What is the point of history? Today, we cover a passage concerning the different ways people look at history. We are continuing our breakdown of the cars section with our third passage today.
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[02:39] Passage 3 (Questions 14 – 18)
What is the point of history? This question has bedeviled any student who has ever fought off sleep while sitting through a dry history lesson. The famous statement that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” may be the most popular answer to this question in the public mind. However, this quote reliably irritates professional historians, who are reluctant to view their vocation as being reducible to a set of life-hacks and pro-tips. Nonetheless, rejecting the view of history as an advice column with an extensive archive does not, in and of itself, articulate a positive motivation for studying or writing history.
Note: The public and history professors have viewpoints that are in contrast with each other. And so we’re trying to figure out what these viewpoints are. How do these people feel? Because that’s what the MCAT wants to ask about. The paragraph says that those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it. But the author still doesn’t give his viewpoint.
[04:09] Passage 3, Paragraph 2
In fact, it is not at all obvious how, on what basis, or for whom to write history. In some languages, a single term (such as histoire in French) can refer both to history in the grand sense of the term, as an intellectual discipline, and to narratives of events that take place in an individual’s everyday life. In other words, history is a story, and historians are faced with a bewildering set of choices about what to emphasize.
Note: The author’s giving us a little bit more of his perspective here.
[04:38] Passage 3, Paragraph 3
An early approach was for historians to focus on the actions of individuals, typically famous or influential figures, in a generally objective way, but with some level of editorial commentary. The statement of Edward Gibbon, a pioneering historian who wrote in the late 1700s that “history […] is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind” reflects this perspective, but intriguingly, opens the door for history to shift to a focus on the actions of everyday men and women. In the mid-1800s, the German historian Leopold von Ranke articulated the goal of describing history as “how things actually were,” and in the 1900s, historians belonging to the so-called Annales school expanded von Ranke’s focus on material realities of the past to explore the mentalities of bygone days. Even more broadly, historians such as Fernand Braudel have viewed history as primarily shaped by macro-level factors such as physical geography and long-term cultural and social trends, relegating short-term political events to at best a secondary role. This framework has remained influential to this day, even shaping the now-trendy field of “Big History” that incorporates human history into the much longer story of life on earth.
Note: We’re given a lot of examples. People focus on different things. We have these three different styles. There’s a good chance we’re going to have to come back to these for the answer choices. You can probably highlight those names to help you separate those as we go through the next paragraph.
[06:45] Passage 3, Paragraph 4
History is not written in a vacuum, of course, and historians often advocate ideological views of history with political implications. For example, presenting history as a rational progression towards a more enlightened state dates at least back to the Whig historians of 18th-century England, who deployed such arguments against their political foes, the Tories. A modern example of this framework is Steven Pinker’s 2011 argument that violence throughout the world has steadily decreased with civilizational and technological advances. Marxist historiography focuses on class-based analyses and economic history, sometimes with a scope limited to a certain historical period, but sometimes with the goal of building a totalizing narrative of human progress towards communism that stands in striking counterpoint to the capitalist-driven progressive narratives of the Whig historians and their successors. Such perspectives raise the possibility that choices about how to write history are not, strictly speaking, methodological decisions about how to investigate an empirical phenomenon, but instead reflect our own values and goals. This may not answer our original question about the point of history, but it certainly casts the question in a different light.
Note: The author is giving us these different ways that people look at history. And it seems like the author doesn’t really take a hard stance at any point as to what’s the right way or the wrong way. Or who’s doing it well or who’s doing it bad. The author is just saying there are lots of different ways to look at history. In this case, the author’s viewpoint is that people can look at history differently.
Don’t try to memorize all of these things. Otherwise, you’ll put in so much time trying to parse and understand and memorize all the different viewpoints that are going through here.'Relying on your memory opens the door to miss remembering, or bringing in outside information.'Click To Tweet
[09:53] Question 14
In several cultures, the predominant view of history is that it is cyclical. This viewpoint would be consistent with the views of which of the following historians discussed in the passage?
- Edward Gibbon
- Leopold von Ranke
III. Steven Pinker
- I only
- III only
- I and II only
- II and III only
Steven Pinker’s viewpoint is very clearly not going to be a cyclical view with this idea of like progressing. So right off the bat, we can cross out Answer Choices B and D. The other two don’t say if they’re obviously for or against. And so that’s something that can be a little bit tricky.
It’s not asking who is arguing for it, just which of these would allow you to do this and be consistent within this framework?
As we mentioned, Pinker doesn’t work with that. Then Leopold von Ranke is just looking at like what’s going on in people’s heads at the time and that could be cyclical. It doesn’t have to be but it could be, which is what the question asking. So the answer is going to be both Edward Gibbon and Leopold von Ranke. Because both of their viewpoints can exist within a cyclical view of history, but the other one won’t exist or cannot exist.
[15:13] Question 15
Which of the following statements most accurately summarizes the similarities and differences between Whig and Marxist history?
- Both are skeptical of the impact of geography on history, but for different reasons.
- Both present history as linear progress, but Whig historians focus exclusively on non-economic factors, whereas Marxist historians focus entirely on class.
- Both present history as linear progress, with an economic focus, but within profoundly different theoretical frameworks.
- Whig and Marxist historians are both concerned with violence, but Whig historians seek to understand how violence can be minimized, whereas Marxist historians attempt to understand how violence can be deployed.
Karl Marx is somebody that the AAMC wants you to know for the psych section. So not only do you know something about this, but the MCAT writers know that you know something about this. If you’ve been prepping, that makes it a little bit dangerous because people will bring in outside viewpoints. There are a lot of outside info traps in here if you’re well-versed, or have some opinions on Marxism and things like that.
Geography was mentioned somewhere, but it’s not really the point here. So we can cross A. For B, the non-economic factor goes against the capitalist-driven progressive narratives that the Whig historians have. So I’m going to cross off B as well. And looking at answer choice D, violence was not mentioned in both viewpoints.
Notice that answer choice B mentioned “entirely” and “exclusively” which are extreme statements, and making extreme statements is often wrong. Now, a fair chunk of students would pick D, because what they know about or maybe what they’ve been taught about Marxism and communism leads to a lot of violence and issues there. But that’s obviously not in the passage.
[19:42] Question 16
Which approach to history would the author be most likely to reject?
- Viewing human history as a struggle between competing, all-encompassing ideologies
- Focusing on cultural history and excluding economic history
- Presenting history as an objective compendium of facts
- Conceiving of history as a march towards greater autonomy and fulfillment
The question here is which history approach would the author most likely reject. The author talks about all these people with these different viewpoints. So you get the idea that the author thinks there are lots of ways to try to tackle history and C is just not listed as one of those. That might be what you think history is but that’s not really mentioned in the passage. And as such, you have no idea where the author is going to be on that.'The whole point of the CARS section is to see how well you understood the viewpoints of the passage.'Click To Tweet
[23:35] Question 17
What is the function of the question posed at the beginning of paragraph 1?
- To engage the reader with a relatable hook that links the points made later in the passage
- To express the author’s skepticism regarding history as an intellectual endeavor
- To introduce the question that the passage is intended to answer
- To criticize how history is taught in the modern curriculum
In the very last sentence of the passage, right, where they say, this may not answer our original question at the point of history, but it certainly casts a question in a different light. It’s showing us that the author never answers this question. So we could eliminate C as an answer choice because the passage isn’t intending to answer this question.
The author says that there are lots of different ways to history, and how we put history together. And so people might say, you should be skeptical about what you’re hearing because there are some motives going underneath that. But the author never addresses that. That’s your own kind of viewpoint of the idea that there are lots of ways people can use this as like propaganda and things like that. And so, a lot of students are going to want to pick B because of how all these people could present it in different ways so you have to be skeptical. But that’s not a viewpoint that the author gives.
[27:07] Question 18
A Whig historian would be likely to present George Washington’s role in American history as:
- only of minor importance, given the importance of macro-level geographic, social, and economic factors in shaping the American Revolution and its aftermath.
- a personally charismatic leader who made unique contributions to the cause of American independence.
- a representative of the class interests of landowners in a turbulent period of political transition.
- exemplifying a pioneering approach to leadership that would lay the foundations for a new conception of the president as an executive with limited power.
When they talk about the Whig historians, they’re all focused on progress. And so, “the pioneering approach weighed the foundations for something coming forward” definitely fits some of the previous viewpoints given.
[31:12] A Useful Technique for Reading Boring Passages
If you are reading a passage and it seems boring, your brain will just shut off. And that’s when everyone glazes over and they aren’t paying attention. That’s a battle that everyone fights.
Twist that around where you’re looking for certain things. And when you’re hunting for those things, all of a sudden, that becomes the game. It becomes much more interesting. That helps you stay engaged and not gloss over even if you’re three hours into a long exam.
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