On historical consciousness: A pilot investigation

Philosophers of history posit a class of concepts known as colligatory concepts that contribute to historical consciousness and that refer specifically to historical events. Although analysis has identified colligatory concepts in historical discourse, these concepts have not yet been investigated empirically. We present a new methodology for studying these concepts and historical consciousness more broadly, as well as pilot data supporting the methodology. Our aim in the pilot study was to establish whether colligatory concepts are processed differently from control concepts when subjects are asked to judge historical statements. We compared judgments of colligatory concepts in healthy participants and in a patient group with impaired working memory cognitive processing capacity. Forty healthy, college-educated participants and 25 patients with Parkinson's disease were asked to rate narrative sentences containing historical content and an equal number of identically constructed narrative sentences of equal length but devoid of historical content. All participants rated their pre-test interest in history as relatively low (mean 5 out of 7). Though no group differences emerged, historical sentences were judged by both groups (total N = 65) to be significantly different from non-historical sentences across dimensions of interestingness, meaningfulness, likeability, complexity, thought provoking-ness, and truth content. Interestingly, historical sentences were judged to be truer than control sentences even though participants were not interested in and presumably knew little about history. The neurocognitive system appears to process sentences with historical content separately from sentences without historical content. The methodology described here appears to be a valid approach for study of processing of historical content of sentences.