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History as a discipline, originated during the time the early Greek scholars such as Herodotus and Thucydides wrote documents concerning past activities of man. This activity of recording past events developed over time until the period when the written records began being imparted to learners in schools.


In East Africa, the missionaries introduced the first formal schools. It was in these formal schools that history was introduced as a discipline. Since then history has been taught in schools and colleges. History has helped in shaping the people of East Africa intellectually.


The meaning of History


 The term “History” comes from a Greek word “Historia” which implies “to enquire, to search or to ask for the truth” and there after report what you have found. History can therefore be defined as “the study or account or story of man’s true events of the past out of his interaction with his environment.”

History is being made from everyday news which concern mankind such that what we regard as news now is treated as history next hour.

It is not easy to record all past events of man. The historian considers only what he thinks is important and ignores what he thinks is not important. He arranges historical happenings in chronological order considering the period events occurred. The events are considered to have occurred before the birth of Jesus Christ (BC) while others occurred after the birth of Christ (AD). In Latin AD implies Anno domini or “the year of our Lord”.

All known un-recorded history is referred to as Pre-history.

Three major areas of study of history are social, political and economic.


Social history deals with the cultural practices and traditions of the people. It deals with social institutions such as tribe, clan, age-set and families. Social history also deals with religious beliefs and practices such as sacrifice and mode of worship. It also deals with other cultural aspects such as rights of passage and many other societal values.

Political history deals with wars, leadership, systems of government and settling of disputes.

Economic history deals with things concerning activities such as cultivation, pastoralism, mining, trade, hunting and industry.


The characters of historical events


All events of history have the following characteristics:


  1. Historical events should contain elements of truth either from first-hand information or from second-hand information.
  2. Historical events mainly dwell on past happenings.
  3. All historical events must concern man. This implies that they must somehow be connected with man.
  4. Historical information may exist in either written or oral form.
  5. All historical events must have evidence for them to qualify to be true.


The meaning of government


It means the exercise of authority over a political or social unit. It may also imply the practice of ruling or exercising continuous authority over one’s subjects.


Any government must have:

Sets of laws or rules to govern the people; specific individuals who ensure that the laid down laws, rules, traditions and customs are observed; specified ways of dealing with those who do not adhere to the laid down laws and regulations and a specified area where the set rules and regulations are exercised.


The sources of information on History and Government


Historians have been able to obtain historical information through various sources such as:


a)  Written records:

This is recorded information obtained from books, newspapers, journals, magazines and from oral tradition, interviews and observations. It is then stored for use over the years.

Written records are advantageous because they are easily used by people majority of whom are literate, they are more accurate and reliable than the information from other sources, it is cheaper to come up with written records than to get information by use of other sources such as archaeology and linguistics, they store information in a relatively permanent way and they are easily translated into many languages for effective use.



b)  Archaeology

This is the study of the material remains of man’s past. It includes the study of man’s weapons, tools, settlements, pottery, skulls, bone and plant remains like grains, and cave paintings. When the remains are escavated, they are carefully examined by the archaeologists and necessary information is obtained.


The archaeologists may escavate a place where erosion has exposed a stratum of rock and soil well below the surface, a place where there are partly visible remains or they may be guided by oral traditions to identify the place for instance if the place is orally mentioned for example the Great Zimbabwe and Merowe ruins.


The remains exist in the following forms:

  • Those made by early man such as weapons, tools, pots and ornaments.
  • Unmovable structures such as dwellings, dug wells, tombs and early towns.
  • Items which are natural such as bone remains, horns, carbonized seeds or grains.


Archaeology has various limitations:

  1. It is expensive to use the method to obtain information.
  2. It is time consuming especially when one uses the method to locate archaeological sites.
  3. Weather can affect fossils, for example fossils may decay or change their form.
  4. It is difficult to locate archaeological sites.
  5. Sometimes people who use this method obtain inaccurate information.
  6. The archaeological method cannot be used to obtain recent events and information. Only the study of ancient period can be done by use of this method.

    vii)  It is difficult to date fossils and artefacts. A lot of estimation is involved.


c)  Oral tradition

This is the study of the past as revealed by what has been handed down by word of mouth from one generation to another.




In African traditional societies, the elders and court workers acted as the custodians of the history of their community because they passed information concerning their people and their rulers to the young people.

In order for the historian to reconstruct the history of the past by use of oral tradition, he refers to myths, legends, songs, proverbs, poems and to the lists of rulers.


Oral traditions have a number of limitations as follows:

  1. Information obtained may be exaggerated.
  2. Information obtained may be inaccurate or distorted.
  3. Sometimes the informants may conceal vital information.
  4. Obtaining information by use of this method is expensive.
  5. The method is time consuming and laborious to use.
  6. Information may be omitted or even forgotten due to loss of memory.
  7. A lot of information on successes and achievement is obtained but very little on failures when this method is used to obtain information concerning African traditional societies.


d)  Linguistics

This is the scientific study and analysis of languages.

It is done to enable the historian to understand cultures and relationship between various language groups.

 People who speak related languages are assumed to be either connected or to have ever been in close contact. In East Africa, the study and analysis of languages has helped the historian to trace the origin, migration and settlement of communities.

 It has also helped historians to classify and group the people of East Africa and also to learn about their past relations and interactions as well as the common aspects of their social, political and economic organisations.


Use of linguistics as a method of reconstructing the past may have the following limitations:

  1. All kinds of information may not be possible to obtain because linguistics is only limited to the study of cultures, origins and migrations of communities.
  2. Use of this method may lead to obtaining inaccurate information.
  3. The method itself is expensive especially if one tries to use it to obtain information from far away communities.
  4. It is difficult to use this method to estimate the actual time events occurred.
  5. This method requires use of highly skilled manpower.
  6. Learning other peoples languages may be time consuming and laborious.


e)  Anthropology

This is mainly the study of existing social institutions and relationships. An anthropologist interacts with people to experience their way of life. In so doing he obtains information from the following elements of social organisation:-

Cultures of people and their cultural values, forms of government, religious organisations and beliefs, systems of marriage, family relations, inheritance and also from the material mode of life such as farming, livestock keeping, fishing and industry.

The anthropologists collect data from the people and use it to draw conclusions after analysing it properly.


Limitations of using Anthropology as a method of reconstructing history:

  1. It can be too expensive to use.
  2. It is time consuming and tedious.
  3. One may obtain inaccurate information if the method is not properly used.
  4. This method may require very well trained personnel.
  5. It is limited to few aspects of history which includes social aspects and material aspects.
  6. One cannot use this method alone to obtain all information. So it is not wholly reliable.


f)  Genetics

It deals with the study of the methods in which certain characteristics are transmitted from parents to their offspring. This method has helped the historian to study the history of the domestication of animals and plants by early man. It has also helped him to understand how new varieties came into being.

The method is mainly scientific and at the same time expensive.

For one to use this method he must be well trained. For example one may be an experienced Botanist. The method may not also be used to extract information from all aspects of man’s activities. It is not easy to obtain very accurate information when using genetics.

In conclusion, out of all the above sources of information on history, written sources are the most reliable and most accurate. However, written sources may have the following limitations:

  1. Though recorded, some information may be inaccurate, distorted or exaggerated.
  2. Some written records are not readily available when required. For example some records may be available in archives which are far away from people who need the information.
  3. Written records are useful and meaningful to people who are literate.
  4. Some written records contain inadequate information.
  5. Written information may contain biases.
  6. Records preserved in foreign languages are difficult to interpret accurately and may call for experts to interpret. This may be expensive to achieve.
  7. Written information can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
  8. People spend a lot of time when going through written records.
  9. People find it expensive to buy books, newspapers and magazines in order to obtain written information.


Why it is essential for people to study History


It has become very necessary for people to study history so that people can develop a sense of belonging and also foster national pride. Also in order for them to understand and appreciate their past ways of life. This can help them to predict future events.

To acquire the capacity for critical thinking or reasoning as they analyse historical information and to foster empathy or ability to understand how other people think and feel as well as their roles and positions in society.

The study of history helps people understand the need of having a government and also to appreciate the cultures of other people and thereafter recognise the need of human interdependence.

It helps them to attain a career and acquire employment in various professions such as Administration, teaching and business and in addition attain knowledge because history makes an individual develop interest and pleasure for reading and finding out new information. Lastly, it prepares people for life and the way they should react to future challenges.





Why it is important to study Government.


People study government to be able to understand and appreciate its system and the way it works. It enhances people to be aware of their rights and responsibilities and to understand the duties of leaders and their subjects and also how various societies have been administered over the years. The study of government enables them to understand the process of law making and the enforcement of law and also to understand issues concerning national budgets, revenue and expenditure.


It enables them to understand the roles of the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive and finally, it enables them to admire and appreciate careers such as administration and those of judges and lawyers.


Review Questions.


1.  What do you understand by the following:

i) History

ii) Government

2. Explain the methods historians use to obtain historical information.

3. Give the limitations of:

 i) Oral tradition

ii) Archaeology

iii) Linguistics

4. Give reasons why written records are regarded as the best sources of historical information.

5. Explain why history and government is studied in Kenyan schools and some colleges.

6. What are the limitations of using written records?



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EcoleBooks | History and Government Form 1 Notes : CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION TO HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT.


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