In the academic world of today we have distinct demarcations between different fields. That’s sensible. It allows the streamlining of ideas which, in turn, allows one to specialize. However, the distinctions were not always there. In fact, pre mid-eighteen century, knowledge was considered as a unitary field. The fact that the highest degree of all subjects is known as PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is the sole remnant of these times. Times when there was a singular emphasis on the use of mind to not only understand new things but also to understand why there was this constant need to understand new things. This unified most of the secular community against the religious authorities that dictated that they alone were the authorities on religion and their ‘truth’ was the ultimate. Philosophers who are now seen to be adherents of different theories such as Descartes and Spinoza for example, united their efforts against the ‘ultimate truth’. That was the first step, and indeed the most important one.

Once religion was pushed back into the church, minds at large, started working on the attaining the universal knowledge that they knew existed and had to be discovered. This is why we have the examples of the likes of Immanuel Kant who was able to indulge his intellectual pursuits in fields as varied as interstate relations, astronomy, poetry as well as, metaphysics.

However, this unification was short-lived. In late 18th century a sort of divorce happened breaking philosophy into two distinct fields. The division lead to sides where one emphasized solely on empirical observations which could be replicated and verified while the other found empathetic insight as noble of an intellectual pursuit as the former. The first side termed itself as ‘sciences’ while the other got many names such as humanities, arts and indeed, at times, philosophy.

The intellectuals of the era were satisfied with the division until the French revolution. The revolution challenged the norms and pushed the observant populace to digest two relatively alien realizations: a) political change could happen and its occurrence was not bizarre; and b) sovereignty belonged not to a monarch or a legislature but instead to the people.

These two realizations demanded of the intellectuals a more thorough understanding of the nature and the pace of change while simultaneously gripping on how the individual made his decision in the first place. This point in time can indeed be accounted as the starting point of social sciences, a field of study midway between the two fields of philosophy and science.

The first of these social sciences was History. History established for us what has now been termed the ethics of research and referencing.

Originally, history was written by scribes who brought their own interpretation of events in the writings. However, this brought bias until Leopold Ranke took a stand against the fashion and instead insisted on wie es eigentlich gewesen ist where he insisted on written history ‘as it really happened’. There was a further insistence on writing history using actual writings which were archived by the government. To further reduce the bias in the writings, it was insisted that history would include writings on past events and not contemporary issues. To keep a check on that, the archive was kept under the state’s observations and only opened after a certain period of time.

However, learning about the past alone was not satisfactory. A need was felt to understand the present circumstances. As history could not be used to include the events of the day, new fields of study came into beings. Hence economics, political sciences and sociology were born. Economics dealt with the business segments of the nation, political science focused on the political bureaucracy and sociology studied the civil society.

The distinction between the fields provided the intellectual freedom and space required to focus on the intricacies of the themes. They were able to represent the society and allowed the scientists to predict behaviour. However, there was one very big limitation to these studies: they studied the colonial powers, or those countries which were understood as being ‘modern’. A vast population lived in non-modern states and there were no studies being done in those areas.

To deal with this issue, two new fields came to exist: anthropology and orientalism. These two studies were specifically focused on countries under colonial rule as well as ‘high civilizations’ such as Persia, the Arab world and China that shared a common language, common religion and indeed common customs.

As they countries under colonial rule had their own language and the scientists could not study them with the help of language, they started the practice of participant observation as the colonial infrastructure could offer protection. Hence the practice and study of Anthropology was formed. However, as the said colonial authorities could not give guarantee protection in the ‘high civilizations’, the scientists then had to learn their societies in their language. This was the birth of orientalism.

The actual or contemporary definitions of these subjects changed with time and most of them, today, represent different things. Some of them are now termed primitive and hence useless. That said, the rooting of a phenomenon is an enjoyable exercise and helps one better relate to the field of study. In more than one ways, it helps one in better recognizing the essence of the pursuit of knowledge and can irrefutably represent a better picture of the subject.