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historiography


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The study and writing of history. The recording and interpretation of past events began with the retelling of legends handed down through oral traditions: the epic poems Homer (fl. c.800 bc) were an expression of oral history, while in the classical age of ancient Greece Herodotus and Thucydides wrote narrative histories of their own times. In China Sima Qian (c. 145–c. 85 bc) is known as the “Father of Chinese History”. The Roman historians, who include Tacitus, Livy, and Suetonius, wrote works which served as models for later medieval and Renaissance historians. In the Arab world al-Tabaric (838–923) wrote the Annals, a history of the world from its creation to 915, and Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) the Kitab al-'bar (Book of Examples), a major history of Muslim north Africa and developed important theories of historical analysis. In medieval Europe history was written by the literate clergy (Bede) and was mostly confined to chronicles (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Froissart). In the 15th and 16th centuries the Italian historians Machiavelli and Guicciardini wrote political analyses of the state and its rulers. The 18th century Enlightenment injected a considerable measure of rationalism and scepticism into historical writing, producing such masterpieces as Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

In the early 19th century the German historians Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776–1831) and Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) transformed the writing of history. Seeking to explain “how it actually happened”, Ranke set new standards of historical research based on primary evidence subjected to critical evaluation. Still narrowly nationalistic, this “scientific history” led to systematic collection and cataloguing of sources (for example, Monumenta Germaniae Historicae, 1825–1925), and to more rigorous academic teaching. This approach was slower to develop in Britain, where history was dominated by the literary Whig tradition of Thomas Babington Macaulay. Another form of “scientific history”, the positivist belief in underlying general laws, was pioneered by the French historian Auguste Comte (1798–1857). Karl Marx, in his theory of dialectical materialism, presented one such general law – change through class struggle. Its focus on the economic infrastructure of society challenged narrow political interpretations. This challenge continued in the 20th century. The Annales approach, pioneered in the journal Annales d'histoire economique et sociale launched in 1929 by Lucien Febvre (1878–1956) and Marc Bloch (1836–1944) and developed in the work of Fernand Braudel (1902–83), sought “total history”, an understanding of the structures within which people act, and of “mentalities”, drawing on psychology and other social sciences. With the development of computers, quantitative techniques have become important to economic, demographic, and social historians, although few share the supreme confidence in statistical theory of the “cliometricians”, such as Robert W. Fogel (1926– ), who claim mathematical objectivity for Clio, the muse of history. British Marxist historians, for example, Christopher Hill (1912–2003), Eric Hobsbawm (1917– ), and E. P. Thompson (1924–93), rejecting rigid dogmas of an all-determining infrastructure, have applied Marxist ideas creatively to intellectual history and to “history from below”. The study of the role of women, developed as part of mainstream historiography by the women's movement of the 1960s, has broadened to encompass the history of gender. Yet concern with political history has remained strong, notably in the empirical approach of A. J. P. Taylor (1906–90) or Sir Geoffrey Elton (1921–94), who emphasized individuals and the importance of the unexpected.

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Subjects: History.


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