issue 48 does the study of history overemphasize "the famous few"?

48 “The study of history places too much emphasis on individuals. The most significant events and trends in history were made possible not by the famous few, but by groups of people whose identities have long been forgotten.”

Do study of history places too much emphasis on individuals rather then groups of people? The essence of this question is who is the real master of history-famous few or the faceless and nameless masses? It’s an interesting and vital question when inquiring into history. While the speaker asserts we should pay more attention on common people for he may think groups of people are more significant than history individuals, which I can hardly agree with. In my opinion, in study of history, we can’t put more sense in neither famous few nor average masses; what really accounts is to strike a balance during these two sides, for they are unified in an integrated concept: the fundamental rule of history progress.

Admittedly, masses do play a pivotal role in creating history. Casting back to significant events and trends in history, no matter how the history events generated and progressed, it seems finally were masses, not famous few, that advened as a turn point. Take the notable event happened in enlightenment times, the France Revolution into account, without angry and ebullient French people, it’s hard to imagine what direction the France Revolution would take. Undeniably, famous thinkers in this epoch such as Montesquieu, Rousseau, who provided great ideas to lead the revolution, can be considered as thinking leaders in this history event, but before their great thoughts are applied into practice, frankly speaking, they are useless, and it was French people who applied them. In a historical perspective, people are the resource of power, master of society; they were affected by the history events meanwhile deicide the historical trends.

However, placing our attention on great individuals is rational for two reasons below: on one hand, usually, historians can’t get enough materials to inquire into average people. It is an obvious fact that after a long time, the materials including biography, poesy, paintings, etc we can handle to study history placed most attention on famous elites such as great thinkers, kings, primary artists et al-after all, masses have little opportunity to carry over their own things. On the other hand, studying in these famous few doesn’t spell we ignore the other vital aspect-masses, for to some extent, these famous few are just a mirror of masses. Why great ones can be consider “great” is in people’s charge. For example, the reason why the idea of “God gives human right” prevailed in France was not because it is valuable as we all think today, but because France society were full of atmosphere of “democracy” and French people were hunting a though that can present their needs. Then finally, they found Rousseau, and pushed him to the main stage of history. Take all the two factors-limitation of materials on masses and elites as a reflection of masses-into account, placing our emphasis on individuals is a best and helpless method.

Finally, in the very notion of relationship between elites and masses lies my contention with the speaker. The implicate rationale behind the speaker’s assertion seems to be that masses and rare elites are incompatibly opposite concepts, in hence when studying history, we should choose one and the speaker choose common people. However, in my point of view, we can’t set masses and elites mutually exclusive, because basing on my experience, famous few and people is the same thing in history. Just as I mentioned above, the role famous played always a mirror of masses’ thinking, values and choices, and famous ones gave proper possibilities to masses. These two main aspects are unified in an ultimate rule: the history evolves basing on the social status, which is a system of economic condition, cultural level and morality situation; people, no matter famous or nameless, are the minor aspect. Human being are under the control of history and society, that means in a macroscopic level, famous few and masses have no difference.

To sum up, it is true that study of history place much more emphasis on individuals than on masses, but it is a best method when facing the limitation of history materials, for through these famous few, researchers can get a panorama of what happened in past. After all, famous few and people are the same thing in history.