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Historiography

From Academic Kids

Historiography is writing about rather than of history. Historiography is a meta-level analysis of descriptions of the past. The analysis usually focuses on the narrative, interpretations, worldview, use of evidence, or method of presentation of other historians.

Contents

Historians' definition of 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)

An example

A primary source is an artifact of a particular point in time. In the 1850s, for example, many slaveowners in the United States kept diaries and journals about their day-to-day activity. The historian Kenneth Stampp looked at these documents for information about the life of a slaveowner in the 1850s, and also derived information from them on the life of the slaves on the plantation. He used the documents as primary sources. The book he created, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, is a secondary source, a work produced through the analysis of primary sources. If another historian argues that Stampp's history ignores the economic history of slavery, or that Stampp's work overly emphasizes one aspect of slave life, then this historian is using Stampp's book -- originally produced as a secondary source -- as a primary source, an artifact of study. This new work which criticizes a secondary source, is a work of historiography.

Much critical historiography in the 1960s focused, for example, on the exclusion of the roles of women, minorities, and labor from written histories of the USA. According to these historiographers, because historians in the 1930s and 1940s were themselves products of their times, their models of who was "important" to history reflected the cultural attitudes of that period, i.e. a bias towards well-connected white males. Many 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.

Another point of dispute is the method of Western scholars who show the habit of linking almost every aspect of life and history to the Greeks, ignoring the earlier innovations and achievments of other civilizations such as the early Meroitic civilizations of the Nile Valley, and early Egyptian, Persia, Chinese, Mayan, Olmec, Incan, Olmec civilizations and others. Eurocentric historiography has influenced almost every Western book or article in today's world.

Today, a controversial historiographical approach to the study of history is Afrocentrism, which seeks to overturn what it sees as the fundamentally racist, Eurocentric paradigm of traditional Western history. Afrocentrist scholars claim, among other things, that ancient dynastic Egypt was fundamentally an indigenous, black, African civilization and made important contributions to Greco-Roman civilization. The recent work of a new generation of scholars and intellectuals in the developing and Third World has produced similar paradigmatic shifts in the study of existing scholarship and examination of the original historical record with regard to non-Western lands and peoples.

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. Historiography that is considered controversial or extreme is often pejoratively labeled as historical revisionism.

Basic issues studied in historiography

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 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?

Some recent controversies

Some recent historiographical controversies include whether dynastic Egypt was a black, African civilization; whether the Olmec civilization was founded by black Africans; the periodization of European history; rate of exploitation of African-Americans during and after slavery; the role of whiteness in U.S. labor struggles; and the attitude of "good Germans" toward the Holocaust.

Foundation of important historical Journals (Selection)

  • 1859 Historische Zeitschrift (Germany)
  • 1876 Revue Historique (France)
  • 1895 American Historical Review (USA)
  • 1929 Annales. Économies. Sociétés. Civilisations
  • 1952 Past & present: a journal of historical studies (Great Britain)
  • 1953 Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte (Germany)
  • 1956 Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria (Nigeria)

Approaches to history

Literature

Broad histories of historical writing:

  • Michael Bentley (ed.), Companion to Historiography, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 0415285577
  • Michael Bentley, Modern Historiography: An Introduction, 1999 ISBN 0415202671
  • Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern, 1994, ISBN 0226072789
  • Mark T. Gilderhus, History and Historiographical Introduction, 2002, ISBN 0130448249
  • Susan Kinnell, Historiography: An Annotated Bibliography of Journal Article, Books and Dissertations, 1987, ISBN 0874361680
  • Arnaldo Momigliano, The Classical Foundation of Modern Historiography, 1990, ISBN 0520078705
  • Peter Burke, History and Social Theory, Polity Press, Oxford, 1992

Philosophy of history:

Regional or thematic:

  • Marc Ferro, Cinema and History, Wayne State University Press, 1988
  • Ranajit Guha, Dominance Without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India, Harvard UP 1998
  • Keith Jenkins, Rethinking History, 1991. Postmodernism treatment of history.
  • Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds its Past: Placing Women in History, New York: Oxford University Press 1979
  • Roland Oliver, In the Realms of Gold: Pioneering in African History, University of Wisconsin Press 1997
  • Peter Novick, The Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession, 1988
  • Christopher Saunders, The making of the South African past : major historians on race and class, Totowa, N.J. : Barnes & Noble, 1988
  • Bonnie G. Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women, and Historical Practice, Harvard UP 2000

Teaching History

  • James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Touchstone Books 1996

Journals

See also

External links

it:Storiografia nl:Historiografie pt:Historiografia sk:Historiografia (dejepisectvo)

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