Auxiliary Sciences of History

What are the auxiliary sciences of history

The auxiliary sciences of history are the disciplines that help historians examine and assess documents and sources of information they use, to reach historical knowledge and interpret it.

A good part of the “auxiliary sciences of history” are technical disciplines that help external criticism of sources. That is, its techniques are used to recognize if the documents or records are authentic and reliable. For example, diplomacy or paleography, among others.

In other cases, there are sciences in their own right that produce results usable in historical research. Thus, they become auxiliary sciences for history.

This may be the case of demography, which studies populations. Demographic data gives historians information about estimates of the population of a civilization and its changes over time, etc.

The concept of “auxiliary sciences” is traditional and is still widely used. Although, strictly speaking, all sciences can interrelate to carry out research. Hence the importance of interdisciplinary studies. Now we’ll show you 12 important auxiliary sciences for history.

1. Paleography

Paleography teaches the necessary reading techniques to understand the writing of texts from other times. Writing has gone through different phases throughout history. Therefore, the forms of the alphabets have changed according to the region and the time when the writings were produced.

In many cases, historians are faced with texts from their own language that cannot be easily read. Paleography helps you understand what the documents say, their abbreviations, and to determine when they were written.

10th century letter

Document written in the “beneventana notarial” style letter, 10th century, preserved in the archive diocesan of the Cathedral of Bari. Courtesy: Battlelight. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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2. Archeology

Archeology studies and interprets past societies through their monuments or the material remains they left behind. This science allows social scientists to understand the culture of societies without writing, but which left evidence of their existence and way of life in objects made of ceramics, wood, stone, fabrics, etc.

Historians make use of archaeological finds to analyze the material culture of societies. Thus, they can know what materials they applied in their arts, what food they had, what type of technology they used in their work, among other things that make it possible to reconstruct those past ways of life.

3. Archives or Archivology

It is the discipline of information sciences in charge of the technical, theoretical and practical treatment of the documentation kept in archives and how it is catalogued. The archives are indispensable since the primary sources of historical research are located in them.

4. Diplomatic

Diplomacy, as an auxiliary science of history, is in charge of studying the diplomas and other documents of past centuries, to know their origin and their elements. This facilitates the understanding of the characteristics of civil, military, ecclesiastical and private documents from other times.

“Diplomatics” should not be confused with “diplomacy”, since the latter is related to studies of international relations between countries.

5. Sigilography

Sigilography is the discipline that studies the seals used to authenticate documents and close letters, giving clear identification of the institution or individual who directed the communication. In this sense, sigilography is closely related to diplomacy in its role of validating public and private documentation of historical interest.

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6. Numismatics

This discipline studies coins and medals, especially from antiquity. Numismatics allows us to know details of economic history. In addition, on the coins it is possible to observe symbols and effigies that have meanings related to the political power of their historical context.

See also Numismatics

7. Genealogy

Genealogy carries out family history studies and, thus, contributes to obtaining information on the ancestry or descent of individuals and families.

8. Cartography

Cartography is the discipline that deals with the production of maps and graphic representations of the earth’s surface. Historians rely on maps from other times to understand ancient representations of geographic space.

map of jerusalem in center of the world

Heinrich Buntig (1545-1606) clover leaf shaped world map. Although it is a cartographic document that also has artistic purposes, it shows us how its author conceives the world. The city of Jerusalem is in the center of the map, occupying a leading position. Bünting was a theologian and pastor of the Protestant church.

9. Philology

It is a discipline of the linguistic sciences that studies written texts, their grammatical structure and their literary and historical meaning. Philology gives rise to the interpretation of cultures through their writings. For that reason, it helps the historian when interpreting the meaning of texts from other periods.

Thanks to philological studies, it has been possible to detect interpolations of paragraphs in ancient texts that tried to adulterate history with false testimonies. For example: the dubious fragments of the “Flavian testimony”, from the book jewish antiquities of the historian Flavius ​​Josephus.

In the Greek version of the book sentences were added that mentioned the miracles of Jesus in Judea. However, the style of the writing showed that these fragments were added later by other people.

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10. Heraldry

Heraldry studies the coats of arms, that is, the coats of arms of notable families, lordships and kingdoms. The coats of arms are bearers of insignia that help to identify, for example, the estates of the feudal societies of medieval Europe and, therefore, favor the understanding of their history.

11. Codicology

Codicology is responsible for examining and analyzing codices. The codices are generally manuscripts produced before the invention of printing. These documents, scrolls, or books were made on both paper and parchment and papyrus.

Historians and anthropologists read and interpret the symbols in the codices to understand the time and history of other societies, such as the Mesoamerican societies before the Spanish conquest.

bouterini codex

Folio 18 of the “Codice Boturini”, also called “Strip of the pilgrimage”. In this codex there is information on the migration of the Aztec-Mexica people from Aztlán and Chicomóztoc, until reaching the Anahuac Valley.

12. Ethnography

Ethnography is a social science that studies and describes communities based on their culture. This science investigates the social practices of human groups and provides concepts that help understand their belief systems.

Bibliography

Cruz Mundet, Jose (2019) Archival: document management and file administration. Alliance. Madrid.

Gimeno, Francisco (1985) “The so-called auxiliary sciences of History, wrong interpretation?”, in: History notebooks Jerónimo Zurita, Numbers 51-52, pages 7-130.

Topolsky, Jerzy (1984) History Methodology. Chair. Madrid.

See also:

  • What is history?
  • historical accounts