The question of how a historian approaches historical events is one of the most important questions within historiography. It is commonly recognized 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.
"Fields of history" refers to the categories professional historians use to classify their broad areas of work within the overall discipline of history. Some of these categories (e.g., cultural history, social history, intellectual history) refer to historical method rather than specific topic of study, while others coincide or partially overlap with the practical classification of history by topic.
The Annales School • The Annales School is a school of historical writing named after the French scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale (later called Annales. Economies, sociétés, civilisations, then renamed in 1994 as Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales) where it was first expounded. • Annales school history is best known for incorporating social scientific methods into history.
The Annales was founded and edited by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre in 1929, while they were teaching at the University of Strasbourg, France. These authors quickly became associated with the distinctive Annales approach, which combined geography, history, and the sociological approaches to produce an approach which rejected the predominant emphasis on politics, diplomacy and war of many 19th century historians.
Instead, they pioneered an approach to a study of long-term historical structures (la longue durée) over events. Geography, material culture, and what later Annalistes called mentalités, or the psychology of the epoch, are also characteristic areas of study. An eminent member of this school, Georges Duby, wrote in the forward of his book Le dimanche de Bouvines that the history he taught: “…relegated the sensational to the sidelines and was reluctant to give a simple accounting of events, but strived on the contrary to pose and solve problems and, neglecting surface disturbances, to observe the long and medium-term evolution of economy, society and civilization."
Marc Bloch was shot by the Gestapo during the German occupation of France in World War II, and Febvre carried on the Annales approach in the 1940s and 1950s.
It was during this time (1930s-1940s) that he mentored Fernand Braudel, who would become one of the best known exponents of this school. Braudel's work came to define a 'second' era of Annales historiography and was very influential throughout the 1960s and 1970s, especially for his work on the Mediterranean region in the era of Philip II of Spain. While authors such as Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and Jacques Le Goff continue to carry the Annales banner, today the Annales approach has been less distinctive as more and more historians do work in cultural history and economic history.
Big History examines history on a large scale across long time frames through a multi-disciplinary approach. Big History gives a focus on the alteration and adaptations in the human experience. Big History is a discrete field of historical study that arose in the late 1980s. It is related to, but distinct from, world history, as the field examines history from the beginning of time to the present day and is thus closer to the older concept of universal history.
The first courses in Big History were experimental ones taught in the late 1980s by John Mears at Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas) and by David Christian at Macquarie University (Australia), and more recently at San Diego State University. Since then, a number of other universities have offered similar courses.
The first book in Big History was published in 1996 by Fred Spier entitled, The Structure of Big History: From the Big Bang until Today, which offers an ambitious defense of the project and constructs a unified account of history across all time scales.
Another notable text in Big History is David Christian's Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, which explores history from the first micro-seconds of the Big Bang, to the creation of the solar system, to the origins of life on earth, the evolution of humans, the agricultural revolution, modernity, and the 20th century. Christian examines large-scale patterns and themes, and provides perspective of time scales. It was David Christian who coined the term “Big History” in an effort to place human history within the context of the history of life, the earth, and the universe.
Cliometrics • Cliometrics refers to the systematic use of economic theory and econometric techniques to study economic history. • The term was originally coined by Jonathan R.T. Hughes and Stanley Reiter in 1960 and refers to Clio, who was the muse of history and heroic poetry in Greek mythology. • This term is also sometimes used referring to counterfactual history.
Cliometrics, originated in 1958 with the work of Alfred Conrad and John Meyer with the publication of "The Economics of Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South," in the Journal of Political Economy.
The cliometric revolution actually began in the mid-1960s and was particularly ugly because most economic historians were either historians or economists who had very little connection to mathematical techniques or statistics.
Comparative history is the comparison between different societies at a given time or sharing similar cultural conditions. Proponents of this approach include American historians Barrington Moore and Herbert E. Bolton; British historians Arnold Toynbee and Geoffrey Barraclough; and German historian Oswald Spengler.
Arnold Joseph Toynbee (1889 –1975) was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934-1961, was a synthesis of world history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global perspective.
Toynbee presented history as the rise and fall of civilizations, rather than the history of nation-states or of ethnic groups. He identified his civilizations according to cultural and religious rather than national criteria.
Historians generally accept the comparison of particular institutions (banking, women's rights, ethnic identities) in different societies, but since the hostile reaction to Toynbee in the 1950s, generally do not pay much attention to sweeping comparative studies.
Cultural history (from the German term Kulturgeschichte), at least in its common definition since the 1970s, often combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at popular cultural traditions and cultural interpretations of historical experience.
Cultural history involves the records and narrative descriptions of past knowledge, customs, and arts of a group of people. Cultural history encompasses the continuum of events occurring in succession leading from the past to the present and even into the future pertaining to a culture.
Cultural history, as a discipline, records and interprets past events involving human beings through the social, cultural, and political milieu of or relating to the arts and manners that a group favors. Cultural history studies and interprets the record of human societies by denoting the various distinctive ways of living built up by a group of people under consideration. Cultural history involves the aggregate of past cultural activity, such as ceremony, class in practices, and the interaction with locales.
Jacob Burckhardt (1818– 1897) was a Swiss historian of art and culture, fields which he helped found. Siegfried Giedion described Burckhardt's achievement in the following terms: "The great discoverer of the age of the Renaissance, he first showed how a period should be treated in its entirety, with regard not only for its painting, sculpture and architecture, but for the social institutions of its daily life as well…” Burckhardt's best known work is The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860).
Burkhardt's historical writings did much to establish art history as an academic discipline, and also have literary value in their own right. His innovative approach to historical research emphasized the value of culture and art when analyzing the social and political trends underlying historical events. Jacob Burckhardt helped found cultural history as a discipline.
Cultural history overlaps in its approaches with the French movements of histoire des mentalités and the so-called new history, and in the U.S. it is closely associated with the field of American studies. Most often the focus is on phenomena shared by non-elite groups in a society, such as: carnival, festival, and public rituals; performance traditions; cultural evolutions in human relations (ideas, sciences, arts, techniques); and cultural expressions of social movements such as nationalism.
Political history is the narrative and analysis of political events, ideas, movements, and leaders. It is usually structured around the nation state. It is distinct from, but related to, other fields of history such as social history, economic history, and military history.
Generally, political history focuses on events relating to nation-states and the formal political process. According to Hegel, Political History "is an idea of the state with a moral and spiritual force beyond the material interests of its subjects: it followed that the state was the main agent of historical change" This contrasts with, for instance, social history, which focuses predominantly on the actions and lifestyles of ordinary people, or people's history, which is historical work from the perspective of common people.
Diplomatic history, sometimes referred to as "Rankian History“ in honor of Leopold von Ranke, focuses on politics, politicians and other high rulers and views them as being the driving force of continuity and change in history. This type of political history is the study of the conduct of international relations between states or across state boundaries over time. This is the most common form of history and is often the classical and popular belief of what history should be.
Diplomatic history is the past aggregate of the art and practice of conducting negotiations between accredited persons representing groups or nations. It is the continuum of events occurring in succession leading from the past to the present and even into the future regarding diplomacy, the conduct of state relations through the intercession of individuals with regard to issues of peace-making, culture, economics, trade and war. Diplomatic history records or narrates events relating to or characteristic of diplomacy.
The first "scientific" political history was written by Leopold von Ranke in Germany in the 19th century. An important aspect of political history is the study of ideology as a force for historical change. One author asserts that "political history as a whole cannot exist without the study of ideological differences and their implications.“
Studies of political history typically center around a single nation and its political change and development. Some historians identify the growing trend towards narrow specialization in political history during recent decades: "while a college professor in the 1940s sought to identify himself as a "historian", by the 1950s "American historian" was the designation.“
From the 1970s onwards, new movements sought to challenge traditional approaches to political history. The development of social history and women's history shifted the emphasis away from the study of leaders and national decisions, and towards the role of ordinary citizens.
By the 1970s "the new social history" began replacing the older style. Emphasis shifted to a broader spectrum of American life, including such topics as the history of urban life, public health, ethnicity, the media, and poverty. As such, political history is sometimes seen as the more 'traditional' kind of history, in contrast with the more 'modern' approaches of other fields of history.
Ethnohistory is the study of ethnographic cultures and indigenous customs by examining historical records. It is also the study of the history of various ethnic groups that may or may not exist today.
Ethnohistory uses both historical and ethnographic data as its foundation. Its historical methods and materials go beyond the standard use of books and manuscripts. Practitioners recognize the utility of maps, music, paintings, photography, folklore, oral tradition, ecology, site exploration, archaeological materials, museum collections, enduring customs, language, and place names.
Ethnohistorians have learned to use their special knowledge of the groups they study, linguistic insights, and the understanding of cultural phenomena in ways that make for a more in-depth analysis than the average historian is capable of doing based solely on written documents produced by and for one group. They try to understand culture on its own terms and according to its own cultural code.
Ethnohistory differs from other historically-related methodologies in that it embraces emic perspectives as tools of analysis. The field and it techniques are well suited for writing histories of Indian peoples because of its holistic and inclusive framework.
Despite its relatively short life, Gender History (and its forerunner Women's History) has had a rather significant effect on the general study of history. Since the 1960s, when the initially small field first achieved a measure of acceptance, it has gone through a number of different phases, each with its own challenges and outcomes, but always making an impact of some kind on the historical discipline.