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Historiography is the study of the practice of history. This can take many forms, including the study of historical method and the historical development of history as an academic discipline. The term can also be used to refer a specific body of historical writing. For instance, "medieval historiography during the 1960s" can be taken to mean the methodological approaches and ideas about medieval history present in written history during that decade. As a meta-level analysis of descriptions of the past, this third conception can relate to the first two in that the analysis usually focuses on the narratives, interpretations, worldview, use of evidence, or method of presentation of other historians.


[edit] Defining historiography

Conal Furay and Michael J. Salevouris 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." (The Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide, 1988, p. 223, ISBN 0-88295-982-4)

Although questions of method have concerned historians since Thucydides, many trace the modern study of historiography to E. H. Carr's 1961 work What is History?. Carr challenged the traditional belief that the study of the methods of historical research and writing were unimportant. His work remains in print to this day, and is used in many postgraduate programs of study in the English-speaking world.

Historiography is often political in nature. For example, the Dunning school of historiography, which was sympathetic to former slave owners and leaders of the Confederacy, contended that black people, particularly former slaves, should neither be permitted to vote nor bear arms. In the 1960s, historiography corrected the racism of the Dunning School viewpoint, and history that included the viewpoint of African Americans who had been disenfranchised by the Jim Crow political and economic system that grew up alongside the powerful Dunning School and its way of telling history from the viewpoint of former slave owners. Mid-twentieth century historians also focused on primary sources to reveal previously excluded roles of women, minorities, and labor from earlier histories of the United States. According to these historiographers, historians in the 1930s and 1940s had a bias toward wealthy and well-connected white males. Some historians from that point onward devoted themselves to what they saw as more accurate representations of the past, casting a light on those who had been previously disregarded as non-noteworthy.

The study of historiography demands a critical approach that goes beyond the mere examination of historical fact. Historiographical studies consider the source, often by researching the author, his or her position in society, and the type of history being written at the time.

[edit] Basic issues studied in historiography

Some of the common questions of historiography are:

  • Who wrote the source (primary or secondary)?
  • For primary sources, we look at the person in his or her society, for secondary sources, we consider the theoretical orientation of the approach for example, Marxist or Annales School, ("total history"), political history, etc.
  • What is the authenticity, authority, bias/interest, and intelligibility of the source?
  • What was the view of history when the source was written?
  • Was history supposed to provide moral lessons?
  • What or who was the intended audience?
  • What sources were privileged or ignored in the narrative?
  • By what method was the evidence compiled?
  • In what historical context was the work of history itself written?

Issues engaged in so-called critical historiography includes topics such as:

  • What constitutes an historical "event"?
  • In what modes does a historian write and produce statements of "truth" and "fact"?
  • How does the medium (novel, textbook, film, theatre, comic) through which historical information is conveyed influence its meaning?
  • What inherent epistemological problems does archive-based history contain?
  • How does the historian establish their own objectivity or come to terms with their own subjectivity?
  • What is the relation of historical theory to historical practice?
  • What is the "goal" of history?
  • What is history?

[edit] The History of Written History

[edit] Early Western historiography

Historiography appears first with the ancient Greeks, whose historians greatly contributed to the development of historical methodology. The very first historical work were the The Histories composed by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BC–ca.425 BC), who became later known as the 'father of history'. Herodot personally conducted research into the history of various Mediterranean cultures, and attempted to distinguish between more and less reliable accounts. His research confirmed for him the belief that divinity plays a crucial role in the determination of historical events. Thucydides, on the other hand, largely eliminated divine causality from his account of the war between Athens and Sparta, and the same holds true for his successors, such as Xenophon and Polybius.

Reports exist of other near-eastern histories, such as that composed by the Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon; but his very existence is considered semi-fabled 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.

Concerning the Bible, there is considerable debate about its historiographical character. To some scholars the use of a divinity to provide historical explanations contradicts the basic aim of any truly historical work, namely to provide rational explanations for events. Others argue that the Biblical search for an underlying cause of historical events is itself a characteristic of historiographical research, and point moreover to the Bible's frequent recourse to double-causation, whereby events are attributed to both human and divine causation. Controversy over this issue is complicated by the fact that the Bible is seen as an inspired text by many members of Western society today.

Writing history was popular among Christian monks in the Middle Ages. They wrote about the history of the Church and of their patrons, the dynastic history of the local rulers. History was written about states or nations during the Renaissance. The study of history changed during the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Voltaire described the history of certain ages that were important according to him, instead of describing events in a chronological order. History became an independent discipline. It was not called philosophia historiae anymore, but merely history (historiae).

[edit] Chinese historiography

Chinese historiography begins with the work of Sima Qian around 100 BC. Its scope extends as far back as the 16th century BC. Traditionalist 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.

[edit] Islamic historiography

Further information: Ilm ar-Rijal,  Science of hadith, and Isnad

Islamic historiography began developing with the reconstruction of Muhammad's life in the centuries following his death. Due to 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 World. Famous Muslim historians included Urwah (d. 712), Ibn Ishaq (d. 768), Al-Waqidi (745 - 822), Ibn Hisham (d. 834), Al-Tabari (838 - 923) and Ibn Hajar (1372 - 1449) among others.

Ilm ar-Rijal (Arabic) is the "science of biography" especially as practiced in Islam, where it was first applied to the sira, the life of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, and then the lives of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs who expanded Islamic dominance rapidly. Since validating the sayings of Muhammad is a major study ("Isnad"), accurate biography has always been of great interest to Muslim biographers, who accordingly became experts at sorting out facts from accusations, bias from evidence, etc., and were renowned throughout the known world for their honesty in recording history. Modern practices of scientific citation and historical method owe a great deal to the rigor of the Isnad tradition of early Muslims. The earliest surviving Islamic biography is Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, written in the 8th century.

The "science of hadith" is the process that Muslim scholars use to evaluate hadith. The classification of Hadith into Sahih (sound), Hasan (good) and Da'if (weak) was firmly established by Ali ibn al-Madini (161 AH - 234 AH). Later, al-Madini's student Muhammad al-Bukhari (810 - 870) authored a collection that he believed contained only Sahih hadith, which is now known as the Sahih Bukhari.

[edit] Modern Western historiography

Modern historiography began with Ranke in the 19th century, who was very critical on the sources used in history. He was against analyses and rationalizations. His adagium was writing history the way it was. He wanted eyewitness accounts and wanted an emphasis on the point of view of the eyewitness. Hegel and Marx introduced the change of society in history. Former historians had focused on cyclical events of the rise and decline of rulers and nations. A new discipline emerged that analysed and compared on a large scale: sociology.

The French Annales School radically changed history during the 20th century. Fernand Braudel wanted history to become more scientific by demanding more mathematical evidence in history, in order to make the history discipline less subjective. Furthermore, he added a social-economic and geographic framework to answer historical questions. Other French historians, like Philippe Ariès and Michel Foucault described history of daily life topics as death and sexuality. They wanted history to be written about all topics and that all questions should be asked.

In the 1970s, some historians began to focus on case-studies. Case studies describe particular aspects of history in a thorough fashion, to describe history as it was or to measure it precisely. Several well chosen case studies can enhance or change the major picture and can bring more truth to the answers of the questions that the Annales School likes to ask. However, because case studies focus so narrowly on particular pieces of place and time, ie. the living conditions of female agricultural workers in 15th century Sussex, their findings cannot always be applied to broader sets of data ie. using the data from the Sussex study to postulate about conditions in Kent, or France, or in seventeenth century Sussex. Case studies are best used in addition to raw data and primary sources.

In the 1980s, American historians compared the differences and similarities between different world regions and to come to new concepts to describe them in the study of World History.

[edit] Foundation of Important Historical Journals

[edit] Styles of History-writing

[edit] Relevant Literature

Philosophy of history:

Broad histories of historical writing:

  • Michael Bentley (ed.), Companion to Historiography, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 0-415-28557-7
  • Michael Bentley, Modern Historiography: An Introduction, 1999 ISBN 0-415-20267-1
  • Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern, 1994, ISBN 0-226-07278-9
  • Peter Burke, History and Social Theory, Polity Press, Oxford, 1992
  • H. Floris Cohen, The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Inquiry, Chicago, 1994, ISBN 0-226-11280-2
  • Mark T. Gilderhus, History and Historiographical Introduction, 2002, ISBN 0-13-044824-9
  • Susan Kinnell, Historiography: An Annotated Bibliography of Journal Article, Books and Dissertations, 1987, ISBN 0-87436-168-0
  • Arnaldo Momigliano, The Classical Foundation of Modern Historiography, 1990, ISBN 0-520-07870-5
  • Philippe Poirrier, Aborder l'histoire, Paris, Seuil, 2000.
  • Philippe Poirrier,Les enjeux de l'histoire culturelle, Paris, Seuil, 20004.

Feminist historiography

  • Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds its Past: Placing Women in History, New York: Oxford University Press 1979
  • Bonnie G. Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women, and Historical Practice, Harvard UP 2000
  • Mary Spongberg, Writing women's history since the Renaissance , Basingstoke [etc.] : Palgrave Macmillan, 2002

Regional or thematic:

  • John Ernest. Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794-1861. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004
  • Marc Ferro, Cinema and History, Wayne State University Press, 1988
  • Ranajit Guha, Dominance Without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India, Harvard UP 1998
  • M. Ismail Marcinkowski, Persian Historiography and Geography: Bertold Spuler on Major Works Produced in Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, India and Early Ottoman Turkey, Singapore: Pustaka Nasional, 2003.
  • Tessa Morris-Suzuki, The Past Within Us: Media, Memory, History, 2005, ISBN 1-85984-513-4
  • Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession 1988, ISBN 0-521-34328-3
  • Roland Oliver, In the Realms of Gold: Pioneering in African History, University of Wisconsin Press 1997
  • Christopher Saunders, The making of the South African past : major historians on race and class, Totowa, N.J. : Barnes & Noble, 1988

Teaching History

  • James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Touchstone Books 1996
  • David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies: Towards a Logic of Historical Thought, Harper & Row, 1970.


[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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