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Historiography refers both to the process of writing history as well as to the products derived from that writing (articles, books, monographs, conference papers, etc.). Historiography also examines the methods and approaches of history, especially as they change in response to new ideas or fashion.

The study of Historiography demands a critical approach to what goes beyond the mere examination of historical fact. Historiographical studies consider the source, often by researching the author, his position in society and the type of history being written at the time. Once these factors have been determined, we can often determine any ulterior motives on the author's part. These motives are then taken into consideration and incorporated into the final historical effort.

Some of the basic questions considered in historiography are:

  • Who wrote the source (primary or secondary)?
    • For primary sources, we look at the person in his society, for secondary sources, we ask if his approach is usually, for example, Marxist or Annales School ( "total history"), if he's working outside his normal field, etc.
  • What was the view of history when he wrote it?
    • Was it a list of things that happened in previous years?
    • Was history supposed to provide moral lessons? to provide a neutral viewpoint?
  • What or who was the intended audience?

The broad range of answers to these types of questions help to explain a great deal about why so much of historical study seems imprecise. For example, an especially interesting problem is that of dividing the world into usable chunks, or Periodization. Referring to the years between the fall of the Roman Empire and his own, Petrarch coined the term, "Dark Ages." For him, western history had three periods, the Classical Age, the Dark Ages, and the Renaissance. Compared to the excitement Petrarch must have felt at the Renaissance beginning around him focusing upon a revival of the Classics, and absent the archaeological and paleographical techniques available today, we can understand Petrarch's view.

That view remained in vogue for several hundred years, until new approaches to historical study gave rise to a much different view of the Middle Ages. By the late 20th century, most historians agreed that the Classical period needed to be divided by time and subject into Hellenic and Hellenistic Greece, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. There were the Middle Ages, and the High Middle Ages. The more we learn, the more arguments there are for new periods and subperiods. Moreover, it can now be argued that chronological divisions may not always be the most accurate way of looking at history.

--- Approaches to History

Diplomatic History, also called Political history
The Annales School - 20th Century French movement
History from below
Social History
Oral History

See also List of historians

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