During the Renaissance, and long afterwards, education centered about the study of the classics, but in the nineteenth century the revolt of the sciences and their increasing importance brought about the downfall of this ordered scheme, introduced chaos and opposition were spread among the fields of learning. Today we would re-unite them, feeling--that knowledge should not be divided into water-tight compartments. The historical approach provides a convenient common denominator. Direct, easily grasped and universally applicable, it already dominates the teaching of the arts, and with the current fad for the History of Philosophy and of Science, it is creeping into other fields.
But history is more today than a coordination of knowledge, it is a means to a philosophy. Lacking an explanation of the present or a phophecy of the future, we turn to the past for a key. This in itself is a startling reversal in attitude toward history which has hitherto been regarded less as a guide to the future, than as a justification of the status quo.
The conception of "the world as history" is bound of prove disappointing both educationally and as a means of living. In scholarship its breadth of scope enforces uniformity and superficiality: not the obvious superficiality of the flashy generalization, but the superficiality of mere learning. Information rather than understanding tends to become the aim of the historical approach, for information alone can be coldly uniformly catalogued. Neither does the past contain the key to the future or the plan of the present, for, perversely, the more it is studied the less it shows. History when glimpsed hastily or through a mirage presents an exciting panorama; carefully considered, looked at in detail, it is a drab plain, where facts lie side by side, and even the law of cause and effect is questioned. Containing examples of everything, history can teach only the lesson read into it.