because history just ain't what it used to be

Opinion: History as a Cycle

In Opinion on February 25, 2010 at 11:54

by Elise Adamson

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley says “History is a cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of man.”

Though the actual occurrences may be different, the cause or the reason is often the same. War, revolution, imperialism, and social movements have similar sources and origins that cause them to come about and connect to each other. Knowing how these events relate allows an understanding of how history transpires and correlates.

Because history is made up of patterns that shape the world we live in.

The motivating forces that repeat in the cycle of history determine human actions that later become events and major parts of history. The cycle continues to go on and on and the forces in the cycle will always be the same.

“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9

The repetition continues as the years roll by. The cycle proves itself as the truest explanation of history.

  1. Your Biblical quotation is wrong.

    “What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.” is Ecclesiastes 1:9 in the NIV (new international version), and

    9The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. (KJV)

    Always cite which English edition you’re using by the three or four initials of its translation name, if you want to avoid people slamming you for misquoting.

    A reference to cyclical ideas of time should reference either Hindu mythology, Maya mythology, or Arnold Toynbee (preferably all three). And . And you should really include some examples, rather than being all vague.

    Some patterns worth exploring, most of which are dualities: internal vs. external domination; civilized vs. barbarian; “jack boots on the way up, and silk slippers on the way down”; the quest for resources, followed by the luxuriation of finished goods; appearance of new religions; official persecution…

    Surely you can find lots of examples. 🙂

  2. Thanks for commenting! While you were right about citing the specific translation, our writer did take this quotation from a legitimate English Translation of the Bible. Your quote was from the KJV, while her’s was from the New Living Translation. According to Wikipedia, “For most of 2008 and 2009, the NLT has consistently averaged a 4th spot ranking in Bible sales (based upon both unit sale and dollar sales) according to the Christian Booksellers Association.[2] However, in July, 2008, the NLT gained the #1 spot in unit sales, unseating the NIV for the first time in over two decades.”

    Thanks for reading and commenting,
    Martha Schick, Editor-In-Chief

  3. The use of the poem was beautiful. I realize that the WestCiv project is a “student” project and understandings are developing for all. However, I wonder how useful the expert tone is @andrewbwatts. I am not sure an opinion piece, which is meant to cause reactions should present such a developed argument. It must cover sufficient ground to open discussion. If this was an essay, I would offer the same critique, minus the, “you should” and “your wrong.” I would suggest the cyclical ideas could be creatively explored though mathematics and art:)

  4. I agree that the concepts of cyclical historical events could be explored through mathematics and art.

    Among the concepts that can be explored, of course, are the idea of authoritative translations. The King James Bible (KJV) was the standard text for three hundred years, and it has held pride-of-place for quotations for most of that period, in English. The NIV, while not my favorite at all, has recently gained favor in scholarly circles.

    My first point remains valid: when quoting from a book of the Bible, include the translation’s abbreviation to avoid argumentative types. Like me, occasionally, on this particular subject.

    The “you shoulds” in my original comment SHOULD be replaced with “you could”.

  5. Thank you for taking an interest in the magazine. While the KJV has been read and studied for, as you said, over 300 years, the NLT is, as stated by Wikipedia, “a translation of the Bible into a clear, readable form of modern English”. I think that you can agree that a more understandable and readable translation would be more appropriate to all readers of a student magazine. If we wanted to avoid being sticklers, we should probably just go back to the original Hebrew and Greek! But, as I said, we want to keep this open to all people, and we can do that by making our articles as comprehensible as possible.

    Thank you for your opinion and concern,
    Martha Schick, Editor-In-Chief

  6. I was planning on bowing out of this thread, because my issue was resolved…

    but I’d like to draw Elise’s attention to the following Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times:

    While I don’t agree with all that Mr. Krugman wrote, it may be useful to her to peruse the counter-argument by a master of the essay form, and see from where he draws inspiration; and how he offers the usual defenses against her position.

  7. Correction, … not Mr. Paul Krugman but Mr. Piers Brandon…

    Mr. Krugman’s piece in the same paper, off-topic to Elise but nonetheless interesting, is found at

    That’s what I get for reading two articles at the same time, and pasting URLs without fact-checking.

  8. i don’t think that history repeats itself is necessarily a given. i sometimes wonder if it isn’t something we say to ourselves to try to make sense of a world that oftentimes eludes our understanding. it’s too easy to rationalize war as something that happens every so often, that it’s part of some natural progression. i think we have to try to imagine new ways of being, ways that aren’t necessarily determined by predictable cycles and paths.
    The blog is terrific. Keep it up. (I teach English to ninth graders in Grand Forks, North Dakota)

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