The term “history” was first recorded in English as far back as 1390, with the meaning “relaying of an account.” It came from the Latin term “historia,” which means “narrative.”
History is the study of the past. Most often, history refers to information related to human beings. However, history also includes natural history, which focuses on the earth sciences. When someone refers simply to “history,” they are most likely discussing events and circumstances experienced by people, and actions taken by people.
History has traditionally been lumped into the humanities category. In modern academia, however, history is more often included as a social science, especially when chronology is involved.
Some writers, H.G. Wells, for instance, have written universal histories (inclusive of all areas of history), the vast majority of historians tend to specialize in one area of history. History can be chronological, geographical, national, ethnic or topical. Some academics have severely criticized modern historical study, pointing out that its main focus is political events, armed conflict, economics, the arts and inventors, while myriad other topics, such as social changes, technology and family life are all but ignored. There has been a movement to incorporate many more topics into history hub.
Historians learn about the past from various sources, such as printed or handwritten records and accounts, artifacts, coins, monuments and buildings, and even oral interviews. For modern history, sources can also include films and documentaries, photographs, and video or audio recordings. Perspectives can vary widely, so many sources must be studied to arrive at a clear and objective conclusion that will go down in the history books.
Historical records may have been kept for any number of reasons, such as government administration (the census, taxes), business receipts and documents, political commentary, religious, artistic or sporting texts, genealogical pursuits, personal letters or scrapbooks, and of course, for pure entertainment or celebrity-admiration purposes.
History and prehistory
In centuries past, studying history meant reading texts. With 19th- and 20th-century advancements in academia, however, came the creation of new scientific fields and a torrent of new information that took history to a new level — anthropology, archaeology and other social sciences were giving people new historical perspectives. A few of the more traditional historians wondered whether these newer studies could really be considered history, given that they were not limited to the written word. With this pondering, a new phrase, “prehistory” was coined, to distinguish between the two types of history.
This division between history and prehistory became a growing problem as the lines began to blur. Historians started to look beyond traditional narratives of political history, now employing economic, social and cultural history to their studies, all of which called upon a variety of evidential sources. Prehistorians like Vere Gordon Childe were also using archaeology to understand crucial events in arenas that had always been covered by the field of history. The distinctions also left gaps in which entire groups of people were neglected in historical study. Therefore the division barely exists in the 21st century.
Today there is no officially-agreed-upon date for when history began. Generally, the modern study of history is considered to be the study of all things known about the human past.
Historiography is the research and analysis of history with a philosophical perspective. Although there is obviously creates some bias in historical studies, history is also studied by some from an ideological perspective. Such is the case with Marxist historiography.
One form of historical speculation, known as “virtual history,” or "counterfactual history" has been employed by a few historians as a method of exploring the possible outcomes if certain events had not occurred at all, or had occurred in some different way. This is similar to the alternative history genre, and is actually fiction, but it can certainly lead to some thought-provoking conclusions.
Certain historians have truly advanced historical methods of study. Geoffrey Rudolph Elton, Lewis Bernstein Namier and Leopold von Ranke are a few among many. In the 21st century, postmodernists are challenging the need to study history based on personal interpretations of sources.
Perhaps the most famous quote about history and the value of studying the subject comes from George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher, who said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Churchill borrowed another philosophy of history when he joked that "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." This sounds comical indeed, however, isn’t it true that “history is written by the victors?” The point being that anyone can put their own spin on history. The telling of a story is hardly ever subjective. Just look at the same story in America told by Republicans vs. Democrats during an election. Often times it’s hard to believe the two parties are discussing the same event.
Studies and Fields
- Archaeology: The study of prehistoric and historic human cultures. This is achieved through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains paired with data gathered from the environment
- Archontology: The study of historical offices and important positions. This includes state, international, political and religious positions. Other organizations and societies are also studied.
- Futurology: The study of the future. This field of study deals with the research of the medium to long-term future of societies, as well as the physical world.
- History painter: Painters who create historical motifs with special attention paid to great historical events.
- Paleography: The study of ancient texts.
- Military History: The study of warfare and wars in history
- Jacob Burckhardt
- Thomas Macauley
- Adam Hart-Davis
- Lord Acton
- Antony Beever
- Niall Ferguson
- Isaiah Berlin
- Leopold von Ranke
- Simon Schama
- Fernand Braudel