and information about other dynasties. It has 58 chapters, each having a preface supposedly written by the great philosopher Confucius (Baxter, William H.; Sagart, Laurent).

Lastly, coming to Europe, we have The Histories written by Herodotus of Halicarnassus between the 450s to the 420s B.C. Though the record is partial in terms of perspective, it covers the history of wars and politics between Western Asia, Northern Africa, and Greece at the time (Herodotus). However, though written a bit later, History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (c. 460 B.C. – c. 400 B.C.) is said to be the first impartial record of history through a well-developed method, which presents information objectively (Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. & Jeremy A. Sabloff).

Through the earlier accounts of history from Egypt and Sumer, to the scientific Greek historical narratives, written history has taken its time to develop it style, presentation, and craftsmanship. Beginning with the formation of symbols in protohistory, literacy blossomed as early as 3500 B.C., and people have been telling the story of what it is like to live on Earth and what happened before their time ever since. Though historical accounts are never exactly objective, they are windows into a time we can only imagine.

Smail, Daniel Lord. On Deep History and the Brain. An Ahmanson foundation book in the humanities. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

Kott, Ruth E. “The origins of writing.” The University of Chicago Magazine.

Greer, Thomas H. (2004). A Brief History of the Western World. Cengage Learning. p. 16. ISBN 978-0534642365.

“综述”, 中国考古学报第5册(Acta Archaeologica Sinica)(in Chinese). 《考古学报》编辑部. 1951.

Boltz, William G. (1999). “Language and Writing.” In Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward. The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 74–123. ISBN 0-521-47030-7.

Baxter, William H.; Sagart, Laurent (2014). Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-994537-5.

Herodotus (1987). The History, translated by David Grene. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-32770-1.

Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. & Jeremy A. Sabloff (1979). Ancient Civilizations: The Near East and Mesoamerica. Benjamin-Cummings Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 0-88133-834-6.

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