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Historiography has a number of related meanings. It can refer to the history of historical study, its methodology and practices (the history of history). It can also refer to a specific body of historical writing (for example, "medieval historiography during the 1960s" means "medieval history written during the 1960s"). Historiography can also be taken to mean historical theory or the study of historical writing and memory. 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.

Defining historiography[edit | edit source]

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.

Basic issues studied in historiography[edit | edit source]

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?

The History of Written History[edit | edit source]

Chinese historiography[edit | edit source]

Main article: Chinese historiography

Chinese historiography extends as far back as 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.

Western historiagraphy[edit | edit source]

The first famous historians in the European, or Western, world were the Greeks Thucydides and Herodotus from the 5th century BC. Herodotus is considered by some to be the "Father of history". Historians before Herodotus that have come down to us are scant and nebulous; for example, the Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon's very existence is considered fabled and is fragmentary, known only through the later historians Philo of Byblos and Eusebius, who asserted that he wrote before even the Trojan war.

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).

Modern historiography started 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.

Styles of History-writing[edit | edit source]

Relevant Literature[edit | edit source]

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, Cambridge, Mass. [etc.] : Harvard Univ. Press, 1998
  • Mary Spongberg, Writing women's history since the Renaissance , Basingstoke [etc.] : Palgrave Macmillan, 2002
  • Bonnie G. Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women, and Historical Practice, Harvard UP 2000


See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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