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  History may be the queen of the humanities but it is the bastard child of the social sciences. Recognizable history in the form of written chronicles of kings and peoples is as old as the first literate empires but self-conscious historical inquiry received a notable impetus in the works of the Greek ‘fathers’, Herodotus (?485 - ?425 BCE)) and Thucydides (?460 - ?395 BCE). The word ‘history’ itself is derived from the title of Herodotus\' book Inquiry into the Causes and Events of the War between Greece and Persia: historia is Greek for ‘knowledge discovered by inquiry’.

As a modern field of scholarship, education and professional vocation, history flowered in Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries, exemplified in masterpieces like Edward Gibbon\'s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and David Hume\'s History of England. In these centuries history was regarded both as story-telling, providing narratives of entertainment, and as a source of moral guidance and salutary lessons on what should not be done. Much history narrated the achievements and follies of monarchs and high political élites, or the tales of saints. By the mid-19th century many Western historians began to work as cultural nationalists, constructing epic narratives of the origins, tragedies and triumphs of their nations, and many saw their primary task as that of narrating the constitutional, diplomatic, military and administrative history of their nation-states.

Towards the end of the 19th century history became professionalized as an academic discipline: history departments were established in universities, professional associations formed, and PhD programmes launched. State archives were established and historians became more systematic about their collection, citation and critical inspection of primary source materials. This professionalization had positive consequences: the successful outlining of the broad contours of the political evolution of the major Western states since early medieval times and a dramatic improvement in the historiography of the ancient European world. However, professionalization also had negative consequences. History, especially in the English and German languages, was infected by an incredibly impoverished empiricism, in which novel fact-finding and minute attachment to detail replaced the concern of earlier historians to fit their researches into broader interpretations. Naturally these historians wrote largely for one another rather than for a wider public who preferred to digest the old-style history or updated popular versions of it. Such historians were rightly accused by their critics of neglecting to think about the purposes of historical inquiry; being slaves to (usually state) archival material; overly focused on narrow ‘high politics’ or ‘history from above’; and arrogantly ignorant of other social science disciplines such as anthropology, demography, economics, political science and sociology. There were exceptions to the decline of history into impoverished empiricism, notably in the work of historians like Arnold Toynbee, but their writings were often deficient in an equal but opposite way being overly speculative, visionary, historicist and disrespectful of evidence.

The reintegration of history and historians with the social sciences has occurred fitfully since the 1930s, beginning with the Annales school of historians in France, and culminating in the work of the ‘new historians’ of the 1960s who were more philosophically conscious and willing to learn from the social sciences. The empiricist idea of ‘value-free’ history has been questioned, conceptual precision has become more frequent, model-building and testing is no longer frowned upon, and quantitative history has become recognized as methodologically central to sound historical scholarship. This reintegration has been assisted by the recognition of anthropologists, economists, political scientists and historians that a great deal of their work and hypotheses could be usefully validated through historical investigations and not simply through present-centred research.

The ‘new history’ according to one of its most exemplary exponents, Lawrence Stone (see below), is characterized (1) by its analytical rather than narrative structure; (2) by the fact that it seeks causal explanation rather than mere accounts of what happened, when and how; (3) by its concern with the past of human beings and society in the broadest possible ways: demography, geography and ecology, social history and social institutions, social mobility, and the history of culture and communications; (4) by its focus on the masses, the poor, the subaltern, the oppressed and not least women. The fruits of the new history are best seen in distinct new fields of inquiry: the history of the family, science, demography and the history of mass cultures. However, history as a field of inquiry is never likely to become one in which investigation of the particular and the construction of narratives are abandoned. BO\'L

See also hagiography; legend; saga.Further reading L. Stone, The Past and the Present Revisited.



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