AskDefine | Define historiography

User Contributed Dictionary



(Canada) /hɪˌstɔriˈɑɡrəfi/


  1. the writing of history; a written history
  2. the study of the discipline and practice of history and the writings of past historians

Extensive Definition

Historiography studies the processes by which historical knowledge is obtained and transmitted. Broadly speaking, historiography examines the writing of history and the use of historical methods, drawing upon such elements such as authorship, sourcing, interpretation, style, bias, and audience. The word historiography can also refer to a body of historical work. As the tools of historical investigation have changed over time and space, the term itself bears multiple meanings and is not readily associated with a single all-encompassing definition.
Historiography is often broken down topically, such as "Historiography of Islam" or "Historiography of China". There are many approaches or genres of history, such as oral history and social history. Beginning in the 19th century with the rise of academic historians a corpus of literature related to historiography has come into existence, with classic works such as E. H. Carr's, What is History? (1961) and Hayden White's Metahistory (1974).

Defining historiography

There are two basic issues involved in historiography. (Breisach, 1994) First, the study of the development of history as an academic discipline over time, as well as its development in different cultures and epochs. Second, the study of the academic tools, methods and approaches that have been and are being used, including the historical method.
The term "historiography" can also be used to refer to a specific body of historical writing that was written during a specific time concerning a specific issue. For instance, a statement about "medieval historiography" would refer to some issue in the academic discipline of Medieval History, and not to the actual history of the Middle Ages or to historical works written in that time (e.g., "during the last century, medieval historiography changed its focus from the study of political events to social and mental structures", or "medieval historiography has largely benefited from the recognition of the importance of parish records": that is, the discipline underwent some change).
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." One should be cautious, however, that in the sense given in the previous paragraph when a historian does historiography she is actually studying "the events of the past directly".

Questions studied

Some of the common questions of historiography are:
  1. Reliability of the sources used, in terms of authorship, credibility of the author, and the authenticity or corruption of the text.
  2. Historiographical tradition or framework. Every historian uses one (or more) historiographical traditions, some of which are Marxist, or Annales School, ("total history"), political history, etc.
  3. Moral issues, guilt assignment, and praise assignment
  4. Revisionism versus orthodox interpretations
  5. Historical Metanarratives
Issues engaged by critical historiography includes topics such as:
  • What constitutes a 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 possess?
  • How do historians establish their own objectivity or come to terms with their own subjectivity?
  • What is the relationship between historical theory and historical practice?
  • What is the "goal" of history?
  • What does history teach us?

The history of written history

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. For the purposes of this survey it is written history recorded in a narrative format for the purpose of informing future generations about events. The earliest critical historical thought emerged in Greece, a development which would be an important influence on the writing of history elsewhere in the world.

Hellenic world

Written history appeared first with the ancient Greeks, whose historians greatly contributed to the development of historical methodology. The very first historical works were The Histories composed by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BC–ca.425 BC), who became later 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.
Thucydides, on the other hand, largely eliminated divine causality in his account of the war between Athens and Sparta, establishing a rationalistic element which became defining of subsequent Western historical writings. He was also the first to distinguish between cause and immediate origins of an event, while his successor Xenophon (ca. 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 (ca. 203–120 BC) wrote on the rise of Rome to world prominence, trying to harmonize the Greek and Roman point of views.
The Chaldean priest Berossus (fl. 3rd century) 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 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.

Roman world

The Romans adopted the Greek tradition, becoming the first European people to write history in a non-Greek language. While early Roman works were still written in Greek, the Latin Origines, composed by the Roman statesman Cato the Elder (234–149 BC) in a conscious effort to counteract the Greek cultural influence, marked the beginning of Latin historical writings. Hailed for its lucid style, Julius Caesar's (100 BC–44 BC) Bellum Gallicum may represent the earliest autobiographical war coverage. The politician and orator Cicero (106–43 BC) introduced rhetorical elements in his political writings.
Strabo (63 BC–ca. AD 24) was a main 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 world dominion. His inquiry into the question of 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.

Early Christian

The growth of Christianity and its increased status in the Roman Empire after Constantine I led to the development of a distinct Christian historiography, influenced by both Christian theology and the nature of the Bible, encompassing new areas of study and views of history. The central role of the Bible in Christianity is reflected in the preference Christian historians had for written sources compared to the classical historians' preference for oral sources and in the inclusion of politically unimportant people, development of Religion and society. This can be seen in the extensive inclusion of written sources in Ecclesiastical History written by Eusebius of Caesarea circa 324 and in the subjects it deals with. Christian theology led a view of time as linear, progressing according to God's 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 start of the period the work was dealing with.

Medieval Europe

Writing history was popular among Christian monks and clergy in the Middle Ages. They wrote about the history of Jesus Christ, the Church and of their patrons, the dynastic history of the local rulers. In the Early Middles 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 are Anglo-Saxon Chronicles which were the work of several different writers and start during the reign of Alfred the Great in the late 9th century and one copy of which was still being updated in 1154. Some writers in the period did construct a more narrative form of history including Gregory of Tours and more successfully Bede who wrote both secular and ecclesiastical history and is known for writing Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Among many other things, his Muqaddimah laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history, and he discussed the rise and fall of civilizations.
Muslim historical writings first began developing earlier from the 7th century 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 civilization. Egyptology began in Arab Egypt from the 9th century, with the first known attempts at deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs made by Dhul-Nun al-Misri and Ibn Wahshiyya. 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 also discussed more 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. Other famous Muslim historians included Urwah (d. 712), Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 728), Ibn Ishaq (d. 761), al-Waqidi (745-822), Ibn Hisham (d. 834), and Ibn Hajar (1372-1449), among others.
Franz Rosenthal wrote in the History of Muslim Historiography:
"Muslim historiography has at all times been united by the closest ties with the general development of scholarship in Islam, and the position of historical knowledge in Muslim education has exercised a decisive influence upon the intellectual level of historical writing....The Muslims achieved a definite advance beyond previous historical writing in the sociological">sociologysociological understanding of history and the systematisation of historiography. The development of modern historical writing seems to have gained considerably in speed and substance through the utilization of a Muslim Literature which enabled western historians, from the seventeenth century on, to see a large section of the world through foreign eyes. The Muslim historiography helped indirectly and modestly to shape present day historical thinking."

Modern era

Modern historiography began with Ranke in the 19th century, who was very critical on the sources used in history. He was opposed to 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, sociology, emerged in the late nineteenth century that analyzed and compared these perspectives on a larger scale.
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 such as death and sexuality. They wanted history to be written about all topics and that all questions should be asked.

Foundation of important historical journals

The idea of the historical journal, a forum where academic historians could exchange ideas, came into being in the nineteenth century. The early journals were similar to those used in the physical sciences, and were seen as a means by which history could be professionalised. 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.

Approaches to history

The question of how a historian approaches historical events is one of the most important questions within historiography. It is commonly recognised by historians that, in themselves, individual historical facts 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.
Some of the more common historiographical approaches are:



Theory and philosophy

  • Frank Ankersmit (ed), A New Philosophy of History, 1995, ISBN 0-226-02100-9
  • Michael Bentley, Modern Historiography: An Introduction, 1999 ISBN 0-415-20267-1
  • Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft [1940?]
  • Peter Burke, History and Social Theory, Polity Press, Oxford, 1992
  • E. H. Carr, What is History? 1961, ISBN 0-394-70391-X
  • R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, 1936, ISBN 0-19-285306-6
  • Geoffrey Elton, The Practice of History, 1969, ISBN 0-631-22980-9
  • Richard J. Evans In Defence of History, 1997, ISBN 1862071047
  • David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies: Towards a Logic of Historical Thought, Harper & Row, 1970.
  • Keith Jenkins, Rethinking History, 1991, ISBN 0-415-30443-1
  • Keith Jenkins, ed. The Postmodern History Reader (2006)
  • Arthur Marwick, The Nature of History, 1970, ISBN 0-333-10941-4
  • Alun Munslow. The Routledge Companion to Historical Studies (2000)
  • John Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 2002, ISBN 0-582-77254-0
  • W.H. Walsh, An Introduction to Philosophy of History, 1951.
  • Hayden White, The Content of Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, 1987, ISBN 0-8018-4115-1

Histories of historical writing

  • Geoffrey Barraclough, History: Main Trends of Research in the Social and Human Sciences, (1978)
  • Michael Bentley (ed.), Companion to Historiography, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 0-415-28557-7 990pp; 39 chapters by experts
  • Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern, 3rd edition, 2007, ISBN 0-226-07278-9
  • H. Floris Cohen, The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Inquiry, Chicago, 1994, ISBN 0-226-11280-2
  • Mark T. Gilderhus, History an Historiographical Introduction, 2002, ISBN 0-13-044824-9
  • Georg G. Iggers, Historiography in the 20th Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (2005)
  • Susan Kinnell, Historiography: An Annotated Bibliography of Journal Article, Books and Dissertations, 1987, ISBN 0-87436-168-0
  • Lloyd Kramer and Sarah Maza, eds. A Companion to Western Historical Thought Blackwell 2006. 520pp; ISBN 978-1-4051-4961-7.
  • Arnaldo Momigliano, The Classical Foundation of Modern Historiography, 1990, ISBN 9780226072838
  • Philippe Poirrier, Aborder l'histoire, Paris, Seuil, 2000.
  • Philippe Poirrier,Les enjeux de l'histoire culturelle, Paris, Seuil, 2004.
  • Daniel Woolf, Historiography, in New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, ed. M.C. Horowitz, New York, Scribner, 2005, vol. I.

Feminist historiography

  • Mary Ritter Beard, Woman as force in history: A study in traditions and realities
  • 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, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002
  • Julie Des Jardins, "Women and the Historical Enterprise in America" University of North Carolina Press, 2002
  • Judith M. Bennett, History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006

Thematic and regional

  • John Ernest. Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794-1861. University of North Carolina Press, 2004
  • Frank Farrell. Themes in Australian History: Questions, Issues and Interpretation in an Evolving Historiography (1990)
  • Marc Ferro, Cinema and History, Wayne State University Press, 1988
  • R. Darcy and Richard C. Rohrs, A Guide to Quantitative History (1995)
  • Hudson, Pat. History by Numbers: An Introduction to Quantitative Approaches (2002)
  • James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Touchstone Books 1996
  • Tessa Morris-Suzuki, The Past Within Us: Media, Memory, History, 2005, ISBN 1-85984-513-4
  • Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross Dunn. History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past, (2000)
  • Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession (1988), ISBN 0-521-34328-3
  • Thomas Söderqvist. The Historiography of Contemporary Science and Technology (1997)
  • Sommer, Barbara W. The Oral History Manual (2003)
  • Jan Vansina, "Oral Tradition as History," University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1985
  • Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (1982)
  • Keita, Maghan. "Race and the Writing of History" Oxford UP (2000)

External links

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