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Important influences on Collingwood were the Italian Idealists Benedetto Croce, Giovanni Gentile and Guido de Ruggiero, the last of whom was also a close friend. To come to know things in the present or about things in the natural sciences, "real" things can be observed, as they are in existence or that have substance right now.
Other important influences were Hegel, Kant, Giambattista Vico, F. Since the internal thought processes of historical persons cannot be perceived with the physical senses and past historical events cannot be directly observed, history must be methodologically different from natural sciences.
Collingwood rejected what he deemed "scissors-and-paste history" in which the historian rejects a statement recorded by their subject either because it contradicts another historical statement or because it contradicts the historian's own understanding of the world.
As he states in Principles of History, sometimes a historian will encounter "a story which he simply cannot believe, a story characteristic, perhaps, of the suspersitions or prejudices of the author's time or the circle in which he lived, but not credible to a more enlightened age, and therefore to be omitted." This, Collingwood argues, is an unacceptable way to do history.
In his Autobiography, Collingwood confessed that his politics had always been "democratic" and "liberal", and shared Guido de Ruggiero's opinion that socialism had rendered a great service to liberalism by pointing out the shortcomings of laissez-faire economics.
History, being a study of the human mind, is interested in the thoughts and motivations of the actors in history.
Therefore, Collingwood suggested that a historian must "reconstruct" history by using "historical imagination" to "re-enact" the thought processes of historical persons based on information and evidence from historical sources.
The Principles of Art (1938) comprises Collingwood's most developed treatment of aesthetic questions.
Collingwood held (following Benedetto Croce) that works of art are essentially expressions of emotion.
Collingwood divided art into two categories: amusement art and magic art.