By Keith Windschuttle
The writing of history is one of the most enduring cultural activities of Western civilisation. It originated in ancient Greece some 2400 years ago and has continued in roughly the same form down to this day. Its first great practitioner, Thucydides, decided that to learn about the course of human affairs, he would not consult oracles, prophets, sacred texts or the sanctioned scribes of the era. Rather, he would go out, witness events himself, compile other evidence only from those, he said, "of whom I made the most careful enquiry", and then draw conclusions that his evidence would support. This might seem a simple procedure to us but Western culture, so far, has been the only one to bring it off, that is, to give an account of what happens in society that remains independent of the prevailing religion and the dominant political system.