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I encountered a problem to define something as "history", namely the determination of legal status of Kosovo. The action is so recent, I would say it more belongs to "politics".

For my impression history is something which is no longer discussed by current politics. History always get a new scope, and viewpoints, but in sense of history, not politics.

For example we can consider WW2 as a historical event, since it is ended and interpreted by various historians. On the other hand Kosovo's status is still not clear even if most of the countries recognized it. Same with legal status of Republic of China. Politics would discuss something what is not really closed and still have effect.

  • Is there a clear and professional definition on what is history and what is politics?
  • And maybe relevant extra question: What makes a political event become a historical event?
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Why the close vote? O_o –  Lohoris Mar 28 '14 at 12:14
Yeah, this is a pretty good question. Not sure if it would fit better in meta or not though. –  Kobunite Mar 28 '14 at 12:19
I don't think this is a Meta question, perhaps capitalizing History and Politics confused the close voter in thinking that the question is about the Stack Exchange sites, instead of the actual topics. –  Yannis Rizos Mar 28 '14 at 12:26

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

When we use historical methods and sources we're doing history. When we use influence and governance, we're doing politics. The distinction between history and politics isn't in the event, it is in your relationship to the event and the use to which you're trying to put the event.

If I research the legal status of Kosovo with an intent to determine how a fully independent Kosovo will affect my country, I'm doing politics. If I research the legal status of Kosovo with an intent of understanding the effect of the status of Kosovo on the evolving definition of a nation-state, then I'm probably doing history.

If I research WWII with the intent of understanding how the Clivedon set incorporated fiscal conservatism with secular chauvinism, I'm probably doing history. If on the other hand I research the Clivedon set with the intent of understanding the fundamental hypocrisy of secular chauvinism and fiscal conservatism, and the specific intent of understanding how that hypocrisy can be manipulated, I'm probably doing politics.

Update: An even better example just occurred to me - A close friend of mine is studying the adoption of the US constitution to determine whether secession is legal; if it is legal, then it supports certain conclusions about states rights, and the role of the Federal government. I'm discussing it with him because I'm interested in how the states came together to form a union, and how that concept of union evolved over time. From your perspective, the Constitution is history - a done deal. From his perspective, it is an element in a political discussion. From my perspective it is a fascinating era in history.

Contrary to your assertion, no historical event is ever "ended" - they all have implications for the current day. That's what Santayana means when he says that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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What if its political history? hehe +1 –  Razie Mah Mar 28 '14 at 21:09

You will not get anywhere by trying to divide events as historical or political. The same thing can be both, and it depends on how you approach it. History is any event that is approached with a historical mindset - using the tools of historical research. A political scientist or political commentator could approach the same events as political events. The distinction is not in the event.

Therefore, I don't think you can set any cutoff point to determine if something is an historical event or not. Even a current event happening live - like, perhaps, Russia annexing the Crimea - is a historical event. Good commentary on it would involve a political commentator to give a political explanation of what is happening, but also a historian to give the historical perspective. Events do not occur in a vacuum, and there's always an historical context.

The same can be applied to any relevant discipline. A movie comes out. Is this a cultural event? An historical event? An entertainment-history event? The answer is, of course, all of the above, depends on how you interpret it.

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This is true to some extent, but the OP clearly is wondering if there is a cut-off point for current events where they are open to historical study. I can't see the answer to this in your question. –  called2voyage Mar 28 '14 at 13:59
@called2voyage I'll clarify, then. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Mar 28 '14 at 14:01
Looks better +1, but it's still lacking a description of what the historical mindset is as opposed to the political mindset. –  called2voyage Mar 28 '14 at 14:31
True, though I feel that might be a bit too wide and out of scope. I'll see if I can find a succinct definition. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Mar 28 '14 at 14:33

I think that what you're attempting to find an answer for is the basis of one of the ideas introduced by James Loewen in his book Lies My Teacher Told Me. In it, he distinguishes between what he calls "sasha" history (history which is still remembered by people who are alive toay) and "zamani" history (history which is now, essentially, dead and academic). World War II and the Hiroshima bombing were in the sasha realm as recently as the mid-90s when the Smithsonian Institute wished to put up a rather British style display on the subject (by which I mean even-handed and not flattering to the home country) but was denied in favor of a more Bowdlerized version of the events. Likewise, American slavery is clearly in the zamani zone of history but the legacy of racism and inequality which stem from it is clearly not.

That being said, there is no real dividing line between the two subjects, even though they do cover different things. History gets politicized all the time, but so too does politics learn from and adapt to the lessons of history.

To take the particular case of Kosovo, it's pretty recent history and so very clearly in the sasha range. You don't even have to be all that old to remember the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 90s or for that matter the tribunals which were held in the early 2000s (the first of their kind since the 40s, if memory serves). It is unsurprising that people feel this is politics at this point; a great parallel with some of that situation are the Nuremberg Trials, about which a teleplay was written and shown in the late 1950s in the US but which was very heavily Bowdlerized due to the politics of the time (for example, Westinghouse demanded that the creators excise any reference to "gassing" lest the people of America associate gas ovens with Zyklon-B and Auschwitz). Ironically, this politicization of what is now a purely historical event is itself history. There's some kind of Inception joke here which I am sure could be made by a funnier person.

So long story short, there's not a real dividing line but that doesn't mean a distinction does not exist. 20 years is clearly too soon to separate politics from history. 50 years still seems pretty soon nowadays, depending on the event we're talking about: think of the JFK assassination as an example on one side (an event remembered by schoolchildren, many of whom are only in their 50s and 60s now) and the Bay of Pigs invasion on the other (something which was pretty big news to adults, but that cohort is now in their 70s and 80s and beginning to die off). World War II itself is probably pretty firmly into zamani territory by now, although it's interesting to not (as above) that as recently as 20 years ago it was not. World War I is without question zamani history.

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