The Generations of Social History

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Geoff Eley

As a recognized specialism, social history is still young—dating in most countries only from the 1960s. Of course, as a dimension of historical writing, social history has always been there. The classics of historiography may all be read for their social content. During the later nineteenth century, most European countries produced some indications of what "social history" might be in universities, by private individuals, and in alternative institutional settings like labor movements, where socialist parties quickly developed an interest in the archives of their own emergence. Specifically social histories were rarely produced inside the newly established academic discipline of history as such. The dominance of nationalist paradigms meant that statecraft and diplomacy, wars, armies, empire, high politics, biography, administration, law, and other state-focused themes occupied the agenda of teaching and scholarship to the virtual exclusion of anything else.


In Germany the new national state of 1871 wholly ruled the professional historian's imagination. Bismarck's role as the architect of German unification and the related processes of state-building inspired histories organized around statecraft, military history, and constitutional law, first under Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) and his contemporary Johann Gustav Droysen (1808–1884), and then under Heinrich von Treitschke (1834–1896). Other contemporaries, such as Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Jacob Burckhardt (1818–1897), had no presence in this official Imperial German context. Karl Lamprecht (1856–1915) opened his work toward the social sciences, psychology, art history, and the study of culture, precipitating the Methodenstreit (conflict over methodology) in 1891, but without shifting the protocols of the discipline. Likewise, leading economists of the historical school such as Gustav von Schmoller (1838–1917), or sociologists like Max Weber (1864–1920), produced historical work of enormous importance, but again from outside the historical profession per se.

A similar narrative applied to Britain, where a liberal cohort—Henry Thomas Buckle (1821–1862), James Bryce (1838–1922), Edward Augustus Freeman (1823–1892), John Robert Seeley (1834–1895), and others—celebrated the English political tradition, reinforced by Lord Acton (1834–1902), who founded the English Historical Review (1886) and conceived the Cambridge Modern History. Otherwise, pre-1914 British historiography's achievements were in the medieval and Tudor-Stuart periods, in religious history, landholding, and law. Bryce set the tone when inaugurating the English Historical Review: "It seems better to regard history as the record of human action. . . . States and Politics will therefore be the chief parts of its subject, because the acts of nations . . . have usually been more important than the acts of private citizens." Seeley concurred: "History is not concerned with individuals except in their capacity as members of a state" (quoted in Wilson, "Critical Portrait," pp. 11, 9).

After 1918 openings occurred toward social history in Britain and Germany, partly with the founding of new universities less hidebound with tradition, such as the London School of Economics (1895), Manchester (1903), and Frankfurt (1914), partly as academic history consolidated itself as a discipline. In Britain the specialism of economic history helped, generating large empirical funds for later social historians to use, managed analytically by the grand narratives of the industrial revolution and the rise of national economies. The founding of the Economic History Society (1926) and its Economic History Review (1927) encouraged the practical equivalent of the German historical school of economists before 1914. R. H. Tawney (1880–1962) laid the foundations of early modern social history in a series of works—The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century (1912), Tudor Economic Documents (edited with Eileen Power; 1924), Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926),Business and Politics under James I (1958), and his famous monographic article, "The Rise of the Gentry" (1941). "Tawney's century" (1540–1640) was constructed with comparative knowledge and theoretical vision. Land and Labour in China (1932) was another of his works. In this broader framing of social and economic processes, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism was the analogue to Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904–1905).

The main early impulse toward social history was a left-wing interest in the social consequences of industrialization. Like Weber, Tawney was politically engaged. A Christian Socialist, Labour Party parliamentary candidate, advocate of the Workers' Educational Association, and public intellectual (especially via The Acquisitive Society [1921] and Equality [1931]), he practiced ethical commitment in his scholarly no less than in his political work. Sometimes such work occurred inside the universities, notably at the London School of Economics under Beatrice (1858–1943) and Sidney Webb (1859–1947), and political theorist Harold Laski (1893–1950), as well as Tawney. It reflected high-minded identification with what the Webbs called the "inevitability of gradualness"—the electoral rise of the Labour Party, but still more the triumph of an administrative ideal of rational taxation, social provision, and public goods. The Webbs' great works—the nine-volume history, English Local Government from the Revolution to the Municipal Corporations Act (1906–1929), plus The History of Trade Unionism (1894) and Industrial Democracy (1897)—adumbrated the terrain of a fully professionalized social history in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Webbs were linked to the Labour Party through the Fabian Society's networks, peaking in the LSE's contribution to public policy, social administration, and the post-1945 architecture of the welfare state. Equally salient for social history's genealogies was the Guild Socialist G. D. H. Cole (1889–1959), teaching at Oxford from the 1920s, in the Chair of Social and Political Theory from 1945. The radical liberal journalists and writers John (1872–1949) and Barbara Hammond (1873–1961), also should be mentioned. Their trilogy, The Village Labourer, 1760–1832 (1911), The Town Labourer, 1760–1832 (1917), and The Skilled Labourer, 1760–1832 (1919), presented an epic account of the human costs of industrialization beyond the administrative vision of the Webbs. Their precursor was the radical Liberal parliamentarian and economic historian J. E. T. Rogers (1823–1890), who countered the dominant constitutional history of his day with the seven-volume History of Agriculture and Prices in England (1866–1902), which—like much pioneering economic history from Marx to Tawney—assembled rich materials for the social history of the laboring poor.


G. D. H. Cole taught successively philosophy, economics, and social and political theory at the University of Oxford, and emerged between his first book, The World of Labour; A Discussion of the Present and Future of Trade Unionism (1913), and the 1920s as a leading British socialist intellectual. His ideas of Guild Socialism were shaped by the labor unrest of 1910–1914 and World War I, and informed his many histories of socialism, trade unionism, and industrial democracy, extending from A Short History of the British Working Class Movement 1789–1925 (originally three volumes, 1925–1927), to the multivolume History of Socialist Thought (1953–1960). His co-authored The Common People, 1746–1938 (1938) with Raymond Postgate remained the best general account of British social history "from below" in the 1960s. Essays in Labour History, 1886–1923 (1960), edited by Asa Briggs and John Saville, which brought together Britain's best practitioners of the field of the time, was a memorial to Cole.

A true pioneer for such work was Rogers's younger Oxford contemporary, John Richard Green (1837–1883), who left the Anglican clergy to become a historian in 1869. Eschewing the classical liberal celebration of a limited English constitutionalism, soon to be translated onto imperial ground by J. R. Seeley's Expansion of England (1884), Green's inspiration was a popular story of democratic self-government, realized in his Short History of the English People (1874). He rejected "the details of foreign wars and diplomacies, the personal adventures of kings and nobles, the pomp of courts, [and] the intrigues of favourites" in favor of the episodes of "that constitutional, intellectual, and social advance, in which we read the history of the nation itself." The Short History counterposed the "English people" to the "English kings [and] English conquests," or to "drum and trumpet" history. It established a line of popular history outside the universities, running through the Hammonds, and the Irish histories of Green's wife Alice Stopford Green (1847–1929), to A People's History of England (1938) by the Communist Arthur Leslie Morton (1903–), which drew inspiration from the antifascist campaigns for a popular front. Like Cole's work in labor history, and Tawney's in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this bridged directly to social history post-1945 in its concern with ordinary people, with the broader impact of social and economic forces like industrialization, and with its political engagement.


Social history began in political contexts effaced by subsequent professionalization. Women in particular disappeared from the historiographical record. One exception was Eileen Power (1889–1940), at the London School of Economics from 1921, whose works ranged from Medieval English Nunneries c. 1275 to 1535 (1922) and The Wool Trade in English Medieval History (1941) to the popular Medieval People (1924). More typical was Alice Clark (1874–1934), who attended the LSE as a mature student, pioneered the study of women's work before the industrial revolution in Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century (1919), and then left academic life for social activism. Clark destabilized the progressivist account of industrialization by showing its narrowing effects on women's work and the household economy, in ways that "startle in their modernity" (Sutton, "Radical Liberalism," p. 36). Dorothy George's London Life in the Eighteenth Century (1925), Ivy Pinchbeck's Women Workers and the Industrial Revolution, 1750–1850 (1930), and the contributions of Beatrice Webb and Barbara Hammond in their famous partnerships all retain their pioneering status. As Billie Melman shows in "Gender, History, and Memory," this reflected both women's social and educational advance and the political conflicts needed to attain it. By 1921, 91 percent of the British Historical Association were women, and 64 percent of the 204 historical works published between 1900 and 1930 by women born between 1875 and 1900 were in social and economic history. This work was linked to political activism, through Fabianism, the Labour Party, and feminist suffrage politics before 1914.

The importance of left-wing politics—identification with the common people—to early social history was even clearer in Germany. The foundations were firmer, through German sociology's pioneering achievements before 1914 and in the Weimar Republic, the labor movement's institutional strengths, and the intellectual dynamism in Weimar culture. The works of Gustav Mayer (1871–1948), the Engels biographer (1934), remain classics, especially his essay "Die Trennung der proletarischen von der bürgerlichen Demokratie in Deutschland 1863–70" (1911). Mayer's career was blocked by nationalists at Berlin University in 1917. He was appointed to a position in the department of the history of democracy, socialism, and political parties under the changed conditions in 1922, and entered exile in Britain in 1933. Weimar democracy was a limited hiatus between pre- 1918's exclusionary conservatism and Nazism after 1933, in which space briefly opened for alternatives to the nationalist state-focused historiography established post-1871.

HANS ROSENBERG (1904–1988)

Hans Rosenberg's career became paradigmatic for the West German social history of the 1970s. His approach mirrored that of his contemporary Eckart Kehr—passing from the liberal history of ideas (in Rosenberg's earliest publications in the 1930s), through concern with deep structural continuities of the German past, to a model of the socioeconomic determinations of political life. His classic Bureaucracy, Aristocracy, and Autocracy: The Prussian Experience, 1660–1815 (original German edition, 1958) was followed by influential essays on the Junkers, Probleme der deutschen Sozialgeschichte (1969), and a social explanation of Bismarckian politics by cycles of the economy, Grosse Depression und Bismarckzeit: Wirtschaftsablauf, Gesellschaft und Politik in Mitteleuropa (1967). Each work had a long gestation, going back to an essay of the 1940s. His conception of economic conjunctures and their founding importance for politics was first explored in Die Weltwirtschaftskrisis von 1857–1859 (1934). As he said in Bureaucracy, Aristocracy, and Autocracy, his work "approaches political, institutional, and ideological changes in terms of social history, and it does not reduce social history to an appendix of economic history" (p. viii).

One dissenting nexus surrounded Eckart Kehr (1902–1933), who died while visiting the United States. His Battleship Building and Party Politics in Germany 1894–1901 (1930) drew heavily on the social theory of Marx and Weber and related politics to socioeconomic structures, reinforced by a series of essays (later collected as Economic Interest, Militarism, and Foreign Policy [1965]). Kehr's associate Hans Rosenberg (1904–1988) also fled the Third Reich for the United States in 1936, eventually returning to Germany in 1970. They and others were rediscovered by West German social historians in the 1960s, and reinstated as the precursors of a long-interrupted tradition.

Just as vital in the 1920s was the flowering of German sociology, with a cohort of young exiles after 1933. Hans Speier (1905–) studied with Emil Lederer (1882–1939) and Karl Mannheim (1893–1947) in Heidelberg, worked at a Berlin publishing house, had links to the German Social Democratic Party's Labor Education department and the city's social services, and was married to a municipal pediatrician. His book on white collar workers, translated as German White-Collar Workers and the Rise of Hitler (1986), went unpublished until 1977. Speier taught at the New School for Social Research in New York, joined by his former teacher Lederer, whose studies of white collar workers went back to 1912. Hans Gerth (1908–1978), whose 1935 study of Enlightenment intelligentsia was eventually republished in 1976, went to the University of Wisconsin, and introduced Max Weber's works into English, while his coeditor of the famous selections From Max Weber (1948), C. Wright Mills, spread Speier's influence via his own classic White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951). Like the work of Kehr, Rosenberg, and other dissenting historians, this critical sociology was recovered by West German advocates of social science history in the 1970s. It traveled back to its country of origin via the post-1945 traditions of U.S. social science.

Until 1933 German and British historiographies developed roughly in parallel. In neither society were university history departments open to social history, with its connotations of popularization and political dissent. German conditions were better, given the extra supports for marxism and progressivism in the labor movement. But the disaster of Nazism in 1933–1945 scattered the progressive potentials into an Anglo-American diaspora, including younger generations yet to enter the profession, such as Eric Hobsbawm (1917–), Sidney Pollard (1925–), and Francis L. Carsten (1911–1998). With the conservative restoration of academic history after 1945, social history made little progress in West Germany before the 1970s. In Britain, by contrast, the foundations were being assembled. The democratic patriotism of World War II then moved some historians away from the narrower state-focused work dominant in the profession.

Similar trajectories occurred elsewhere in Europe too. The potentials for social history coalesced in the initiatives of reform-minded sociologists, or in the internalist histories of labor movements, but with little imprint on academic history, where state-centered perspectives stayed supreme. This was true in central Europe (Austria, Czechoslovakia), the Low Countries, and Scandinavia, as well as Germany and Britain. Sweden, with half a century of virtually uninterrupted social democratic government from the 1930s, was a classic case. The progressivist public culture brought together converging traditions of historical work, sustaining the social history departures of the 1960s—on the one hand, the pioneering investigations of reform-driven social expertise (in demography, family policy, public health, and so on); and on the other hand, the popular institutional histories of the labor movement.

Elsewhere, the shoots were destroyed by fascism and dictatorship (Hungary 1920–1944, Italy 1922–1945, Portugal 1926–1974, Spain 1939–1975, most of eastern Europe from the mid-1920s and early 1930s), by Nazi occupation in World War II, or by Stalinization of Eastern Europe after 1948. Some national historiographies were disastrously hit. In Poland the signs were vigorous after 1918, with new universities, new chairs of history, new journals, and a general refounding of intellectual life under the republic. Beyond the older military, constitutional, and legal historiography, freshly endowed with resources under the new state, Polish historical studies saw the establishment of economic history by Jan Rutkowski (1886–1949) and Franciszek Bujak (1875–1953), new explorations in cultural history, and the first moves to specifically social history (as elsewhere, in medieval and early modern studies of landholding and religion). As such, Polish historiography showed similar potential to Germany and Britain. But Nazism obliterated these, by the most brutal wartime deprivations, destruction of libraries and archives, erasure of prewar institutional life, and the physical liquidation of the intelligentsia, including the profession of historians. After 1945 institutional supports were recreated remarkably fast by reestablishing the universities and founding research institutes, only to be compromised once again by Stalinization. This reemphasized democracy's importance for social history in both the political changes of 1918 and the longer-run influence of labor movements and other progressive factors of intellectual life.


One case of social history's institutionalization inside academic history was France, where key interwar departures established unbroken lines of continuity down to the 1970s. Certain underlying conditions enabled this to happen. One was the well-known centralization of political culture, higher education, and the administrative state in France, where access to central resources, the levers of intellectual patronage and prestige, and the metropolitan matrix of knowledge production in Paris gave the academic elite far more power to set the terms of discussion than in the more dispersed intellectual cultures of Britain, Germany, and elsewhere. From early in the twentieth century, the École Pratique des Hautes Études (founded 1868) dominated scholarly research, and the new sixth section dealing with the social sciences after 1947 quickly overshadowed the older fourth section responsible for history and philology.

The French Revolution's place in the country's political life was inherently encouraging to social history, given popular insurrection and the presence of the masses in 1789–1793. From Albert Mathiez (1874–1932) to Georges Lefebvre (1874–1959) and Albert Soboul (1914–1982), the Revolution sustained a strong line of social-historical research lacking in Britain until Christopher Hill revived study of the English Revolution in the 1950s. Lefebvre, in Les paysans du Nord pendant la Révolution francaise (1924) and The Great Fear of 1789: Rural Panic in Revolutionary France (original French edition, 1932), and Soboul, in The Parisian Sans-Culottes and the French Revolution, 1793–4 (original French edition, 1958), produced innovative and inspiring classics of social history. Ernest Labrousse (1895–1988) pioneered the quantitative study of economic fluctuations. He situated 1789 in an economic conjuncture, for which the history of prices and wages, bad harvests, and unemployment gave the key (La crise de l'économie francaise à la fin de l'Ancien Régime et au début de la Révolution [1944]). His general model (comparing 1789, 1830, and 1848) worked upward from price movements and the structural problems of the economy, through the wider ramifications of social crisis, and finally to the mishandling of the consequences by government.

As in Britain and Germany, an early impulse to social history came from economic history or sociology, but with greater resonance among historians. For The Great Fear, which concerns peasant uprisings in the first phase of the French Revolution, Lefebvre read the crowd theories of Gustav Le Bon, the social theory of Émile Durkheim, and the ideas of Maurice Halbwachs about collective memory. The influence of the economist François Simiand (1873–1935) was key. In 1903 he disparaged traditional histoire événementielle (history of events), and attacked the historians' three "idols of the tribe"—politics, the individual, and chronology. Simiand's essay appeared in a new journal, Revue de synthèse historique, founded in 1900 by the philosopher of history Henri Berr (1863–1954), which opened a dialogue with social science. Among Berr's younger supporters were Lucien Febvre (1878–1956) and Marc Bloch (1866–1944), who joined the Revue in 1907 and 1912 respectively.

Febvre's dissertation, Philippe II et la Franche-Comté (1912), was palpably indifferent to military and diplomatic events. He located Philip II's policies in the geography, social structure, religious life, and social changes of the region, stressing conflicts between absolutism and provincial privileges, nobles and bourgeois, Catholics and Protestants. He inverted the usual precedence, which viewed great events from the perspective of rulers and treated regional histories as effects. Region became the indispensable structural context, for which geography, economics, and demography were all required. Appointed to Strasbourg University in 1920, Febvre met Bloch, who rejected traditional political history under Durkheim's influence before the war. In 1924 Bloch published The Royal Touch, which deals with the popular belief that kings have the ability to heal the skin disease scrofula by the power of touch, and its relationship to conceptions of English and French kingship. This remarkable study freed historical perspective from simple narrative time, reattaching it to longer frames of structural duration. It practiced comparison. It also stressed mentalité, or the collective understanding and religious psychology of the time, as against the contemporary "common-sense" question of whether the king's touch actually healed or not.

These twin themes—structural history (as against political history or the "history of events"), and history of mentalities (as against the history of formal ideas)—gave unity to the Febvre-Bloch collaboration. In his later works Febvre switched to studying the mental climate specific to the sixteenth century, in Martin Luther: A Destiny (original French edition, 1928), and especially The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais (original French edition, 1947). Bloch, conversely, shifted from the archaeology of mind-sets to the archaeology of structures in French Rural History: An Essay on Its Basic Characteristics (original French edition, 1931), and Feudal Society (original French edition, 1939–1940). With his holistic account of feudalism, combining analysis of the "mental structures" of the age with its socioeconomic relations for a picture of the whole environment, Bloch departed radically from prevailing work. He insisted on comparison, making Europe, not the nation, the entity of study. He exchanged conventional chronologies (like reigns of kings) for epochal time, or the longue durée. He shifted attention from military service (the dominant approach to feudalism) to the social history of agriculture and relationships on the land. He moved away from the history of the law, landholding, kingship, and the origins of states in the narrow institutional sense. All these moves came to characterize "structural history."

In 1929 Bloch and Febvre made their interests into a program with a journal, Annales d'histoire éconmique et sociale. The journal quickly acquired prestige, as Febvre and Bloch moved from Strasbourg to Paris. But it was after 1945, with the founding of the sixth section for the social sciences of the École Pratique des Hautes Études, with Febvre as president, that Annales really took off, tragically boosted by Bloch's execution by the Germans in June 1944 for his role in the Resistance. His indictment of French historiography's narrowness now merged into enthusiasm for a new start, denouncing the rottenness of the old elites, who capitulated in 1940 and collaborated with the Nazis under Vichy. The change of name to Annales: économies, sociétés, civilisations (1946) signified this enhanced vision. The sixth section also placed history at the center of the new interdisciplinary regime, in a leadership among the social sciences unique in the Western world. Sociology, geography, and economics were key influences for Bloch and Febvre, now joined by structural anthropology and linguistics, including Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–), Roland Barthes (1915–1980), and Pierre Bourdieu (1930–). The term histoire totale (total history) now became identified with Annales.

ANNALES, 1950–1970

Attempts to replicate Braudel's Mediterranean included the twelve-volume Seville et l'Atlantique (1504–1650) (1955–1959) by Pierre Chaunu (1923–), and the three-volume La Catalogne dans l'Espagne moderne. Recherches sur les fondements économiques des structures nationales (1962) of Pierre Vilar (1906–). With Pierre Goubert (1915–) and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (1929–), demography then surpassed price series and economic cycles as the main technical concern, in Beauvais et le Beauvasis de 1600 à 1730: Contribution de l'histoire sociale de la France du XVIIe siècle, two volumes (1960), and The Peasants of Languedoc, two volumes (original French edition, 1966) respectively. A collective project managed by Francois Furet (1927–1998) on Livre et société dans la France du XVIIIe siècle (1965–1970) applied quantification to patterns of ancien régime intellectual life, extending literacy into the statistical study of book production, reception, the sociology of the reading public and the provincial academies, content analysis, and so forth. It corresponded to Febvre's last work, prepared for publication by Henri Jean Martin, The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450–1800 (original French edition, 1958). Robert Mandrou (1921–1984) cleaved more to "historical psychology," dissecting the "mental climate of an age" in various works, including An Introduction to Modern France: An Essay in Historical Psychology (original French edition, 1961), and Magistrats et sorciers en France au XVIIe siècle, une analyse de psychologie historique (1968). The independent scholar Philippe Ariès (1914–1984) pioneered cultural histories of the early modern era converging with Annales. His Centuries of Childhood (1960) was one of the most influential works of history in this early postwar time.

Febvre's assistant was Fernand Braudel (1902–1985), his heir as president of the sixth section (1956–1972) and director of Annales (1957–1969). Braudel's career was framed by two monuments of scholarship—The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (original French edition, 1949), researched in the 1930s, and the three-volume Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century (original French edition, 1979). In these great works Braudel schematized the complex practice of his mentors, distinguishing three temporalities or levels of analysis that functioned as a materialist grand design, shrinking great men and big events into the sovereign causalities of economics, population, and environment. Braudel's causal logic moved upward from the structural history of the longue durée (landscape, climate, demography, deep patterns of economic life, long-run norms and habits, the reproduction of social structures, the stabilities of popular understanding, the repetitions of everyday life), through the medium-term changes of conjunctures (where the rise and fall of economies, social systems, and states became visible), to the faster moving narrative time of l'histoire éévénementielle (human-made events, the familiar military, diplomatic, and political histories Annales wanted to supplant). In this thinking, the "deeper level" of structure imposed "upper limits" on human possibilities for a particular civilization, and determined the pace and extent of change. This was the historian's appropriate concern, from which "events" were a diversion.

Braudel's rendering of Annales ideals realized the goal of Green's Short History of the English People—the dethroning of kings—but divested of all progressivist or "whiggish" narrative design. This uplifting quality was exchanged for a very different model of progress, rendering the world knowable through social science (economics, demography, geography, anthropology, and quantitative techniques). Annales history became counterposed to the historiography of the French Revolution, where progressivism and the great event remained alive and well. Mentalité solidified into an implicit master category of structure. Braudel's project was imposingly schematic. His works were ordered into a reified hierarchy of materialist determinations, locating "real" significance in the structural and conjunctural levels, and reducing the third level to the most conventional and unanalytic recitation of events. Reciprocity of determination—so challenging in Bloch's work on feudalism—disappeared. Major dramas of the early modern age such as religious conflict startled by their absence. But Braudel's magnum opus on the Mediterranean had few parallels in the sheer grandiosity of its knowledge and design.

In social history's comparative emergence, Annales had a vital institution-building role, with (uniquely in Europe) long continuity going back to the 1920s, establishing both protocols of historical method and understanding, and a cumulative tradition of collective discussion, research, training, and publication. Interdisciplinary cohabitation with the social sciences was essential, with history (again uniquely) at the center. Quantification was hard-wired into this intellectual culture: "from a scientific point of view, the only social history is quantitative history," in one characteristically dogmatic statement (François Furet and Adeline Daumard in 1959, quoted by Iggers, New Directions, p. 66). As it emerged into the 1960s, these were the hallmarks—history as a social science, quantitative methodology, long-run analyses of prices, trade and population, structural history, a materialist model of causation. Certain key terms—longue durée, mentalité, and of course histoire totale—passed into historians' currency elsewhere.

Under Braudel Annales became a magnet for "new" history in France. Until the 1970s, it was mainly known in English for Bloch's Feudal Society (translated 1961), although Philippe Ariès's maverick history of childhood also appeared in English (1962). Its influence extended into Italy, Belgium, and eastern Europe, especially Poland, where many connections developed. Annales also opened dialogues with historians in the Soviet Union.


National historiographies move on varying times, with the dynamics of intellectual cultures and traditions, institutional pressures, and local debates, as well as the external exigences of national politics and contemporary events. While Germany experienced the catastrophe of Nazism, severing the shoots of historiographical growth, and France enjoyed institutional continuities around French Revolutionary studies and Annales, Britain experienced modest sedimentations of social-historical work. George Macaulay Trevelyan (1876–1962), Cambridge Regius Professor of Modern History from 1927, maintained the popularizing tradition with his classic English Social History: A Survey of Six Centuries, Chaucer to Queen Victoria (1942), and also trained John Harold Plumb (1911–), a major influence on British social history between the 1950s and 1970s. In the 1950s a wider archipelago of activity appeared—with the economic historians Hrothgar John Habakkuk (1915–), Max Hartwell (1921–), and Peter Matthias at Oxford; George Kitson Clark (1900–1975) and Henry Pelling (1918–) at Cambridge; A. E. Musson (1920–) and Harold Perkin at Manchester; Arthur J. Taylor and Asa Briggs (1921–) at Leeds; F. M. L. Thompson in London. Asa Briggs was especially influential, through his early research on Birmingham and more general works like Victorian Cities (1963), and in the pathbreaking local research edited in Chartist Studies (1959) and Essays in Labour History (1960). Perkin occupied the first university post in social history (Manchester, 1951), took up the first professorial chair (Lancaster, 1967), and published the key general history, The Origins of Modern English Society, 1780–1880 (1969).

Thus Britain saw the gradual accrual of a scholarly tradition, borne by an array of economic historians, pioneers like Briggs, the social policy nexus at the London School of Economics, and the networks of labor history (solidified by the Society for the Study of Labour History and its bulletin in 1960). The Communist Party Historians' Group (1946–1957) had disproportionate impact in social history's great 1960s expansion. Its members came to the Communist Party (CPGB) via antifascism, and most left in the crisis of communism in 1956, which ended the Group's existence. Very few taught at the center of British university life (at Oxbridge or London). Some were not historians by discipline, like the older Maurice Dobb (1900–1976), the Cambridge economist, whose Studies in the Development of Capitalism (1946) focused an important discussion. Others had positions in adult education.

These British marxist historians included Eric Hobsbawm (1917–), Christopher Hill (1910–), Victor Kiernan (1913–), Rodney Hilton (1916–), George Rudé (1910–1993), John Saville (1916–), Dorothy Thompson (1923–), Raphael Samuel (1938–1996), and E. P. Thompson (1924–1993). Their collective discussions shaped the contours of social history in Britain, with international resonance comparable to Annales. University history departments gave them few supports. Rudé and E. P. Thompson secured academic appointments only in the 1960s, Rudé by traveling to Australia. The main impulse came from politics, a powerful sense of history's pedagogy, and broader identification with democratic values and popular history. A leading mentor was the nonacademic CPGB intellectual, journalist, and Marx scholar, Dona Torr (1883–1957), author of Tom Mann and his Times (1936), to whom the Group paid tribute in Democracy and the Labour Movement (1954), edited by John Saville.

The Group aimed for a social history of Britain to contest official accounts, inspired by A. L. Morton's A People's History of England (1938). Some members specialized in British history per se—Hilton on the English peasantry, Hill on the English Revolution, Saville on labor history, Dorothy Thompson on Chartism. Others displayed extraordinary international range. Hobsbawm's interests embraced British labor history, European popular movements, and Latin American peasantries, plus the study of nationalism and his unparalleled general histories, from The Age of Revolution, 1789–1848 (1962), through The Age of Capital, 1848–1875 (1975), and The Age of Empire, 1875–1914 (1987), to The Age of Extremes, 1914–1991 (1994). Kiernan was another remarkable generalist, covering aspects of imperialism, early modern state formation, and history of the aristocratic duel, as well as British relations with China and the 1854 Spanish Revolution. Rudé was a leading historian of the French Revolution and popular protest, with The Crowd in the French Revolution (1959), The Crowd in History (1964), and his collaboration with Hobsbawm, Captain Swing (1969). Two others were British historians with huge international influence—Raphael Samuel as the moving genius behind the History Workshop movement and its journal; and E. P. Thompson through his great works, The Making of the English Working Class (1963), Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act (1975), and Customs in Common (1991).

This British marxist historiography was embedded in specifically British concerns. Several voices spoke the languages of English history exclusively—Hill, Hilton, Saville, the Thompsons. The broader tradition was intensely focused on national themes, as in E. P. Thompson's famous "The Peculiarities of the English" (1965) and first book, William Morris, Romantic to Revolutionary (1955), or the cognate works of Raymond Williams (1921–1988), Culture and Society (1958) and The Long Revolution (1961). British concerns were strongest in two areas. The Group decisively shaped labor history, in Hobsbawm's foundational essays in Labouring Men (1964), Saville's influence (institutionalized in the multivolume Dictionary of Labour Biography from 1972), and after 1960 in the Labour History Society. Labor history in Britain was linked to specific questions about the presumed failure of the labor movement to follow Marx's development model. It also shaped the history of capitalist industrialization in Britain, most notably through the standard of living controversy between Hobsbawm and Hartwell in 1957–1963 over whether industrialists had improved or degraded living standards of the working population. Saville's Rural Depopulation in England and Wales, 1851–1951 (1957) was a counterpoint to the mainstream accounts of G. E. Mingay, English Landed Society in the Eighteenth Century (1963), and F. M. L. Thompson, English Landed Society in the Nineteenth Century (1963). Several classics addressed this question, from E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, and Hobsbawm and Rudé's Captain Swing, to Hobsbawm's general British economic history, Industry and Empire: From 1750 to the Present Day (1968).

In other ways, the marxist historians were the opposite of parochial. Rudé worked with Lefebvre and Soboul; Kiernan practiced an eclectic version of global history; Hobsbawm maintained wide connections with Europe and Latin America; Thomas Hodgkin (1910–1982) and Basil Davidson (1914–) vitally influenced African history, again from the margins in adult education and journalism. Hobsbawm interacted with Braudel and other Annalistes, and with Labrousse, Lefebvre, and Soboul. Internationally, Hobsbawm and Rudé transformed study of social protest in preindustrial societies. Rudé deconstructed older stereotypes of "the mob," using the French Revolution and eighteenth-century riots in England and France to analyze the rhythms, organization, and motives behind collective action, specifying a sociology of the "faces in the crowd." Hobsbawm analyzed the transformations in popular consciousness accompanying capitalist industrialization—in studies of Luddism and pre–trade-union labor protest; in Primitive Rebels (1959) and Bandits (1969), concerning "archaic" protests in agrarian societies (social banditry, millenarianism, mafia); and in work on peasants and peasant movements in Latin America. He pioneered the conversations of history and anthropology, and redefined politics in societies without democratic constitutions or a developed parliamentary system.

The Communist Party Historians' Group's biggest step was the new journal, Past and Present (a "Journal of Scientific History"), launched in 1952 to preserve dialogue with non-marxist historians when the Cold War was otherwise closing it down. The editor and instigator was the ancient history historian John Morris (1913–1977), joined by Hobsbawm, Hill, Hilton, Dobb, and the archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe (1892–1957), who were all marxists, plus a group of distinguished non-marxists, including ancient history historian A. H. M. (Hugo) Jones (1904–1970), Czech historian R. R. Betts, Tudor-Stuart historian D. B. Quinn (1909–), and generalist Geoffrey Barraclough (1908–1984). From the start, contacts with Europe were good, including eastern Europe (with early articles by the Soviet historians Boris Porshnev and E. A. Kosminskii, and the Czechoslovaks J. V. Polisensky and Arnost Klima), and France (not only Lefebvre and Soboul, but also Annales). In 1958 the board was broadened to lessen the marxist dominance, with early modernists Lawrence Stone (1919–) and John Elliott (1930–), medievalist Trevor Aston (1925–1986), archaeologist S. S. Frere (1918–), and the sociologists Norman Birnbaum and Peter Worsley. The subtitle changed to a "Journal of Historical Studies."

In its first twenty years, Past and Present made vital contributions to the rise of social history. One was internationalism, for it brought European work into English, aided by its editors' political networks, direct exchanges with France, and the 1950 International Historical Congress in Paris and its new social history section. Secondly, like Annales, it urged comparative study of societies within an overall frame of arguments about historical change, posed at the level of European or global movements and systems. This commitment, which crystallized from the agenda of the Communist Party Historians' Group, recurred in the annual conference themes from 1957—early modern revolutions, the general crisis of the seventeenth century, origins of industrialization, war and society 1300–1600, science and religion, colonialism and nationalism. Thirdly, it opened interdisciplinary conversations with sociologists and anthropologists, encouraged by marxist acceptance of the indivisibility of knowledge, again paralleling Annales. Fourthly, social history went together with economics, whether via the Annaliste master category of structures, or via marxism and the materialist theory of history. Academically, where social history was disengaged from the "manners and morals" mode of popularizing, or projects of "people's history," it was coupled to economic history, as in departments of economic and social history created in some British universities in the 1960s.

RICHARD COBB (1917–1996)

Richard Cobb was a contemporary of the British marxist historians, and trained under Georges Lefebvre with George Rudé and Albert Soboul. He taught in Aberystwyth, Manchester, and Leeds (1953–1962) before moving to Oxford. He exercised legendary influence in the 1960s as an inspiringly original social historian, with a penchant for reckless bohemianism. His Les Armées révolutionnaires: Instrument de la Terreur dans les départements, avril 1793 (floréal An II), two volume (1962, translated as The People's Armies, 1987) was followed by Terreur et Subsistances, 1793–1795 (1965), A Second Identity: Essays on France and French History (1969), and The Police and the People: French Popular Protest, 1789–1820 (1970). In Leeds he was a friend of E. P. Thompson, whose article "Moral Economy" began as an intended collaboration with Cobb on grain riots. If social history implied identification with the common people, Cobb was one of its most charismatic practitioners. Traumatized by 1968, he shed this stance. The later works—Reactions to the French Revolution (1972), Paris and its Provinces, 1792–1802 (1975), and a string of mainly personal writings—became ever more idiosyncratic and suffered as a result. But he re-created the world of the 1790s with remarkable eloquence, knew the archives like the back of his hand, and inspired a generation of French Revolutionary specialists—Colin Lucas, Peter Jones, Gwynne Lewis, Olwen Hufton, Alan Forrest, Martyn Lyons, William Scott, Richard Andrews, Colin Jones, Geoffrey Ellis, and others.

"Social history" meant understanding the dynamics of whole societies. It was the ambition to connect political events to underlying social forces. In 1947–1950 the Communist Party Historians' Group focused on the transition from feudalism to capitalism and associated questions (rise of absolutism, bourgeois revolution, agrarian problems, the Reformation). Hobsbawm's two-part article on "The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century" (1954) then prompted the salient discussion of Past and Present's first decade, collected as Crisis in Europe, 1560–1660 (1965), edited by Trevor Aston. This debate energized historians of France, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Bohemia, Russia, Ireland, and early modern Europe generally, as well as historians of Britain. It connected the seventeenth-century political upheavals to forms of economic crisis graspable in Europeanwide terms, in "the last phase of the general transition from a feudal to a capitalist economy" (Aston, Crisis, p. 5). It built a case for studying religious conflict in social terms. It grasped the nettle of conceptualizing the histories of societies as a whole, with profound implications for their future historiographies, as in John Elliott's treatment of "The Decline of Spain" (1961). It reemphasized the convergence between Past and Present and Annales, for Hobsbawm relied on work sponsored by Braudel. One key essay by Pierre Vilar ("The Age of Don Quixote") was not translated until much later, in 1971. Above all, the debate demonstrated the "comparative method."


Annales and Past and Present laid the cumulative foundations for social history's rise in the 1960s. Past and Present's main strength remained medieval and early modern, where its international influence became sovereign. By 1987 only five of thirty-three titles in the Past and Present Publications series (Cambridge University Press) fell after the French Revolution. Annales also consolidated its influence, partly from Braudel's post-1962 base at the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme. Work was systematically translated, beginning with Braudel's Mediterranean (1972) and Capitalism and Material Life, 1400–1600 (original French edition, 1973), plus Peter Burke's edition of articles, Economy and Society in Early Modern Europe (1972). Traian Stoianovich's French Historical Method: The Annales Paradigm (1976) gave a systematic guide, and in 1978 Immanuel Wallerstein founded the Fernand Braudel Center in Binghamton and its journal, Review. This further institutionalization, and concurrent transplanting to the United States, continued with Lawrence Stone's founding of the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton University (1969), which with J. H. Elliott's presence at the Institute of Advanced Study became a transatlantic outpost of Past and Present.

By 1971, when Hobsbawm published his stocktaking survey, "From Social History to the History of Society," social history had already taken off, and the next decade saw a remarkable diffusion—with conferences, international networks, new journals, and special societies (like the British Social History Society, 1976). This was inseparable from events in the world at large. The big 1960s expansion of Western higher education created a brief buoyancy of funding for scholarly history on a freshly professionalized basis. The political ferment radicalized new generations of students toward new kinds of history, pushing on the discipline's boundaries in vital ways.

The best index was the launching of new journals. Anticipating and shaping these trends was Comparative Studies in Society and History, founded in 1958 by the medievalist Sylvia Thrupp, in a program of comparative social science. It was followed in the United States by Journal of Social History (1967–), Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1970–), Radical History Review (1973–), and Social Science History (1976–). In Britain there were Social History and History Workshop Journal (both 1976–), plus Journal of Peasant Studies (1973–), and Journal of Historical Geography (1975–) beyond the discipline. The West German Geschichte und Gesellschaft was launched in 1975. Existing specialisms like labor history broadened their charge, turning from institutional histories of socialism and trade unions, and associated studies of working conditions, industrial relations, and strikes, to social histories of the working class. This was true of the British Bulletin of the Labour History Society, whose conferences reflected the new ambitions. The same applied to the U.S. Study Group for European Labor and Working-Class History formed in December 1971, whose newsletter became International Labor and Working Class History. In West Germany Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, a yearbook of socialist history (1961–), transformed itself in the early 1970s into a hefty annual of current social-historical research.

The influence of social science. Social history's arrival was borne by interdisciplinarity, which meant dependence on social science. In the United States, a one-sided dialogue continued between sociology and history, as a succession of Social Science Research Council Reports (1946, 1954, 1963) expounded the virtues of theory for historians. Programmatic publications appeared, including Sociology and History: Methods (1968) edited by Seymour Martin Lipset and Richard Hofstadter, and Robert F. Berkhofer Jr.'s A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis (1969). In France, by contrast, the sixth section's structure already placed history at the heart of interdisciplinary work, now reinforced by Braudel's Maison des Sciences de l'Homme. In Britain the relationship was more pragmatic. Marxism had lost self-confidence after the crisis of Stalinism in 1956, and Past and Present turned to dialogue with non-marxist sociology and anthropology, where sociologist Philip Abrams (1933–1981) and anthropologist Jack Goody were especially active. Hobsbawm's Primitive Rebels was conceived in a running conversation with Meyer Fortes, Max Gluckman (1911–1975), and other social anthropologists.

This first phase of interdisciplinarity saw the ascendancy of U.S. behavioral science, guided by modernization theory. Comparative Studies in Society and History held the vanguard place, followed by Journal of International History, Journal of Social History, and then Social Science History in the Social Science History Association. Other new journals, such as Politics & Society (1970–) and Theory and Society (1974–), published articles by sociologists and political scientists writing historically. The turning to sociology was eclectic, as historians sought to "learn" theory from their colleagues. The most self-conscious borrowings involved methodology rather than theory per se, with sophisticated quantification in demography, family history, mobility studies, migration, urban history, and more. An extreme version of such dependency developed in West Germany in the 1970s. The destructive effects of Nazism left an exceptionally conservative historiography commanding the 1950s, and despite the efforts of Werner Conze (1910–1986) and his Arbeitskreis für moderne Sozialgeschichte (formed in Heidelberg, 1957), little work in social history occurred before the 1960s. Without strong indigenous supports, Hans Ulrich Wehler (1931–), Jürgen Kocka (1941–), and others turned directly to U.S. social sciences, as well as to Max Weber. Their new journal Geschichte und Gesellschaft was the result.

One boom area for social science was family history, pioneered in Peter Laslett's The World We Have Lost (1965). Demanding a new "social structural history" embracing whole societies and the "structural function of the family in the pre-industrial world," Laslett headed the Cambridge Population Group with evangelical zeal. But aside from extreme methodological sophistication, Laslett's main achievement became his "null hypothesis" for the nuclear family's continuity across industrialization, laying to rest the myth of progressive nucleation. Demographic historians became masters of falsification, dismantling ungrounded claims in dialogue with contemporary sociology (as in Michael Anderson's The Family in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire [1971], a response to Neil J. Smelser's Social Change in the Industrial Revolution [1959]). But their ability to retheorize social change beyond the technics of the immediate debates was far less. From the foundational conference of 1969, bringing twenty-two international scholars to Cambridge (Peter Laslett, ed., Household and Family in Past Time [1972]), to the apogee of the Cambridge Group's achievement, in E. A. Wrigley and Roger S. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541–1871 (1981), the broader implications were unclear. The strongest explanatory program for demographic history remained Annales, where population was the prime mover of social change, notably in Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's The Peasants of Languedoc (original French edition, 1966). Ironically (given Laslett's default cautions), the first two general histories of the family in the 1970s, Edward Shorter's The Making of the Modern Family (1976), and Lawrence Stone's The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500–1800 (1977), presented bold teleologies of modernization, expressed in Stone's "rise of affective individualism."

Family history was integrated more successfully in studies of "protoindustrialization," using work by Franklin Mendels ("Proto-Industrialization: The First Phase of the Industrialization Process," in Journal of Economic History, 1972) and the Swiss historian Rudolf Braun's Industrialization and Everyday Life (original German edition, 1960) and Sozialer und kultureller Wandel in einem ländlichen Industriegebiet (1965). The pioneering book was Peter Kriedte, Hans Medick, and Jürgen Schlumbohm, Industrialization Before Industrialization: Rural Industry in the Genesis of Capitalism (original German edition, 1977), which reconnected family and demography to capitalism and production in a social history of industrialization. This continued through Charles Tilly's studies of proletarianization, and David Levine's Family Formations in an Age of Nascent Capitalism (1977), and Reproducing Families: The Political Economy of English Population History (1987). In German-speaking Europe, Michael Mitterauer and Reinhard Sieder, The European Family: Patriarchy to Partnership from the Middle Ages to the Present (original German edition, 1977), laid out a similar program, as did essays by Karin Hausen and Heidi Rosenbaum in the inaugural issue of Geschichte und Gesellschaft. Nonmaterialist aspects of family life remained neglected by comparison. David Hunt's Parents and Children in History: The Psychology of Family Life in Early Modern France (1970) seemed an idiosyncratic exception. On the other hand, Eli Zaretsky's Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life (1976) explored territory feminist historians were about to map.

This story of social history's takeoff in the 1960s, sustained by social science, was replicated in other subfields. In 1971 Hobsbawm listed six of these: demography and kinship; urban studies; class formation; "mentalities" or "culture" in the anthropological sense; social transformations like industrialization or "modernization"; and social movements and social protest. Urban history was a good microcosm. Distinctive to the English-speaking world, it was forged in Britain by H. J. Dyos (1921–1978). Building on Leicester University's tradition of local history and studies of local government going back to the Webbs, Dyos formed the Urban History Group (1962–1963), whose newsletter was institutionalized as the Urban History Yearbook in 1974, becoming the journal Urban History in 1992. Dyos was a tireless proselytizer, combining social science rigor with eclectic thematics, from the city's political economy and spatial organization, through the social histories of the built environment, land sales, mass transit, labor markets, slum dwelling, and suburbanization, to urban images and representations. The two-volume showcase, The Victorian City: Images and Realities (1973), coedited with Michael Wolff, defined urbanization as a site where social scientists, humanists, and historians could meet. The memorial for Dyos, The Pursuit of Urban History (1983), edited by Derek Fraser and Anthony Sutcliffe, confirmed this transdisciplinary potential. The urban community study became the vehicle for studying class formation. Elsewhere (as in Sweden and West Germany in the 1970s), the subfield was slower and more narrowly convened around social science.

History of youth and childhood was also invented by social historians in the 1960s. Impetus came from historians of population and family, especially among early modernists. Most exciting were the deconstructive implications, turning the basic categories of the human life-course into historical creations, with childhood as an artifact of the specifically modern era. Philippe Ariès's Centuries of Childhood (original French edition, 1960) was key. Interest also focused on youth subcultures inspired by 1968 in freely cross-disciplinary ways—partly at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, partly in radical criminology and the sociology of deviance. Such work intersected with new social histories of crime, doubly moved by the positivist excitements of social science methodology (measuring change, establishing patterns, specifying causal relations) and populist identification with "history from below." The British marxist historians—Rudé's studies of the crowd, Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, Hobsbawm in general—also provided inspiration. As so often, Hobsbawm's writings—on primitive rebellion, social banditry, social criminality—had defined the basic terrain.


Charles Tilly was trained in sociology at Harvard (Ph.D. 1958), and taught for many years with a joint appointment in sociology and history at the University of Michigan, before moving to the New School for Social Research in 1984. His many books and essays across a wide variety of subjects, concentrating on nineteenth-century France and Britain, made him the preeminent sociologist and social historian of collective action in the 1960s and 1970s. He stood for quantitative and collaborative research on the grand scale, specifying the bases and rationality of collective action in relation to the impact of capitalism (including its demographic aspects) and the growth of national states. His impact on social historians trained in the United States since the 1960s was enormous, including William H. Sewell Jr. and Joan W. Scott, whose Structure and Mobility: The Men and Women of Marseilles, 1829–1970 (1985) and The Glassworkers of Carmaux (1974) directly reflected the social science ascendancy of social history's growth in the 1960s. The wider cohort included Tilly's students at the University of Michigan, such as Michael Hanagan, author of The Logic of Solidarity: Artisans and Industrial Workers in Three French Towns, 1871–1914 (1980), and Ronald Aminzade, author of Class, Politics, and Early Industrial Capitalism: A Study of Mid-Nineteenth Century Toulouse, France (1981). Another line of influence passed from Lynn Hunt, author of Revolution and Urban Politics in Provincial France: Troyes and Reims, 1786–1790 (1978), to Ted W. Margadant, author of Urban Rivalries in the French Revolution (1992), which attempts to do for the towns what Tilly had done for the countryside in The Vendée.

In the 1960s identifying with the people and learning from social science (the doubled genealogies of social history, in British marxism and Annales)were not in serious tension. Charles Tilly's The Vendée (1964) was an exciting model of archivally grounded historical sociology, connecting political allegiance to socioeconomic patterns in the French Revolution. One strand of Tilly's later work concerned capitalism and state-making, from The Formation of the NationalStates in Western Europe (1975) to Coercion, Capital, and European States,a. d. 990–1990 (1990). A cognate interest concerned demographic studies of proletarianization, in Historical Studies of Changing Fertility (1978) and in many essays. But Tilly was best known for his sociology of collective action. This required longitudinal research, with big resources, large teams, and huge machineries of quantitative production. After Strikes in France, 1830–1968 (with Edward Shorter, 1974), and The Rebellious Century, 1830–1930 (with Louise and Richard Tilly, 1975), Tilly produced The Contentious French (1986), and Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758–1834 (1995). These were quantitative histories of changing "repertoires of contention" and the rise of modern mass politics, in an argument summarized in "How Protest Modernized in France" (1972), and "Britain Creates the Social Movement" (1982). Tilly's corpus included a programmatic textbook, From Mobilization to Revolution (1978), and the macroanalytical European Revolutions, 1492–1992 (1993), rejoining collective action to capitalism and state-making.

The populist tradition: E. P. Thompson and his impact. Tilly prodigiously historicized theories of social change—as in Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons (1984). The main alternative to social science history came from E. P. Thompson, whose The Making of the English Working Class (1963) inspired several generations of social historians. His work advanced an eloquent counter-narrative to gradualist versions of British history as the triumphant march of parliamentary evolution, grounding the latter in violence, inequality, and exploitation instead: "I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the 'obsolete' handloom weaver, the 'utopian' artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity" (p. 12). The Making was also an antireductionist manifesto—attacking narrowly based economic history, overdeterministic marxism, and static theories of class. For Thompson, class was dynamic, eventuating through history—a relationship and a process, a common consciousness of capitalist exploitation and state repression, graspable through culture. Through The Making the move from labor's institutional study to social histories of working people gained huge momentum, embracing work, housing, nutrition, leisure and sport, drinking, crime, religion, magic and superstition, education, song, literature, childhood, courtship, sexuality, death, and more.

Thompson wrote his great work outside the academy, working in adult education in Leeds, as a Communist (until 1956), New Left activist, and public polemicist. He created the Centre for the Study of Social History at Warwick University in 1965, directing it until 1972, when he resigned. Beyond the networks of labor history and Past and Present, Thompson's The Making was loudly attacked. But it energized younger generations. It also inspired the reviving marxisms so central to the developing social history wave.

Thompson's impact helped two initiatives on the margins to form. One was the Social History Group at Oxford (1965–1974), including the marxist author of Outcast London (1971), Gareth Stedman Jones (1942–); the historian of Spanish anarchism, Joaquin Romero Maura (1940–); the historian of Nazism, Tim Mason (1940–1990); and especially Raphael Samuel (1934–1996), a schoolboy member of the Communist Party Historians' Group, who taught at Ruskin, the Oxford trade union college, from 1961. Samuel's annual History Workshops became a vital engine of social history, starting modestly, but soon mushrooming into an international event. The first thirteen Workshops met at Ruskin (1967–1979), before migrating around Britain. They inspired a series of pamphlets (twelve, 1970–1974) and books (over thirty, 1975–1990), a local movement, public interventions (in the debate on national curriculum, 1983–1990), and History Workshop Journal.

The second movement was women's history. Originally via tense contention with History Workshop and older mentors like Hobsbawm and Thompson, pioneers like Sheila Rowbotham (1943–) drew important support from both. Future leaders of women's history emerged from History Workshop's milieu, including Anna Davin (1940–), Sally Alexander (1943–), and Catherine Hall (1945–). Rowbotham's early works—Women, Resistance and Revolution (1972), Hidden from History (1973), Woman's Consciousness, Man's World (1973)—became markers of the future field. The first National Women's Liberation Conference (Ruskin, 1970) originated as a women's history meeting, and History Workshop 7 (1973) concerned "Women in History." These political contexts, like earlier twentieth-century moments and the Communist Party Historians' Group, shaped social history's emergence.

In the 1960s Thompson moved back in time. His social history of property crimes and the law in eighteenth-century political order, Whigs and Hunters (1975), and the work of his Warwick students in Albion's Fatal Tree (edited by Douglas Hay, 1975), explored customary culture's transformations under capitalism. Two essays, "Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism" (1967) and "The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century" (1971), appeared in Past and Present (whose board Thompson joined in 1969), and a third on "Rough Music" in Annales (1972). Two others followed in Journal of Social History (1974) and Social History (1978), plus a famous lecture on "The Sale of Wives." Gathered in Customs in Common (1991), this work transformed perceptions of transition to industrial capitalism, dismantling the industrial revolution's gross causality. Albion's Fatal Tree made crime and punishment "central to unlocking the meanings of eighteenth-century social history" (p. 13), and a host of work now confirmed this claim, signaled by three collections of essays: J. S. Cockburn (ed.), Crime in England, 1550–1800 (1977); V. A. C. Gatrell, Bruce Lenman, and Geoffrey Parker (eds.), Crime and the Law (1980); and John Brewer and John Styles (eds.), An Ungovernable People: The English and their Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1980).

Thompson's influence was international. The Making shaped North American, African, and South Asian agendas, no less than it did studies of class formation in Britain and Europe. His eighteenth-century essays had equal resonance, especially "The Moral Economy" (the object of a retrospective international conference in Birmingham, 1992). The 1970s internationalized social history through conferences, journals, and translation. Thompson, Hobsbawm, Tilly, and others joined a series of round tables on social history organized by the Maison des Sciences l'Homme, convening scholars from France, Italy, West Germany, and elsewhere.

Large areas even of the historiographies of Britain and France could not be included here. In France Maurice Agulhon explored the forms of political culture and working-class sociability in the first half of the nineteenth century, especially The Republic in the Village: The People of the Var from the French Revolution to the Second Republic (original French edition, 1970). The social history of the nineteenth-century French peasantry has been extraordinarily rich, a gold mine for the politics of the countryside. The proliferating social historiographies of West Germany in the 1970s might have been presented, likewise those in Italy, Scandinavia, and parts of eastern Europe. The historiographies of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland experienced exciting renaissance after the 1970s, and the intellectual cultures of smaller nationalities offered fertile territory for historiographical innovation.

Social history's heyday was the 1970s to late 1980s. Greater self-confidence bridled against social science leadership, and the new journals—Social History and History Workshop Journal in Britain, Radical History Review and the short-lived Marxist Perspectives (1978–1980) in the United States—reflected these tensions. The later 1970s saw several stocktaking essays—by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese (1976), Gareth Stedman Jones (1976), Lawrence Stone (1977 and 1979), Tony Judt (1979), and Geoff Eley and Keith Nield (1980). Social historians emerged from the tutelage of the social science paradigms so appealing ten years before. A new generation was claiming its institutional space, flying the banner of a restlessly aggrandizing social history. This social history was more secure in its own autonomies, impatient with the authorizing function of social science. It professed an unproblematic materialism, often inspired by a marxist revival, open to other social theories, and confident of its own pedagogy. It was never a unitary phenomenon. But some notion of social determination, conceptualized on the ground of material life, aspiring to "society as a whole," delivered a common framework. Hobsbawm's 1971 essay, "From Social History to the History of Society," much cited, translated, and reprinted, provided the characteristic argumentation.


From the later 1980s social history lost its primacy as the acknowledged source of innovation, while the "new cultural history" became the main interdisciplinary site instead. An eclectic and anthropologically oriented cultural analysis took its cue from the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926–) and early modernist Natalie Zemon Davis (1928–), as well as from Thompson. It continued via an antireductionist British marxism, exemplified by Raymond Williams, the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, and sociologist Stuart Hall (1932–). It was further extended by the reception of Michel Foucault (1926–1984), whose philosophical works The Order of Things (original French edition, 1966) and The Archaeology of Knowledge (original French edition, 1969), and highly original treatments of madhouses (1961), hospitals (1963), and prisons (1975), were systematically translated in the 1970s, as were the three volumes of his History of Sexuality (original French edition, 1976–1984), and various editions of essays and interviews. Finally, feminist theory became unavoidable for social historians in the 1980s, whereas women's history had been more easily compartmentalized and kept at bay before.

The changes may be variously tracked. Between his 1960s polemics and essays of the mid-1970s, Gareth Stedman Jones stood for a "non-empiricist" and "theoretically informed history," which was materialist in social history's common understandings of the time. His Outcast London (1971) seemed a worthy successor to its British marxist precursors. Then, in Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History, 1832–1982 (1983), he proposed a linguistic analysis that left the familiar ground of social historians behind. This was followed in 1986 by Joan W. Scott's American Historical Review article, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," reprinted in her Gender and the Politics of History (1988), which presented more elaborate poststructuralist propositions. By questioning the assumptions around which social analysis was ordered, Foucauldian "discourse" theory destabilized social history's recently acquired self-confidence. Social history became one site of epistemological uncertainty in the humanities and social sciences. Leading voices were questioning social history's underlying materialism, including the determinative coherence of the category of "the social" itself.


Histories of crime and punishment were an important barometer of changes in social history. During the 1970s, social history of crime, law, and imprisonment burgeoned in one of the most popular areas, British history ranging from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, affording an excellent handle on questions of social and political order. Important examples were the products of E. P. Thompson's time at the Warwick Center for Social History—Whigs and Hunters and Albion's Fatal Tree (both 1975)—and Michael Ignatieff's A Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution 1750–1850 (1978). Anthologies edited by J. S. Cockburn (1977); V. A. C. Gatrell, Bruce Lenman, and Geoffrey Parker (1980); and John Brewer and John Styles (1980) indicated the scale of activity. Then, from the late 1970s historians were reading Michel Foucault. The next major anthology, edited by Stanley Cohen and Andrew Scull, Social Control and the State: Historical and Comparative Essays (1983), already revealed Foucault's impact, with two essays (by Ignatieff and David Ingleby) dealing directly with his ideas. During the 1980s, work on prisons, hospitals, asylums and other places of confinement, social policy and public health; and all forms of governmentality became permeated by Foucault's arguments about power, knowledge, and "regimes of truth." Lynn Hunt's emblematic anthology on The New Cultural History (1989) marked this shift, with an essay by Patricia O'Brien on "Michel Foucault's History of Culture." By the 1990s, authors prominent in the 1970s discussions were taking a strong cultural turn, with superb results—from Peter Linebaugh's The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (1991), through V. A. C. Gatrell's The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People, 1770–1868 (1994), to Richard J. Evans's gargantuan Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany 1600–1987 (1996). Foucault was not essential to the new directions taken by these authors—for instance, an excellent sampling of German work edited by Richard J. Evans, The German Underworld: Deviants and Outcasts in German History (1988), revealed little of Foucault's explicit presence. But it became impossible to imagine the field without him.

Feminism was key to this turmoil. In social historians' earlier advocacy—from Annales and Past and Present through Hobsbawm's 1971 essay to the later 1970s—women's history played no part. When the latter's pioneering works appeared, they were consigned to a discrete subfield, conceptualized via "separate spheres" or subsumed into the history of the family, a pattern only partly broken by syntheses like Louise Tilly and Joan W. Scott's Women, Work, and Family (1978). Only the turning from women's history to gender, as the historical construction of sexual difference, made feminist work impossible to ignore. Much social history still continued unaware. Ira Katznelson and Aristide R. Zolberg (eds.), Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-Century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States (1986), was a telling example. But cumulative studies of gender and work, and gendered critiques of the welfare state, paralleled Scott's theoretical intervention, and by the 1990s social history was examining its gendered suppositions. Works by Sonya O. Rose, Limited Livelihoods: Gender and Class in Nineteenth-Century England (1992), Anna Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class (1995), and Kathleen Canning, Languages of Labor and Gender: FemaleFactory Work in Germany, 1850–1914 (1996), set a new standard in this respect, reinforced by the new journals—not just History Workshop Journal, Social History, and Radical History Review, but also those in women's studies, including Feminist Studies (1972–), Signs (1975–), Feminist Review (1979–), and the newer Gender and History (1989–), Journal of Women's History (1989–), and Journal of the History of Sexuality (1990–).

By 1990 some historians were speaking the language of "cultural constructionism." The impact of deconstructive literary theory and British cultural studies was also felt, mediated extensively by feminism. As "race" pervaded social anxieties and political exchange, it also joined gender as a central category of historical analysis, strengthened by postcolonial studies. Empire returned to the domestic history of European metropolitan societies, initially via anthropology, literary criticism, and cultural studies, exemplified in the work of Ann Stoler, Ann McClintock, or Paul Gilroy. Historians gradually responded in kind, mainly by route of gender. Catherine Hall's work, moving from the classically social-historical Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (with Leonore Davidoff, 1987) to more recent essays on the "racing" of empire, was especially important. In the future, works like Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The 'Manly Englishman' and the 'Effeminate Bengali' in the Late Nineteenth Century (1995), Antionette Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865–1915 (1994), and Laura Tabili, We Ask for British Justice: Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain (1994), can only increase.

Not all such works took the "linguistic turn" or disavowed a social analytic. But social history was now enhanced by attention to language and cultural histories of representation. The result was a mobile "culturalism," not indifferent to social analysis or contextualizing, but far more drawn to the domain of meaning than before. This eased a rapprochement with intellectual history. It pulled history toward literary theory, linguistic analysis, history of art, studies of film and other visual media, reflexive anthropology, and theories of cultural representation. This threw open the agenda of possible histories. Another range of new journals made the point, all interdisciplinary (or perhaps a-disciplinary), and all containing historical work, whether the authors were formally historians or not—Critical Inquiry (1974–), Social Text (1979–), Representations (1983–), Cultural Critique (1985–), Cultural Studies (1987–), New Formations (1987–). An important programmatic volume was edited by Lynn Hunt, The New Cultural History (1989).

Hunt herself migrated from a previous identity. Having begun as a Tilly-influenced urban historian of the French Revolution, she emerged with the wholly culturalist Family Romance of the French Revolution (1992), and two related anthologies, Eroticism and the Body Politic (1991) and The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800 (1993). This became a familiar pattern, contrasting W. H. Sewell's Work and Revolution (1980) to his Structure and Mobility: The Men and Women of Marseilles, 1820–1870 (1985, but begun many years before), and Scott's Gender and the Politics of History (1988) to her Glassworkers of Carmaux (1974). Social histories addressed in Judith R. Walkowitz's Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State (1980), shaped by the History Workshop Journal milieu, were now revisited in her City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (1992), using the new post-Foucauldian and post-structuralist analytic.

The pattern was repeated many times. In German history feminism was again key, especially for work on Nazism, where studies of societal racialization became overdetermined by gender-historical perspectives, beginning with the benchmark volume, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, edited by Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossman, and Marion Kaplan, (1984), and continuing through Gisela Bock's Zwangssterilisation im Nationalsozialismus: Studien zur Rassenpolitik und Frauenpolitik (1986). In the 1990s gender history, explicitly uniting social and cultural perspectives, transformed the German field. Poststructuralist perspectives also entered discussions of the Holocaust via Saul Friedländer (ed.), Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the "Final Solution" (1992), just as the social histories of Nazi genocide were being intensively addressed. In the field at large, Rudy Koshar's Germany's Transient Pasts: Preservation and National Memory in the Twentieth Century (1998) brilliantly demonstrated the value of a poststructuralist analytic, enriching social history rather than superseding it—all the more eloquently given Koshar's earlier Social Life, Local Politics, and Nazism: Marburg, 1880–1935 (1986), conceived under Charles Tilly's direction.

These departures scarcely lacked controversy, particularly in labor history, with demographic history the main materialist redoubt. In German history Canning's work (combining gender theory with a critical poststructuralist approach) set the pace. In French history, Sewell and Scott shaped discussion, valuably mapped in Lenard R. Berlanstein's anthology, Rethinking Labor History: Essays on Discourse and Class Analysis (1993), and further stimulated by Jacques Rancière's The Nights of Labor: The Worker's Dream in Nineteenth-Century France (original French edition, 1981). In British history debates were fierce, as prominent figures moved polemically away from social history altogether. Patrick Joyce traveled from Work, Society, and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Later Victorian England (1980), through the broadened culturalism of Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class, 1848–1914 (1991), to a theoretically rationalized intellectual history in Democratic Subjects: The Self and the Social in Nineteenth-Century England (1994), a trajectory also followed by Stedman Jones. Other new work, like Robert Gray's The Factory Question and Industrial England, 1830–1860 (1996), Anna Clark's Struggle for the Breeches (1995), or Sonya Rose's Limited Livelihoods (1992), negotiated the tensions between classical and poststructuralist approaches more creatively.


Women's history moved to the center of the most innovative work in German history during the 1980s, mirroring social history's main trends. Beginning with institutional studies of early feminism in books by Richard J. Evans (1976 and 1979) and Jean H. Quataert (1979), research moved quickly to women's social experience in work, the family, public health, charity, and so on. Ute Frevert delivered the first general account, Women in German History: From Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation (original German edition, 1986), while anthologies edited by Karin Hausen (1983), John C. Fout (1984), Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres and Mary Jo Maynes (1986), and Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossmann, and Marion Kaplan (1984) surveyed the emerging activity. The last of these, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, proved especially influential, building on early essays from 1976 by Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz ("Beyond Kinder, Küche, Kirche: Weimar Women in Politics and Work") and Tim Mason ("Women in Nazi Germany"). Claudia Koonz's Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (1987) was a major intervention on the Third Reich, joining Gisela Bock's Zwangssterilisation im Nationalsozialismus: Studien zur Rassenpolitik und Frauenpolitik (1986), and the earlier works by Dörte Winkler, Frauenarbeit im "Dritten Reich" (1977), and Jill Stephenson, Women in Nazi Society (1975) and The Nazi Organisation of Women (1981). Important books followed on Nazi marital policies (Gabriele Czarnowski, 1991), the Bund Deutscher Mädel (Dagmar Reese, 1989), Nazi treatment of lesbianism (Claudia Schoppmann, 1991), women's work (Carola Sachse, 1987 and 1990), and Nazi family policy (Lisa Pine, 1997). Atina Grossmann contributed field-defining essays on the "new woman" in the Weimar Republic and a study of the movement for birth control and abortion reform, Reforming Sex (1995), joining Cornelie Usborne's The Politics of the Body in Weimar Germany: Women's Reproductive Rights and Duties (1992). In earlier periods, Isabel V. Hull's Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, 1700–1815 (1996), and Dagmar Herzog's Intimacy and Exclusion: Religious Politics in Pre-Revolutionary Baden (1996) also shifted the German field's overall agenda, as did Kathleen Canning's Languages of Labor and Gender: Female Factory Work in Germany, 1850–1914 (1996) for the later nineteenth century.

This new cultural history picked up the threads from Febvre and Bloch in Annales's founding years. Lynn Hunt's new interest, "in the ways that people collectively imagine—that is, think unconsciously about—the operation of power, and the ways in which this imagination shapes and is in turn shaped by political and social processes" (Family Romance, p. 8), recalled the history of mentalité. Some Annalistes themselves took a cultural turn. In 1975 Le Roy Ladurie published Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, a study of medieval heresy, followed by Carnival in Romans (original French edition, 1979), exchanging the longue durée's epochal sweep for microhistorical snapshots of an intense event. A relative outsider to Annales, Michel Vovelle (1933–), in Ideologies and Mentalities (original French edition, 1982), took a more extensive approach, freeing cultural history from population's and the economy's structural hold and giving it a broader anthropological and psychological read. Jacques Le Goff (1924–), director of the École from 1972 to 1977, explored the perceptions and interior logics of the medieval world view, includingTime, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages (original French edition, 1977) and The Birth of Purgatory (original French edition, 1981). Among the next generation, Roger Chartier's (1945–) work on print cultures broadened into The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (original French edition, 1990) and the more general Cultural History: Between Practices and Representations (1988).


Oral history became a vital tool of the social historian, drawing on work by the Africanist Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology (1965), community history projects, and a variety of literary and folklorist traditions, institutionalized via the British-based journal Oral History (1973–). The unquestioned pioneer was a nonacademic historian, George Ewart Evans (1909–1987), whose democratic commitment to the history of "ordinary people" produced a remarkable series of books, from Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay (1956) to Spoken History (1987). Paul Thompson (1935–) shaped oral history as an international field, with an early handbook, The Voice of the Past: Oral History (1978), and the first international conference (Essex University, 1979), editing the proceedings as Our Common History: The Transformation of Europe (1982). In the 1980s history workshop movements in Britain and West Germany inspired a boom of popular and scholarly activity, as did the Swedish writer Sven Lindqvist's Dig Where You Stand (1978), which built on Scandinavian traditions of ethnology going back to the 1930s. Lutz Niethammer pioneered oral history in West Germany, presiding over studies of popular experience in the Ruhr between Nazism and the 1960s (1986) and in the GDR (1991), and editing the basic handbook, Lebenserfahrung und kollektives Gedächtnis. Die Praxis der Oral History (1980). In Italy oral history also began outside the academy (in the work of Gianni Bosio, Danilo Montaldi, Cesare Bermani, Rocco Scotellaro) in popular politics. In Luisa Passerini's, Fascism in Popular Memory: The Cultural Experience of the Turin Working Class (original Italian edition, 1984), and Alessandro Portelli's two volumes, The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History (1991) and The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (1997), Italian work addressed the dialectics of memory and forgetting. Here oral history connected to a huge preoccupation of the 1990s with history and memory, best approached via Patrick Hutton, History as an Art of Memory (1993), and the journal History and Memory (1989–).

Yet Annales lost its distinctive place. For the 1970s the history of mentalité was a panacea for many social historians elsewhere. It seemed an alternative to high-cultural and canonical intellectual history, promising access to popular and everyday cultures, and inviting quantitative and anthropological methods. Above all, it was moved by the drive for "total history." But while the conference that launched Review (1978) was still celebratory, a few years later some searching critiques appeared—in Past and Present (Stuart Clark, 1983), American Historical Review (Samuel Kinser, 1981), Social History (Michael Gismondi, 1985), History and Theory (Patrick Hutton, 1981), and Journal of Modern History (in debates by Chartier, Robert Darnton, Dominick LaCapra, and James Fernandez, 1985–1988). These exposed the fuzzy determinisms in Braudel's and Le Roy Ladurie's work. While none of the Annales achievements were gainsaid, their primacy shrank back into a wider international discussion. Historians' treatments of culture moved on, either beyond the old early modern heartland, or to the new ground of linguistic history and cultural studies, where the dynamism came from feminists, popular culture specialists, and intellectual historians, unmoved by the Annales paradigm, or directly critical of it. Literary texts, such as Peter Stallybrass and Allon White's The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (1986), an imaginative use of the Soviet cultural theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, became more influential. While Chartier's influence continued to grow, the triumphal codification of the Annales achievement in La Nouvelle Histoire (1978), edited by Chartier with Le Goff and Jacques Revel, started to resemble an epitaph.


West Germany in the 1980s was a fascinating case of creative acceleration. The historiographical deficits perpetrated by Nazism were compensated by adopting U.S. social science in the 1970s—by Jürgen Kocka and Hans Ulrich Wehler for the nineteenth century, Hans Mommsen (1930–) and Martin Broszat (1926–1989) for the twentieth, eclipsing the influence of Werner Conze, who had protected a place for social history in the earlier time. This social science history institutionalized a high level of methodological and theoretical sophistication, for which Wehler's multivolume Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte (1987, 1995) was a continuing monument. But a new movement emerged to the left, unhappy with macrostructural analysis, and urging a more interpretive approach to ordinary people's lives instead. By exploring social history in its subjective and experiential dimensions, the elusive connections between politics and culture could be concretely addressed. The "insides" of the "structures, processes, and patterns" of social analysis could be found. This "history from below" entailed "decentralizing" the approach by carefully constructed historical "miniatures" ("microhistory"). It involved a critique of the optimistic teleologies of modernization driving the social science approach. This new movement took the name Alltagsgeschichte (history of everyday life). Its main architects were Alf Lüdtke (1943–), Hans Medick (1939–), and Lutz Niethammer (1939–).

Alltagsgeschichte drew from the British marxist and Annales traditions via round tables in Göttingen and Paris in 1978–1982, which produced two volumes, Robert Berdahl et al., Klassen und Kultur: Sozialanthropologische Perspektiven in der Geschichtsschreibung (1982), and Hans Medick and David Warren Sabean (eds.), Interest and Emotion: Essays on the Study of Family and Kinship (1984). Pierre Bourdieu, the German philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885–1977), E. P. Thompson, and British anthropology were all influences. The turn to "ethnological ways of knowing" was a common theme. These perspectives were opposed by social science historians, confining Alltagsgeschichte to the margins of the West German profession. Like social history's other innovations, it drew sustenance from a political movement, coinciding with the peace movement and the Greens, based in public sector pedagogies in museums, exhibitions, schools, adult education, city cultural offices, local publishing, and self-organized local research. A history workshop movement ("barefoot historians") was inspired by its British precursor, stressing oral history, popular memory, and public issues of dealing with the Nazi past. By 1990 the height had passed, but two new journals were launched, WerkstattGeschichte (1992–) and Historische Anthropologie. Kultur, Gesellschaft, Alltag (1993–), now rivaling Geschichte und Gesellschaft as a site of creative social-historical work.

Alltagsgeschichte took various emphases. One was early modern, in the work of Medick and David Sabean (1939–). Medick worked first on early modern political thought, but retooled for a village study of protoindustrialization, talking with the Cambridge Population Group and social anthropologists, E. P. Thompson, Annalistes, and others. His Weben und Überleben in Laichingen 1650–1900. Lokalgeschichte als allgemeine Geschichte (1996), was conceived as a "total history," combining approaches too often kept apart—quantitative and qualitative, structural history and anthropologies of meaning, history of the family and history of politics, the study of the case (microhistory) and analysis of societal processes of change. The program was laid out in Kriedte, Medick, and Schlumbohm, Industrialization Before Industrialization (1977). Sabean's companion study, Property, Production, and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700–1870 (1990), was a similar tour de force. Superficially, these works emulated the longitudinal community study of Franco-British demography. But the interpretive ethnographies made the difference, exemplified in Sabean's earlier Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany (1984). A key text was Medick's article " 'Missionaries in the Rowboat'? Ethnological Ways of Knowing as a Challenge to Social History" (1984), now reprinted several times.

Alf Lüdtke also worked within local parameters of quotidian life, moving from the practices of early nineteenth-century state violence (Police and State in 19th Century Prussia, [original German edition, 1982]) to the ambiguities of working-class culture in its everyday expressions, from Kaiserreich to the German Democratic Republic (GDR). In Eigen-Sinn. Fabrikalltag, Arbeitererfahrungen und Politik vom Kaiserreich bis in den Faschismus (1993), Lüdtke pursued the ambivalencies of working-class survival under successive political regimes, through all the modalities of recognition, self-assertiveness, adjustment, and conformity. Lutz Niethammer moved from studies of denazification after 1945, through the social history of housing before 1914, to a collective project on popular experience in the Ruhr, the three-volume Lebensgeschichte und Sozialskultur im Ruhrgebiet 1930 bis 1960 (1983–1985), based partly on oral history. This was followed by a similar study of industrial life in the GDR (with Alexander von Plato and Dorothee Wierling), Dievolkseigene Erfahrung. Eine Archäologie des Lebens in der Industrieprovinz der DDR (1991), conducted in the final years of Communist rule. Alltagsgeschichte was anthologized in Alf Lüdtke (ed.), The History of Everyday Life: Reconstructing Historical Experience and Ways of Life (1995). Among monographs, Thomas Lindenberger's Strassenpolitik: Zur Sozialgeschichte der öffentlichen Ordnung in Berlin 1900 bis 1914 (1995) especially stood out.


As the year 2000 approached, social history had acquired impressive diversity. It had moved from the pioneering qualities of the 1960s, through a period of exuberant growth and aspiring hegemony, to uncertainty and flux in the 1980s, and finally to the eclectic indeterminacy of the 1990s and later. For a while, social historians threatened to separate into camps, as convinced materialists and structuralists faced culturalists and "linguistic turners" across a hardening polemical divide. Such theoretical and epistemological polarities were repeated across the humanities and social sciences, with varying connections to wider political debates. By the later 1990s, however, much of the passion had cooled.

All the forms of work established during the 1960s and 1970s continued in great profusion, from the technical specialisms of family and population history, to the social histories of class formation, and all the subfields described above, plus others barely mentioned, like the social history of religion, or the growth area of consumption. The huge proliferation of women's history, and its rethinking via gender, stimulated many creative departures, not least in histories of masculinity and histories of the body. Other fields emerged more prominently for concentrated cross-national research, including most notably social histories of the bourgeoisie.


Availability of local records (parish registers and their equivalents) and sophisticated demographic methods (like family reconstitution and census analysis) made village studies the classic setting for historical demography. While technically sophisticated, the resulting work could be indifferent to specificities of culture and place, encouraging much potential polarization between social science historians and "qualitative" ones. Social historians at the Max Planck Institute for History in Göttingen used the framework of protoindustrialization to transcend this division, beginning with Peter Kriedte, Hans Medick, and Jürgen Sclumbohm, Industrialization Before Industrialization (1977). David Sabean complemented his intensely technical Property, Production, and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700–1870 (1990) with the imaginatively culturalist Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany (1984), a richness also achieved by Medick in his companion study of Laichingen (1996) and the associated essays. Likewise, Thomas Sokoll's Household and Family among the Poor: The Case of Two Essex Communities in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (1993) was accompanied by advocacy of historical anthropology, as in his essay for Thomas Mergel and Thomas Welskopp (eds.), Geschichte zwischen Kultur und Gesellschaft: Beiträge zur Theoriedebatte (1997). Annales treated social and cultural analysis as discrete projects, whether in Le Roy Ladurie's books, Montaillou (1975) and Carnival in Romans (1979), as against the Peasants of Langedoc (1966), or in Braudel's schematic separation of his three levels. British early modern studies more successfully integrated the two, as in Keith Wrightson and David Levine, Poverty and Piety in an English Village: Terling, 1525–1700 (1979); Keith Wrightson, The Making of an Industrial Society: Whickham, 1560–1765 (1991); and Barry Reay, Microhistories: Demography, Society and Culture in Rural England, 1800–1930 (1996). The journal Continuity and Change: A Journal of Social Structure, Law and Demography in Past Societies (1986–) encouraged this dialogue across "quantitative and qualitative" work.

What disappeared, or had at least gone into recession, was the totalizing ambition—writing the history of whole societies in some integral and holistic way. Part of this was still alive. All phenomena (a policy, an institution, an ideology, an event) might still be placed in social context, or read for their social meanings. But the stronger view, subjecting all facets of human existence to social determinations, was now harder to maintain. "Society," as a confident materialist projection of social totality, had become much harder to find. Coherence was no longer derived as easily from the economy, or from the functional needs of the social system and its central values (or from some other ordering principle, like the mode of production and its social relations), because the antireductionist pressure of contemporary social and cultural theory had ruled this out. This was very empowering. As the hold of the economy became loosened, and with it the determinative power of the social structure and its causal claims, the imaginative and epistemological space for other kinds of analysis grew. The rich multiplication of new cultural histories was the result.

But there were also costs. The founding inspiration for much social history was a series of grand debates concerning the general crisis of the seventeenth century, the nature of revolutions, the connection between popular revolts and early modern state formation, the rise of absolutism, and so on. For a while, this impetus carried over. In the mid-1970s, Robert Brenner's major article in Past and Present (1976) provoked a wide-ranging debate over agrarian class structure and the origins of capitalism. Rodney Hilton reedited the debate between Maurice Dobb, Paul Sweezy, and others during the 1950s over The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (1976). Perry Anderson published his two volumes, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State (both 1974). Immanuel Wallerstein (a self-avowed Braudelian) published the first volume of The Modern World-System (1974). Charles Tilly edited The Formation of National States in Western Europe (1975). Combinations of modernization theory and neo-Braudelian vision inspired other attempts to capture the structural transition to the modern world, as in the works of Keith Thomas (1933–), Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (1971) and Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England, 1500–1800 (1983).


The Soviet field revealed social history's development in a microcosm. In Britain Edward Hallett Carr (1892–1982) provided an imposing framework with his multivolume History of Soviet Russia (1954–1978), while at Birmingham University Robert W. Davies (1925–) pioneered socioeconomic history of the Stalin years. Moshe Lewin (1921–) reached Birmingham from Vilna via the USSR, Israel, and Paris (where he studied with Braudel), moving later to the United States, with a string of influential books, from Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization (1966) to The Making of the Soviet System (1985). Another ex-citizen of Vilna, Teodor Shanin, contributed The Awkward Class: Political Sociology of Peasantry in a Developing Society, Russia 1910–1925 (1972). In the United States Leopold Haimson, author of a key two-part article, "The Problem of Social Stability in Urban Russia, 1905–1917" (1964–1965), inspired historians of the working class, who by the 1980s had energized the field. Reginald E. Zelnik mapped early industrialization through Labor and Society in Tsarist Russia: The Factory Workers of St. Petersburg, 1855–1870 (1971) and Law and Disorder on the Narova River: The Kreenholm Strike of 1872 (1995). William G. Rosenberg clarified 1917 itself in Strikes and Revolution in Russia, 1917 (1989), with Diane P. Koenker. Ronald Grigor Suny shaped the general agenda with his "Toward a Social History of the October Revolution" (1983). A fourth figure, Sheila Fitzpatrick, took a more social science approach to the Stalin period. The advance of society-centered approaches against the Soviet field's traditional state-centered emphasis threatened to obscure questions of Stalinist rule, but Lewin, Rosenberg, Suny, and others kept them in view. Questions of political order were addressed in Fitzpatrick's Everyday Stalinism. Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (1999); those of class formation in Lewis Siegelbaum and Ronald Grigor Suny's conference volume, Making Workers Soviet: Power, Class, and Identity (1994); and Soviet societal transformation in Stephen Kotkin's Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (1995).

Among social historians (by contrast with historical sociologists), this ambition seemed to have gone. Hobsbawm—with his four Age volumes and Nations and Nationalism since 1870 (1990)—remained an exception. In that sense, the power of forward motion, so energizing in the 1960s and 1970s, borne by what seemed the unlimited capacity of social explanation, had certainly departed. That amorphously aggrandizing desire for primacy in the discipline was replaced by a more eclectic repertoire of approaches and themes, for which the new cultural history and its very different kinds of interdisciplinarity became the key. The boundaries between different kinds of history became extraordinarily more blurred. Many social historians continued to reproduce the distinctive (and legitimate) autonomies of their work, methodologically and topically. But many others were moving increasingly freely across the old distinctions of the social, the cultural, the political, the intellectual, and so on, allowing new hybridities to arise. The openness in these directions was the greatest single change in the stance of social historians in the 1980s and 1990s, and showed every sign of continuing. A continued willingness to participate in the conditions of its own disappearance may be the greatest mark of social history's success.


After Gareth Stedman Jones's Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History, 1832–1982 (1983) and Joan Scott's poststructuralist challenge in Gender and the Politics of History (1988), social historians experienced a crisis of direction. Stedman Jones and Scott were identified with the breakthrough to social history in the 1960s and 1970s, including a marxist stress on the axiomatic priority of social explanation, but they now advocated forms of linguistic analysis and the primacy of discourse, which denied the former materialism. Debates occurred in many of the leading journals, including American Historical Review (1987, 1989), Journal of Modern History (1985–1988), International Labor and Working Class History (1987), Past and Present (1991–1992), and Social History (1992–1996), through which "postmodernism" became a catchall term for a variety of culturalist influences, from Foucault, poststructuralism, and literary deconstruction to cultural studies, postcolonialism, and forms of feminist theory. Many social historians accused postmodernists of apostacy—of abandoning social history's calling, or retreating into playfulness, and even rejecting the historian's normal rules of evidence. Self-described postmodernists such as Patrick Joyce accused their critics of clinging to obsolete concepts and approaches, especially materialist conceptions of class. For a while debates became extremely embittered, and in western Europe historians dismissed the linguistic turn as a specifically U.S. preoccupation. However, the more extreme polemics, such as Bryan D. Palmer's Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History (1990), seemed to subside, leaving imaginative combinations of social and cultural history in place, including Kathleen Canning's Languages of Labor and Gender: Female Factory Work in Germany, 1850–1914 (1996), Rudy Koshar's Germany's Transient Pasts: Preservation and National Memory in the Twentieth Century (1998), and Leora Auslander's Taste and Power: Furnishing Modern France (1996). The debates were presented in Keith Jenkins (ed.), The Postmodern History Reader (1997), and a journal, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice (1997–). Robert F. Berkhofer Jr.'s sympathetic exegesis, Beyond the Great Story: History as Text and Discourse (1995), contrasted poignantly with his earlier A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis (1969), a manifesto for social science perspectives at the inception of social history's contemporary emergence.

See also other articles in this section.



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Iggers, Georg G. New Directions in European Historiography. Middletown, Conn., 1975.

Iggers, Georg G., ed. The Social History of Politics: Critical Perspectives in West German Historical Writing since 1945. New York, 1986.

Jones, Gareth Stedman. "History: The Poverty of Empiricism." In Ideology in Social Science: Readings in Critical Social Theory. Edited by Robin Blackburn. London, 1972. Pages 96–115.

Lloyd, Christopher. Explanation in Social History. Oxford, 1986.

McLennan, Gregor. Marxism and the Methodologies of History. London, 1981.

Melman, Billie. "Gender, History and Memory: The Invention of Women's Past in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries." History and Memory 5 (1993): 5–41.

Perkin, Harold J. "Social History." In Approaches to History: A Symposium. Edited by H. P. R. Finberg. London, 1962. Pages 51–82.

Sutton, David. "Radical Liberalism, Fabianism, and Social History." In Making Histories: Studies in History-Writing and Politics. Edited by Richard Johnson, Gregor McLennan, Bill Schwarz, and David Sutton. London, 1982. Pages 15–43.

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Zunz, Olivier, ed. Reliving the Past: The Worlds of Social History. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1985.

The Annales Paradigm

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Burke, Peter. The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School, 1929–1989. Stanford, Calif., 1990.

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Kinser, Samuel. "Annaliste Paradigm? The Geohistorical Structure of Fernand Braudel." American Historical Review 86 (February 1981): 63–105.

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Vilar, Pierre. "Marxist History, a History in the Making: Towards a Dialogue with Althusser." New Left Review 80 (July-August 1973): 65–106.

Marxist Historiography

Cobb, Richard. "Georges Lefebvre." In his A Second Identity: Essays on France and French History. Oxford, 1969. Pages 84–100.

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Social Science History

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Proliferation and Growth

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Evans, Neil. "Writing the Social History of Modern Wales: Approaches, Achievements and Problems." Social History 17 (October 1992): 479–492.

Hendrick, Harry. "The History of Childhood and Youth." Social History 9 (January 1984): 87–96.

Johansen, Hans. "Trends in Modern and Early Modern Social History Writing in Denmark after 1970." Social History 8 (October 1983): 375–381.

Price, Richard. "The Labour Process and Labour History," and Patrick Joyce, "Labour, Capital, and Compromise: A Response to Richard Price." Social History 8 (January 1983): 57–75; and 9 (January 1984): 67–76. Further exchange between Price and Joyce can be found in Social History 9 (May 1984): 217–231.

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Women, Men, and Gender

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The Cultural Turn

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Appleby, Joyce, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob. Telling the Truth about History. New York, 1994.

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Canning, Kathleen. "Feminist Theory after the Linguistic Turn: Historicizing Discourse and Experience." Signs 19 (1994): 368–404.

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The Generations of Social History

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