Historiography refers either to the study of the methodology and development of "history" (as a discipline), or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic. Scholars discuss historiography topically – such as the "historiography of Catholicism", the "historiography of early Islam", or the "historiography of China" – as well as specific approaches and genres, such as political history and social history. Beginning in the nineteenth century, with the ascent of academic history, a corpus of historiographic literature developed.
The research interests of historians change over time, and in recent decades there has been a shift away from traditional diplomatic, economic and political history toward newer approaches, especially social and cultural studies. From 1975 to 1995, the proportion of professors of history in American universities identifying with social history rose from 31% to 41%, while the proportion of political historians fell from 40% to 30%. In the history departments of British universities in 2007, of the 5,723 faculty members, 1,644 (29%) identified themselves with social history while political history came next with 1,425 (25%).
In the early modern period, the term historiography tended to be used in a more basic sense, to mean simply "the writing of history". Historiographer therefore meant "historian", and it is in this sense that certain official historians were given the title "Historiographer Royal", in Sweden (from 1618), England (from 1660), and Scotland (from 1681). The Scottish post is still in existence.
Furay and Salevouris (1988) define historiography as "the study of the way history has been and is written – the history of historical writing... When you study 'historiography' you do not study the events of the past directly, but the changing interpretations of those events in the works of individual historians."
According to Lawrence Stone, narrative has traditionally been the main rhetorical device used by historians. In 1979, at a time when the new Social History was demanding a social-science model of analysis, Stone detected a move back toward the narrative. Stone defined narrative as follows: it is organized chronologically; it is focused on a single coherent story; it is descriptive rather than analytical; it is concerned with people not abstract circumstances; and it deals with the particular and specific rather than the collective and statistical. He reported that, "More and more of the 'new historians' are now trying to discover what was going on inside people's heads in the past, and what it was like to live in the past, questions which inevitably lead back to the use of narrative."
Historians committed to a social science approach, however, have criticized the narrowness of narrative and its preference for anecdote over analysis, and its use of clever examples rather than statistically verified empirical regularities.
Some of the common topics in historiography are:
Understanding the past appears to be a universal human need, and the telling of history has emerged independently in civilisations around the world. What constitutes history is a philosophical question (see philosophy of history). The earliest chronologies date back to Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, though no historical writers in these early civilizations were known by name. For the purposes of this article, history is taken to mean written history recorded in a narrative format for the purpose of informing future generations about events. Some experts have advised against the tendency to extrapolate trends for historical patterns that do not align with expectations about the future.
The earliest known systematic historical thought emerged in ancient Greece, a development which would be an important influence on the writing of history elsewhere around the Mediterranean region. Greek historians greatly contributed to the development of historical methodology. The earliest known critical historical works were The Histories, composed by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BC–c. 425 BC) who later became known as the "father of history" (Cicero). Herodotus attempted to distinguish between more and less reliable accounts, and personally conducted research by travelling extensively, giving written accounts of various Mediterranean cultures. Although Herodotus' overall emphasis lay on the actions and characters of men, he also attributed an important role to divinity in the determination of historical events.
The generation following Herodotus witnessed a spate of local histories of the individual city-states (poleis), written by the first of the local historians who employed the written archives of city and sanctuary. Dionysius of Halicarnassus characterized these historians as the forerunners of Thucydides, and these local histories continued to be written into Late Antiquity, as long as the city-states survived. Two early figures stand out: Hippias of Elis, who produced the lists of winners in the Olympic Games that provided the basic chronological framework as long as the pagan classical tradition lasted, and Hellanicus of Lesbos, who compiled more than two dozen histories from civic records, all of them now lost.
Thucydides largely eliminated divine causality in his account of the war between Athens and Sparta, establishing a rationalistic element which set a precedent for subsequent Western historical writings. He was also the first to distinguish between cause and immediate origins of an event, while his successor Xenophon (c. 431–355 BC) introduced autobiographical elements and character studies in his Anabasis.
The proverbial Philippic attacks of the Athenian orator Demosthenes (384–322 BC) on Philip II of Macedon marked the height of ancient political agitation. The now lost history of Alexander's campaigns by the diadoch Ptolemy I (367–283 BC) may represent the first historical work composed by a ruler. Polybius (c. 203–120 BC) wrote on the rise of Rome to world prominence, and attempted to harmonize the Greek and Roman points of view.
The Chaldean priest Berossus (fl. 3rd century)[clarification needed] composed a Greek-language History of Babylonia for the Seleucid king Antiochus I, combining Hellenistic methods of historiography and Mesopotamian accounts to form a unique composite. Reports exist of other near-eastern histories, such as that of the Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon; but he is considered semi-legendary and writings attributed to him are fragmentary, known only through the later historians Philo of Byblos and Eusebius, who asserted that he wrote before even the Trojan war.
The Romans adopted the Greek tradition, writing at first in Greek, but eventually chronicling their history in a freshly non-Greek language. While early Roman works were still written in Greek, the Origines, composed by the Roman statesman Cato the Elder (234–149 BC), was written in Latin, in a conscious effort to counteract Greek cultural influence. It marked the beginning of Latin historical writings. Hailed for its lucid style, Julius Caesar's (100 BC–44 BC) Bellum Gallicum exemplifies autobiographical war coverage. The politician and orator Cicero (106–43 BC) introduced rhetorical elements in his political writings.
Strabo (63 BC–c. AD 24) was an important exponent of the Greco-Roman tradition of combining geography with history, presenting a descriptive history of peoples and places known to his era. Livy (59 BC–AD 17) records the rise of Rome from city-state to empire. His speculation about what would have happened if Alexander the Great had marched against Rome represents the first known instance of alternate history.
Biography, although popular throughout antiquity, was introduced as a branch of history by the works of Plutarch (c. 46–127) and Suetonius (c. 69–after 130) who described the deeds and characters of ancient personalities, stressing their human side. Tacitus (c. 56–c. 117) denounces Roman immorality by praising German virtues, elaborating on the topos of the Noble savage.
In China, the Classic of History is one of the Five Classics of Chinese classic texts and one of the earliest narratives of China. The Spring and Autumn Annals, the official chronicle of the State of Lu covering the period from 722 BC to 481 BC, is among the earliest surviving Chinese historical texts to be arranged on annalistic principles. It is traditionally attributed to Confucius. The Zuo Zhuan, attributed to Zuo Qiuming in the 5th century BC, is the earliest Chinese work of narrative history and covers the period from 722 BC to 468 BC. Zhan Guo Ce was a renowned ancient Chinese historical compilation of sporadic materials on the Warring States Period compiled between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC.
Sima Qian (around 100 BC) was the first in China to lay the groundwork for professional historical writing. His written work was the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), a monumental lifelong achievement in literature. Its scope extends as far back as the 16th century BC, and it includes many treatises on specific subjects and individual biographies of prominent people, and also explores the lives and deeds of commoners, both contemporary and those of previous eras. His work influenced every subsequent author of history in China, including the prestigious Ban family of the Eastern Han Dynasty era.
Traditional Chinese historiography describes history in terms of dynastic cycles. In this view, each new dynasty is founded by a morally righteous founder. Over time, the dynasty becomes morally corrupt and dissolute. Eventually, the dynasty becomes so weak as to allow its replacement by a new dynasty.
Christian historiography began early, perhaps as early as Luke-Acts, which is the primary source for the Apostolic Age, though its historical reliability is disputed. In the first Christian centuries, the New Testament canon was developed. The growth of Christianity and its enhanced status in the Roman Empire after Constantine I (see State church of the Roman Empire) led to the development of a distinct Christian historiography, influenced by both Christian theology and the nature of the Christian Bible, encompassing new areas of study and views of history. The central role of the Bible in Christianity is reflected in the preference of Christian historians for written sources, compared to the classical historians' preference for oral sources and is also reflected in the inclusion of politically unimportant people. Christian historians also focused on development of religion and society. This can be seen in the extensive inclusion of written sources in the Ecclesiastical History written by Eusebius of Caesarea around 324 and in the subjects it covers. Christian theology considered time as linear, progressing according to divine plan. As God's plan encompassed everyone, Christian histories in this period had a universal approach. For example, Christian writers often included summaries of important historical events prior to the period covered by the work.
Writing history was popular among Christian monks and clergy in the Middle Ages. They wrote about the history of Jesus Christ, that of the Church and that of their patrons, the dynastic history of the local rulers. In the Early Middle Ages historical writing often took the form of annals or chronicles recording events year by year, but this style tended to hamper the analysis of events and causes. An example of this type of writing is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which were the work of several different writers: it was started during the reign of Alfred the Great in the late 9th century, but one copy was still being updated in 1154. Some writers in the period did construct a more narrative form of history. These included Gregory of Tours, and more successfully Bede who wrote both secular and ecclesiastical history and is known for writing the Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
During the Renaissance, history was written about states or nations. The study of history changed during the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Voltaire described the history of certain ages that he considered important, rather than describing events in chronological order. History became an independent discipline. It was not called philosophia historiae anymore, but merely history (historia).
Muslim historical writings first began to develop in the 7th century, with the reconstruction of the Prophet Muhammad's life in the centuries following his death. With numerous conflicting narratives regarding Muhammad and his companions from various sources, it was necessary to verify which sources were more reliable. In order to evaluate these sources, various methodologies were developed, such as the "science of biography", "science of hadith" and "Isnad" (chain of transmission). These methodologies were later applied to other historical figures in the Islamic civilization. Famous historians in this tradition include Urwah (d. 712), Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 728), Ibn Ishaq (d. 761), al-Waqidi (745–822), Ibn Hisham (d. 834), Muhammad al-Bukhari (810–870) and Ibn Hajar (1372–1449).
Historians of the medieval Islamic world also developed an interest in world history. The historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838–923) is known for writing a detailed and comprehensive chronicle of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern history in his History of the Prophets and Kings in 915. Until the 10th century, history most often meant political and military history, but this was not so with Persian historian Biruni (973–1048). In his Kitab fi Tahqiq ma l'il-Hind (Researches on India) he did not record political and military history in any detail, but wrote more on India's cultural, scientific, social and religious history. He expanded on his idea of history in another work, The Chronology of the Ancient Nations. Biruni is considered the father of Indology for his detailed studies on Indian history.
Archaeology in the Middle East began with the study of the ancient Near East by Muslim historians in the medieval Islamic world who developed an interest in learning about pre-Islamic cultures. In particular, they most often concentrated on the archaeology and history of pre-Islamic Arabia, Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. In Egyptology, the first known attempts at deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs were made in Islamic Egypt by Dhul-Nun al-Misri and Ibn Wahshiyya in the 9th century, who were able to at least partly understand what was written in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, by relating them to the contemporary Coptic language used by Coptic priests in their time. Muslim historians such as Abu al-Hassan al-Hamadani of Yemen (d. 945), Abdul Latif al-Baghdadi (1162–1231) and Al-Idrisi of Egypt (d. 1251) developed elaborate archaeological methods which they employed in their excavations and research of ancient archaeological sites.
Islamic historical writing eventually culminated in the works of the Arab Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), who published his historiographical studies in the Muqaddimah (translated as Prolegomena) and Kitab al-I'bar (Book of Advice). Among many other things, his Muqaddimah laid the groundwork for the observation of the roles of the state, in history, and he discussed the rise and fall of civilizations. He also developed a method for the study of history, and is thus considered to be the founder of Arab historiography, or the "father of the philosophy of history". In the preface to the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun warned of seven mistakes that he thought historians often committed. In this criticism, he approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. The originality of Ibn Khaldun was to claim that the cultural differences of another age must govern the evaluation of relevant historical material, to distinguish the principles according to which it might be possible to attempt the evaluation, and lastly, to consider the need for experience, in addition to rational principles, in order to assess a culture of the past. Ibn Khaldun often criticized "idle superstition and uncritical acceptance of historical data." As a result, he introduced a method to the study of history, which was considered something "new to his age", and he often referred to it as his "new science", now associated with historiography. The Muqaddimah is also the earliest known work to critically examine military history, criticizing certain accounts of historical battles that appear to be exaggerated, and takes military logistics into account when questioning the exaggerated sizes of historical armies reported in earlier sources.
During the Age of Enlightenment, the French philosophe Voltaire (1694–1778) had an enormous influence on the development of historiography through his scrupulous methods and demonstration of fresh new ways to look at the past. His best-known histories are The Age of Louis XIV (1751), and Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations (1756).
"My chief object," he wrote in 1739, "is not political or military history, it is the history of the arts, of commerce, of civilization – in a word, – of the human mind." He broke from the tradition of narrating diplomatic and military events, and emphasized customs, social history and achievements in the arts and sciences. The "Essay on Customs" traced the progress of world civilization in a universal context, thereby rejecting both nationalism and the traditional Christian frame of reference. Influenced by Bossuet's Discourse on the Universal History (1682), he was the first scholar to make a serious attempt to write the history of the world, eliminating theological frameworks, and emphasizing economics, culture and political history. He treated Europe as a whole, rather than a collection of nations. He was the first to emphasize the debt of medieval culture to Arab civilization, but otherwise was weak on the Middle Ages. Although he repeatedly warned against political bias on the part of the historian, he did not miss many opportunities to expose the intolerance and frauds of the church over the ages. Voltaire advised scholars that anything contradicting the normal course of nature was not to be believed. Although he found evil in the historical record, he fervently believed reason and educating the illiterate masses would lead to progress.
Voltaire explains his view of historiography in his article on "History" in Diderot's Encyclopédie:
Voltaire's histories imposed the values of the Enlightenment on the past, but he helped free historiography from antiquarianism, Eurocentrism, religious intolerance and a concentration on great men, diplomacy, and warfare.
Yale professor Peter Gay says Voltaire wrote "very good history," citing his "scrupulous concern for truths," "careful sifting of evidence," "intelligent selection of what is important," "keen sense of drama," and "grasp of the fact that a whole civilization is a unit of study."
Modern historiography emerged in 19th century German universities, where Leopold von Ranke revolutionized historiography with his seminars and critical approach; he emphasized politics and diplomacy, dropping the social and cultural themes Voltaire had highlighted. Sources had to be hard, not speculations and rationalizations. His credo was to write history the way it was. He insisted on primary sources with proven authenticity. Hegel and Marx introduced the concept of spirit and dialectical materialism, respectively, into the study of world historical development. Former historians had focused on cyclical events of the rise and decline of rulers and nations. Process of nationalization of history, as part of national revivals in 19th century, resulted with separation of "one's own" history from common universal history by such way of perceiving, understanding and treating the past that constructed history as history of a nation. A new discipline, sociology, emerged in the late 19th century and analyzed and compared these perspectives on a larger scale.
The French Annales School radically changed the focus of historical research in France during the 20th century. Fernand Braudel wanted history to become more scientific and less subjective, and demanded more quantitative evidence. Furthermore, he introduced a socio-economic and geographic framework to historical questions. Other French historians, like Philippe Ariès and Michel Foucault, described the history of everyday topics such as death and sexuality. Carlo Ginzburg and Natalie Zemon Davis pioneered the genre of historical writing sometimes known as "microhistory," which attempted to understand the mentalities and decisions of individuals - mostly peasants - within their limited milieu using contracts, court documents and oral histories.
The historical journal, a forum where academic historians could exchange ideas and publish newly discovered information, came into being in the 19th century. The early journals were similar to those for the physical sciences, and were seen as a means for history to become more professional. Journals also helped historians to establish various historiographical approaches, the most notable example of which was Annales. Économies. Sociétés. Civilisations., a publication instrumental in establishing the Annales School.
Some historical journals are as follows:
How a historian approaches historical events is one of the most important decisions within historiography. It is commonly recognised by historians that, in themselves, individual historical facts dealing with names, dates and places are not particularly meaningful. Such facts will only become useful when assembled with other historical evidence, and the process of assembling this evidence is understood as a particular historiographical approach.
The most influential historiographical approaches are:
Scholars typically specialize in a particular theme and region. see:
Important related fields include:
Here you can share your comments or contribute with more information, content, resources or links about this topic.