Historiography Development in the West Class 10 History Notes Maharashtra State Board
Historical research, writing, and studies are carried out to understand the chronology of past events and their interconnections. This is a continuous process. In the physical and natural sciences, the empirical method (laboratory method of experiments and observation) is used to verify the available knowledge. This method allows the formulation of laws that remain true irrespective of time and space. Those laws can be tested and proved repeatedly.
In historical research, it may not be possible to use the method of laboratory experiments and observation. This is so because we were not present in the historical time and space and the historical events cannot be recreated. Also in history, it is not possible to formulate laws that remain true irrespective of the time and space.
To begin, we need an expert who knows the language and script of a historical document to read it and understand its meaning. Also, the experts can examine the authenticity of the document by using criteria such as lettering style, author’s style of writing, manufacturing date and type of paper, stamps of authority, etc. Such a document is further scrutinized by a historian with the help of relevant historical references.
Methods of various disciplines are useful in historical research. For example, Archaeology, Archival Science, Manuscriptology, Epigraphy (Study of inscriptions), Analysis of lettering style, Linguistics, Numismatics (Study of coins), Genealogy (Study of lineage), etc.
Tradition of Historiography
We have learned about the historical research method, critically examining the historical sources and writing the historical narrative. The writing of critical historical narratives is known as ‘Historiography’. A scholar who writes such a narrative is a historian. The historian cannot include every past event in his narrative. The inclusion and interpretation of historical events by the historian often depends on the conceptual framework adopted by him. His style of writing is determined by that conceptual framework.
The tradition of writing historical narrative, that is historiography, was not prevalent in the ancient societies of the world. However, that does not mean that they were not aware of the historical time or were not eager to know about it. Ancient people also felt the need to pass on the stories of the life and valor of their ancestors to the next generation. Ancient communities all over the world used various means like cave paintings, story-telling, singing songs and ballads, etc. for this purpose. These traditional means are looked upon as the sources of history in modern historiography.
The above picture shows a fragment of the earliest inscription. A forward marching file of soldiers holding shields and spears is seen here. The General is in the front. The tradition of recording historical events can be traced back to the Sumer civilization in Mesopotamia. Names of Sumerian kings and the stories of battles fought by them have been preserved in various inscriptions. The earliest inscription shown above dates back to 4500 B.C.E. It records a battle fought between two kingdoms. It is now displayed at the Louvre Museum in France.
Four main characteristics of modern historiography:
- Its method is based on scientific principles. It begins with the formation of relevant questions.
- These questions are anthropocentric. It means that these questions are about the deeds of the members of ancient human societies of a particular period. History does not suggest any interrelation between the Divine and human deeds.
- Answers to these questions are supported by reliable evidence.
- History presents a graph of mankind’s journey with the help of past human deeds.
It is said that the modern historiography with the above characteristics has its roots in ancient Greek historical writings. ‘History’ is originally a Greek term. Herodotus, the Greek historian of the fifth century B.C.E. used it first for his book entitled, ‘The Histories’.
Development of Scientific Perspective in Europe and Historiography
Till the eighteenth century C.E. Europe had achieved remarkable progress in the fields of Philosophy and Science. Scholars by then had come to believe in the possibility of studying social and historical truths by applying scientific methods. Now the philosophical discussions focused more and more on objectivity in history and historiography. Before the eighteenth century, all European universities were interested only in the philosophical discourses revolving around Divine phenomena. However, gradually this scenario began to change. In 1737 C.E. the Gottingen University was founded in Germany. This university for the first time had an independent department of history. Later, other German universities also became centers of historical studies.
The contributions of many scholars are important in the development of historiography. Let us have a look at the contributions of a few notable scholars.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650):
Rene Descartes was the foremost among scholars who insisted on verifying the reliability of historical documents by critically examining them. Among the rules given by him in his book, ‘Discourse on the Method’, the following is supposed to have a great impact on the scientific method of research: Never accept anything as true till all grounds of doubt are excluded.
Voltaire’s original name was François-Marie Arouet. He was French. He opined that along with objective truth and chronology of historical events considering social traditions, trade, economy, agriculture, etc. was also equally important in historiography. It gave rise to the thought that understanding all aspects of human life is important for history writing. Thus, it is said that Voltaire was the founder of modern historiography.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831):
Hegel was a German philosopher. He insisted that the historical reality should be presented logically. To him, the timeline of historical events was indicative of progress. He also thought that the presentation of history is bound to change over time as new evidence would come forth. With Hegel’s philosophy, many scholars were convinced that historical methods were not of lesser quality though they differed from scientific methods. The collection of his lectures and articles is published in a book, entitled ‘Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences’. His book, ‘Reason in History’, is well known.
According to Hegel, grasping the meaning of any event happens in terms of two direct opposites. The human mind cannot understand the true nature of that event, without understanding the opposites, for example, True-False, Good-Bad, etc. To understand the true nature of a thing one needs to know both true and false, similarly good and bad. This method of analysis which is based on opposites is known as ‘Dialectics’. In this method, a theory is proposed at the beginning, which is called, ‘Thesis’. Then another theory is proposed, which is contrary to the thesis. It is called, ‘Antithesis’. After a thorough logical discussion of both a new thesis is proposed which includes the gist of both, the thesis and the antithesis. This process of arriving at the new thesis is called, ‘Synthesis’.
Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886):
Historiography of the nineteenth century was greatly influenced by the thoughts of Leopold Von Ranke of Berlin University. He spoke about the critical method of historical research. He emphasized the utmost importance of information gathered through original documents. He also stated that all types of documents associated with a historical event need to be examined with the greatest care. He believed that with this method it was possible to reach the historical truth. He criticized the imaginative narration of history. A collection of his articles is published in two books, entitled ‘The Theory and Practice of History’ and ‘The Secret of World History’.
Karl Marx (1818-1883):
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, a new school of thought arose keeping in view the new thesis formulated by Karl Marx. According to Karl Marx, history was not about abstract ideas; it was about living people. Human relationships are shaped by the fundamental needs of people and the ownership as well as the nature of prevalent means of production to meet those needs. The accessibility of these means to different strata of society may not be equal. This inequality causes a division of society into classes, leading to class struggle. According to Marx, human history is the history of class struggle, as the class that owns the means of production economically exploits the rest of the classes. ‘Das Kapital’, a treatise written by him is the most referred book all over the world.
At the onset of the twentieth century, a new school of historiography arose in France, which is known as the ‘Annales School’. Annales school gave a new direction to history writing. It is recognized now that history is not only about the political events, kings, great leaders, and accordingly politics, diplomacy, and wars but also about the climate, local people, agriculture, trade, technology, means of communication, social divisions, and their collective psychology, etc. in the historical times. The Annales School was started by French historians.
Feminist historiography means the restructuring of the history from the perspective of women. The writings of Simone de Beauvoir helped in establishing the fundamentals of feminism. She was French. Feminist historiography emphasized not only the inclusion of women in history but also the rethinking of the male-dominated perspective of history. It drove historical research to focus in-depth on various aspects of women’s lives such as their employment, their role in trade unions, institutions working for their cause, their family life, etc. In the historical writings after 1990 women were portrayed as an independent social class.
Michel Foucault (1926-1984):
The French historian of the twentieth century, Michel Foucault brought forth a new concept in historiography. He, in his book, ‘Archaeology of Knowledge’, argued that the prevailing practice of arranging historical events in chronological order is not right. He drew attention to the fact that archeology does not strive to reach the ultimate historical truth but attempts to explain various transitions in the past. Foucault felt that explaining the transitions in history is more important. He called his method, ‘the archaeology of knowledge’.
Foucault subjected the so far unacknowledged areas by historians such as psychological disorders, the science of medicine, prison administration, etc. to historical analysis. Thus, the scope of historiography kept continuously expanding. Writing histories of various subjects like literature, architecture, sculpture, drawing and painting, music, dance, drama, films and television, etc. came into practice.
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