Historiography

We explain what historiography is, what is its object of study and its currents. Also, how is it different from the story.

A researcher restores a document to be studied by historiography.
Historiography studies the ways in which historical narrative has been produced over the centuries.

What is historiography?

historiography it is, at the same time, the art of writing or recording history and the critical study of historical sources, that is, the scientific study of history. It is a very important discipline when it comes to reflecting on history, which can be understood as a “meta-history”, that is, as the history of the ways in which the historical narrative of humanity has been produced.

Historiography is part of the young historical disciplines born from the 18th and 19th centuries, when the academic need to think about history from a scientific perspective was assumed. This allowed reflection and questioning around the different sources and historical materials, their modes of interpretation and the way in which they are integrated into a more or less official story.

In addition, these disciplines contribute to the central role that history occupies in contemporary culture, as the science in charge of interpreting the past and proposing certain meanings for the existence of humanity.

For centuries, the collective memory of peoples was transmitted in different civilizations orally, through rhymes and other devices to facilitate memory, long before writing was invented. The truth of his stories and propositions simply depended on the purest repetition, and his borders with literature and mythology were easily confused.

This idea of ​​the historical record changed radically with the advent of writing, as documents began to exist that could be critically read by subsequent generations. This was accentuated with the appearance of new technologies and scientific knowledge hand in hand with modernity, which not only expanded the type of historical evidence (such as photography, video, chemical study, among others), but also allowed the formulation of an objective look around the record of history. This is precisely the terrain that historiography deals with..

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See also: Factual sciences

Your object of study

There is a continuous academic debate regarding what is, for sure, the object of study of historiography. The most usual perspective in this regard assumes this discipline as a set of scientific techniques and methods that deal with written texts about history and their respective sources. Thus, for example, historiography deals with books written about a specific historical period, but also with the original documents on which said book is based, and the relationship between the two.

currents of historiography

Historiography has not always understood history in the same way, and over time it has formulated different currents or perspectives, usually linked to some academic group, philosophical or ideological trend of greater importance. Each one has proposed a different way of understanding history.

Some of the main historiographical currents are:

  • historicism. This current is typical of the 19th century and of the founding of historiography as a discipline, especially by the followers of the German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886). His way of understanding history was close to idealism, since he argued that it is the change in ideas that makes human history, and that these ideas are “incarnated” in people and organizations.
  • positivism. This current had its peak in 19th century France, thanks to the theories of Auguste Comte (1798-1857), and included the role of the historian as that of a natural observer: objective, neutral, without interference from the present. History for positivism was a set of progressive stages that humanity was overcoming in its march towards progress. These stages would be universal and logically verifiable, and therefore the study of them should be more analytical than narrative.
  • historical materialism. This historiographical current is part of the philosophical and academic heritage of Marxism, since it is inspired by the scientific vision of history proposed in the work of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). His vision of history does not depend on the “spirit” of the times, that is, on a set of ideas or thoughts, but on social and economic relations linked to the production systems and mechanisms of society. Thus, according to historical materialism, it is the struggle between social classes for control of production that drives historical change.
  • The Annales School. This current arose in the 20th century, and its name is due to the French magazine Annales d’histoire economic et sociale (“Annuals of economic and social history”) founded by Lucien Febvre (1878-1956) and Marc Bloch (1886-1944) in 1928. Around this magazine arose a school of historiographical thought that defended the need to understand history through based on the knowledge of other disciplines, such as sociology. In addition, he privileged a long-term historical perspective (longue durée) to the study of anecdotes.
  • The “New Story”. This current emerged in the second half of the 20th century, hand in hand with the third generation of the Annales School. His name was popularized by the French historians Pierre Nora (1931-) and Jacques Le Goff (1924-2015), and he proposes history as the study of collective representations and mental structures shared by societies. Based on this, the role of the historian is to propose rational interpretations to the data extracted from the historical material.
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Importance of sources for historiography

The original documents of other historical times are studied by historiography.
Primary sources were created by those who lived through the historical event.

Historiographical sources are understood to be those documents, materials and testimonies related to a specific historical event, which can be studied to obtain direct information (primary sources, created by those who lived through the event) or indirect (secondary sources, created after the event) about the past. These sources can be personal documents, publications, plastic works, sculptures, photographs, instruments, videos, archaeological remains, engravings and even everyday objects.

The sources are the primary study material of historiography, that is, they are his body of work and research, where the information must be sought to interpret or analyze. Without available sources, it is impossible to approximate a period in history, since there is no way to know what happened or how it happened. Sometimes, for example, there are no direct testimonies of an event from the past, but there are mentions of it in other historical texts, and only in this way can the historian know of its existence.

More in: Sources of history

Differences between history and historiography

History and historiography are different concepts, although deeply related. In fact, the first is the object of study of the second, that is, historiography is the study of history while history is the long compilation of facts and events that have happened to humanity since ancient times.

This means that while the historian deals with recounting what happened or building a more or less supported, coherent and credible account of the events of the past, the historiographer deals with critically reviewing this type of study and analyzing the best way in which they should be carried out. understand each other philosophically and conceptually.

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More in: History

References

  • “History and Historiography” on Wikipedia.
  • “What are we talking about when we talk about… historiography?” (video) on Channel 22 (Mexico).
  • “History and historiography, what is the difference?” at the Technological Institute of Monterrey (Mexico).
  • “Historiography” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.