History is a narrative of what civilized men have thought or done in past times -whether a day, a year, a century, or thousands of years ago. Since men do not live in isolation, but everywhere in association, history is concerned with social groups and especially with states and nations. Just as biography describes the life of individuals, so history relates the rise, progress, and decline of human societies.
History does not limit its attention to a fraction of the community to the exclusion of the rest. It does not deal solely with rulers and warriors, with forms of government, public affairs, and domestic or foreign wars. More and more, history becomes an account of the entire life of a people. The historian wants to learn about their houses, furniture, costumes, and food; what occupations they followed; what schools they supported ; what beliefs and superstitions they held; what amusements and festivals they enjoyed. Human progress in invention, science, art, music, literature, morals, religion, and other aspects of civilization is what chiefly interests the historical student today.
Back of history lies prehistory. It covers many centuries before the dawn of civilization, when all the world was inhabited by savage and barbarous peoples. The savage is a mere child of nature. He secures food from wild plants and animals; he knows nothing of metals, but makes his tools and weapons of wood, bone, and stone ; he wears little or no clothing ; and his home is merely a cave, a rock shelter, or a rude bark hut. Such miserable folk may still be found in the interior of South America, Africa, Australia, and other parts of the globe. Barbarism forms a transitional stage between savagery and civilization. The barbarian has gained some control of nature. He has learned to sow and reap the fruits of the earth – instead of depending entirely upon hunting and fishing for a food supply – to domesticate animals, and ordinarily to use implements of metal. Barbarous peoples at the present time include certain American Indians, some of the Pacific Islanders, and most of the African negroes.
The facts collected by modern science make it certain that early man was first a savage and then a barbarian before he reached any degree of civilization. We know this, not on the evidence of written records, such as inscriptions and books, but from the things which he left behind him in many parts of the world, above all, in Europe and the Mediterranean region. These include a few of his own bones, many bones of animals killed by him, and a great variety of tools, weapons, and other objects. Systematic study of such relics and remains began during the nineteenth century. The study is still in its infancy, but it has gone far enough to afford some idea of human progress before the dawn of civilization.