Historiography

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See History for a complete treatment of historiography

Historiography is the study of historians, their methods, sources, interpretations, and schools of thought. When people write chronicles of the past—that is, day-by-listings of events such as journalists do in newspapers—they are chroniclers. When they write about the past using an interpretive framework, and either a narrative or interpretive style, they are historians. When they write about other historians, they are historiographers.

When a writer bases his story of the past on a critical analysis of historical source material and provides a narrative synthesis that receives the attention of scholars, that person is a historian; but the people who study the methods used are historiographers.

Thus we have Herodotus the Greek historian whose life nearly spanned the 5th century BCE, called 'the father of history' because he discovered and demonstrated how to write about very complex interactions between Greece and Persia.

The term historiography may apply:

  • to the study of the lives of the writers of history, as it gives insight into their writings, e.g., their potential biases, their philosophy or religion, their educational breadth
  • to the study of the historical writings themselves, for critical analysis by other historiographers, e.g., for their accessibility to the general reader or student
  • to the study of the history or evolution of historical writing or of a particular historical writing, e.g., how the culture of the time translated and interpreted Herodotus's Histories
  • to the study of the theoretical bases, methodologies and approaches of historical writings, e.g., the different approaches to writing the history of science

In a recent article on Herodotus by Peter Green,[1] one can readily see all of the above senses of 'historiography' employed in a trenchant analysis by a historiographer.

The journal Histos ("The Electronic journal of ancient historiography at the university of Durham.") states that its ....focus will be more on the historical texts and media than on the historical problems for which those texts and media are sources, though the emphasis may naturally vary. For example, see the article by Clemence Schultze, entitled "Authority, originality and competence in the Roman Archaeology of Dionysius of Halicarnassus".[2] wherein the opening paragraph states:

Any attempt to understand an ancient historian’s programme, claim to authority, self-definition,[citation] originality and ideas about history and historiography must begin with analysis of his prefatory statements.[citation] Dionysius’ preface (whose literary and intellectual quality has generally been underestimated) reveals how his authority rests at once upon his predecessors and upon himself. At the very outset, in a single long and impressive sentence, he marks his knowledge of, and simultaneously his distance from, those predecessors; he expresses his attitude to his role and his materials; and he asserts the logismoi (‘reasonings’) and empeiria (‘knowledge’) which underpin his work: [Dionysius's sentence follows].

Thus, a historiographer may write history or study how historiographers write history.

The article, History, extensively discusses topics relevant to historiography, and provides a formal article on the subject.

References

  1. Green P. (2008) The Great Marathon Man. The New York Review of Books Vol. 55, May 15.
  2. Schultze C. (2000) Authority, originality and competence in the Roman Archaeology of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Histos Vol. 4, December.