As an academic field, history is the study of past human activities and is generally considered a social science. History can also refer to actual events that have happened in the past. Traditionally, historians have attempted to answer these questions through the study of written documents, although historical research is not limited merely to these sources. In general, the sources of historical knowledge can be separated into three categories: what is written, what is said, and what is physically preserved, and historians often consult all three.
Historians frequently emphasize the importance of written records, which universally date to the development of writing. This emphasis has led to the term prehistory, referring to a time before written sources are available. Since writing emerged at different times throughout the world, the distinction between prehistory and history often depends on the topic.
The scope of the human past has naturally led scholars to divide that time into manageable pieces for study. There are a variety of ways in which the past can be divided, including chronologically, culturally, and topically. These three divisions are not mutually exclusive, and significant overlap is often present, as in "The Argentine Labor Movement in an Age of Transition, 1930–1945". It is possible for historians to concern themselves with both very specific and very general locations, times, and topics, although the trend has been toward specialization.
==History and prehistory==lrtkyrlyu Traditionally, the study of history was limited to the written and spoken word. However, the rise of academic professionalism and the creation of new scientific fields in the 19th and 20th centuries brought a flood of new information that challenged this notion. Archaeology, anthropology and other social sciences were providing new information and even theories about human history. Some traditional historians questioned whether these new studies were really history, since they were not limited to the written word. A new term, prehistory, was coined, to encompass the results of these new fields where they yielded information about times before the existence of written records.
In the 20th century, the division between history and prehistory became problematic. Criticism arose because of history's implicit exclusion of certain civilizations, such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian America. Additionally, prehistorians such as Vere Gordon Childe and historical archaeologists like James Deetz began using archaeology to explain important events in areas that were traditionally in the field of history. Historians began looking beyond traditional political history narratives with new approaches such as economic, social and cultural history, all of which relied on various sources of evidence. In recent decades, strict barriers between history and prehistory may be decreasing.
There are differing views for the definition of when history begins. Some believe history began in the 34th century BC, with cuneiform writing. Cuneiforms were written on clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a blunt reed called a stylus. The impressions left by the stylus were wedge shaped, thus giving rise to the name cuneiform ("wedge shaped").
For others history has become a "general" term meaning the study of "everything" that is known about the human past (but even this barrier is being challenged by new fields such as Big History).
Sources that can give light on the past, such as oral tradition, linguistics, and genetics, have become accepted by many mainstream historians. Nevertheless, archaeologists distinguish between history and prehistory based on the appearance of written documents within the region in question. This distinction remains critical for archaeologists because the availability of a written record generates very different interpretative problems and potentials.
The term history entered the English language in 1390 with the meaning of "relation of incidents, story" via the Old French histos, from the Latin historia "narrative, account." This itself was derived from the Ancient Greek ἱστορία, historía, meaning "a learning or knowing by inquiry, history, record, narrative," from the verb ἱστορεῖν, historeîn, "to inquire."
This, in turn, was derived from ἵστωρ, hístōr ("wise man," "witness," or "judge"). Early attestations of ἵστωρ are from the Homeric Hymns, Heraclitus, the Athenian ephebes' oath, and from Boiotic inscriptions (in a legal sense, either "judge" or "witness," or similar). The spirant is problematic, and not present in cognate Greek eídomai ("to appear").
ἵστωρ is ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *wid-tor-, from the root *weid- ("to know, to see"), also present in the English word wit, the Latin words vision and video, the Sanskrit word veda, and the Slavic word videti and vedati, as well as others. (The asterisk before a word indicates that it is a hypothetical construction, not an attested form.) 'ἱστορία, historía, is an Ionic derivation of the word, which with Ionic science and philosophy were spread first in Classical Greece and ultimately over all of Hellenism.
In Middle English, the meaning was "story" in general. The restriction to the meaning "record of past events" in the sense of Herodotus arises in the late 15th century. In German, French, and indeed, most languages of the world other than English, this distinction was never made, and the same word is used to mean both "history" and "story". A sense of "systematic account" without a reference to time in particular was current in the 16th century, but is now obsolete. The adjective historical is attested from 1561, and historic from 1669. Historian in the sense of a "researcher of history" in a higher sense than that of an annalist or chronicler, who merely record events as they occur, is attested from 1531.
Historiography has a number of related meanings. It can refer to the history of historical study, its methodology and practices (the history of history). It can also refer to a specific body of historical writing (for example, "medieval historiography during the 1960s" means "medieval history written during the 1960s"). Historiography can also be taken to mean historical theory or the study of historical writing and memory. As a meta-level analysis of descriptions of the past, this third conception can relate to the first two in that the analysis usually focuses on the narratives, interpretations, worldview, use of evidence, or method of presentation of other historians.
Although the "father of history" has generally been acclaimed as Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BC – ca.425 BC), it is his contemporary Thucydides (ca. 460 BC – ca. 400 BC) who is credited with having begun the scientific approach to history in his work the History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides, unlike Herodutus and other religious historians, regarded history as being the product of the choices and actions of human beings, rather than as the result of divine intervention. In his historical method, Thucydides emphasized chronology, a neutral point of view, and that the human world was the result of the actions of human beings.
In the preface to his book the Muqaddimah, historian and early sociologist Ibn Khaldun warned of seven mistakes that he thought that historians regularly committed. In this criticism, he approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. The originality of Ibn Khaldun was to claim that the cultural difference of another age must govern the evaluation of relevant historical material, to distinguish the principles according to which it might be possible to attempt the evaluation, and lastly, to feel the need for experience, in addition to rational principles, in order to assess a culture of the past.
Other historians of note who have advanced the historical methods of study include Leopold von Ranke, Lewis Bernstein Namier, Geoffrey Rudolph Elton, G.M. Trevelyan and A.J.P. Taylor. In the 20th century, historians focused less on epic nationalistic narratives, which often tended to glorify the nation or individuals, to more realistic chronologies. French historians introduced quantitative history, using broad data to track the lives of typical individuals, and were prominent in the establishment of cultural history (cf. histoire des mentalités). American historians, motivated by the civil rights era, focused on formerly overlooked ethnic, racial, and socio-economic groups. In recent years, postmodernists have challenged the validity and need for the study of history on the basis that all history is based on the personal interpretation of sources. In his book In Defence of History, Richard J. Evans, a professor of modern history at Cambridge University, defended the worth of history.
Methods and tools
Particular studies and fields
- Asimov, Isaac; Asimov's Chronology of the World; Harper Collins, 1991, ISBN 0062700367.
- Durant, Will & Ariel; The Lessons of History; MJF Books, 1997, ISBN 1-56731-024-9.
- Durant, Will & Ariel; The Story of Civilization; 11 vols., Simon & Schuster.
- Evans, Richard J.; In Defence of History; W. W. Norton (2000), ISBN 0-393-31959-8
- Gonick, Larry; The Cartoon History of the Universe; Doubleday, vol. 1 (1990) ISBN 0-385-26520-4, vol. II (1994) ISBN 0-385-42093-5, W. W. Norton, vol. III (2002) ISBN 0-393-05184-6.
- Wells, H. G.; An Outline of History; Reprint Services Corporation (1920), ISBN 0-7812-0661-8.
- The World Almanac and Book of Facts (annual); World Almanac Education Group; 2005 ISBN 0886879450
- History & Mathematics: Historical Dynamics and Development of Complex Societies. Moscow: KomKniga, 2006. ISBN 5484010020
- Works by Arnold J. Toynbee at Project Gutenberg
- Internet History Sourcebooks Project See also Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Collections of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts presented cleanly (without advertising or excessive layout) for educational use.
- WWW-VL: History Central Catalogue first history on the WWW, located at European University Institute
- World History Blog