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It is unclear to me whether events not involving written history are considered on topic.

For example, various questions recently, such as Thule people migrating to Greenland, ask questions before written history or memory, which rely on archaeology for an answer. Another question asked about DNA.

Obviously analyzing archaeology is completely different than analyzing historical documents. Are we wanting to include archaeology and anthropology here?

My feeling is that the focus should be on historical events and that once you get into questions like what kind of clothes did neolithic hunters wear and stuff like that, you are no longer talking about an event.

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    Just an update on this. It has become clear to me that this issue still being up in the air is causing a great deal of confusion with posters, not to mention acrimony and comment traffic, and closed questions. I don't ask necessarily that my stated position be chosen, but I think it is past time a position is chosen. – T.E.D. Oct 22 '15 at 13:16
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    @T.E.D. Can you start a topic for determining site policy specifically, and tag it as featured? That gives us a fresh slate to build a consensus on, and also puts up a notice for regular users to come participate. Especially because the trigger for this (prehistory) is qualitatively not the same as non-written history (which may include, f.e., oral history). – Semaphore Oct 22 '15 at 20:03
  • @Semaphore - If human prehistory is on topic, oral history certainly would be, no? I don't want to take baby-steps at the issue. – T.E.D. Oct 23 '15 at 0:29
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    @T.E.D. Oral history is, as far as I can tell, unanimously considered on topic since it is a historical record. The controversy is really over prehistory (perhaps to a lesser extent protohistory), which are normally the domain of anthropologists and archaeologists rather than historians. – Semaphore Oct 23 '15 at 6:59
  • @Semaphore I'm not so sure about the "unanimously considered" portion there.... – CGCampbell Oct 23 '15 at 18:59
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We've traditionally taken a fairly expansive view of what's on topic here. Essentially, if its about stuff involving humans in the past, where there isn't a better stack for it (eg: Politics, English, etc.)

From a technical sense, yes it is true that anything that isn't relying on written records is not "History", but rather some other discipline.

However, I have two basic issues with limiting our scope that far. The first is practical. For example, there's no Anthropology stack right now to direct people to, so closing anthropology questions just for being anthropology helps nobody. The poor user doesn't get their question answered, and this beta stack has one less question it could sorely use. Perhaps when we make it to "release" it would make sense to break anthropological questions off into their own stack, but for now one stack covering both seems to be plenty.

The other is more philosophical. When you get into ancient history, records are nice to have, but we don't have nearly as much as we'd like. It is only sensible to use archeological finds, linguistic studies, DNA etc. both to fill in the gaps, and to check (or perhaps in cases even correct) the written record. Not doing so, simply because those are other disciplines, would be bad science.

You could then argue, "Well yeah, but once there flat out is no record, surely that's no longer History!" Perhaps technically yes. But I don't see drawing the line at 100% reliance on non-written information to be any less arbitrary than drawing it at 99%, or 80%.

What we are really interested in here is the story of Humanity, as well as we can figure it out scientifically.

  • So, no dinosaurs? – CGCampbell Oct 1 '14 at 22:24
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    @CGCampbell We've had dino and Big Bang questions asked before, and they got closed quite quickly. So past experience says no dinosaurs. – T.E.D. Oct 1 '14 at 23:06
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    +1. "What we are really interested in here is the story of Humanity" You covered in a nutshell why I'm interested in history. – LateralFractal Oct 30 '14 at 3:07
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    I need evidence to support either argument. I agree that history is stronger when supported by other sciences. I'm anxious that we'll open the door to a variety of questions that are supported by the Flintstones and "my family legend". – Mark C. Wallace May 29 '17 at 21:07
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It's a bad idea to limit ourselves to written history. For most of human existence, there was no writing. For most of written history, most people could not write. If we exclude non written history then we're practicing 'history from above'; the slave, the barbarian, the amerindian, the servant and the young child will be excluded from it, because they either could not write or their writing is lost or untranslatable.

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One hand - If we're are wanting to discuss the entirety of the history of man, or human kind, do we go back to homo sapiens? Truthfully, it can be said (religious beliefs aside) that even pre-sapien is our history. The formation of the earth, the split up of the single land mass into our continents formed our history. Why stop anywhere? Go all the way, I say, or don't.

The other - Then, it is often said in commentary (by me, I know, but others as well) that if an answer isn't sourced, it's not an answer its an opinion. Shouldn't our answers be able to be sourced, or cited, from primary (or secondary) sources? How can we include pre-written history (oral tradition) when there was no written history, based on it? I know I ask a lot of questions and provide no opinion on this question, but....

If I were to be held to task, I'd say we either open up the field to include ALL history, all the way back to whatever you believe is the beginning, or stop it at written.

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    For the second point, I do not know why an article that translates (or just republishes) some old documents to explain the actions and/or lifestyle of our human ancestors would be considered a source while an article that uses the different cave painting styles or the spread of a certain genetic combinations to explain the actions and/or lifestyle of our human ancestors would not be considered a source. – SJuan76 Oct 27 '15 at 22:48
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History is the analysis of the textual remains of the past.

Oral historical traditions are no different for having been a spoken text.

Some physical remains of the past are textual in nature, or contribute towards an analysis of the textual remains.

All three of these belong here.

But, the analysis of the physical remains of the past not as texts does not belong here.

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    Does that leave out the DNA /archaeology that confirmed the discovery of Richard III's remains, then? History/archaelogy/science are beginning to converge, we can't ignore, say, the physical remains of Pompeii as historical evidence. – TheHonRose Nov 21 '15 at 21:51

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