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I. The Rhetoric of HistoryJ. H. Hexter


II. African HistoriographyK. O. Dike and J. F. A. Ahayi


III. Chinese HistoriographyArthur F. Wright


IV. Islamic HistoriographyFranz Rosenthal


V. Japanese HistoriographyJohn Whitney Hall


VI. South and Southeast Asian HistoriographyWang Gungwu


The articles under this heading deal with the problems and traditions of history writing. A de tailed guide to related articles will be found underHistory. For discussions of historians who have contributed to the development of historiography, see the biographies ofActon; Beard; Bloch; BÜcher; Burckhardt; Croce; Dllthey; Febvre; Fustel de Coulanges; Glerke; HalÉvy; Heckscher; Hlntze; Huizinga; Ibn Khaldūn; KoyrÉ; Lamprecht; Macaulay; Maine; Maitland; Marx; Mcllwain; Meinecke; Namier; Plrenne; Ranke; Robinson; Sarton; Sombart; Spencer; Spengler; Tawney; Tocqueville; Toynbee; Treitschke; Troeltsch; Turner; Vico; Weber, Max.


In this article the word “historiography” will be taken to mean the craft of writing history and/or the yield of such writing considered in its rhetorical aspect. The term “history” will be used to describe the study of the past as a systematic discipline. It will not be used to refer to the past as such. Unnecessary ambiguities created by using the term “history” to identify both the past and the systematic study of it have occasionally led to gratuitous confusion. The terms “historiography,” “the rhetoric of history,” and “history writing” will be used as synonyms. Historiography is different from the collection of historical evidence, the editing of historical sources, the exercise of historical thought and imagination, the criticism of historical writing, and the philosophy of history, but it is related to all of them and overlaps some of them. It is also different from the history of history writing. This distinction must be kept in mind because in recent decades the term “historiography” has increasingly been used to mean the history of history writing—in effect, a branch of intellectual history or a subbranch of the sociology of knowledge. It will not be used in that sense here.

Perhaps the drift of the term “historiography” from its initial moorings of meaning resulted from the neglect of systematic study of the rhetoric of history and from the view, usually implicit rather than explicit, that that rhetoric is not specific to history, or not specific enough to warrant systematic study; for if the rhetoric of history is generic rather than specific, then historiography so defined has no separate identity and merges into general rhetoric. Although many historians have said wise and witty things about the writing of history, none has focused more than intermittent attention on the problems it raises. The casualness with which historians have investigated the structure of historiography, compared with the care and exacting scrutiny to which they subject the nature of data, evidence, and inference in works of history, indicates that in their role as critics they regard the latter as the historians’ legitimate central preoccupation and the former as a secondary and independent matter in which excellence, although desirable, is dispensable and without effect on the validity of the finished work.

To test this implied judgment—which is very hard to reconcile with the care and pains which many of the best historians lavish on their own history writing—this article will attempt an analysis of historiography.

The models of history writing that will be dealt with will be those provided in recent times by the better historians in their better moments. “In recent times” because, although the writing of history is old, the general professional commitment of historians always to write it with the maximum verisimilitude to the past is relatively new— scarcely 150 years old. The focus will be on “the better historians in their better moments” because they should and often do set the standards at which the profession aims. It is the practice of these historians when actually writing history, not their explicit theoretical or quasi-philosophical views, that is of concern here; for it is in their practice of historiography rather than in peripheral excursions into the problems of methodology that they reveal their effective commitments. Although much that follows will apply to all historiography, the article is only incidentally concerned with historical writings intended to codify knowledge of history already available, such as textbooks; primarily it is focused on history writing aimed at extending the bounds of historical knowledge. Since historiography communicates what the historian knows or thinks he knows, a consideration of the historian’s way of writing that does not relate it to his way of knowing is doomed to triviality. Finally, as an overarching principle this article will seek to relate the rhetoric of history to the rhetoric of the mathematizing natural sciences, taking physics and chemistry as models, in order to make clear the similarities of historiography to these other ways in which men seek to communicate what they think they know, and its differences from them.

The language of historians

The most cursory comparison of any professional journal of history with an issue of the Physical Review will carry the conviction that the rhetoric of history differs grossly from that of physics. Ideally the vocabulary of physics is exact and denotative, and its syntax is mathematical, expressing quantitative relations between entities defined with the minimum ambiguity possible, given the current state of knowledge of the science. Now a part of the distinctive vocabulary of historiography is also denotative and unambiguous—the terms “pipe roll” or “writ of trespass” no less so, for example, than the term “specific gravity,” although most if not all of the vocabulary of history that is at once distinctive and unambiguous is likely to refer to universes more constricted in time and space or less homogeneous and uniform than the ones the vocabulary of physics refers to. Moreover, historians often use quantitative data: grain yields per acre, rates of population growth, average rainfall; and sometimes they employ the syntax of mathematics to determine such matters as median income, ratio of cargo weight to number of sailors, range of probable error in equating number of manors owned with gross income from land. Thus, they occasionally mathematize, they often quantify and enumerate, and part of their vocabulary is wholly denotative. When operating in a sector of history writing where they deem rhetorical devices of this sort alone to be appropriate, they assimilate the form of their vocabulary very closely to that of the natural sciences and exercise a like care to decontaminate it of connotative and evocative overtones. Yet very few historians consistently write history this way, and scarcely any of that very few would insist that all history ought to aim at the rhetoric of the natural sciences as an ideal goal; they do not seek to make the rhetorical form which they find convenient into a prescriptive rule for the entire profession, as they would be obligated to do if they thought that only with such a rhetoric could one come close to an account of things past that approaches maximum verisimilitude.

In this respect historians differ notably from many social scientists. Both historians and social scientists claim, as natural scientists do, that by their method of investigation and formulation appropriately applied, they are able to produce cumulative increments to men’s knowledge. Both historians and social scientists acknowledge that the form of their rhetoric is not always coincident with that of the natural sciences. But since most social scientists take the rhetoric of the natural sciences as their goal and ideal, they make a major intellectual effort to assimilate their way of writing to that of the natural sciences. In this matter they regard any nonconformity on their part as a deformity, to be either overcome or lamented. In practice, historians rarely see historiographic problems in this light. Far from always seeking the forms of language which will enable them to make historiography into the closest possible replica of the language of the natural sciences, they choose —often unself-consciously, but sometimes well aware of what they are doing—to write in a way that the rhetoric of the sciences forecloses. They deliberately choose a word or a phrase that is imprecise and may turn out to be ambiguous, because of its rich aura of connotation. Without compunction they sacrifice exactness for evocative force. Since the only common purpose to which historians are bound by their calling to commit themselves is to advance understanding of the past, the only possible justification for such a sacrifice is that it serves to increase knowledge of the past, that sometimes an evocative rhetoric is the best means a historian has for formulating and communicating what he knows. Whether or not the historians who in practice follow this rhetorical strategy are fully aware of it, the implication of this strategy is very radical. It entails the claim that historians can produce cumulative increments of knowledge without consistent resort to the rhetoric which scientists have found indispensable for formulating and communicating what they know. Positively it implies that for communicating what the historian knows, a rhetoric more like that employed in the fictive arts than like that employed in the sciences is not only permissible but on occasion indispensable.

Knowing and communicating

To analyze historiography, we must first determine its place in the general process of knowing and communicating. In order to identify and comprehend this general process, we will start with a concrete proposition: Willie Mays knows baseball. To deny this proposition is to fly in the face of the unanimous and considered judgment of several million people who have seen Mays play ball. Alternatively, it is to restrict the meaning of the term “know” so drastically as to impede the flow of discourse and snarl up a channel of communication. For a man who can convince some five million observers out of five million, and his employers to the tune of a salary of $125,000 per year, that he knows has come as close to ironclad demonstration as one can get in matters involving human judgment. To generate this conviction, Mays employs the rhetoric of action, the most common and universal method of demonstrating that one knows. (The author realizes that he is rather stretching the common sense of the term “rhetoric” in the present context.) The adequacy of such demonstration is measured by consistent appropriateness of visible (or perceivable) response. Briefly, Willie Mays shows that he knows by what he does. While he demonstrates almost perfectly that he knows, for two reasons he would have great difficulty in saying how he knows what he knows. (1) Since much of what he knows lies in the area of action, he probably knows no way of putting it into words. (2) Much of what he knows, he knows from long experience, and although some of what he knows in this way can be rendered accessible in verbal form, and is known by others in that form, that is not in fact how he knows it. If we went further and insisted that he so exactly communicate in words what he knows that others could test its validity by replication, we would clearly be asking the impossible, because he does not know what he knows with some abstraction from himself called his discursive intellect but with his whole person; and in every game he plays, he demonstrates its validity, not by verbal or mathematical formulation but by the unique and unreplicable perfection of his response.

In one area of human knowing, investigation in the natural sciences, however, formal convention has established as a minimal evidence of knowing the ability to state the results in a wholly denotative rhetoric of verbal signs; all consistently appropriate responses are required ultimately to assume this form. This convention has been adopted because scientists set a very high value on generalizability of statement, replicability of experiment, and logical entailment as tests of knowing; and the rhetoric they have chosen enforces entailment and makes generalization and replication possible with maximum efficiency and certainty. Scientists have no doubt adopted this particular rhetorical stratagem because they have found it very useful for eliciting and testing answers to the kinds of questions they habitually ask. Correlatively, however, it prevents them, as scientists, from asking questions that are recalcitrant to formulation in the rhetoric they have chosen, and a fortiori from answering such questions. As a result of this set of circumstances, in the sciences it is by definition meaningless to say that one knows or understands a result, a law, or a hypothesis but cannot state or communicate what one thus claims to understand. If I cannot state the binomial theorem, or the law of inverse squares, or the valence rule, I do not know it, and any claim to the contrary is simply nonsense. In effect, the strategy of the sciences in the codification of their results is to reduce to a minimum in practice and to nothing in theory the gap between cognition and written communication.

The range of knowing, then, extends from what Willie Mays knows about baseball, which we would accept as demonstrated whether or not Mays can put together a single coherent sentence on the subject, to what a physicist knows about the results of investigations in physics, which he can demonstrate only with a denotative vocabulary and a mathematical syntax. The common factor is the capacity of each to render a consistently appropriate response; the difference lies in the nature of the response that is deemed appropriate; and the criterion of appropriateness is efficacy in encompassing the purpose of the activity to which the actor has committed himself.

In this general setting of the relation between knowing and communicating, what is the relation between knowing history and its communication in writing, that is, historiography? In the first place, among professional historians there is a rough consensus about the responses appropriate for writers of history when they set out to communicate what they know. This consensus enables one to speak of “the better historians” with a sense that one’s judgment is not merely personal, random, or arbitrary. The consensus is approximately registered by the price a particular historian fetches in the current job market. (Only approximately, however, since a number of items other than the profession’s estimate of his history writing go to make his price—his age, his reputed aptitude in face-to-face teaching, his personal qualities, the relation of supply to demand in his special field of interest, and so on.) Second, in writing history, as we have seen, some historians consistently use a vocabulary and a syntax similar to those which are standard in the natural sciences and some do not. There is, however, no significant correlation between the list of those who do so and the list of “better historians.” This implies that in historiography, historians do not accept the scientists’ conception of what constitutes a consistently appropriate response in the public presentation of the results of scientific investigation. An inquiry of no very pressing sort would reveal that in practice they have refused fully to commit themselves to a scientific rhetoric because they concern themselves with questions and answers which are not wholly tractable to the kind of formulation that scientists aim at, and because they assume in prac tice a relationship between cognition and communication in history different from that which is currently acceptable in the sciences.

Historians acquire their command of the data that they ultimately deploy in writing history through reading and considering what men have written in the past and about the past and by giving attention to remnants and traces of men’s handiwork surviving from the past: buildings, tools, pictures, field systems, tombs, pots—archeological data in the broadest sense. The process of learning starts in a haphazard way with the student’s earliest interest in history, and for the professional historian becomes more systematic and more sharply focused in the course of his training. In general, the training of a historian aims at the complementary but sometimes conflicting goals of simultaneously extending the range of his knowledge and of bringing it intensively to bear on some limited constellation of past happenings, in writing about which he is expected to make some contribution to the advancement of historical knowledge.

This process of knowing which goes on through out the historian’s active professional life is not identical with the knowing through experience which enables most men to meet most of the contingencies of their days on earth without continual bafflement, frustration, and disaster; but it is similar to it. It is not identical because in some measure the historian chooses what he will confront, while much of what men know through day-to-day experience comes at them haphazardly by no choice of their own.

Second, the layman’s kind of knowledge is in large part acquired through face-to-face confrontation with persons and situations, while the historian’s confrontation with men and situations of the past is mainly (in most cases, wholly) indirect, mediated by the surviving documentary and archeological record. Nevertheless, the difference ought not to be exaggerated, for there is considerable overlap. The printing press and more recent media of communication have vastly extended the role of indirect confrontation in day to-day experiential knowledge. Moreover, in his quest for understanding of the past, the historian relies to a considerable extent on the cautious and qualified analogical application of experiential knowledge which he has accumulated in personal, face-to-face transactions during his own lifetime.

Finally, the difference between face-to-face confrontation and confrontation mediated by the historical record is one of mode but not necessarily of quality, or intensity, or depth, or coherence, or completeness. Any man who reads and meditates on the 12 volumes of the correspondence of Desiderius Erasmus, extending over a span of four decades, plus his massive literary output, may justly argue that in quality, intensity, depth, coherence, and completeness his experiential knowledge of that sixteenth-century intellectual, acquired through mediated confrontation, is more firmly based than the experiential knowledge that any contemporary of Erasmus had of him. Indeed, it is as firmly based as the knowledge available today about any intellectual now living. The similarity between the two kinds of knowledge we have been considering is that for many purposes the consistently appropriate response which indicates their presence is not and need not be verbal, and when verbal, it need not and quite possibly cannot take the form of wholly denotative statement, much less of mathematical formulation. For such purposes it lies closer to the Willie Mays pole of response by effective action than to the scientific pole of response by communicating results in unambiguous statement.

In a large part of his work, the historian has no need at all for such statement or for any coherent verbal statement at all. He is massively engaged in finding out what happened and how it happened. To do these things he must formulate rough hypotheses, often very rough, about what happened and how it happened, and then examine the available record to verify or correct his hypotheses. But at the outset, from an almost limitless range of conceivable hypotheses he must select for investigation the very few that lie somewhere in the target area; he must select only those for which the surviving records hold forth some hope of verification; and he must have a sense of what records among a multitude are likely to provide the evidence he needs. A historian unable to do any of these things would remain an inept novice all his life. Relying on their knowledge of the past, historians successfully do these things day after day, yet most of them would be at a loss to explain their particular choices. They tend to ascribe their general aptitude for making better rather than worse choices to “knowing the ropes” and “having been around a long time in this period.” In effect, the knowledge that a historian relies on for a very considerable part of his work is experiential and results from a long and extensive familiarity with the historical record. (There is a legitimate doubt whether much of the foregoing does not apply as readily to the actual work of scientists as to that of historians.) For the historian the link between knowing and communicating is loose and weak; on the basis of his own experience of this looseness, he inclines to give some, if not full, faith and credit to colleagues who claim to know about the past much that they cannot adequately express in writing. Communication through historiography requires historians to put into written words what they know experientially and diffusely about the past, to organize it into coherent and sequential statements in order to make it fully accessible first to themselves and then to others. Their communication with others, the history they end up writing, thus starts four removes from the episodes in the past that concern them. Between the two lie the historical record, the historians’ experiential knowledge acquired through their exploration of that record, and their attempts to communicate to themselves what they know.

Through these interposed layers historians, in and by their writing, seek, along with many other things, to enable their readers to follow the movement and to sense the tempo of events; to grasp and do justice to the motives and actions of men; to discern the imperatives that move men to action; and to distinguish those imperatives from the pseudo imperatives that have become mere exercises in pious ejaculation; to recognize the impact on the course of events of an accident, a catastrophe, or a bit of luck; and to be aware of what the participants in a struggle conceived the stakes to be. (This particular set of items which historians sometimes feel called on to communicate through the three layers has purposely been selected because (1) none of them are explanatory in the scientific sense and (2) none can be effectively communicated in a purely scientific rhetoric.) The historian’s ability both as an investigator of the past and as a writer of history is measured negatively by the extent to which he lets the layers that intervene between the episode in the past and the reader of his work insulate the reader from the past, positively by the extent to which he is able to make these layers serve as a conductor of knowledge of the past to his readers. Historians give faith and credit to their fellows who protest that they know and yet confess that they cannot communicate what they know, because in some measure every historian is aware how far he has failed in his writing of history to penetrate those layers in his effort to communicate what he knows of the past.

Given this sense of the inadequacy of their use of language to their task, historians would surely welcome as an alternative a wholly denotative universal vocabulary which would narrow to a scarcely discernible crevice the perilous chasm that for them separates cognition from communication and sets them ransacking the whole storehouse of their mother tongue instead of relying on a manageable number of well-designed symbolic structures to overcome it. The fact that no such alternative adequate to communicate what historians know about the past has up to now emerged suggests that the relation between knowing the past and the writing of history is such as to pre clude that alternative, that in practice historians believe that the sacrifice of the knowledge of the past which it would entail renders inappropriate the universal imposition in historiography of the denotative rhetoric of scientific discourse.

Of course historians can avoid their rhetorical difficulties (1) by attempting to communicate about the past only that knowledge which can be expressed in a rhetoric nearly like that of the natural sciences or (2) by attempting to know about the past only what can be so communicated. In fact, historians have pursued both these courses. Some historians have taken the first course either because of a special interest in the sorts of historical problems manageable within the confines of a quasi-scientific rhetoric or because their special aptitude for that rhetoric has turned their attention to the sorts of problem with which it can deal. Others have taken the second course either out of allegiance to a conception (or misconception) called scientific history or because by calling their thinking and writing about the past scientific history, they thought they could sanctify their incompetence and dullness.

On the whole, however, historians have not been willing to truncate their knowledge of the past to fit the special aptitudes of a few historians or the misconceptions or painful ineptitude of a number of others. Instead, to make their experiential knowledge of the past accessible to readers who cannot recapitulate the processes by which that knowledge was acquired, they have used almost every device of rhetoric compatible with their commitment to a clear and intelligible presentation of the evidence on which their knowledge is based. That the language they use is frequently evocative and even metaphorical and that much of its vocabulary is not that of scientific demonstration but of the ordinary discourse of educated men, testifies to their conviction—rarely explicit, sometimes not wholly conscious—that these are the appropriate means for bringing their readers into that confrontation with events long past and men long dead which is an indispensable condition of knowing them. To the extent that the historian’s rhetoric falls short of communicating what he believes he has discovered about the past, what he thinks he knows does not become generally available and cannot be tested publicly by other historians. To that extent, therefore, there is a loss of potential knowledge of the past. Conversely, to the extent that he succeeds in communicating anything that hitherto he alone has known, there is gain. Therefore, the advancement of historical knowledge depends to a considerable extent on the quality of the historian’s rhetoric, on the efficacy of his historiography, and is almost inseparable from it; far from impeding the advancement of historical knowledge, language evocative rather than wholly denotative in intent and character becomes a means and a condition of that advancement.

Modes of explanation

Historiography is the means for communicating in writing what the historian thinks he knows about the past. Efficient and effective communication requires him, in writing history, to array what he knows according to some principle of coherence. The principle of coherence traditionally and still most generally employed by historians is narrative. Usually, but not always, they communicate what they know by telling a story or stories. Despite its venerable antiquity, narrative has recently come under attack as a means for providing coherence in history. The most general ground for attack seems to be the contention that the coherence it provides is nonexplanatory or inadequately explanatory. In this respect it is compared invidiously with the principle of coherence by subsumption under general laws supposedly standard in the rhetoric of the sciences, which is said to provide adequate explanation. If subsumption under general laws is the principle of coherence standard in the sciences, if by the criteria of the sciences it alone provides adequate explanation, and if the provision of adequate explanation is the sole or prime function of the sciences, then clearly narrative does not meet the scientific standard of coherence, nor does it provide adequate scientific explanation. It remains to ask, however, why historians should prefer a principle of coherence and criteria of explanatory adequacy borrowed from the rhetoric of the sciences both to narrative, their own traditional principle of coherence, and to the view of the nature and conditions of historical explanation which their use of narrative implies.

The ascription of adequacy to explanations of the general-law type seems to be based on both aesthetic and practical considerations. (1) Elegance, precision, clarity, internal consistency, and structural tidiness—a place for everything and everything in its place—in the domain of knowing: all these are aesthetically attractive concomitants of general-law explanations and are the generator and the justification of the denotative vocabulary and the mathematical syntax at which scientists aim. (2) In many or most cases, such explanations afford scientists the opportunity to replicate the experiment that was offered as evidence of the applicability of the general law, and thus to test the validity either of the law or of its application. (3) The rhetoric of the sciences facilitates the rapid and efficient identification of new problems and problem areas. (4) The expansion of the range and precision of general-law explanations has roughly coincided on the temporal scale with an extraordinary expansion of man’s control of vast tracts of his environment over which hitherto he had exercised no control at all. Although by the general-law canon, or indeed by any canon of explanation that has not been in disrepute since Aristotle, such a coincidence taken alone does not adequately explain the expansion of control, still nothing succeeds like success, and the aura of prestige acquired by the natural sciences in the past three centuries has rubbed off on the criteria of adequate explanation ascribed to them, especially in the eyes of intellectually insecure social scientists and historians.

No one has ever made clear why the criteria of adequate explanation acceptable to scientists in their work should also be acceptable to historians in theirs, or why adequacy of explanation should be the sole criterion of consistently appropriate response for the historian engaged in the work of communicating his knowledge in writing. Adequacy of explanation is clearly relative to that which is to be explained. A guidebook to a city, for example, explains the location of a “point of in terest” by designating what streets it is on and nearest to and by indicating the means of access to it from other points by various means of transportation. A real estate survey explains its location by designating the frontage and length of the lot, the street it faces on, and the distance of the lot from the nearest intersecting street. Both explanations are accurate, exact enough for their respective purposes, and therefore adequate; each communicates the knowledge likely to be sought by one particular sort of seeker and thus provides the appropriate response to his questions; neither invokes any general law, nor need it do so; neither is a scientific explanation, nor need it be so. Moreover, the notion that the sole appropriate response of the historian to his commitment to communicate what he knows is something designated “explanation” is wildly arbitrary. It involves either consigning a large part of that response to the domain of irrelevance or so extending the meaning of “explanation” as to render it unrecognizable by scientists, philosophers, ordinary readers, and historians themselves.

Historical narrative

Narrative, which is the rhetorical mode most commonly resorted to by historians, is also their most common mode of explanation. It is not in fact scientific by the criteria just indicated; it cannot be rendered scientific because it is formally not reducible to the general-law type of explanation; and no more than the “explanations where” set forth above need it be scientific in order to be adequate, unless one insists on applying the scientific criteria of adequacy to a nonscientific explanation. Narrative is the most common mode of historical explanation because it is often the kind of explanatory answer solicited by a kind of question that historians very often ask and that is very often asked of them. Two ordinary forms of this question are “How did it come about that …?” and “How did he (or they) happen to …?” For example, “How did it come about that a Labour government took power in England in 1964?” or “How did the New York Giants happen to play in the World Series in 1951?” The following discussion will be organized around a treatment of this second question. The writer has selected it because it leads quickly into so many of the topics of this section and because its evidential base is one on which he is more than ordinarily well informed.

The call for an explanation of how the Giants happened to play in the World Series of 1951 can be so construed as to make it amenable to explanation of the general-law type.

A. The particular facts

1. In 1951 the New York Giants were a baseball team in the National League.

2. In 1951, during the official National League baseball season, the New York Giants won more games from the other teams in that league and lost fewer to them than any of the other teams in the league won or lost.

B. The general law

Whenever during the official National League season a National League team wins more games and loses fewer than any other team in that league, it plays in the World Series.

The answer perfectly fulfills all the requirements of the general-law type of explanation, including denotative univocal vocabulary and strict deductive entailment. Yet from the point of view of the writer and reader of history, such an answer is patently unsatisfactory. The reason is that in the context of the National League season of 1951, the appropriate response to the question “How did the Giants happen to play in the World Series of 1951?” is the historical story of how the Giants came to lead the National League at the end of the official season that year. A general-law explanation cannot tell that story; indeed, it cannot tell any story. It is not built to tell stories. From this very simple instance an important conclusion follows: general law and narrative are not merely alternative but equally valid modes of explanation. In the above instance the general-law explanation does not tell the questioner what he wants to know; for him it is neither a good nor a bad, neither an adequate nor an inadequate, explanation—it is no explanation at all. And conversely, to other questioners asking scientists and historians for an “explanation,” a response in the form of a story would be quite inappropriate and therefore no explanation at all. The validity of either mode of explanation is determined by the appropriateness and adequacy of its response to a particular question. In effect, the validity of modes of explanation is not something that exists in vacuo, but only in relation to what particular inquirers at particular moments seek to know.

In view of the frequent irrelevance of pure general-law explanation to past situations that require the telling of a story, attempts have been made to adapt the general-law type of explanation to narrative. Narrative explanation is usually presented as a series of statements of continuous causal linkages between events such that in the chains of causation (1) each effect is imputed to precedent causes and (2) the imputation implies either the actuality or the possibility of a general law or laws such that, taken with the precedent causes, they entail the effect.

For present purposes it is to our advantage that the official rules of baseball provide us with a vocabulary almost as purely denotative as that of the sciences. In that vocabulary we can produce a narrative explanation of how the New York Giants won the 1951 National League pennant and thus played in the World Series; this explanation conforms to the foregoing model.

National League Standings as of September 30, 1951

Brooklyn odgers9658
New ork ia ants9658

Because of the tie at the end of the regular season Brooklyn and New York were required to play additional games, the first team to win two games to be designated as the National League entry in the World Series.

First additional game, Oct. 1, 1951: final score, New York 3, Brooklyn 1; games won, New York 1, Brooklyn 0.

Second additional game, Oct. 2, 1951: final score, Brooklyn 10, New York 0; games won, New York 1, Brooklyn 1.

Third additional game, Oct., 1951: inning-byinning score to second half of the ninth inning:

New York00000010 

Score to second half of the ninth inning, Brooklyn 4, New York 1. New York at bat.

The first batter singled. The second batter singled. Because the first batter was a reasonably fast runner, he advanced to third base. Because the third batter hit a short fly ball which was caught, he was out. Because the fourth batter doubled, the first batter scored a run, and the second batter advanced to third base, where he was replaced by a substitute runner because he had hurt his leg. The Brooklyn pitcher was replaced because three New York players out of four had made safe hits off his pitching. Because the fifth batter hit a home run the substitute runner, the fourth batter, and the fifth batter scored runs. Because New York scored four runs in the second half of the ninth inning, making the score 5 to 4, they won the game. Because they won two games of the play-off before Brooklyn did, they won more games and lost fewer than any other team in the National League. Because of this they played in the World Series of 1951.

About the preceding narrative explanation a number of highly instructive points are worth noting.

(1) It almost perfectly conforms to the proposed structure of narrative explanation outlined above; that is, it is a series of sentences in which the causal connections between the events mentioned are explicit or clearly implicit, and into which the relevant possible general laws may readily be inserted. Any number of such laws are not merely possible but actually available, e.g., if the two leading teams in the National League have won and lost the same number of games at the end of the regular season, the rules require that they resolve the tie by playing against each other until one of them has won two games.

(2) All the facts as stated are verifiably true and all the causal inferences are valid, and therefore the whole narrative explanation is historically true and accurate in every respect.

(3) Nevertheless, at a number of crucial points it is hard to see how particular effects were strictly entailed by a combination of antecedent causes and general laws. What, for example, is the general law which with the precondition (three hits and one out, among four men at bat) entails the replacement of one pitcher by another? Even if one elaborated further on the boundary conditions— and that can be done—it is difficult to see how general laws can be invoked and a strict entailment made to work here.

(4) It is true that once the substitute Brooklyn pitcher, Ralph Branca, whose mere presence in the game seems not amenable to narrative explanation (see above), released the ball, and once the fifth New York batter, Bobby Thomson, began his swing of the bat, a combination of a few special cases (mainly ballistic) of the general laws of motion with the National League ground rules on home runs suffices strictly to entail that Thomson hit a home run. It is hard, however, to envision the combination of conditions and laws that would strictly entail a decisive precondition of that home run: to wit, that Thomson decided to swing at Branca’s pitch in the first place.

(5) Even if these problems of the logic of narrative explanation can be resolved, the account as presented raises a number of difficulties and questions. (a) Why does the explanation begin with the play-off at the end of the regular season? On the face of it, in a regular season that ends in a tie, every game played throughout the season by the tied teams is of equal causal importance and therefore should receive equal treatment, (b) By the same token, why is a fuller account (inning-by-inning score) given of the last game of the official season than of the two previous games, and a still fuller account of the last half of the last inning of the last game?

(6) Most important, the explanation is historiographically

pitiful, and the historian who offered it would immediately lose the historian’s moral equiv alent of a union card.

Given the problem with which we started, these difficulties go to the heart of the trouble. They make it clear that offering an answer in the form of a narrative explanation which is structurally determined solely by the logic of causal ascription is not an appropriate response to the difficulties or an ade quate solution to the problem. Within the bounds of the logic of causal ascription there is no solution for them. That logic cannot justify the shifts in the scale of the story. Yet it is reasonable to suspect that one of the few things which most readers would intuitively regard as appropriate about the above dreary but true narrative response to the question about New York being in the World Series in 1951 would be precisely the successive expansions of the scale of the story. The reason for this is that the appropriate response to the question is not a true narrative explanation determined by the logic of causal ascription but the historical story truest to the past, determined by the rules of historical evidence and the rhetorical rules of historical storytelling. Of this larger context a true narrative explanation is a part, but only a part. If this is so, then the true historical story rightly determined by the rules of historical rhetoric will be preferable to a true narrative explanation because it communicates more knowledge and truth about the past than such an explanation does. But if that is so, then the rhetoric of history writing, not its logicalone, is implicated in providing increments of knowledge and truth about the past.

Let us continue with the example under examination, keeping in mind the problems of where to start the historical story and on what scale to tell it. Figure 1 describes the relative positions of the two contenders in the National League pennant race of 1951.

The first things to note in Figure 1 are the shifts in scale and the considerations which determined them. The over-all consideration is that of telling a historical story in such a way as to maximize the increment of knowledge and truth communicated. That within a framework identical with the one in which the figure is constructed (the 154-game baseball season) it may be desirable to have no change of scale and not to tell a story at all becomes clear on considering the description of the American League season of 1939 in Figure 2.

Figure 2 is constructed on uniform scales for each axis, plotting the games won by the New York Yankees against the games won by the team in the league that was in second place. That this season calls for no narrative explanation is manifested by the nonconvergence of the lines in Figure 2, which shows (1) that by June 1, the Yankees were seven games ahead, (2) that thereafter the minimum gap between them and their nearest rival was six

games, (3) that by the end of the season the Yankees led by 17 games. In short, for more than the latter two-thirds of the season there was never a moment when it even looked like a pennant race, so that on the face of the record, to answer the question “How did the Yankees come to be in the World Series?” with a historical story would be a historiographic error: the even-paced, dull, and trivial chronicle which the effort would yield would itself demonstrate the inappropriateness of such a rhetorical response.

By the same token, the climbing line in Figure 1 indicates that the record of the 1951 National League season calls for a historical story, and that to write about its history without telling such a story is to fail to make the appropriate historiographic response. The data in Figure 1 start at the point where the extended historical story should begin: August 11, 1951, at the end of play. At that point New York was at its maximum distance be hind Brooklyn, 13 games; and the next day New York began a series of 16 consecutive wins. For the next extension of the narrative and for tlie expansion of the scale of the graph, the directive of the record is more ambivalent. The options lie between (1) September 14, when, still six games behind, New York began a series of five consecutive wins which by September 18 moved it to within three games of Brooklyn and (2) September 21, when, four games behind, New York won the last seven games of the regular season. It had moved into a tie at the end of play September 28, kept the tie by winning the last two games of the regular sea son, and was again tied at the end of the second game of the play-off. It is to be noted that (1) although there are two options for starting this expansion, there are only two serious options, and (2) they have an identical terminus ad quern, the point at which the next expansion of scale begins in the final game of the play-off. Either of the above alternative solutions is historiographically correct; any other is incorrect. There may be two or more right answers to some historiographic, as to some mathematical, problems. This does not imply or entail that there are no wrong answers. This simple observation and distinction, evident to any mathe matics student who has gotten as far as quadratic equations, seems to have escaped most historians.

The expansions of scale, then, are not arbitrary; each can clearly be justified from the historical rec ord on historiographic grounds, and each expansion coincides with a period in telling about which the historical storyteller would extend the dimensions of his story. Three further points must be made.

(1) On the basis of true narrative explanation determined by the logic of causal connection, it proved impossible to determine where to begin the historical story of the 1951 pennant race or what dimensions to give to any of its parts. Indeed, since causal connection is subject both to infinite regress and to infinite ramification, and since that historical story and any other must have a beginning and finite dimensions of its parts, it is in principle impossible on the basis of the logic of narrative explanation alone to tell a historical story at all. On the other hand, the rhetoric of historical storytelling provided us with the means of recognizing whether there was a historical story to tell, where the story should start, and roughly what the relative dimensions of its parts should be. If this is so, (a) in the telling of a historical story, increments of historical knowledge and truth are unattainable on the basis of the logic of narrative explanation alone, for on that basis alone it is impossible so much as to begin such a story; and (b) for achieving such increments, insights into the rhetoric of historical storytelling, whether experiential and implicit or discursive and explicit, are indispensable.

(2) The clock and the calendar provide no guidance to the appropriate dimensions of a historical story. Between those dimensions and mere duration, measured in homogeneous scaled increments, there is no congruence. The historical story teller’s time is not clock-and-calendar time; it is historical tempo. The problems involved in reasonably accurate determination of historical tempo have never been systematically studied, although results of the disaster of not studying them strew the historiographic landscape. But two points are clear, (a) Disproportions in historical stories in duced by failure correctly to appraise historical tempo result in the telling of distorted stories about the past. To that extent they diminish, and correct perception of tempo increases, available knowledge of the past, (b) The logic of narrative explanation has nothing to say on the subject of historical tempo; it is a question that can be dealt with only in the area of the rhetoric of historical storytelling. And so once again the communication of increments of knowledge and truth about the past hinges on the correct solution of problems of historiography. (c) Correct determinations of historical tempo and the appropriate correlative expansions and contractions of scale in a historical story de pend on the examination in retrospect of the historical record. That is to say, when the historian tells a historical story, he must not only know something of the outcomes of the events that concern him; he must use what he knows in telling his story.

In the case of writers of history, Gallie’s interesting analogy between historical understanding and following a game or story breaks down (1964, pp. 22-50). It applies to consumers of history, the readers, not to its producers, the writers. The readers need not know the outcome of the story; and it is well if, at least, they do not know the writer’s construal of the outcome, since not knowing it whets their curiosity and intensifies their engagement and vicarious participation in the story, thus augmenting their knowledge of the past. But unless the writer has the outcome in mind as he writes the story, he will not know how to adapt the proportions of his story to the actual historical tempo, since that is knowable only to one who knows the outcome. For example, the decisive point for transforming the proportions of the historical story of the 1951 pennant race was entirely unobserved, unpredictable, and unpredicted by any contemporary observer. On August 11, at the point of maximum distance between Brooklyn and New York, no one foresaw or could have foreseen that New York was on the point of beginning a 16-game winning streak that transformed the baseball season into a pennant race in which New York was the ultimate victor. Indeed, the perspective of the historical storyteller throughout should be double —that of a contemporary observer and that of one who knows about Bobby Thomson’s home run; but it is from the latter perspective, not the former, that the historian can perceive the historical tempo and thus determine the appropriate proportion of the historical story.

Historical analysis

Telling a historical story is not the only way in which a writer of history can increase knowledge of the past, as we have seen in the case of the American League season of 1939. Even to the question “How did it happen that …?” it is not always an appropriate response. Yet in the case in point, the response must have a historical character. The structure of Figure 2 suggests that it should take the form of historical analysis; for with its nonconverging lines it indicates that New York was a team so much better than any other in the league that it was beyond effective challenge. Consequently, to increase historical understanding there is nothing to do but analyze that betterness of New York, to seek out its ingredients and render them intelligible to the reader. Here, of course, the abundant surviving statistics of baseball provide a useful historical record to start with—the base-on-balls, strike-out, and earned-run averages of the pitchers; the batting and total base averages, the stolen bases, runs scored, and home runs of the hitters. (Fielding statistics, however, do not provide a satisfactory statistical basis for evaluating defensive performance in baseball.)

If the rhetoric of historical storytelling has received little attention from historians or others, the rhetoric of historical analysis has received none. When considering historical storytelling, the rhetoric of the Active story offers a useful model; when considering historical analysis, the rhetoric of sciences in which the subject matter is less compatible with universal generalization than in physics might be appropriate. The almost complete lack of any serious concern with the problem may be due to the notion that the sciences have no rhetoric; but if one conceives of rhetoric as the organization of language appropriate to that particular kind of communication which is relevant to a particular activity, then any activity which is committed to verbal communication of its results has a rhetoric.

In recent years, instead of giving serious consideration to the serious problems of historical rhetoric, historians have engaged in considerable, and sometimes somewhat rancorous, discussion of the nonproblem of the relative merits of analysis and narrative in history writing. The discussion is footless because of two false assumptions: (1) that regardless of the character of the historical record, the historian has a wholly free option between analysis and narrative; (2) that these two historiographic modes mutually exclude each other, so that historians in all their work must opt wholly for the one or wholly for the other. With respect to the first assumption, we have seen in the instance of the two baseball seasons that the historical record presents us with constellations of events in which there is no serious option, where in one case to choose analysis, in the other to choose narrative, as the predominant mode would be a historiographic error and would prevent the historian from communicating what he knows about the past, and even from knowing it adequately.

In the second place, these modes are not mutually exclusive, and this again is evident with respect to our two “models.” Although the mode of writing the history of the 1939 season should be predominantly analytical, still the force of the analysis would be strengthened by the resort to exemplary stories; and this is particularly the case with respect to fielding, in which the New York Yankees indeed excelled but which, because of limitations in the statistical record, lends itself better to anecdotal treatment, that is, to telling short illustrative stories. The case for the use of any analysis at all in the instance of the 1951 season might seem more dubious. The very fact of the tie at the end of the regular season could be taken as fair proof from

Table 1 – Percentage of games won by the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1951 baseball season
 New York GiantsBrooklyn Dodgers
* As of August 11 the Giants had played 110 games and the Dodgers 106.
Beginning of season to August 11*54%66%
August 12 to end of season84%60%
Total season (154 games)62%62%

a large sample of 154 games that overall the two teams were so well matched as to make analysis an exercise in futility. Actually, an examination of the record yields a quite different result.

Table 1 shows the percentage of games won out of games played by each team up to August 11, and from August 12 to the end of the regular season. It clearly poses two analytical questions: (a) how to account for the marked superiority of Brooklyn in the first hundred-odd games of the season; (b) how to explain the overwhelming superiority of New York in the last forty-odd games. For such an undertaking, as we have seen, analysis is the proper historiographic mode. Note that the selection of analysis as the dominant mode for the first seventenths of the season does away with the need for telling an inevitably thin story and thus enables the historian to maintain the proportion called for by the demand of historical tempo. One further complication: The analysis would fail to reveal a part of what made the difference, the part, told by Eddie Stanky more than a decade later, about a battered battalion with pulled muscles, bad throwing arms, and cracked bones that still could not lose for winning. And thus, to do the analysis itself justice, the historian would have to afforce it with historical stories about Alvin Dark, Wes Westrum, Sal Maglie, and Stanky’s own slides-into-bases that were hard to distinguish from overt assault and battery. Our two examples were themselves carefully selected extreme cases of records that call respectively for analysis and storytelling. In most history writing, the need for a mix of the historiographic modes of storytelling and analysis is even more obvious. The serious historiographic problem is not how to avoid the mix in order to maintain the superiority of one mode over the other, but how to proportion it and how to manage it.

In the foregoing “model” of the pennant race of 1951, the discussion has slipped—the author has intentionally allowed it to slip—insensibly from the problem of narrative explanation to the problems of historical storytelling. In this it has followed the curve, as it were, of historical curiosity itself, both in the reader and in the writer of history. The original question, “How did it come about that …?,” has become the more amorphous “Tell me (or let me find out) more about….” The demand is no longer merely further explanation. A reasonably full explanation is presumably already in hand. That explanation itself has led reader and writer of history alike to shift the ground of their interest. Because of it they have become aware that they have stumbled onto one of the great events in baseball history, the event that culminated in Bobby Thomson’s home run—the equivalent (in its sphere) of the defeat of the Armada, the battle of Stalingrad, the Normandy landings. What they want under these circumstances is not more or fuller explanation; what they want is confrontation with the riches of the event itself, a sense of vicarious participation in a great happening, the satisfaction of understanding what those great moments were like for the ordinarily cool Russ Hodges, Giant radio announcer, who, as the ball arched from Thomson’s bat into the stands, went berserk and screamed into the microphone, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!” And what those moments were like for those who saw what he saw and for those who heard him. Confrontation and vicarious participation are not historical explanation or explanation of any sort in any ordinary sense of the word. Yet clearly they are sometimes a part, and an indispensable part, of understanding the past as it actually was. Therefore, to argue that they have no place in historiography is at once arbitrary and absurd.

Finally, when the historian needs to bring those who seek to understand the past into confrontation with and vicarious participation in some part of it, he often finds the rhetoric of the sciences wholly inadequate for his purposes. In this sector of historiography it is hard to imagine a response to the proper demand on historians to render an accurate and effective account of the past that would be less appropriate than one couched in scientific rhetoric. In this sector, indeed, to do his work properly, to tell the truth about the past, the historian must marshal resources of rhetoric utterly alien to the rhetoric of the sciences in order to render his account forceful, vivid, and lively; to impart to it the emotional and intellectual impact that will render it maximally accessible and maximally intelligible to those who read it.

The analysis of historiography

The attitude of the historical profession to the writing of history has been ambivalent. Compared with the systematic attention historians have given to the techniques of historical investigation, their attention to the problems of historiography has been casual, and in their public judgments of the work of other historians they have tended to regard the rhetoric of history as at best a peripheral concern. On the other hand, some very able historians take far greater pains with their writing than would be warranted if the rhetoric of history were a mere pleasing embellishment not substantially involved in the advancement of the understanding of the past; and the consensus of the profession has ratified their practice by conferring on the most skillful writers of history rewards in prestige and pay that would be exorbitant if the yield of that skill were judged to be merely an amusing but supererogatory display of verbal pyrotechnics.

If the preceding arguments about the inseparability of the communication, and therefore the advancement, of historical knowledge from the rhetoric of history have any merit, then it would seem that a concerted effort to develop useful methods of analyzing historical rhetoric should stand high on the agenda of historians. In fact, however, their general concerns seem to be directed mainly toward two other areas, indeed, toward two nonproblems:(1) generalization and (2) the application of new knowledge in the social sciences to the study of history. The first is a nonproblem because in fact historians generalize and have generalized fruitfully at many levels for at least a couple of centuries, so that to raise at this late date the question of whether they do so or whether they ought to do so seems a little useless. Second, the application to the historical enterprise of any viable new technique for knowing is always desirable and is conditional only on the mastery of the technique and the identification of historical problems to which it can be usefully applied. In this respect the social sciences do not constitute a special case distinct from other techniques. Some historians have found some of the work of the social sciences useful for their particular purposes; others have not; still others have been preoccupied with other legitimate professional concerns. Their resistance to the demand for immediate and universal application to history of quantitative methods and of psychoanalytic insight does not seem to warrant the concern that it elicits from those who regard it as a chronic and possibly fatal disease of the historical profession as a whole. It does not appear to stand much above the level that reasonable professional prudence, sensible and limited skepticism, and resentment of new encroachments on limited resources of time, energy, and ability ordinarily generate.

Indifference to the problems of analyzing historiography, however, is easy to understand. In the first place, such analysis may well turn out to be a sterile exercise. In the second place, the need for analysis is evident only if one accepts the view that such attributes of historiography as accessibility, force, vividness, and depth are not merely decorative but have true noetic value. Although in unself-conscious practice many historians in fact accept this view, it remains submerged because of the counterthrust of an equally unself-conscious and incoherent assent to the ascription of noetic value only to the rhetoric of the sciences, especially to its denotative vocabulary and to its attributes of precision, simplicity, univocality, and so on.

In order to justify presenting the sketchy program for the analysis of historiography which this section will offer, it may be well to indicate the noetic bearing of at least one of the potential and requisite traits of historiography mentioned above —accessibility. In On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin says, “Nothing is easier to admit in words than the truths of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult—at least I have found it so—than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind.” The rhetorical problem that Darwin here points to is that of accessibility. It is a persistent problem for explanation in the narrative mode. The writer of history needs to be always watchful to see that pertinent previous generalizations, pertinent patterns of action previously identified, and pertinent parts of the story, already told, come to bear for the reader at the places where they are enlightening and revelatory. Even where it is technically accurate, dull history is bad history to the extent to which it is dull. By subjecting all the historian knows to the homogenizing and flattening operations of his own mechanical rhetoric, dull history blurs his findings for himself and for those who read his writing. Those findings then fail to become, or rapidly cease to be part of, the “workable reserve,” the readily accessible knowledge, of the writer and reader, which remains concurrently present in their minds as the one composes and the other tries to follow the narrative or analysis. Consequently, in the course of events neither will see a partly ordered and patterned, and therefore partly intelligible, procession of change but a disjointed and arbitrary and there fore unintelligible one—just one damn thing after the other. A reader to whom almost nothing is communicated may reasonably suspect that the writer had almost nothing to communicate; but, as we have seen, because of the gap between knowing and communicating in history, this is not necessar ily so. Rather, unintelligible communication is not communication at all; uncommunicated knowing can add no increment to the available body of knowledge, and frequently the failure to produce such an increment is a failure in historiography, the absence of accessibility.

Accessibility has been treated here as an absolute trait of history writing, and of course it is not so. It is relative not only to the historian’s rhetorical capacities but also to the absorptive capacities of the historian’s audience, which depend on their prior knowledge. An amount of detail necessary to render what he wishes to communicate accessible to one audience would simply clutter the text for another audience and stultify their imaginations, thus diminishing for that second audience the range of conceptions that the historian wants them to have in mind. The problem that this situation poses for the writer of history is a complex one; it is another of the many places where the rhetoric of the historian intersects and is entwined with the knowledge he communicates and the truth-value of what he has to say. There is not space to treat the matter of accessibility further here, but what is said below on the matter of word lists indicates some of the ramifications of the problem.

The analysis of historiography can conveniently be divided into macroanalysis, microanalysis, and analysis of structure. Macroanalysis is the analysis of an individual piece of history writing as a whole; microanalysis is the analysis of any fragment of historical rhetoric without primary regard to and out of relation to the historiographic whole of which it is a part. Analysis of structure deals with historiographic traits, devices, and practices which are common to all or to a very considerable number of historical works. Hitherto we have keyed our discussion of historiography to the rhetoric of scientific statement and explanation in order to make and keep clear the likenesses and differences between the two. We have suggested, however, that in at least one trait which it requires in order to communicate some of the things the historian knows—its reliance on a connotative and evocative vocabulary—the rhetoric of history is nearer to that of the Active arts than to that of the natural sciences. So before examining the types of historiographic analysis, it will be appropriate to point out a major difference between historical and Active rhetoric—the overriding commitment of historians to fidelity to the surviving records of the past.

Fidelity to records

The difference between historical and Active rhetoric blurs slightly at the extreme limits, where, on the one hand, a novelist tells a story which he intends to reflect his conception of historical actualities and, on the other, a historian makes a story of a “typical case” that he imaginatively constructs out of his long experience with the historical record. The blurring itself becomes visible in a comparison of Conrad’s Nostromo and Oscar Handlin’s The Uprooted, but so does the difference that is blurred. For the worth of Nostromo as a novel would not diminish if the patterns of life Conrad ascribes to Costaguana, the imaginary Latin American republic which provides its setting and the substrate of its characters, were shown to be quite remote from extrinsic actuality. On the other hand, unless the record suggested that the immigrants’ emotional response to their move to America was something like what The Uprooted imputes to them, the historiographic worth of The Uprooted would be nil, regardless of any merits that literary critics might ascribe to Handlin’s prose style.

The standard of judgment of a fictive work does not depend on its compatibility with external actuality. The work as such depends for its authenticity or validity only on its relevance to the sector of general human experience which its author intends it to explore, describe, and render accessible. It can be true or false only to itself; and the knowledge which it communicates is independent of any particular in the record of man’s past (though not, of course, independent of human experience in general). Or as A. J. Liebling put it, in treating the problems of a newspaperman, “To transmit more than half of what you understand is a hard trick, far beyond the task of the so-called creative artist who if he finds a character in his story awkward can simply change its characteristics. (Even to sex, vide Proust and Albertine. Let him try it with General de Gaulle.)”

It is precisely with Charles de Gaulle and his sort that reporters like Liebling and historians often have to deal. The standard of judgment of a historical work is ultimately extrinsic. Its authenticity, validity, and truth depend on the effectiveness with which it communicates knowledge (not misunderstanding) of the actual past congruent with the surviving record. The quality of its rhetoric is to be measured solely by its success in communicating such knowledge.


It follows from what has just been said that the unit of macroanalysis in historiography differs from the unit of macroanalysis in fictive studies. In the latter it is the entire particular work—novel or drama, ode or sonnet—considered as a self-contained unit. The macroanalyst can therefore demand of himself an examination of the whole relevant documentation and can reasonably expect those for whom he is writing to have the core element of that documentation (the work under analysis) before them. Ordinarily the macroanalyst of historiography cannot demand so much of himself, still less expect so much of his readers. For him the relevant documentation is the work itself plus the historical record of the episodes with which the author concerned himself, not merely the part he used but any important part that through errors of omission he failed to use. It is improbable that in most instances the analyst will command the full range of documentation; it is practically impossible under ordinary circumstances to expect the reader of the analysis to have the documentation in front of him.

Despite these limitations, some experiments in detailed macroanalysis seem desirable because only in such analysis does one deal with the actual unit of historiography—the historical work. Whether that work be a long treatise or a short article, its presentation is the means by which by far the largest part of the increments of historical knowledge is communicated. It is also the place where historians meet their worst failures—from the novices who, having researched their subject, have not a notion how to organize it for effective communication to those senior historians, who have so completely surrendered to their own ineptitude as to transform verbosity into a criterion of excellence. By selecting a relatively short piece of historical writing based on a record of manageable dimension and reproducing both the piece and the record, it would be possible to perform the sort of detailed macroanalysis in historiography that is a commonplace in the field of literary criticism.

Until a few such analyses are attempted, it is impossible to estimate what gains, if any, in the understanding of historiography may accrue from them; but it is hard to see why the macroanalysis of a historical study would be less fruitful of knowledge than the analysis of, say, Waiting for Godot. It is evident that unless such analysis is attempted, some aspects of the writing of history are bound to remain wrapped in mystery. For example, the present writer is a reasonably competent practitioner of history writing, and he has done a reasonable amount. One of the most effective sentences he has ever written in a historical essay is the following: “It was just the right thing for him to do.” To understand why that simple declaratory statement composed of flat monosyllables should be effective would depend on a careful macroanalysis of the entire essay of which it is the last sentence.

To the best of the writer’s knowledge, up to the present no macroanalysis of any historical work has even been attempted on the scale and in the way above proposed. Only after it has been attempted several times will any estimate of its value be more than an idle guess. In the meantime, the discussion of historical story writing and historical analysis in previous sections of this article points to a very few of the problems—proportion of the story, historical tempo, balance of analysis and narrative—with which macroanalysis would have to concern itself.


Although microanalysis is primarily concerned with single small items of historical rhetoric, the radical severance of it from macro analysis is not practically possible. Some sense of the whole framework remains essential, because only through that sense can one arrive at a judgment on the ultimate efficacy and appropriateness of a given small item of historical writing which is a part of a historiographic whole. “The Army of the Covenant of the Scots with their God marched across the Tweed to rescue their sore beset English brethren” is historiographically sound, if its general context requires at the point of its introduction a quick communication of the spirit in which the Scots took the field in 1644. If the total context is the logistical problems created by the presence of a considerable military force in the agriculturally unproductive north of England in the mid-seventeenth century, however, a less allusive statement, detailing the number of Scots who entered the northern counties and their daily requirement of food and forage, would be rather more appropriate.

For the examination of any single element of historical rhetoric, macroanalysis (although not necessarily on the scale above suggested) is desirable. Only by means of it can one finally judge whether that element is appropriate, for its appropriateness is a function of the whole context of which it is a part. Ostensible grotesquerie—Alexander in full plate armor—may be appropriate enough if we see the whole picture, as Panofsky showed in discussing medieval representations of that hero. Because, however, the single historical statement has a dual context—both the work of history in which it is embedded and the actuality of the past to which it refers—it is possible to clarify some of the specific characteristics of the rhetoric of history by microanalysis considered with minimal reference to the total structure of the historical work of which the fragment under microanalysis is a part. In effect, given a five-page account of the battle of Waterloo embedded in a historical work, by referring the account to the historical record, it is usually possible to say within the limits the historian set for the account whether it is historiographically sound at the level of microanalysis. On examining it in connection with the whole work, however, we might alter our judgment on the grounds that in its macroanalytic context it is disproportionately long or short, that it is dissonant with the rest of the book, or even that it is wholly irrelevant.

Microanalysis of historiography is therefore provisional in the judgments it yields on the material it deals with, but it does at least yield provisional judgments. Here we have space to treat only one hypothetical example of microanalysis. Let us suppose a historian faced with the problem of dealing in two pages with the character and administration of U.S. President Warren G. Harding. One can conceive of his chocsing to do it in the style of the late Ring Lardner and with a rhetoric—a vocabulary and syntax—as close to Lardner’s as his own sense of historiographic proprieties and that of his editor would permit. Or one can conceive of a characterization the whole tone of which was heavily heroic in vocabulary and syntax—so long as the undertone made it evident that the verbal heroics were mock heroics. What would be wholly inappropriate to a brief characterization of Harding and his entourage would be a rhetoric of intentional, unrelenting, and unremitting solemnity. On the other hand, briefly to characterize Abraham Lincoln in either of the former rhetorical modes would not only be bad taste, it would be bad historiography; and the historian who employed either would promptly be marked by his peers as inept and incompetent. For Lincoln was a serious man (which did not prevent him from being a very humorous one) and a serious historical figure, and any attempt to present him in a short sketch which failed to reflect this fact would to that extent fail to communicate to the reader something he needed to understand about the realities of a part of the past. It would thereby not only fail to advance but perhaps would even diminish his knowledge and understanding of the past, his grasp of part of its meaning, his store of historical truth.

The implications of this excursus on the use of microanalysis of historiography in connection with characterizing actual persons of the past are worth a little further attention, since one of the persistent problems of history writing, calling for microanalysis, is that of characterization. In effect, in many kinds of historical investigation the historian encounters persons in the record of the past. He can disregard them as persons and transform them into, say, numbers; and a demographic historian quite rightly does just this, simply because that is in fact the aspect under which he encounters them. He is like a man trying to get on a full elevator who encounters the persons already aboard merely as “a full elevator.” But that is not always, or even often, the way a historian encounters persons in the record of the past. If he encounters them as persons, an attempt to avoid characterizing those implicated in an important way in the account he is rendering is a refusal to deal faithfully with the record of the past.

No one whose judgment is worth serious consideration has ever suggested that historians must never characterize people they encounter in the past; and it is at least arguable that the normal rhetoric of history is such that a historian dealing with extensive data on the deeds and words of a person of the past cannot avoid characterizing him, that the only question is whether he characterizes him well or ill, whether he does him justice or injustice. Nor has anyone ever argued that it is desirable or indeed even possible adequately to characterize a man in the wholly denotative rhetoric that is appropriate to scientific discourse. Indeed, the very phrase “do justice,” which is quite appropriate to describe the goal of characterizing a man, is itself so massively connotative, so indispensably imprecise, as to render nugatory any hope of accomplishing with a sterilized denotative vocabulary and syntax a mission so vaguely described and imprecisely delimited. And yet it is possible by microanalysis of historical writing to arrive at judgments not merely of “bad” and “good” but also of “false” and “true” (or at least “truer”) with respect to the connotative rhetoric which a historian chooses to employ in fulfilling his commitment to do justice to the character of a man. Nor is there any great mystery about this in the case of men concerning whom the historical record is reasonably ample. Considering the rhetorical possibilities as a very broad spectrum and also as a complete spectrum within the bounds of the rhetorical potentialities of the common language structure, there will be areas of that spectrum into which what is known about a particular man cannot be fit without manifest distortion of the record and areas into which it fairly fits, although in both cases there may be several such areas. This was manifestly the case in the instances of Harding and Lincoln dealt with above. But to distort the record is precisely to communicate ignorance rather than knowledge, misunderstanding rather than understanding, falsehood rather than truth.

The only necessary qualification here is that no historian does, and no sensible historian claims to, communicate the whole truth about a man, since there are many things about any man living or dead which no human being, not even the man himself, knows. The full knowledge on which alone a final judgment is possible exists only in the mind of God. The facts remain that in certain reaches of historiography the characterization of men is inescapable, that the rhetoric of such characterization is inescapably nonscientific, and that the knowledge, understanding, and truth communicated by the history of which the characterization is a part will in some measure depend on how well or ill the historian deploys the resources of this inevitably nonscientific rhetoric, on the appropriateness of his response to the demands that the historical record makes on his ability to use nonscientific language in delineating a character. The curious problems that this situation implies deserve further examination.

Analysis of structure

The general analysis of historiography deals with those traits and devices of historical rhetoric which are unique to the writing of history, or, more frequently, with those traits and devices which historians use in a unique way, a way which differentiates them from their use in the sciences or in the Active arts. In the following treatment of structural analysis of historiography we will focus attention on three devices of the rhetoric of history: (1) the footnote, (2) the quotation in the text, (3) the word list; and we will concentrate on what differentiates the historian’s use of these devices from the use scientists make of their homologues in scientific rhetoric.

Footnotes. Historians and scientists both use footnotes, and for one purpose they use them in about the same way: they use them to cite to the “literature” of the subject or problem about which they are writing. Historians, however, also use footnotes in a variety of other ways. One way historians use them and physicists do not is to cite to the historical record, the substrate of evidence on which historians erect their accounts of the past. Citation to that record is the way a historian makes his professional commitment clear in action, as the report on the experiment is the way a physicist makes his commitment clear. In both instances it is a commitment to maximum verisimilitude (which does not mean exact replication in every detail). For the physicist it is maximum verisimilitude to the operations of nature as glimpsed through consideration of the experimental cluster; for the historian, verisimilitude to the happenings of the past as glimpsed through consideration of the surviving record.

The well-nigh universal use of footnotes to the record by historians indicates that they are all still committed to writing about the past, as Ranke put it, wie es eigentlich gewesen, as it actually happened. In today’s somewhat more sophisticated language, we might say that historians are concerned and committed to offer the best and most likely account of the past that can be sustained by the relevant extrinsic evidence. Let us call this statement about the historian’s commitment the “reality” rule.

Historians employ the footnote for a host of residual matters other than citations to the record— lists of names, minor qualifications of assertions made in the text, polemic criticisms of other historians, short statistical tables, suggestions for future historical investigation, and many more. This raises two questions. (1) Amid the apparent chaos of “residual” footnotes, are there any rules at all regulating their use? (2) What is the relation of any rules found to the “reality” rule?

As to the first question, the application of any rule about footnotes requires an act of judgment in each case, and among historians judgment about the uses of residual footnotes differs. It might seem that in matters of judgment, as in those of taste, there is no disputing. But is this so? Let us consider an example.

At Shilbottle, in the case of three separate parcels of meadow, 31, 20 and 14 acres respectively, the first rendered 42s. in 1415-16 and 30s. in 1435-6, the second 28s. in 1420-1 and 23s. in 1435-6, and the third 24s. in 1422-3 and 14s. in 1435–6. At Guyzance 6V2 husbandlands each rendered 13s.4d. in 1406-7, but 10s. in 1435–6.

At Chatton and Rennington, on the other hand, the situation was more stable. At Rennington the clear revenues were £17.8s.3d. in 1435-6 and £17 in 1471-2 and at Chatton £40.18s.7d. in 1434-5 and £36.18s.7d in 1472–3. At Chatton the decline was due to a fall in the value of the farm of the park, from £6.13s.4d. to £2.13s.4d….

The above passage is embedded in the text of a study of the wealth of a magnate family in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and the effect on that wealth of concurrent changes in the economy, the military apparatus, and the political situation in England. Can anyone suggest that embedding it in the text instead of quarantining it in a footnote was not an error of judgment? But to say it was one is to imply a rule from which the erroneous judgment was a deviation. Can such a rule, a “law” of historical rhetoric or historiography, be stated? Approximately the rule might go: “Place in footnotes evidence and information which if in serted in the text diminish the impact on the reader of what you, as a historian, aim to convey to him.”

So although in the matter of the use of residual footnotes judgment is inescapable, we are not at all confronted with mere arbitrariness but with a reasonably precise rule or law. We may name it the “maximum impact” rule. Inevitably, marginal situations exist in which historians disagree about how to achieve maximum impact or the success of a particular rhetorical presentation. The existence of such marginal situations, however, does not mean that all situations are marginal and that therefore there is no rule, or that any rule is as good as any other. Lawyers have a saying that hard cases make bad law, but they do not feel impelled there upon to argue that there are no easy cases and no good law. Because there are some matters both substantive and procedural concerning which they are very uncertain, some historians have fallen victim to the notion that everything about the past and about writing about it is infected with a total uncertainty. Yet this is clearly not so in the case of the residual footnote, where there was no difficulty in finding a rule not heavily infected with uncertainty.

What, then, is the relation of the two rules—the “reality” rule and “maximum impact” rule—to each other? In the example of data that, by the second rule, ought to be withdrawn from the text and consigned to a residual footnote, those data are in formative and relevant with respect to the substantive historical argument the historian is presenting, and they are as complete, as explicit, and as exact as possible. But the historian is also committed to conveying to the reader with maximum impact his conception and understanding of the past as it actually happened, the “reality” of the first rule. And paradoxically, this implies that in the interest of conveying historical reality to the reader with maximum impact, the rules of historiography may require a historian to subordinate completeness, explicitness, and exactness to other considerations. If this is so, it indeed separates historiography from the rhetoric of the sciences as currently conceived.

Quotation in the text. Again, although both may quote in the text, there is a major difference here between the historians and the physicists. If physicists could not quote in the text, they would not feel that much was lost with respect to advancement of knowledge of the natural world. If historians could not quote, they would deem it a disastrous impediment to the communication of knowledge about the past. A luxury for physicists, quotation is a necessity for historians, indispensable to historiography.

The kind of quotation that historians deem indispensable is quotation from the record. Again two questions arise. (1) Is there any rule governing quotation from the record? (2) How does that rule relate to the “reality” rule?

Consider a hypothetical case of inept quotation. Suppose in writing the history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a historian were to quote verbatim from the Congressional Record the entire debate on the act in both the House and the Senate. The result would be relevant, exact, and accurate—and not only the judgment but the sanity of the historian would fall under serious question. Again the paradox: maximum completeness, accuracy, and exactness are not always essential or even desirable in the historian’s work of trying to tell the reader what really happened. Now consider an adept quotation taken from E. Harris Harbison’s The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation:

Erasmus had absorbed [Lorenzo] Valla’s historical perspective, his sense of the historical discontinuity between pagan antiquity and the Christian era … a sensitivity to anachronism. On one occasion he ridiculed the absurdity of the practice … of using Cice ronian words to describe an utterly different modern world: “Wherever I turn my eyes I see all things changed, I stand before another stage and I behold a different play, nay, even a different world.” The world of Cicero (or of Paul) can be understood and even in a sense relived—but only if we recognize that it had its unique existence, once, in a past now dead. (1956, p. 93)

The function of Harbison’s brief but apt quotation from Erasmus is not mere validation or proof of his assertions; he could as well have effected that by citation or quotation in a footnote. By using Erasmus’ own words in the text, he sought and won a response not merely of assent but of conviction, not just “Yes,” but “Yes, indeed!” Nothing Harbison could have said about Erasmus’ sense of history could produce the conviction about it that Erasmus’ own assertion of his intense feeling of distance from antiquity produces.

The quotation aims at something in addition to conviction, however. The quotation communicates the historian’s own view of what happened in the past by the particular means of confrontation. It says in effect, “In my judgment the most economical way at this point to tell you what I believe Erasmus meant and to convince you that he meant it is to confront you directly with what Erasmus said.” This provides us with a third general rule of historiography—an “economy-of-quotation” rule: Quote from the record of the past only when and to the extent that confrontation with that record is the best way to help the reader to an understanding of the past wie es eigentlich gewesen. It is evident, however, from the instance of the hypothetical case of the Congressional Record that mere confrontation with the record of the past is not necessarily the best way to achieve this understanding or even to achieve historical confrontation. Indeed, far from being a clear glass window through which the reader may capture an image of the past, quotation from the record injudiciously used can be a thick opaque wall that cuts him off from it. Granted that confrontation is an appropriate means for a historian to avail himself of in his efforts to convey to the reader an understanding of what actually happened, it then becomes possible to transcend the paradox previously noted. It opens up the possibility that the microscopic means of historiography have to be adapted to its macroscopic ends and that it is part of the task of the writer of history to mediate understanding and confrontation by devices of the rhetoric of history less direct but more compelling, more to the purpose than a simple maximizing of completeness, accuracy, and exactness.

The word list. The word list is a device useful both in the rhetoric of history and in the rhetoric of the sciences. (It is a sequence of words, usually nouns, whose relations as members of a set are often made evident by a sequence of commas and/or semicolons, the conjunction “and,” or typographical arrangement in a table.) Consider the following lists:

An inert element will not react or enter into chemical combination with any other element. In order of increasing atomic weight the inert elements are helium (4), neon (20), argon (39), krypton (84), xenon (131), and radon (222).

The average incomes of only three of the learned professions fall into the first quartile of all average incomes. In descending order of quartile and rank, the average incomes of members of the learned professions were as follows: surgeons (1,2), physicians (1,4), dentists (1,7), college professors (2,23), high school teachers (3,41), clergymen (3,47), grade school teachers (3,52).

The first list is scientific; the second, historiographic. They are in many respects similar. In intent the words composing them are wholly denotative. They are not supposed to cast any shadow, to connote or evoke anything. Their arrangement (ascending order, descending order) is dictated entirely by considerations of rational utility. They both implicitly relate to an informational framework equally denotative in intention—the periodic table of all chemical elements, the table of average incomes of the total population classified by profession and trade. Both listings aim to achieve a purpose universal in the rhetoric of the sciences, common but not universal in the rhetoric of history. The scientist always wants the state, process, and set of entities he is dealing with so labeled that the labels unambiguously and unequivocally point to that state, process, and set only. For the scientist’s purpose when he is formally communicating what he knows, words need to be free of contamination, of connotation, evocation, and emotive force, as sterile as the apparatus in an operating room. Otherwise he may find the wires of communication snarled and, as a consequence, have to rectify avoidable confusion. In this matter the historian’s purpose often coincides exactly with that of the scientist. It is only under the conditions and with a vocabulary of the kind above specified that he can to his own satisfaction transmit some of the kinds of information and understanding that he intends to communicate. Yet even the very close approximation to scientific rhetoric exemplified by the foregoing historiographic word list deviates from the scientific standard in ways that help to differentiate both the problems and the purposes of history from those of the sciences. Consider the question “Is not zinc (65) also an inert element?” To answer this question one can pour hydrochloric acid over zinc. Since one of the yields of this operation is zinc chloride (ZnCl), a chemical combination or compound, zinc is not an inert element.

The taxonomic system of chemical elements— the periodic table—is thus free of ambiguity. Suppose, on the other hand, the question were raised whether clergymen and elementary and high school teachers should be included as members of the learned professions when the executives of large corporations are excluded. The question points to doubts about a system of classification that might include store-front preachers and graduates of retrograde teacher-training colleges among members of the learned professions while excluding the products of the better graduate schools of business ad ministration. These doubts thus revolve about the identifying traits of the learned professions and the expediencies involved in the selection of any one set as against alternative sets of traits for classificatory purposes.

In any developed natural science, expediency in the choice of traits for a taxonomic system depends on the “importance” of the traits within the bounds of that science—e.g., in chemistry, valence and atomic weight as against color and taste. And importance is graded by applicability within the framework of generalizations or “scientific laws” that articulate the structure of the science in question and form the basis of its dominant mode of explanation. The dominant mode of historical explanation, narrative, emits no such clear, uniform signal for determining importance, and therefore in historiography the expediencies of alternative taxonomic systems often remain equivocal and debatable. It is this situation which generates the in terminable discussions among historians about whether sixteenth-century monarchies were really absolute, whether the Indians in the encomiendas in the Spanish colonies were really in servitude, whether the owner-operator of a small newsstand is really a capitalist. Such discussions seem futile because they purport to deal directly with the actual character of the past, a historical problem, when in fact they are concerned with the relative expediencies of alternative taxonomic devices for communicating knowledge of the past, a historiographic problem. The problem of taxonomy so considered, however, is anything but trivial (1) because classi fication systems both condition effectiveness of communication and channel the course of historical thinking, and (2) because in the very nature of the rhetoric of history, terms like “capitalist,” “absolute,” and “learned profession” cannot be ren dered wholly denotative to the consumer of history writing. Given the nonscientific values pursued in historiography, a historian using such terms will have to decide, for the purposes of the story or narrative explanation engaging him at the moment, how much time and effort he should expend in separating the connotative values from those terms and how important those connotative values are for advancing the historical understanding of the matter at hand. It is evident, in any case, that the general analysis of historical rhetoric involves a study of problems of taxonomy in history closer than any undertaken up to now.

One further trait of the above historiographic word list needs to be noted: it is either elliptical or meaningless. It acquires meaning only if time and place are specified, whereas no such specification is necessary in the above scientific list. A statement whose formal structure and manifest purpose seem very close to those that characterize the natural sciences illustrates the dominant time-place specificity of the rhetoric of history as against the domi nant time-space generality of the rhetoric of the sciences. Thus the analysis of a historical word list reinforces the conclusion that has emerged time and again in the course of this discussion of the rhetoric of history: despite occasional likenesses, historiography is radically unassimilable to the rhetoric of the natural sciences.

This can be even more effectively illustrated by another example of the historiographic use of a list.

The Christian Revival, that intensification of religious sentiment and concern that began long before 1517 and extended long beyond, in its full span had room for Cardinal Ximenes and Girolamo Savonarola; Martin Luther and Ignatius Loyola, the Reformed churches and the Jesuits, John of Leiden and Paul iv, Thomas Cranmer and Edmund Campion and Michael Servetus.

The names constitute a historiographic list, intended to serve a particular purpose of the rhetoric of history. It emits a signal, and what the signal says to all who hear it is: “Draw on the reservoir of your knowledge of the times in which these men lived to give meaning to this list.” If that reservoir is altogether empty, then inevitably the list will itself be historiographically empty, meaningless, a mere collection of sounds, just as the sentences about the inert gases are empty of meaning to any who have no notion of what a chemical element or a chemical reaction or atomic weight is. The reason for this similarity is that in the present case both the historiographic rhetoric and the scientific rhetoric presuppose that the reader already possesses a body of precise and exact knowledge of the particular universes to which they refer. The scientific and the second historiographic statement both conform to the “reality” rule; they are meaningless unless there are such elements as helium, neon, and argon; and unless there were such men as Loyola, Cranmer, and Paul iv. Yet the second historiographic list serves a rhetorical function quite different from that served by the scientific list. First, consider the order of the two lists. Given the gases’ common trait of inertness, the order of the scientific list indicates the scientist’s normal preoccupation with establishing scalable differences of homogeneous traits—in this case, weight. In the historiographical list, on the other hand, no such preoccupation is discernible, yet the arrangement of the names lies at the very heart of the matter.

Note that there are three alternative ways of writing the historiographic list, all of which maintain the essential arrangement, to convey whatever information it contains.

(1) Cardinal Ximenes and Girolamo Savonarola, Martin Luther and Ignatius Loyola, the Reformed churches and the Jesuits, John of Leiden and Paul iv, Thomas Cranmer and Edmund Campion and Michael Servetus.

(2) The pre-Reformation cardinal who reformed the church in Spain, and the pre-Reformation monk who was burned at the stake for his reforming efforts in Florence; the first great figure of the Reformation and the first great figure of the Counter Reformation; the cutting edge of the Protestant attack and the cutting edge of the Catholic counterattack; the most fanatical prophet of the radical Reformation and the most fanatical pope of the era of religious strife; the Prot estant martyred by the Catholics, the Catholic martyred by the Protestants, and the martyr who escaped death at the hands of the Catholics only to receive it at the hands of the Protestants.

(3) Cardinal Ximenes, the pre-Reformation cardinal who reformed the church in Spain, and Girolamo Savonarola, the pre-Reformation monk who was burned at the stake for his reforming efforts in Florence; Luther, the first great figure of the Reformation, and Loyola, the first great figure of the Counter Reformation; the Reformed churches, the cutting edge of the Protestant attack, and the Jesuits, the cutting edge of the Catholic counterattack….

The persons balanced in tension with one an other are the same for all three versions of the list, and the arraying is identical in all three. On mathe matical principles, a member of any of the lists should be freely substitutable for the corresponding member of either of the other two, but in writing history this is not so. Each list must retain its integrity. On what grounds can a historian choose among the three? One might argue that the second list is preferable to the first since it explicates the rationale upon which the persons in the first list were arrayed and that, in point of information about the past, the third is best of all, since it both names the persons and explicates the rationale of their array. Yet a reasonably experienced historian committed to communicating what he understands about the past actually chose the first option—the bare list of names with no indication as to his grounds for choosing them or for ordering them as he did. His choice is explicable when related to an earlier observation about the signal emanated by the list: “Draw on the reservoir of your knowledge of the times in which these men lived to give meaning to the list.” The writer assumed that most of his readers could and would in fact draw from their particular reservoirs the items of general information in the second and third lists.

The effect of spelling out that information, how ever, is to emit another kind of rhetorical signal, a stop signal: “Stop drawing on the reservoir of your knowledge. I have already told you how I want you to think about these men.” And this stop signal is just what the writer did not want the list to emit. The third version of the list is more exact, more overtly informative than the bare names in the first list, and just for that reason it is more empty, less ample. It dams up the informed reader’s imagination instead of letting it flow freely, bringing with it the mass of connotation and association that those names have for him. Therefore, to prevent such a blockage the writer chose the first list. In doing so, he made a judgment. He judged (or gambled) that the connotative, evocative list would communicate a fuller meaning than the exact one, that it would more effectively confront the reader with the reality of the Christian revival, and that therefore it was the more appropriate device for advancing the reader’s understanding of it. Whether he was correct in his judgment or not is immaterial. In setting forth his findings, a scientist never needs to make such a judgment at all. Scientific rhetoric is purposefully constructed to free him of that need by barring connotative terms and evocative devices. To a scientist the idea that he had to choose between a rhetoric of clarity and precision on the one hand and one of evocative force on the other would be shocking. The idea that the writer of history has to select between mutually exclusive ways of setting forth the same data and that the knowledge of history that he conveys depends in some measure on his judgment in selecting among alternative rhetorical devices is perhaps as disturbing and perplexing. But one is impelled to the latter conclusion by an investigation of the peculiarities of the way writers of history use footnotes, quotations, and word lists.

Codification of historiographic principles

The whole preceding article may be regarded as a prolegomenon to a codification of principles of historiography. Its aim has not been to produce such a codification but (1) to indicate that it might be possible to produce one and (2) to educe a few of the rules that would have place there. It has been concerned time and again to mark the irreducible differences that separate the rhetoric of history from that of the natural sciences because, given the prestige of those sciences and the striking similarity of some of the objectives of history writing and science writing, there is a danger that an attempt to codify the principles of historiography might take the form of a systematic effort to reduce as far as possible those principles to the ones current in the natural sciences. This indeed has already been the outcome of attempts by analytic philosophers from Carl Hempel to Morton White to codify the rules of historiography. The outcome of such an effort would be catastrophic, not because it would be an utter failure but because it would be a partial success. It would succeed in codifying rules about a great deal of what historians write in a way that would relate it closely to what scientists write. It might then be inferred that only the part of the rhetoric of history which can be articulated with that of the sciences is fit for communicating what in the course of their researches historians learn about the past, or that only that part is amenable to codification. In the foregoing discussion, however, we have already seen that in the writing of history it is often necessary to employ language in ways that scientists quite properly reject for communicating the results of their investigations. Therefore, instead of extending our knowledge of the past, to limit historiography to those statements about the past which can be formulated in the rhetoric of the sciences would sharply constrict it.

The rational procedure in attempting to elicit general rules of historiography would be, rather, to make a series of analyses of the kinds classified and discussed in the previous section, taking as their subject pieces of historical writing which on the basis of a broad consensus of historians have been extraordinarily successful in transmitting what their writers knew about the past. It is impossible, of course, to predict in substance the outcome of such an analytical effort. Because in the section on general analysis we were able to elicit a few sample rules, it may, however, be possible to hazard a conjecture about its form. On the basis of that small sample one might conjecture that a codification of the rules of historiography would resemble a manual of military strategy more than a handbook of physics. It would consist of a number of maxims generally applicable to the solution of recurrent problems in writing history, leaving the identification of his particular problems and application of the maxims to the experience of the trained historian.

The most important professional use of such codification would be precisely in the training of historians. Historians do not lack the ability to discriminate between historiography which badly and inadequately communicates what a historian knows and historiography which communicates it well. Unfortunately, because that ability is now acquired almost wholly through experience rather than through a combination of experience and systematic knowledge, it is rarely and inefficiently transmitted from teacher to pupil. Indeed, the systematic training of historians is almost solely given over to the transmission of competence in the operations they must perform before they engage in the activity that defines their craft—the writing of history. Many historians receive the doctoral degree, which is supposed to certify their competence in their craft, without ever being compelled to rewrite anything they have written after having it subjected to rigorous and systematic criticism. The chronic ineptitude that hosts of historians display in their attempts to communicate what they know is a testimonial to the inadequacy of their training in this respect, or to its complete neglect. This ineptitude may suggest the desirability of an attempt to state coherently at least part of what the better historians know experientially about writing history and demonstrate visibly in the consistent appropriateness of their responses to the problems of historiographic statement.

Theoretical implications

The examination of historiography in this article has at various points suggested what becomes quite evident in the treatment of narrative explanation as against historical storytelling and in the section on the analysis of the form of a historical work —that the practices of historians in writing history may have some peculiar and serious implications in that wide area of human concern in which men struggle with the difficult problems of the meaning and nature of knowledge, understanding, and truth. The principal relevant points that have emerged may be summarized as follows.

First, historiography is a rule-bound discipline by means of which historians seek to communicate their knowledge of the past.

Second, the relation of writing history, of its rhetoric, to history itself is quite other than it has traditionally been conceived. Rhetoric is ordinarily deemed icing on the cake of history, but our investigation indicates that it is mixed right into the batter. It affects not merely the outward appearance of history, its delightfulness and seemliness, but its inward character, its essential function—its capacity to convey knowledge of the past as it actually was. And if this is indeed the case, historians must subject historiography, the process of writing history, to an investigation far broader and far more intense than any that they have hitherto conducted.

Third, there is an irreducible divergence between the rhetoric of history and the rhetoric of science; the vocabulary and syntax that constitute the appropriate response of the historian to his data are neither identical with nor identifiable with the vocabulary and syntax that constitute the appropriate response of the scientist to his data. But the historian’s goal in his response to the data is to render the best account he can of the past as it really was. Therefore, by his resort to the rhetoric of history, regardless of its divergence from that of the sciences, the historian affirms in practice and action his belief that it is more adequate than the latter as a vehicle to convey the kind of knowledge, understanding, truth, and meaning that historians achieve. Indeed, instances were discovered in which, in order to transmit an increment of knowledge and meaning, the very rules of historiography demand a rhetoric which sacrifices generality, precision, control, and exactness to evocative force and scope—a choice entirely out of bounds according to the rules of scientific statement. And this implies that in the rhetoric of history itself there are embedded assumptions about the nature of knowing, understanding, meaning, and truth and about the means of augmenting them that are not completely congruent with the corresponding assumptions in the sciences, at least insofar as the philosophy of science has succeeded in identifying them.

Historiography has generated a crisis in the currently dominant Anglo-American school of philosophy, the school that has as its main subgroups logical positivism, the philosophy of science, and language analysis. That it has done so is evident from a cursory examination of the index of one of the more recent works on history writing by an analytical philosopher (Danto 1965). Besides the philosophical magnates, living and dead, tangentially involved in the dialogue—Ayer, Bradley, Dewey, Hume, Kant, Lewis, Peirce, Ryle, Russell, Wittgenstein—the index mentions Agassi, Danto, Donegan, Dray, Gallie, Gardiner, Gellner, Hempel, Mandelbaum, Nagel, Passmore, Popper, Scriven, Walsh, and Watkins, all of whom since 1940 have directly confronted the problems that in their view historiography poses for philosophy; and the list is by no means complete. The close attention that this group of philosophers has directed to history writing is especially significant because of their central preoccupation with the way in which language communicates knowledge, understanding, meaning, and truth. In the broadest sense this large collective enterprise has been trying to define the relationship between the practices of writers of history and the nature of knowledge, understanding, meaning, and truth, especially as revealed in the structure of scientific rhetoric.

The preceding prolegomenon to an inquiry into the rules of the rhetoric of history provides a clue to the character of the crisis (symptomatically marked by the profusion of their output on the subject) with which the writing of history has confronted the analytical philosophers. History has posed for them a very difficult puzzle. Most historians in theory, all in practice, treat their subject as if through their current methods and their current rhetoric they were achieving and transmitting increments of knowledge about it. That is to say, they declare that if a piece of historical work is well done and properly set down, readers will know more about the past after they have read it than they did before. And for practical purposes very few people have seriously doubted the propriety of this claim (the few that do, appear to have read very little history). And yet historiography—the forms of statement historians adopt, their rhetoric—does not seem to fit into the sign structure suitable for scientific explanation, the classical rhetoric for communicating increments of knowledge, and most historians have been either indifferent or actively hostile to the notion that in the interest of rendering an account of the past as it actually was, they ought to elaborate and consistently employ such a sign structure. It is with this paradox that so many analytical philosophers have tried to deal systematically since 1940.

The course of this large collective effort is far too complex and has had too many ramifications to be dealt with here in detail. Briefly, the initial supposition (Hempel 1942), set forth above, was (1) that the universal valid model of explanation is that of the natural sciences, (2) that this consists in linking an event to general laws in such a way that the event is entailed by the laws through strict deduction, (3) that any activity of a historian that does not achieve this end does not explain anything, (4) that although in some instances historians can perform the necessary operations, they rarely do so, and therefore (5) that by and large in most of their actual operations historians explain nothing. Twenty-five years of intensive discussion by analytical philosophers has taken off from, and resulted in a number of proposals for modifying, this rigorist position. It seems likely that the dis-ease which some of these modifications manifest is in part the consequence of an often unarticulated sense on the part of analytical philosophers who have read history books that the actual procedures of historians, for knowing, understanding, and giving an account of the past as it actually was, do achieve their explicit or implicit purpose. In the course of bringing about a partial confrontation of the general-law theory of explanation with historiography, the analytical philosophers discovered a number of facts about the latter which because of their apparent deviation from the general-law or scientific model caused them perplexity. Among these were (1) that for many purposes of “explanation why,” historians do not resort to general laws but to truisms; (2) that when historians are confronted with the question “Why?” their frequent, indeed normal, impulse is not to recite or seek relevant general laws, as a scientist would do, but to tell a story, and that such a story often seems to provide a satis fying answer to the question “Why?” while a general law does not; (3) that the questions historians are often most heavily engaged in answering are not why-questions at all but what-questions (and also, one might add parenthetically, who-, when-, and where-questions); and (4) that a great deal of the activity of historians can be construed as having explanation as its aim only by so far extending the meanings of explanation current in analytical philosophy as to destroy even the appearance of synonymy and to impose well-nigh unbearable strains even on analogy.

In the process of coping with these problems, the analytical philosophers have produced a series of solutions, not always coherent with each other, of considerable interest to themselves but apparently of very little interest to historians as such. The character of most of these answers (and perhaps the explanation of their lack of interest for historians) may properly be described as “as-similationist.” The common characteristics of these assimilationist answers are first to seek out all traits of historiography that can reasonably be identified with or assimilated to the model of scientific explanation by means of general laws; then to make epicyclic modifications of the general-law structure of explanation to accommodate some of the more evident deviations of historiography from its pattern, always holding such modifications to the minimum; and finally wholly to prescind from some of the most evident traits of historiography on the ground that they are irrelevant to the quest for knowledge, understanding, and truth. The last procedure, which for present purposes is of the most importance, is illustrated by a passage in Morton White’s Foundations of Historical knowledge, a passage of special interest because among the practitioners of analytical philosophy White alone is also a practitioner of historiography at a very high level of excellence.

The historical narrative, the extended story, is so large and rambling by contrast to the single sentence treated by the logician that any effort to treat it as a repeatable and identifiable pattern of language may give an impression of remoteness and distortion well beyond what might be felt by the historian who finds his causal statements cast in a single syntactical mold. On the other hand, the very qualities of narrative which might lead a historian to think that logical analysis distorts it are those that might inhibit a logician from trying to discern its structure. The complexity and variety of narrative, the fact that one story seems so different in structure from another, may give both the romantically minded historian and the classically minded logician pause. Yet the vast differences that human beings exhibit do not prevent us from X-raying them in an effort to discern the skeletal structure that each of them possesses…. History is a literary art as well as a discipline aimed at discovering and ordering truth, and if we neglect some of the narrative’s literary qualities in order to clarify certain epistemological problems connected with it, our procedure is like that of the sane roentgenologist, who searches for the skull without denying that the skin exists and without denying that the skin may vary enormously in color, texture, and beauty. (1965, pp. 220-221)

The equation here is at once interesting, dubious, and exemplary of the assimilationist posture above described. Before presenting it, by the addition of a couple of rather large epicycles, White had already assimilated several common traits of historiography as closely as possible to the general-law model of scientific discourse. The quotation announces his intention to do the like with another major trait, the storylike character of much history writing. But he knows this is going to leave him with a very large residue of what historians write still on his hands. This residue consists in part of matters that the analysis of historical rhetoric in this article has called attention to. He disposes of this uncomfortable residue by assigning it to history as “a literary art” rather than history as “a discipline aimed at discovering and ordering truth.” In this connection his analogy with roentgenology is not wholly fortunate. For it is at least arguable that the knowledge that history makes accessible is no more fully revealed by the mere skeletal structure of its narrative than the knowledge of the human head is fully exhausted by what an X-ray plate shows about its mere ossature. Just as it may be suggested that while the human head is partly a bony structure and partly (sometimes) a thing of beauty, it is also a number of other things, too, so it is possible to grant that history is a literary art while denying that all those aspects of history writing which White consigns to that function and that function alone are actually irrelevant to the function of history as a discipline aimed at discovering and ordering truth. It has been one purpose of the foregoing article to suggest some grounds for such a denial.

The mention of epicycles in the preceding paragraphs provides us with a clue to the disease of analytical philosophy with historiography, a dis-ease so acute that it has become an intellectual disease which may be a prelude to a general and deep intellectual crisis. Epicycles suggest the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, and examination of the ultimate crisis of that system may by analogy help toward an understanding of the current crisis with respect to knowing, understanding, explaining, and truth that the study of historiography has induced in analytical philosophy. The crisis in the Ptolemaic system came in the sixteenth century, when it was destroyed by the Copernican revolution. For centuries before, it had been normal science. Following the terminology of Thomas Kuhn, it was structured about several paradigms, among which were (1) the earth is at the center of the cosmos; (2) the earth does not move; (3) the orbits of all heavenly bodies are circular; (4) the circular motion of each heavenly body is uniform in rate. These paradigms were invoked to support an area of pre-Copernican science far more extensive than celestial mechanics; and to save this science, the observed deviations of the planets from presumed circular orbits and uniform speeds were dealt with by an ingenious but exceedingly intricate system of epicycles, eccentrics, and equants. The Copernican revolution was initiated by Copernicus’ allegation that this system could be greatly simplified by assuming that the earth was not at the center of the cosmos and that it moved around the sun annually and rotated on its own axis daily.

Certain facts about the Copernican revolution are worth noting in the present context. (1) Copernicus’ own work by no means provided a wholly satisfactory solution to the difficulties it sought to deal with. (2) Although the third and fourth paradigms of Ptolemaic astronomy—those dealing with the orbit, shape, and speed of the planets—ulti mately crumbled under the impact of the revolution Copernicus started, he had no intention of displacing them and in fact held firmly to them. (3) Copernicus’ heliocentrism and geomobilism implied the destruction not merely of Ptolemaic celestial mechanics but of other large tracts of the science of his day; what he offered in place of what he destroyed was, however, unsatisfactory. In some matters he offered nothing in place of it, and in others he does not seem to have been aware that he had destroyed it, so that overall for a long time the old normal science provided better explanations of many phenomena than the Copernicans did. (4) For all the above reasons the marginal advantage of the Copernican over the Ptolemaic celestial mechanics was not at all clear, and the conservatism of those who continued to adhere to the older scientific paradigms for a long time is quite intelligible.

Let us now apply this analogy to the crisis that has confronted the analytical philosophers as a result of their explorations of historiography. Until and except for that confrontation, their paradigms—essentially the modes of rhetoric they ascribed to the sciences—provided them with a reasonably satisfactory way of understanding and rendering intelligible the syntactical structure and vocabulary of a language capable of conveying frequent increments of knowledge, meaning, and truth—the language of the natural sciences. From this fact of experience they assumed that all knowing, meaning, and truth can be incorporated into statements in their paradigmatic rhetoric and that nothing that cannot be reduced to that rhetoric can claim a place in the region of knowing, meaning, and truth. During their 25-year confrontation with historiography they have discovered one anomaly after another in the rhetoric of history, place after place where it appears to deviate from the language of the sciences. Their most general response has been to try to save their normal view of the nature of knowing, meaning, understanding, and truth and of the proper rhetoric for communicating them by constructing a complex structure of the logical equivalents of epicycles, eccentrics, and equants in order to assimilate to it as much of the rhetoric of history as possible and thereby save the paradigms which support that structure. This procedure has been less than satisfactory, since it requires them quite arbitrarily and without evidence to assign to many traits of the rhetoric of history an altogether aesthetic rather than a noetic function. This has been especially the case with respect to those aspects of the work of the writer of history which concern themselves with the telling of a historical story and with the disposition and arrangement of his evidence and the choice among alternatives, all connotative rather than purely denotative, for the communication of what he knows. The philosophers have proceeded as they have for the very good reason that to do otherwise would be to raise extremely perplexing questions about the nature of knowing, understanding, meaning, and truth to which, as of now, neither they nor anyone else has any very plausible answers.

One of the aims of this article is to suggest that nevertheless a paradigm shift which would raise such questions may now be desirable and even necessary. The first step would be to assume that the rhetoric of history, including much to which analytical philosophers assign only aesthetic value, constitutes an appropriate response on the part of historians to their commitment to advance the knowledge and understanding of the past as it actually was. There are no better reasons for rejecting this assumption than for making it; logically to reject it or to accept it involves decisions equally arbitrary. It has, however, a certain primafacie empirical plausibility; it is based on an uninvidious view of the consistent refusal of some of the very best historians dedicated to communicating the truth about the past wholly to adopt the rhetoric of the sciences. To start with this favorable assumption would provide room among the means of knowing for certain rules of historiography concerned with the advancement of knowledge, for which there seems to be no room within the present structure of knowing as the analytical philosophers conceive it.

It would by no means open the way for the sort of intellectual slatternliness that analytical philosophers rightly object to and oppose. On the contrary, it would assist in the introduction of some much-needed conscious intellectual rigor into regions in which rigor has often been sadly lacking or in which its presence has been due to the experience and temperament of particular historians rather than to thoughtfully codified professional standards of performance. But to do all this requires an acknowledgment and acceptance (1) that in some areas of human inquiry the pursuit of truth can be effectively carried on only by means of a rhetoric which diverges from that of the sciences and (2) that this is not wholly due to the peculiarities and perversities of those who pursue the truth in those areas but in part to the very nature of the terrain over which they must pursue it. Once analytical philosophers fully recognize that there may and indeed must be more than one style, one rhetoric, for communicating the things that are both knowable and communicable, and that the problem is not that of reducing all styles to one but of carefully investigating what style is appropriate to the particular problems of communication inherent in a particular kind of knowing, it will be possible to bridge the now ever-widening gaps that separate analytical philosophers, historians, and rhetoricians. They might then join in trying to discover whether a thorough exploration of historiography, the rhetoric of history, can teach them anything worth finding out about knowing, understanding, meaning, and truth.

J. H. Hexter

[See alsoScientific Explanation; History; Periodization; Science.]


This bibliography includes selected works on the history of history writing in the Western world. Extensive bibli ographies can also be found in Nevins 1932; Gottschalk 1963.

Agassi, Joseph1963 Towards an Historiography of Science. History and Theory, Beiheft 2. The Hague: Mouton.

Antoni, Carlo; and Mattioli, Raffaele (editors) 1950 Cinquant’anni di vita intellettuale italiana, 1896–1946. 2 vols. Naples (Italy): Edizlonl Scien-tifiche Italiane.

Aron, Raymond (1935) 1957 German Sociology. Glen-coe, 111.: Free Press.→ First published in French.

Barnes, Harry Elmer (1937) 1962 A History of Historical Writing. 2d rev. ed. New York: Dover.

Bellot, H. Hale 1952 American History and American Historians: A Review of Recent Contributions to the Interpretation of the History of the United States. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

Bowman, Francis J. 1951 A Handbook of Historians and History Writing. Dubuque, Iowa: Brown.

Butterfield, Herbert1955 Man on His Past: The Study of the History of Historical Scholarship. Cam bridge Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published by Beacon in 1960.

Collingwood, R. G. 1946 The Idea of History. Oxford Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1956.

Croce, Benedetto(1921)1947 Storia della storiografia italiana nel secolo decimonono. 3d ed. 2 vols. Bari (Italy): Laterza.

Danto, Arthur C. 1965 Analytical Philosophy of History. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Diwald, Hellmut1955 Das historische Erkennen: Un-tersuchungen zum Geschichtsrealismus im 19. Jahr-hundert. Leiden (Netherlands): Brill.

Encyclopédie française. Volume 20: Le monde en devenir. 1964 Paris: Société de Gestion de l’Encyclopédie Française.

Engel-Janosi, Friedrich1944 The Growth of German Historicism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Ferguson, Wallace K. 1948 The Renaissance in Historical Thought: Five Centuries of Interpretation. Boston: Houghton Miffiin.

Fitzsimons, Matthew A. et al. (editors) 1954 The Development of Historiography. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole.

Fueter, Eduard(1911) 1914 Histoire de Vhistorio-graphie moderne. Paris: Alcan. → First published in German.

Gallie, W. B. 1964 Philosophy and the Historical Understanding. London: Chatto & Windus.

Gooch, George P. (1913)1952 History and Historians in the Nineteenth Century. 2d ed. New York: Long mans.

GÖrlitz, Walter1949 Idee und Geschichte: Die Entwicklung des historischen Denkens. Freiburg (Germany): Badischer Verlag.

Gottschalk, Louis R. (editor) 1963 Generalization in the Writing of History. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Harbison, E. Harris 1956 The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation. New York: Scribner.

Hempel, Carl G. 1942 The Function of General Laws in History. Journal of Philosophy 39:35–48.

Higham, John; Krieger, Leonard; and Gilbert, Felix 1965 History. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Histoire et historiens depuis cinquante ans. 2 vols. 1927-1928 Paris: Alcan.

Kesting, Hanno 1959 Geschichtsphilosophie und Welt-biirgerkrieg: Deutungen der Geschichte von der franzo-sischen Revolution bis zum Ost-West Konflikt. Heidel berg (Germany): Winter.

Kraus, Michael 1953 The Writing of American History. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

Mazour, Anatole (1939) 1958 Modern Russian Historiography. 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand. → First published as An Outline of Modern Russian Historiography.

Nevins, Allan 1932 History and Historiography. Vol ume 7, pages 357-389 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan. → A bibliography appears on pages 389–391.

Passmore, John (editor) 1965 The Historiography of the History of Philosophy. History and Theory, Bei-heft 5. The Hague: Mouton.

Pocock, J. G. A. 1957 The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Rossi, Pietro 1956 Lo storicismo tedesco contempora-neo. Turin (Italy): Einaudi.

Sampson, Ronald V. 1956 Progress in the Age of Reason: The Seventeenth Century to the Present Day. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Sanchez Alonso, Benito 1941-1950 Consejo superior de investigaciones cientificas: Historia de la historic-grafia española. 3 vols. Madrid.

Srbik, Heinrich von 1950-1951 Geist und Geschichte vom deutschen Humanismus bis zur Gegenwart. 2 vols. Munich (Germany): Bruckmann.

Thompson, James W. 1942 A History of Historical Writing. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan.

Van Tassel, David 1960 Recording America’s Past: An Interpretation of the Development of Historical Studies in America, 1607–1884. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Wagner, Fritz 1960 Moderne Geschichtsschreibung: Ausblick auf eine Philosophic der Geschichtswissen-schaft. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.

White, Morton G. 1965 Foundations of Historical Knowledge. New York: Harper.

Wish, Harvey 1960 The American Historian: A Social-Intellectual History of the Writing of the American Past. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Ziffer, Bernard 1952 Poland, History and Historians: Three Bibliographical Essays. New York: Mid-Euro pean Studies Center.


A belief in the continuity of life, a life after death, and a community of interest between the living, the dead, and the generations yet unborn is fundamental to all African religious, social, and political life. Thus, although the serious writing of African history has only just begun, a sense of history and tradition has always been part of the African way of life.

The ancient Egyptians were very conscious of the continuity of life and death. They were conscious not only of the overriding importance of an after-life but also of the continuing relevance of the dead to the living. They prepared the burial chambers and preserved the bodies of the dead with great care. The essence of the Horus myth was that the dead, particularly the kings, continued to influence the life of the living by affecting the annual inundations of the Nile and the germination of crops. A good deal of Egyptian religion revolved around the commemoration of the dead. Impressive monuments were erected, and the priests who ministered in those shrines became very knowledgeable about the traditions and folklore of the past.

This fundamental belief in the continuity of life is found among all African peoples. It is an es sential element in traditional African historiography. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa one finds the continuing relevance of the dead to the life of the present and of future generations. It is expressed in the belief that each community was founded by an ancestor or a group of ancestors, that whatever the status or possessions of the community, they were owed to the ancestors, and that the ancestors had established for all time the basic charter of life, which could be adapted and modified but which could not be completely changed. The ancestors and the tradition they represented were a living reality. Reverence for the ancestors sometimes became worship. The fear of “what the ancestors would say” was an ever-present consideration and one of the most powerful sanctions in African societies.

Traditions of origins

Each community—family, clan, village, town, or state—however large or small, had an established tradition concerning its origins. The community might split up, migrate, and assimilate new elements, or be conquered by others and absorbed by new immigrants. At each stage of transformation, the tradition was recrystallized to accommo date changed conditions, and a new tradition of origin was formulated by the new community. These traditions became the core of the commu nity’s view of history. The very process of tradition-making and acculturation in the community, and of transmitting tradition to succeeding generations, developed a consciousness of history that became widespread in Africa.

These origin traditions did not attempt a historical explanation in the modern European sense of verifiable texts and chronology. They promoted understanding of and a respect for the institutions and practices of the community. They offered explanations of the world as the community conceived of it—the origin of land and sea, man and the other species, the origin of the state, the basis of different laws and customs, the title of the community to the land it held, how and why it differed from its neighbors in the gods it wor shipped and the customs it upheld—but the explanations were not so much historical as philosophical, literary, and didactic. Accurate chronology and causation were of little relevance. To a large extent, history was merged with myth and was part of the general philosophy of life. In this way traditional African historiography resembled that of Europe before the scientific revolution split philosophy into its component parts. The making and transmission of tradition was not the work of historians in the modern sense, but of priests and diviners, elders, and wise men in general. Tradition explained not only the relationship between the ancestors of different communities but also the relationship between the existing community, the ancestors, and the gods. It was expressed not only in narrative but also in sacred poetry, in ritual re-enactments, and other religious manifestations. Tradition was part of the philosophy of the community, part of its own peculiar way of life. Thus there could be no concept of universal history extending beyond the life of the particular commu nity.

The making and the transmission of tradition varied from place to place. It depended on the size, nature, beliefs, and resources of the particular community. In segmented societies where roles were often not differentiated, it was part of the functions of the clan head as he fulfilled specific political and religious roles. In organized states, however, par ticularly those with centralized monarchies, such as Benin, Ashanti, or Dahomey, where the political and legal implications of tradition were of every day importance, the making and transmission of tradition became a controlled and well-regulated specialism.

Oral transmission

The commonest method of transmitting tradition was through stories, fables, and proverbs told by the elders as part of the general education of the young. In those story-telling sessions, after the evening meal in the family compounds or during festivals of the full moon when people stayed up late, traditions telling of the origin of the whole community or of the particular family or clan were related. More recent events that had occurred within remembered history, particularly those of the previous two or three generations, were also talked about.

Traditions were transmitted more formally when there were organized educational institutions such as those connected with puberty rites, initiation into age-grades and secret societies, or during the training or apprenticeship of priests and diviners. The rites by which the king-elect was initiated into the kingship were of particular interest. As the successor to and representative of the ancestors, the king became the custodian of the traditions of the community. One of the most important functions of the rites preceding his coronation, therefore, was to initiate him into the secrets of his ancestors and the traditional lore of his people. More than that, partly as ritual offerings to the ancestors, partly as entertainment and education for the people at large, the traditions of the people were recited publicly: symbolic events from the past were dramatized; the names, genealogies, cognomens, titles, and praise songs of the ancestors were chanted. The new king announced his own title. The title frequently was intended to charac terize the expectations of his reign. The praise singers responded, and a new chapter in the peo ple’s tradition opened.

Thus the process of transmitting tradition can not be separated from the process of creating tradition. Tradition was made by those who transmitted it—the village and clan elders, the singers and drummers who assisted at coronations and other public festivals, the officials of age-grades and secret societies who conducted the puberty rites or initiated new members. These persons were ap pointed sometimes from among eligible members of a single family, sometimes from a wider circle of candidates who had to demonstrate their mastery of past traditions and folklore and their wit at entertaining people and making tradition out of contemporary affairs. In the daily life both of the community and of individuals, tradition was in voked, challenged, modified, and created in the processes of litigation, of settling disputed successions to all types of offices, of recording new events and new situations that resulted when masterful individuals or communities made innovations in the guise of merely fulfilling tradition.

Factual versus literary traditions

It is necessary to distinguish between different types of tradition, or oral tradition, as it is now generally described (Vansina 1961). The first distinction is between traditions of a factual and historical type and those of a literary and philosophical type. Of the more factual type, it is important to distinguish between events of the recent past that can be recalled from the personal experience of grandfathers and fathers and events of the more distant past. The authenticity of these remote traditions is in large part dependent on the special institutions that may have existed for making and transmitting tradition and on how efficiently these institutions functioned. Such factual traditions include formal lists of kings and other office holders, chronicles of each reign, appellations and praise verses (which often included either direct or implied criticism) of each king or other leading chiefs, genealogies, and certain laws or customs. But even traditions that appear well preserved and factual may turn out on examination to be symbolic; apparent biographical data may represent summaries of the life of the whole community over one or more generations. References to years, gen erations, and periods may in fact refer to structural and not chronological time.

The more literary types of tradition include proverbs and sayings, songs and lyrics, of which some are general and others peculiar to particular guilds, age-grades and other associations. The more philosophical traditions are enshrined in the sacred chants of different religious organizations and cults, such as the praise verses of the gods, divination poems, funeral dirges, liturgies, and hymns. Finally, one should distinguish between traditions narrated in the words of the speaker and those with set and formal texts.

Ethiopian influence

There have been, of course, other historical traditions in Africa whose influence on African historiography is difficult to evaluate at the present state of our knowledge. One important example is the Ethiopian historical tradition, partly African and partly of Judaeo-Christian inspiration. The suprem acy of the Solomonid dynasty, the unity of church and state, and the integrity of the monophysite church were the dynamic historical forces. As in other parts of Africa, in the twelfth century Ethio pia developed a legend that linked the ruling dynasty with the Holy Land. But it was a written tradition, enshrined in the Book of Kings that became a major feature of coronation rites. The monasteries recorded the annals of each reign and preserved important texts and charters. Yet the primary interest of Ethiopian intellectual life was theological, not historical; there was little attempt until recent times to analyze and interpret the annals and the chronicles to produce history. Of more relevance to African historiography are the traditions of the Berbers. Like other Africans, the Berbers were very conscious of the continued rele vance of the past. In their reaction both to Roman Christianity and Arabian Islam they manifested an attitude of mysticism and dissent combined with the veneration of ancestors. It may be said that this attitude produced hagiography and not critical history, but hagiography itself was a method of enshrining and immortalizing the idealized social and religious virtues of the people. It was, in a sense, the literary expression of respect for the norms and virtues of ancestors, similar to the traditions found in other parts of Africa. The tracing of real genealogy, always of great importance to the Arabs, has remained a marked feature of Muslim Africa, but, in addition, the Berbers introduced veneration of ancestors in the form of tracing spiritual genealogies of Muslim leaders. This was expressed in the tariqa chains and the handing down of the wird among Muslim Brotherhoods. Initiation into the tariqa conferred spiritual knowledge and benefits; this paralleled initiation into traditional African associations, guilds, and cults.

Muslim influence

Muslim influence was important not only in north Africa but also in east Africa, the whole of the Sudan, and even in a few places within the forest areas. In addition to real and spiritual genealogies, Muslim writers produced a number of tarikhs and chronicles, especially in the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries. These embodied eyewitness accounts, oral tradition, and evidence from earlier accounts by geographers, travelers and traders. Muslim writers were particularly interested in the spread and influence of Islam and in the religious and the economic life of the main centers of Islam. These factors were singled out of the totality of African life and traditions and given undue emphasis. In important centers of Muslim learning like Timbuktu, Gao, Djenne, Kano, Katsina, and Bornu in the west and central Sudan, or Kilwa, Malindi, and Mombasa in east Africa, traditions of the people were written down, mostly in Arabic but sometimes also in the Arabic transcriptions of the vernacular. The accounts centered on leading personalities of the Muslim community rather than traditional states or clans. Rulers were judged good or bad insofar as they extended or hindered the influence of Islam and the privileges of Muslim scholars.

It is now recognized that the Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldūn, the famous Tunisian scholar of the fourteenth century, is one of the world’s most important works on historiography. He emphasized the importance of sociology to history. He sought to study the past not only in terms of the actions of individuals but also by an analysis of the laws, customs, and institutions of the different peoples as well as the interaction of state and society. This approach would have provided a basis for synthe sizing the many traditions in Africa into a history of the continent, but until recently, his work had little influence. The contemporary medieval world was more interested in the study of theology, law, and rhetoric. Within Africa itself, Islamic scholarship declined and was at its lowest ebb in the eighteenth century. It was in this period that the study of history was revived in Europe, but because of the abundance of written documentary evidence, European scholars did not adopt the sociological approach of Ibn Khaldūn, but concerned themselves mainly with the decrees, wars, and politics of kings. In the nineteenth century the legal and biographical approach was broadened to take social and economic factors into account, but documentary evidence had become so overwhelmingly important for the European scholar that he tended to equate written documents with history. The ab sence of documents was thus taken to mean the absence of any events worthy of historical study.

European influence

In the nineteenth century, when European influence intruded into Africa, it did not build on the existing historical traditions but challenged and supplanted them. The European view of documentary history supported the propaganda of the colonial rulers: Africa had no history worthy of record; therefore the history of European traders, missionaries, explorers, conquerors, and rulers constituted the sum total of African history. European history and the history of European expansion began to displace local history and tradition in the education of the African youth, although some attention was given to Arabic and other sources. European historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sought to explain the Atlantic slave trade, the European technological supremacy, and the subjugation of Africa not in terms of any historical study of the continent but in terms of racial and psychological prejudices about the inherent inferiority of people with darkskins. Missionary circles even introduced the religious explanation that Africans were the children of Ham and were under Noah’s curse to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for their lighterskinned brethren. African historiography thus became nothing more than a justification of European imperialism.

Africans who became literate in the European languages at first accepted these theories, but because the traditional African historical consciousness remained alive, they soon began to challenge the absurdities of the European historians. Some of them who did not necessarily question the basic European standpoint began, nevertheless, to record the laws, customs, proverbs, sayings, and historical traditions of their own communities. They recorded also the major events of the nineteenth century, especially in the period just preceding the establishment of European rule. Notable among such writers may be mentioned James Africanus Horton of Sierra Leone, Carl C. Reindorf and John M. Sarbah of Ghana, Otomba Payne and Samuel Johnson of Nigeria, and Apolo Kagwa of Uganda. For a long time the work of these men and the material in missionary and government records on specifically African peoples escaped the attention of historians. It was the anthropologists who discovered them, but they were then not interested in history. With a few notable exceptions like Franz Boas and Emil Torday, their primary concern was to describe the quaintness and the peculiarities of “tribes,” to jus tify as well as to facilitate the imposition of colonial rule. Other literate Africans, more conscious and more resentful of the European standpoint, began to protest. But since they were restricted by the axiom that only documentary history is real history, they could only reply with polemics and counter-theories. Uncritical use of the few written sources available, particularly those of the ancient Greek writers on Africa, the Muslim geographers or travelers, and the European traders on the west and east African coasts, laid the foundation of new myths. An example of such a myth is the so-called “Hamitic hypothesis,” the view that all light and civilization in sub-Saharan Africa had come from north Africa and the Middle East and that the civilizations of Africa are thus civilizations of the Hamites; another myth regards the influence of the Atlantic slave trade as so all-pervasive that it can explain all major trends in African history since the fifteenth century.

World War I, the Russian Revolution, the rise of the Indian National Congress, the increasing dissatisfaction with the facile theory of European superiority—all these encouraged a new appraisal of the African past. African works of art, looted from Africa and scattered all over Europe and North America, inspired new art forms in Europe. New masterpieces of sculpture and terracotta were discovered, and their African origin became more difficult to deny. Anthropologists became less tied to the colonial regimes, less ethnocentric, and consequently more appreciative of African culture and historical traditions. The International Institute of African Languages and Cultures in London began to publish Africa, and the French established the Institut Francais d’Afrique Noire in west Africa. The Journal of Negro History, in the United States, primarily concerned with the history of the Negro in America, drew attention to the possibilities of African history. Anthropologists like Melville J. Herskovits began to take African culture and its survivals in the New World seriously and to seek understanding of the African past.

The impulse toward a new African historiography came with the movement toward independence, which gathered pace in Africa during and immediately after World War II. This nationalist movement firmly rejected the European appraisal of the African past and demanded a new orientation and improved educational facilities to produce this reappraisal. With the establishment of new universities in Africa, it was inevitable that the teaching of history and the training of African historians would receive special attention. The old theories were maintained at first: besides European history, there were courses only on “European Activities in Africa” and some postgraduate research on British or French policy toward this or that territory at such and such a period. By the late 1940s, however, African research students were insisting that African history must be the history of Africans and not of Europeans in Africa, that local records and historical traditions must be used to supplement European metropolitan archives —in short, oral tradition must be accepted as valid material for historical research. This new approach produced works like Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta (Dike 1956) and The Egba and Their Neigh bours (Biobaku 1957).

Research problems and prospects

No doubt the validity of nonwritten sources for historical research had been pointed out before, but it was new for university departments of history to accept it. Even then not everyone was happy about it. Anthropologists replied cautiously that oral tradition, even when seemingly factual, was not history and could only be interpreted in terms of its function in society and within the particular culture. But this did not destroy its validity as material for history; it only argued for a return to the link between history and sociology advocated in the fourteenth century by Ibn Khal-dun. This interdisciplinary approach has been the most fruitful trend in African historiography in the last decade.

There have been three major developments to promote this interdisciplinary approach. The first has been the creation of special centers or institutes of African studies within which historians, anthropologists, linguists, and archeologists can cooperate, both in research and in the training of future historians. The second consists of specific culture-history projects like the Benin and Yoruba schemes, in which teams of people from different disciplines cooperate under the direction of one person to throw light on the culture history of a particular culture. The third is the formation of associations and the convening of periodic conferences or congresses on African history or African studies in general, bringing experts together from many disciplines to review progress in different fields and bring their joint consideration to bear on specific problems of Africa history. This cooperation has extended beyond the social and humanistic studies; the experimental sciences are also applying the benefit of their techniques to resolving problems in African history.

The interdisciplinary approach has been very fruitful in the collection and evaluation of material for African history. Since the end of the war, many African states have founded national archives. This in turn has stimulated the exploitation of government, missionary, commercial, and private archives in Europe. Materials relevant to African history are now being copied and transferred to archival centers and places of learning in Africa, where they are supplemented by local records in European, Arabic, and other African languages. Similarly, more care is now taken of ancient mon uments, and museums of art and crafts are being established. The recording of oral tradition has become a major preoccupation. Evidence from all these sources is cross-checked and supplemented by the study of linguistics and African languages, social anthropology, archeology, and other sciences. Gaps in our knowledge are being filled, and a specific chronology is beginning to emerge. Historians can now attempt a synthesis of the history of the whole continent, particular regions, or of the newly independent states. While insisting on the validity of traditional African historical material, the new African historiography has been able to accept the European concept of continental and universal history.

African historians have also adopted rigorous standards and methodology in the collection of data. Indeed, the emphasis in the last decade has been placed so much upon this scientific methodology that it is a question worth raising whether the proper interpretation and synthesis of the ma terial has not tended to lag behind. While the interdisciplinary approach has been very successful in the collection of data, teams or conferences of experts from different disciplines do not write history. The interdisciplinary approach has alerted the historian to the validity of nonwritten sources; it has not superseded him or relieved him of the necessity to sift the diverse evidence, synthesize, and write history. Moreover, it would appear that the new historiography is still so tied to the universities that the proper functions of history in the new Africa, to educate and entertain society as a whole, have received little attention. We have still to create a new philosophy of African history to replace that of the old palace historians and singers.

K. O. Dike and J. F. A. Ahayi

[See alsoAfrican Society; Historiography, article onIslamic Historiography; and the biographies ofHerskovitsandIbn KhaldŪn.]


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Ajayi, J. F. A. 1961 The Place of African History and Culture in the Process of Nation-building in Africa South of the Sahara. Journal of Negro Education 30: 206–213.

Andrzejewski, Bogumil W.; and Lewis, I. M. 1964 Somali Poetry: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon.

Biobaku, Saburi O. 1957 The Egba and Their Neigh bours: 1842–1872. Oxford Univ. Press.

Biobaku, Saburi O. 1963 African Studies in an African University. Minerva 1:285–301.

Bradbury, R. E. 1959 Chronological Problems in the Study of Benin History. Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 1:263–287.

Conference on african History and Archaeology, Third, London, 1961 1962 Report. Journal of African History 3, no. 2.

Dike, Kenneth O. 1953 African History and Self-government. West Africa 37:177-178, 225-226, 251.

Dike, Kenneth O. (1956) 1962 Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta; 1830-1885: An Introduction to the Economic and Political History of Nigeria. Oxford: Clarendon.

Dike, Kenneth O. 1964 The Study of African History. Pages 55-67 in International Congress of Africanists, First, Accra, 1962, Proceedings. London: Longmans.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1961 Anthropology and History. Manchester (England) Univ. Press.

International African Seminar, Fourth, Dakar, Sene gal, 3961 1964 The Historian in Tropical Africa. Oxford Univ. Press.

Jones, G. I. 1963 European and African Tradition on the Rio Real. Journal of African History 4:391–402.

Jordan, A. C. 1957-1960 Towards an African Literature. Africa South 1, no. 4:90-98; 2, no. 1:97-105, no. 2:101-104, no. 3:112-115, no. 4:113-118; 3, no. 1:114-117, no. 2:74-79, no. 3:114-117, no. 4:111-115; 4, no. 1:117-121, no. 2:110-113, no. 3:112–116.

Lawrence, A. W. 1961 Some Source Books for West African History. Journal of African History 2:227–234.

Lewis, I. M. 1962 Historical Aspects of Genealogies in Northern Somali Social Structure. Journal of African History 3:35–48.

McCall, Daniel F. 1964 Africa in Time-perspective: A Discussion of Historical Reconstruction From Unwritten Sources. Boston Univ. Press.

Morris, Henry F. 1964 The Heroic Recitations of the Bahima of Ankole. Oxford: Clarendon.

Smith, M. G. 1961 Field Histories Among the Hausa. Journal of African History 2:87–101.

Vansina, Jan 1960 Recording the Oral History of the Bakuba. Journal of African History 1:45-53, 257–270. → Part 1: “Methods.” Part 2: “Results.”

Vansina, Jan (1961) 1964 The Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology. Chicago: Aldine. → First published in French. Contains a comprehensive bibliography on and discussion of the nature and signifi cance of oral traditions.

Whiteley, W. H. (compiler) 1964 A Selection of African Prose. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon. → Volume 1: Traditional Oral Texts. Volume 2: Written Prose.


China can claim the oldest continuous historical tradition on earth. The appointment of court historians has been attributed to the Yellow Emperor, one of the legendary founders of a Chinese order. Modern archeology has shown that the court diviners of the Shang kings (1751-1111 b.c, according to Tung Tso-pin) maintained “archives” of their divinations, inscribed on bone and shell; here at the beginning was an association between magico-religious operations and record keeping that was to have long-term effects on the historiographical tradition.

Fragmentary records from the early part of the Chou dynasty (1111-221 b.c.)—principally certain chapters of the Shu-ching, or “Classic of History”—reflect a continuing interest in royal genealogy, ritual operations, and political legitimacy. With the gradual emergence of semi-independent states, from the eighth century b.c. on, traditions of recording and compilation developed in several courts. The Warring States period (481-221 b.c.) was China’s first great age of systematic thought. Scholars searched the records of the past for examples and precedents to sustain their arguments; this habit of appealing to history figures importantly in all subsequent Chinese thought. Confucius (551-479 b.c.) and his followers laid great stress on the moral content of history, maintaining that the records of the past, if properly studied, would reveal the operation of moral norms in the affairs of men. The Ch’un-ch’iu chronicle of the state of Lu, allegedly edited by Confucius to express his judgments, came to be regarded as the prototype of moralistic-normative history.

The unified empire created in 221 b.c. was to be the model for subsequent Chinese political development. The imperial court continued and elaborated earlier traditions of historian-officials who kept records of the actions of the emperor and of events in the realm. These historians were deep ly influenced by Confucian orthodoxy of the Han period, with its interest in the moral and didactic uses of history. In the Former Han dynasty (206 b.c.-a.d. 8) the Grand Historian Ssu-ma Ch’ien, continuing the work of his father, drew on court records, on chronicles and inscriptions from earlier times, and on oral traditions to produce the Shih-chi, the first great history of the Chinese ecumene from its shadowy beginnings to about 100 b.c. During the Later Han dynasty (a.d. 25-220) an other great court historian, Pan Ku, wrote the first of the “dynastic histories” (tuan-tai shih), his History of the Former Han Dynasty. These two Han works provided models that were returned to again and again by later historians.

The breakup of the Han empire was followed by a long period of political disunion, from 220 to 589. During much of this period north China, the heartland of Chinese civilization, was under the domination of “barbarian” invaders, while Buddhism gradually became a pervasive force in Chinese thought and life. The early part of this period was the second great age of creative thought— thought that ranged with greater depth and imagi nation than ever before over the problems of man, society, and the cosmos. This is reflected in historical writings, which became more self-conscious and more critical. Historiography began to achieve its independence. Liu Hsieh (465–522) devoted part of his great treatise on literature to problems of historiography: the need for general principles, criteria for the selection of particulars, standards of credibility, and problems of objectivity and bias. The autonomy of the Chinese historical tradition was strikingly affirmed in this age of Buddhist dominance; Buddhism had slight effects on Chinese historical thinking, and Buddhist historians shaped their works after approved secular models.

The great reunified empire of Tang (618–906) was notable for its artistic and literary brilliance. History became, for the first time, a standard ingredient of the curriculum for state examinations. The noted T’ang official Tu Yu (735–812) sought to break free of dynastic chronicles and wrote an encyclopedic compilation, the Tung-tien, that may be regarded as the first institutional history of China. In the early T’ang the bureaucratic apparatus for recording events, processing documents, maintaining archives, and writing history was greatly elaborated. At this time imperial commissions replaced individual authors in the compilation of dynastic histories. This marked the inception of a division between official and unofficial historiography that persisted until the end of the imperial order. A severe critic of this change was Liu Chih-chi (661–721), whose “Conspectus of History” (Shih-t’ung) is the first major work of historical criticism, signaling the emergence of history as a separate and independent branch of study. In it Liu dealt with such problems as the credibility of evidence, historical style and form, the qualities of historians, the effects of bias and political pressure, and the moral dilemmas of historians.

Toward the end of the T’ang, Confucianism, which had long seemed intellectually anachronistic, began to be revived and modernized. The resulting system of Neo-Confucianism had farreaching effects on the writing of history. The rationalism of the new system was reflected in lessened attention to supernatural events and interpretations. It fostered, in the centuries that followed, a strong tradition of historical empiricism and critical scholarship. The historical writings of the Neo-Confucianists of the Sung (960–1279) show a new meticulousness in historical inquiry, a disposition to use unofficial sources, a devotion to rational explanation combined with a profound belief in moral dynamics. Perhaps the greatest historian of this age was Ssu-ma Kuang (1019–1086). His Tzu-chih t’ung-chien was a history of the Chinese world from 403 b.c. to a.d. 959, arranged in annalistic form. The author drew on an immense variety of works and appended his study of doubtful points (k’ao-i) to the completed history. He emphasized in his preface his moralpolitical purpose: “…taking in all that a prince ought to know—everything pertaining to the rise and fall of dynasties and the good and ill fortune of the common people, all good and bad examples that can furnish models and warnings.”

The development of printing in the Sung dynasty and the spread of literacy among an enlarged elite meant a great proliferation of private historiography, an expanded reading public, and vastly increased possibilities for preserving historical records. These trends and the dominant Neo-Confucian view of history—most authoritatively expressed by Chu Hsi (1130–1200) in his “epitome” (kang-mu) of Ssu-ma Kuang’s history—continued through the age of Mongol rule (1279–1368) and the Chinese dynasty of Ming (1368–1644). These centuries are better known for monumental compilations and exhaustive commentaries than for creative historical works. An exception is the second major institutional history of China, the Wen-hsien t’ung-k’ao, by Ma Tuan-lin (c. 1250-1325).

The shock of the imposition of Manchu rule in 1644 plus a growing impatience with Neo-Confucian orthodoxy as it devolved into pedantry on the one hand and vapid philosophizing on the other provoked a new critical movement of great importance. A new rational empiricism produced new principles of textual criticism and new work in historical geography, epigraphy, archeology, and other fields. Ku Yen-wu (1613–1682) was one of the pioneers in this movement and began the development of the inductive method of research that had far-reaching effects on historical and philological studies. Chao I (1727–1814) wrote of recurrent patterns and forces in Chinese history with unusual acumen. Chang Hsueh-ch’eng (1738–1801), ignored in his own time, presented an enlarged view of history, a conception of historical synthesis, and ideas about the qualities of a historian that were new to the Chinese tradition. These men and the other historians of this autumnal flowering never—for all their new ideas and rigorous methods—renounced their allegiance to Confucian morality, to the belief that history should be written to illuminate moral truths and thereby to reform the world. When the imperial order and Confucian orthodoxy had collapsed, the methods and skeptical spirit of these men figured largely in the modernization of Chinese historiography.

The Chinese view of history

The usual Chinese term for history, shih, has several meanings: writings about the past, one who (usually under official appointment) records events, and, in early times, “astrologer” or “astron omer.” The term does not have the second meaning of the English word “history,” the past as such. The Chinese conception of history was shaped by certain elements in the Chinese world view. One of these was ethnocentrism, derived from the relative isolation of Chinese civilization. History was primarily concerned with the “Central Kingdom” (chung-kuo), with the world (t’ien-hsia) in which China was “central.” Thus peoples peripheral to China were treated as “barbarians,” or peoples to be contained, “chastised,” or converted to Chinese culture. Since the Chinese had only fragmentary knowledge of other great civilizations, there was no trace of comparative history, such as one finds in Ibn Khaldūn. A second element is holism, the view that human and natural events are interrelated in a coherent whole; symptoms of dislocation in one order are interpreted as signs of malfunction in the other. Especially in histories written before about a.d. 1000, much attention is given to natural catastrophes, portents, and the like. Yet the force for harmony or dislocation originates in the actions of men, and a rational-secular view of historical causation gradually becomes dominant. A third element is a view of history as a devolution from a golden age: the sage-kings of the distant past had presided over an ideal order; in later times men moved further and further from that ideal. Change was considered desirable if it promised a return to ancient ideals. This gives to all Chinese histories—even those of periods of innovation—a pronouncedly archaistic tone. A fourth element is a cyclical conception of political history; polities, like men, have sequences of birth, youth, maturity, senescence, and death. The habit of holistic thinking led historians to see symptoms of the same cyclical stages in all the spheres of culture: literature, the arts, the ethos of the villages, the customs and habits of the elite. The practice of dating all events by dynasty and era name (nien-hao) reinforced the conception of political change as the dominant force in cyclical change.

A fifth element is the view that there is a moral dynamic in the affairs of men; the Confucian sages had specified the principles. History, if properly written, would lay bare the working of those principles in a nexus of events or in an individual life. This belief tended to give a moralistic coloration to all cause-and-effect statements and to reduce biography to exemplary or minatory stereotypes.

Scope and purposes of historiography

From the earliest times the keeping of records and the writing of history were official functions. Every dynasty had its history office. It was staffed by men who had been educated in the standard curriculum and had passed the state examinations. The common experience of all officials included a great deal of history: study of the style and content of the ancient chronicles, memorization of historical sequences, the use of historical allusion and historical precedent in the most routine official communications, the marshaling of historical cases in policy argument. Thus, history was an integral part of training and of official life. This meant that a high percentage of officials at some point in their careers would be assigned for a period to the history office, where they might work at daily record keeping or at one of the several types of compilation periodically ordered by the throne. From the Tang dynasty (618–906) on, highranking officials were appointed to chair or to serve on the commissions in charge of major historical compilations. All works compiled in the history office were presented to the throne for approval. Private historians were usually members of the official class, were largely dependent for their materials on official records, and often felt it politic to present their works to the throne for approval.

Historians of all kinds were thus deeply involved in official life and shared the general concerns of the official class: the maintenance of stability and order through governmental operations and the institutions of social control, the preservation of Confucian orthodoxy and the maintenance of Confucian ethical standards in society, the upholding of inherited standards of excellence in literature and the arts, the defense of the privileged position of the literate gentry against threats from autocratic emperors and upstart power groups.

These interests, working together with the world view discussed above, determined the scope of Chinese history writing. The overriding concern with order produced a concentration of attention on political history and the lessons about stability and change that could be drawn from it. Similarly, the history of institutions was viewed from the capital and from the official viewpoint; thus, for example, the “economic” monographs of the dynastic histories are focused on the regulatory function of government, and the “geographical” monographs are concerned with what we would call administrative geography. Biographies deal less with individual character than with the subjects’ official posts and social role; they tend to be grouped according to a common social role or according to certain moral standards that the subjects exemplified, for example, “loyal ministers,” “literary men,” “virtuous women,” “harsh officials,” “partisans.”

Slight attention was given to all the groups that challenged the literate gentry’s power: military leaders, merchants, eunuchs, court favorites, and members of the empresses’ families. (The last three were treated when their machinations were adduced as prime causes of dynastic weakness or collapse.) Heterodox religions tended to be given little attention. Although Buddhism dominated Chinese culture for five hundred years or more (from 350 to 850) and was a major force in life and thought in later centuries, references to it in official histories are few; only one monograph in one dynastic history is devoted to Buddhism and religious Taoism. References to these and other heterodoxies are usually pejorative and emphasize their socially disruptive effects. Unsuccessful rebels are given scant attention beyond the account of measures taken to suppress them. Common life and popular culture are seldom given detailed treatment, except when natural calamities created problems of relief and rehabilitation or subversive movements appeared among the oppressed peasantry.

The whole picture of life that appears in the standard histories and official compilations tends to minimize tensions, cultural differences between one region and another, clashes of opinion, and other phenomena that in the modern Western view seem most significant in the development of Chinese civilization. Yet these defects are in part counterbalanced by the sheer volume of the record; it would require 45 million English words to translate the 25 dynastic histories. And from the sixth or seventh century on the dynastic histories can be checked and supplemented by an enormous wealth of published official and private sources: diaries, memoirs, collected papers, essays, poems, collections of inscriptions, stories, travelogues, and miscellanies. Surviving manuscripts, notably those discovered at Tun-huang, provide further raw material and additional checks. The shih-lu, or “veritable records,” of the last two dynasties have been preserved and provide a daily record of court and government from 1368 to 1912. Thus the modern historian can, by using all these varieties of material, reconstruct substantial segments of the Chinese past.

Historical method

The methods used by Chinese historians fall into two closely related groups. One consists of the methods of recording contemporary happenings, the other of the methods of compiling a coherent account from such records. Court historians were charged with writing up, day by day, the events at court: audiences, rituals, memorials to the throne, imperial edicts, digests of reports received from outside the capital. Private historians would usually record events they witnessed, journeys they took, or the lives of their relatives and friends. The exercise of the recording function, especially at the official level, was a solemn obligation, for the historian had the moral duty to record accurately, without fear or favor, and this usually in a power situation fraught with tensions. Heroic examples of historians who died rather than distort the record were constantly before them.

The second type of method is compilation. Court historians from time to time edited and digested the daily records into chronological accounts of a dynastic period (kuo-shih) or of a single reign (shih-lu). These accounts in turn formed the basis for the “annals” (pen-chi) section of the dynastic history written by the historians of the succeeding dynasty. The bare chronological accounts in the dynastic histories were supplemented with biographies prepared from both official and nonofficial records and with monographs pieced together from official papers dealing with particular topics, for example, imperial edicts on judicial administration, ceremonies, economic and fiscal affairs, etc. The procedure of compilation was to select integral passages from the records and piece them together with words or sentences of transition, usually with in a chronological framework. Thus, official histories were compiled rather than written afresh, and the same may be said of most private historiography.

In the whole process of recording and compilation, the historian was circumscribed by a variety of attitudes and conventions, many of which had come down from the distant past. The world view and interests of the Chinese elite limited the historian’s horizons, and Confucian morality governed his choices. Moreover, the Chinese attitude of respect for the written word meant that he handled documents from the past with care and circumspection. He did not alter them lightly, and when two accounts of an event were in conflict he generally chose the one that showed greater consistency with his other materials and inserted it integrally into his text. The discussion of discrepancies in evidence appeared rather late in the tradition and was then relegated to separate sections of a history or to separate works.

The chronological arrangement of historical particulars derived naturally from the system of court record keeping. It also had an ancient and authoritative prototype in the “Spring and Autumn Annals” (Ch’tin-ch’iu), allegedly edited by Confucius. This method of compilation (pien-nien) was dominant in the tradition, and even the institutional historians who sought to transcend dynastic chronology arranged the materials in their topical chapters chronologically. The devolutionary view of history precluded the full development of ideas of history-as-process. In general, “befores” and “afters” were thought to indicate to the discerning reader the elements of moral causation that were believed to inhere in any sequence of events.

But the historian was enjoined by tradition to make clear the moral lessons of history. There were certain approved means of doing this. Two of these were methods attributed to Confucius: “appropriate concealment.” which meant omission or disguise by euphemism of particulars that might impair the image of a worthy individual or group, and the selection of terminology in such a way as to apportion moral praise or blame, for example, “succeed to” or “usurp” the throne. More explicit judgments by the historian were to be found in brief comments appended to a section or chapter of his work; there the moral point was made, the lesson drawn. Furthermore, the historian could express degrees of approval and disapproval by his arrangement of material. For instance, in a collection of biographies the lives were grouped according to certain types. The historian’s judgment was reflected in the group to which a given biography was assigned and in the position of the group in the collection: the most worthy were placed first; the least worthy came at the end.

Both recording and compilation were subject to verbal and ritual conventions. Drawing up an imperial edict was a solemn and complex task that involved choosing the right references to the classics and the appropriate allusions to historical precedent, the observance of the official taboos in referring to members of the ruling house, choosing the rhetorical flourishes proper to the matter in hand. When the historian used such an edict in compiling a history, he had to understand what it meant and fit it into his narrative with only those minor verbal changes dictated by the lapse of time. There were proper and improper ways of recording all events: the selection of a crown prince, the death of an emperor or empress dowager, the reception of a tributary envoy. The recorder used these conventions, and the subsequent historian reproduced them in his account. To all these formulas were added standardized literary locutions for describing certain types of events: famine in the provinces, incursions along the frontiers, and so forth. Much of Chinese history, particularly official history, is thus cast in standardized ritualistic or literary for mulas.

Biography was also subject to formulas. This had two roots in historiographical tradition. One was the dependence of the biographer on funerary writings of all kinds, which presented individual lives in the conventional formulas of filial piety and the cult of ancestors. The other was the conception of the individual life as having an exemplary or minatory purpose; if history was to teach moral lessons, biographies must serve to illustrate virtue and vice in individual lives. The historian-compiler, as we have noted, grouped his biographies and thus tended to stereotype the lives classified according to any one type. Particulars concerning the life of a man that were at variance with the type to which his biography was assigned were sometimes included in other parts of the same history.

The weight of convention was heaviest upon the compilers of dynastic histories and other official works. In general, the historian who recorded or compiled accounts of nonofficial personages (monks, recluses, certain literary figures) or of events of marginal concern to the court (ethnography of certain peoples, popular festivals) enjoyed greater freedom. It was always in the sector of private historiography that innovation occurred: for example, the invention of a new type of “unofficial biography” (pieh-chuan) in the Ch’ing dynasty, the development first of the “life chronicle” (nien-p’u) and subsequently of the autobiographical life chronicle, the creation of institutional history (which later atrophied under official sponsorship), and the development of local histories (fang-chih) given a fresh impetus by Chang Hsiieh-ch’eng and his successors. But if some of the official conventions were less burdensome in such cases as these, the method of compilation, governed as it was by tradition and the world view of the elite, remained very much the same. One of the effects of this is that the reader seldom—except in certain kinds of prefaces—glimpses the personality or point of view of the historian in the objective, factual flow of the prose. Another effect—especially pronounced after the bureaucratization of history —was that nearly all personal and evocative writing was relegated to “nonhistorical” categories: novels, anecdotes, and the like. This deprived the historiographical tradition of the vividness and color found in the early chronicles.

The modernization of historiography

The breakup of the millennial traditions of Chinese historiography occurred gradually in phases paralleling the dissolution of the imperial order of which it had been a part: a period of resistance to the intrusive forces from the West, followed, from about 1860 to 1905, by a phase of attempted compromise and accommodation, followed in turn by a period of increasing acceptance of Western ideas and institutions. The abolition of the examination system in 1905, accompanied by sweeping educational reforms after the models of the Japanese modernizers, ushered in revolutionary changes in the organization of learning. The old academies were swept away and replaced by state-supported schools; the long-gowned man of learning who divided his time between official service and scholarly activities gave way—as scholar and teacher— to the new generation of Western-trained and Japanese-trained professors in the newly established universities and research institutes. History was institutionalized in new careers and in new institutions, where it struggled to re-establish itself as one of the new disciplines among the many transplanted from the West.

The universities were the first of the new institutions for the study of history. They grew from small beginnings under the empire to a nationwide system of state, provincial, and accredited private universities under the Nationalist government (1927–1949). Although the scale was small (only about 25,000 students attended accredited universities in 1930-1931), the universities provided positions for historians engaged in teaching and research and the intellectual forums in which they developed their ideas. The principal institution for advanced research was the Institute of History and Philology, one of the branches of the Academia Sinica established by the government in 1928. The institute supported a variety of research activities aimed at the reorganization of the historical heritage and the application of new methods of analysis. This included an approach to validating historical documents through archeological investigation. Its excavations of the late Shang capital at Anyang revolutionized the study of early Chinese history. National libraries in Peking and Nanking and libraries attached to universities grew in size and were organized along Western lines. After a considerable lapse of time, the Nationalist government took over the archives of the defunct dynasty, and the collection and organization of archival materials were gradually modernized; substantial archival collections were published, notably by the Palace Museum in Peking.

The senior historians who worked within this new framework of institutions were scholars trained under the old order. The younger men—those who wrought the modernization of historiography— were, typically, deeply influenced by Western ideas and in many cases by study in Japan, Europe, or the United States.

The movement for a new history, although it had earlier beginnings, may best be seen in the context of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, which was basically a movement in search of a new Chinese culture adapted to the needs of a modern society. In the intellectual ferment of Peking in the 1920s, ideas and programs were vigorously discussed. Western ideas from Diderot to Dewey (and from Plato to Lenin) found their champions and interpreters. Historians, like other intellectuals, argued the great issues: Why had the Chinese order weakened and fallen victim to Western imperialism? What should be the ingredients of a modern Chinese civilization, and how could this develop in the midst of political chaos and continuing foreign pressures? What elements from the Chinese past could be used as explanations of China’s present and as guides to its future? And which of these elements might be worked into the fabric of a new Chinese culture?

Although there were last-ditch defenders of the older scholarly traditions, the net effects of these controversies on historiography were revolutionary. The classics ceased to be regarded as sacred and were rigorously re-examined for authenticity and credibility as historical documents; “heterodox” works—Taoist, Buddhist, and others—were reappraised for their historical and philosophic content; the vast range of popular stories, novels, dramas, and other works disdained by the older literati as “vulgar” were seriously studied for the light they might shed on China’s social past; field-work techniques from the West were put to use in the study of village life, popular cults, and folklore, and the findings were used to further understanding of traditional popular culture. The comparative method was introduced, and the age-old habit of regarding everything Chinese as sui generis was broken. The moral-political emphasis of traditional history was challenged from every side, and materials were collected, regrouped, and studied for the light they might shed on social and economic history or the history of material culture and the arts. Archeology, although underfinanced, produced rich new finds and new ways of understanding the life of the past from surviving objects; analytical history based on stated hypotheses replaced the timehonored forms of compilation. Exact citations and footnotes began to replace the ancient method of piecing together passages from earlier works.

The publications of the new historians of the 1920s and early 1930s reflect all these changes. Research societies, with their quarterly bulletins and monograph series, were a typical medium of communication, and their publications reflect the effort to reorganize China’s past. Thus, for example, there were new journals of economic history and geography, the journal and the monographs of the Society for Research in the History of Chinese Architecture, journals of Buddhist studies, and numerous journals of general historical studies, many of them the organs of new university departments and institutes. Semipopular magazines and newspaper supplements carried the findings of historians to a wider reading public. The great publishing houses of Shanghai (notably Chung-hwa and the Commercial Press) commissioned new works, organized series on the national past, and reprinted large collections of choice editions of the literary and historical works of the past. Punctuated editions and vernacular translations of classical works made the heritage more accessible to the young. Modern reference works, indexes, and concordances of traditional sources were developed. Despite the social and political instability of these years, the vitality of the new historical scholarship promised well for the future.

These prospects were dimmed, first by the Japanese attack of 1931 and then by the Japanese invasion of north China in the summer of 1937. Centers of learning were destroyed, and faculties and students fled to the southwest, where the universities continued valiantly to function, but in dire poverty and without libraries or other facilities for scholarly research. Despite these hardships, important works of scholarship were published in the years 1937–1945. The return of the universities to north China in 1945 was followed by catastrophic inflation and the onset of civil war. The Nationalist government was increasingly intolerant of dissent, and the atmosphere became steadily more tense and oppressive.

In the deepening crisis of the civil war, historians, like other intellectuals, had to make a choice: to remain in China under the Communist party or to flee with the Nationalists to Taiwan. The great majority remained. After 1949 there were two principal centers of historical studies: the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China on Tai wan.

Historical scholarship in the People’s Republic is institutionalized in academic posts at the universities and in several of the institutes of the Academy of Sciences (Chung-kuo K’o-hsiieh Yuan). Voluminous publications of many kinds have appeared since 1949. Large documentary collections have been published, for instance, on the peasant revolts of Chinese history, on China’s wars with the Western powers, on the beginnings of capitalism, on economic history, on reform movements. Excellent punctuated editions of traditional works and vernacular translations have been published on a large scale, and many of the important historical studies of the period from 1920 to 1949 have been reprinted, often with few changes other than a new preface. As the ground has been cleared for public construction, archeologists have conducted new excavations; publication has lagged behind discovery, but it is clear that the new finds now being assembled and classified in national and provincial museums will permit the rewriting of much of China’s history.

Like other intellectuals, historians in the Peo ple’s Republic have been subjected to “thought reform,” so that their thinking and writing would wholly conform to the dominant orthodoxy. They have been constantly exhorted to perfect their the oretical grasp of Marxism, to use Marxist theories to bring forth a new history that will serve the new order. Each article may bring upon the historian the wrath of a party theorist who finds something in it that does not conform to the party’s view of the past and future. The historian enjoys less prestige than the scientist and is far more exposed to ideological pressures. The older generation that came to maturity under the Republic have not maintained their earlier creativity, and Peking critics have complained that after ten years of the “New China” the younger historians are poorly trained in language and Chinese and Western history and that there are no satisfactory textbooks or general histories.

Since 1949 the problems and results of historical study have been laid down by the government and the party according to the doctrines of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism and Maoism. The historian has been ordered to document and validate, not to explore and question. The long period from 770 b.c., or perhaps from 481 b.c., to 1840 has been authoritatively categorized as “feudal”—a neces sary stage in the Marxist evolution of society. The only sustained attention given to this long period has been in the study of peasant rebellions, each of which, as Mao Tse-tung has said, “dealt a blow to the existing feudal regime and more or less furthered the development of the social productive forces.” Mao Tse-tung has also prescribed the study of the “sprouts of capitalism,” for it is his thesis that China would herself have progressed from “feudalism” to her own “capitalism” if it had not been for the intrusion of foreign imperialism. The discussion of this thesis has produced polemics, but it has also led to the publication of important historical documents and a few usuable monographs. Modern history from 1840 to 1919 is characterized as semifeudal and semicolonial, and much effort has been expended on documenting imperialist aggressions and on attempting to periodize these years in terms of their “contradictions,” changes in the “mode of production,” and so on. The concen tration on universal Marxist determinants has, by depriving China of a distinctive past, come into conflict with the intense nationalism of the People’s Republic. Recently there have been efforts to re-examine the key figures of Chinese history rather than to restrict historical emphasis to peasant rebels and impersonal social forces. This is at least a step toward the re-creation of a distinctive Chi nese history. In general, however, dogmatic concerns have made sterile the historical studies since 1949; indeed, one noted Peking historian exclaimed in 1957 that they had brought historiography to “the brink of death.”

On Taiwan, the government re-established the Academia Sinica, which now has its old Institute of History and Philology and a new Institute of Modern History. National Taiwan University has a history faculty, as do the smaller colleges on the island. Considerable collections of rare books, archeological materials, government archives, and works of art were brought from the mainland. There has been a steady output of documentary collections, notably on the history of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Some of the Academia Sinica’s earlier serials have been resumed, and the output of historical monographs has been considerable. Yet the historical community on Taiwan is small and impoverished; historians are sensitive to their insularity and the garrison-state atmosphere around them. It is not surprising that no major works of synthesis and interpretation have appeared on Taiwan.

The present is indeed one of the low points in the long history of Chinese historiography. Mean while, scholars in Japan, Europe, and the United States—many of them of Chinese birth—are in a position to push forward in an atmosphere of freedom toward new understandings of the Chinese past.

Arthur F. Wright

[See alsoChinese SocietyandCchinese Political Thought.]


Beasley, William G.; and Pulleyblank, E. G. (editors) 1961 Historians of China and Japan. University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Historical Writing on the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 3. London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Bielenstein, Hans 1953 Historiography. Pages 9-81 in Hans Bielenstein, The Restoration of the Han Dynasty; With Prolegomena on the Historiography of the Hou Han Shu. Stockholm: No publisher given.

Gardner, Charles S. (1938) 1961 Chinese Traditional Historiography. Harvard Historical Monograph No. 11. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Nivison, David S. 1966 The Life and Thought of Chang Hsiieh-ch’eng: 1738–1801. Stanford Studies in the Civilization of Eastern Asia. Stanford (Calif.) Univ. Press.

Watson, Burton D. 1958 Ssu-ma Ch’ien, Grand Historian of China. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Wright, Arthur F. 1963 On the Uses of Generalization in the Study of Chinese History. Pages 36-58 in Louis R. Gottschalk (editor). Generalization in the Writing of History. A report of the Committee on Historical Analysis of the Social Science Research Council. Univ. of Chicago Press.


Islamic historiography is the historical literature written by adherents of the various branches of the religion of Islam. Although much of it is written in Arabic, a great deal has appeared in other languages employed by Muslims; Persian (beginning with the tenth century) and Turkish (from the sixteenth century onward) were used intensively for the writing of histories. Various minorities living under Muslim domination, especially the Eastern Christian denominations, produced historical works bearing a close resemblance to their Islamic counterparts, but these will not be considered here. On the other hand, the rapidly growing number of historical works written by Muslims in our time must not be excluded, even if the old forms and techniques have been abandoned, together with most of the values that were characteristic of Islamic historiography from medieval times well into the nineteenth century.

Origins and early beginnings. Pre-Islamic Arabs took a keen interest in genealogy and in major events affecting tribal politics, but the memory of the past was transmitted orally. In the Byzantine and Persian territories conquered by the Muslims during the first half of the seventh century, historiographical traditions of long standing were alive, if not exactly flourishing. In these areas, personal contacts between Muslims and learned non-Muslims or converts seem to have set in motion a certain minor impetus toward the creation of Muslim historical writing.

The principal motivation behind the subsequent tremendous development of this historical writing lies in the conception of Islam as a historical religion. The Prophet Muhammad (ca. 570-632) saw himself as the culmination and fulfillment of a historical process that started with the beginning of the world in time. Through a chain of divinely ordained messengers (principally, the great figures of Judaism and Christianity), of whom he was the last, this process was leading toward a clearly foreseeable end of the world. More over, Muhammad saw himself as a religiosocial reformer fulfilling prophecies and giving directions for the future. Thus, he provided the outline on a vast historical canvas that was left to be filled in and interpreted by the historian. There was another aspect of the awareness of history fostered by the Prophet. Historical precedent, in all its essential manifestations, was very important in the development of Islamic civilization. From the outset, and increasingly so with the passing of time, political, legal, religious, and scholarly institutions, as well as moral ideas and values, were considered as deriving their ultimate authority from the events of early Islam and the actions and behavior of the early Muslims. The historical truth and significance of these events and actions required constant re-affirmation, confirmation, and re-evaluation. This sharpened historical consciousness and was responsible for a great amount of historical research and writing.

Although there is no doubt as to the motivation that made Islamic historiography an inevitability, the mechanisms through which this took place are much harder to trace. The early authorities responsible for the historical information reported in later writings are represented as having transmitted the material orally. This may be true, but it is more likely that there existed a method of oral transmission that was supplemented by unpublished written notes that were the reporters’ personal aide-memoires. In fact, there seems to have been no regular procedure for the orderly publication of works written in Arabic until the end of the seventh century. The subsequent introduction of paper, at about 750, or the beginning of the ’Abbasid dynasty, made possible a literary ac tivity that in the quantity of production was something not seen before in the Mediterranean world. However, it would seem that relatively few works that could be called histories were written, and they almost certainly enjoyed no wide circulation. Earlier Muslim historical works have largely been lost because of the absence of institutions of publication and durable writing materials and also, perhaps, because of the dynastic change that made works written under the Umayyads (660–750) largely unacceptable. ’Urwah b. az-Zubayr (ca. 650-711), a member of the Muslim elite, is credited with the composition of the book Raids of the Prophets. In the generation following ’Urwah, al-Zuhri (ca. 670-740) is said to have written a work on “the genealogy of his people.” He also wrote, apparently for his personal use, on the length of the reigns of the caliphs. From the work of a third early authority, Musa b. ’Uqbah (d. 758/759), a brief fragment, not entirely historical in character, has come down to us. The earliest large-scale work that is preserved, although only in later recensions, is the biography of the Prophet (Sirah, “Way of Life”) by Ibn Ishaq (ca. 704-767). It deals with the history of pre-Islamic Arabia and with all the details and events of the Prophet’s life. The same author is also credited with a history of the caliphs. From the evidence now at our disposal, we may conclude that by around 700 historical research, focused on the life of Muhammad, began to serve the political and social needs of the new religion. It also seems certain that most of the formal elements of later historical writing were to some degree already present at that time.

Forms and contents of historical works. The importance of form in literary presentation is particularly noticeable in Islamic historiography, which has, for better or for worse, always remained in bondage to the forms it first developed. Pre-Islamic Arab tradition had already stressed the concrete “factual” element in history, isolated from its environment and as much as possible unmodified by human thought processes. Thus, simple statements, isolated events, superficial, if colorful, characterizations, put next to each other and left without any explicit elaboration of their inner or causal connections, came to determine the basic appearance of Muslim history books. Historical truth, like religious truth, was considered ensured by the unimpeachable character of the succession of men through whom a given item of information was transmitted, the so-called chain of transmitters or isndd. Even if the historian did not mention these chains of authorities for all the individual items he reported (and many historians did not), the concept of each historical fact possessing a great, even absolute, degree of autonomy was strengthened. The effects have been felt throughout all Muslim historical writing, which can be characterized as fundamentally episodic, no matter how long and detailed and skillfully narrated the individual episode.

Annalistic histories. Larger units for organizing the historical material were soon needed to hold together the constantly growing volume of data. They were readily found in the proven principles of dynastic arrangement according to the reigns of successive rulers and in annalistic arrangement according to the years of the era. The era of the hijrah was introduced about the year 638, and Muslim historians were fortunate compared to all their predecessors inasmuch as they were able, from the outset, to rely upon a continuous, unambiguous, and generally accepted chronology. The strictly annalistic arrangement was thought particularly suitable to historical presentation. It was also easily combined with other arrangements, such as that according to reigns; and it fitted in well with the fragmented episodic approach and helped to perpetuate it. Systematically practiced, it was rarely interrupted even to the extent of the consecutive reporting of events that extended over several years. It was especially useful in that it facilitated the continuation of standard histories in the form of supplements often called dhayl (“tail”) or some variant. Such continuations might be independent works containing only new material, or they might repeat the earlier material, shortening the narrative for the older period and becoming more and more detailed as they approach the actual time of writing. Authors then would systematically date events according to the month and the day and list even trivial news. The oldest preserved, at least in part, annalistic histories in Arabic were written by Khalîfah b. Khayyât in the first half of the ninth century and by Ya“qub b. Sufyan in the second half of the same century. The multi-volume standard work of Muslim annalistic historiography, which decisively influenced its future course, was written by at-Tabarî (d. 923).

Biographies. Of the areas of study cultivated by the Muslim historians, the most important was biography. This was due not so much to the often expressed fact that history is the record of man and his actions, but rather to the fact that Muslim historiography, in its early beginnings, was concerned with the story of the life of a great individual, the Prophet Muhammad, and with the circumstances surrounding the activities of the early Muslims. It then became necessary to scrutinize the lives of all those connected in any way with Muslim law and religion and to learn the dates of their birth and their death, their local affiliations, their teachers and disciples, their moral character, and their works and activities. Depending on the importance attached to a given individual, biographies could at times grow into large volumes while still remaining restricted, by and large, to these topics. The majority of biographies were brief and were entered early, in the form of obituaries of notable persons, into annalistic histories. Biographies dealing with representatives of certain scholarly categories were collected in special works, and biographies of religious scholars constituted the main contents of the large, theo logically oriented segment of local historiography.

In order to facilitate reference, biographies were grouped in “classes” (tabaqah, plural tabaqât) comprising those who had died in approximately the same period. This somewhat clumsy arrangement served quite well the need of religious scholars to judge the genuineness and reliability of a chain of transmitters. However, as the number of biographees increased, an alphabetical arrangement was instituted. Beginning with the tenth century, alphabetization thus became the preferred method of arrangement in collections of biographies, although the tabaqât system continued to be used. It must be noted that the merchants, military men, government officials who were not at the same time religious scholars, scholars in the nonreligious disciplines, poets, and so on were originally not the object of any systematic bio graphical research. Factual information was often plentiful but always scattered. Much of it would have been lost if some later Muslim authors had not put together the scattered information and produced excellent biographical collections dealing with some of these groups, such as the litterateurs treated by Yaqut (d. 1229) in his Irshdd al-arîb ilâ ma’rifat al-adîb, the physicians collected in the great work on the history of medicine by Ibn Abi Usaybi’ah (d. 1270), entitled ’Uyûn al-anbd’ fî tabaqât al-atibbâ’, or the fine choice of biographies of illustrious men presented by Ibn Khallikan (d. 1282) in his Wafayât al-a’yân.

General histories. Political history, restricted to the administrative and military exploits of rulers and statesmen, was the essential raw material for most Muslim historical writing. Monographs on particular events or periods were written in great profusion; in fact, the early ninth-century historians, most of whose works are known to us only by title, wrote copiously on politically signifi cant individual events. Comprehensive world histories, usually traced from the creation of the world or from the coming of Islam to the times of their particular authors, also met with success. They were universal only in the Muslim sense, not admitting more than a rather limited amount of set data from pre-Islamic times and largely insensitive to non-Muslim history, even where it impinged upon Muslim affairs. The assimilation of the Hellenistic heritage, and with it the development of a taste for cultural history, broadened the horizons of historiography. In the late ninth century, political history combined with intellectual history to touch on all the noteworthy and accessible features of the various civilizations then known. This trend produced such outstanding works as the History by al-Ya’qûbî and the series of publications by al-Mas’ûdî (d. 945/946), among them the preserved Murûj adh-dhahab. It continued to echo weakly in the works of much later periods. Interest in the contemporary or near-contemporary non-Muslim world remained nevertheless subdued. While the scholarly curiosity of historians welcomed “strange” information, they undertook no systematic search for it. Measured against the enormous mass of Muslim historical writing, references to events that took place outside the Muslim world are few indeed. Al-Mas’udi, for instance, included a list of the kings of the Franks (see Maqbul Ahmad 1960, pp. 7-10). Embassies from abroad occasionally provided an opening for referring to events on the international scene. Historians of the time of the Crusades were well aware of cultural and political differences, but in their political and military analysis they did not venture beyond the borders of Islam. In central Asia, the singular circumstances created by the Mongol Empire, with its tentacles stretching far outside the old Muslim world, produced the states man and historian Rashîd-ad-dîn Fadlallâh (d. 1318). His General History (Jām’at-tawārikh), written in Persian, is probably the first genuine universal history of Islam. The local historiography of cities and regions was also persistently culti vated. It emphasized political and religious history but also included topographical description and antiquarian data. As might be expected, data on social, economic, and financial history are incidental to most historical writing in Islam and, there fore, comparatively scarce. Some annalistic histories give us a rather intimate view of medieval urban life with its crimes, suicides, recurrent inflation, and other social problems.

Historians . For a very large and influential part of its production, Islamic historiography is indebted to scholars trained in the religious studies who earned their living by virtue of this training but whose literary activities included the writing of histories. For example, al-Bukhari (d. 870), the author of the most authoritative collection of Prophetic traditions, wrote several collections of terse biographies of religious authorities. He entitled each of these works History, thus establishing himself in Muslim consciousness as a historian. From the eleventh century on, a great many historians were religious scholars who held positions in the judiciary, in the civilian branch of the political administration, and in the madrasahs (mosque schools), all of them depending on the religious establishment for their livelihood.

Court historians. In Islamic countries, wherever ambitious and powerful rulers were to be found, history was the “royal science” par excel lence, which kings, courtiers, and wazirs, as well as the tutors of princes, were expected to master. Caliphs and sultans often ordered officials to set down the history of their reign or dynasty. It may have happened even more frequently that historical works were written for presentation to the ruler in the hope of a reward or preferment. The professional court historian became an established fixture at certain courts. For example, the courts of the later dynasties in Persia and the Ottoman Empire provided a particularly favorable atmosphere for historical studies. However, it would hardly be correct to speak of a clearly defined Muslim court historiography. Regardless of the position and the motivation of these writers, their works as a rule remained individualistic efforts. The personalities of their authors can be glimpsed even through the curtain of flattery and obsequious verbosity that was often extremely dense.

The term “court historian” would also hardly be the appropriate designation for government officials who, because of their proximity to the seats of power where they were able to witness important events in the making, wrote historical works. Their number was not inconsiderable, and to them we owe some of the best historical works produced in Islam. Late tenth-century historians such as Miskawayh (d. 1030) and Hilâl as-Sâbi’ (d. 1036) were government officials who not only possessed an inside knowledge of political affairs (the family of as-Sâbi’ had served in government for generations) but were also accomplished writers and well versed inphilosophy and the secular sciences. All of this is reflected in the quality of their works and in their historical insight. The work of ’Imâd-ad-dîn al-Isfâhanî (d. 1201) is an outstanding example of historical memoirs written by a high official who consulted documents and diaries. In particular, his Barq ash-Sha’mî deserves high praise as representing the apogee of diplomatic historiography in Islam.

Amateur historians. ’Imâd al-Isfahani and rulers who wrote historical works and memoirs may be called amateur historians. Most of the numerous genealogical works were written privately by men who frequently were members of the only true Muslim nobility, the descendants of ’Alî. In general, quite a few historical works were probably produced as labors of love, out of reverence for the importance of history and in recognition of the need for preserving an adequate historical record.

Professional historians. In exceptional cases, it appears that an author might be paid for writing historical works on the basis of copies sold through booksellers; but in any case, we may safely surmise that this was not sufficient to live on. The professional historian, in the modern sense, could hardly have existed in the medieval Muslim environment. History was not included in the curriculum of the madrasahs, although lectures on historical topics were occasionally given by professors employed and paid for teaching other subjects. However, there were men who spent their lives producing historical works and who came to consider themselves, and to be considered by Muslim tradition, as historians, for example, al-Mas’udi and, during the Mamluk period in Egypt, when interest in history ran high, al-Maqrîzî (d. 1442) and many others like him.

Purpose and methodology of Muslim historiography. Muslim historians were in the habit of introducing their works with statements concerning the purpose of historical writing (for a number of these statements collected by as-Sakhâwî, see Rosenthal 1952, pp. 219 ff.). The ideas expressed in this connection soon became standardized and did not possess any individual ring. This fact itself is significant in that it shows the general and unquestioned acceptance of their validity. These statements expressed the belief that history is useful; it teaches by both negative and positive examples, that is, it teaches everybody how to handle his own affairs in this fleeting world and, most importantly, it teaches political leaders how to govern properly. Furthermore, history is entertaining; it provides amusing, yet thoughtful, relaxation from more exacting intellectual tasks. And history is instructive and edifying as a handmaiden of religion, proving the truth of Islam and the correctness of the view of the world expounded by it. On the surface, this last point may seem to have been raised merely in order to provide the greatly needed excuse for the waste of time assumed to be involved in any occupation with secular subjects. In reality, it touches on the very meaning of historiography as a part of Muslim civilization. Only as an integral component of the religiously determined structure of the world and society could the study of history be meaningful in Islam.

The idea of history as a powerful weapon in political and ideological struggles does not seem to have been entertained openly or commonly by Muslim historians. On occasion, they were conscious of the fact that their work was used to serve the purpose of exalting an individual or of fortifying the political aspirations of a ruling house. In some instances, minutely detailed modern research has been able to uncover concealed political tendencies or a purposeful manipulation of the evidence in historical writings. However, Muslim historians considered themselves as the custodians and transmitters of facts that could not be altered and neither required nor admitted of interpretation. The historian’s proper activities were restricted to reporting, shortening, collecting different recensions of, and, perhaps, retelling the information provided by the available sources.

This view largely determined the method of historical research. The historian’s main task was setting down what had actually happened, and his main problem was ascertaining the truth of his in formation, whether it came to him orally or through written sources. Truth was understood, above all, as verification of the presumption that an item of information was derived from someone in a position to know. All history being in a sense contemporary history, personal observation was the realbasis of historical knowledge and the best assurance of historical truth. For the rest, the elaborate system developed by scholars of the science of Prophetic traditions, a system for ascertaining the genuineness of these traditions, came to be considered as applicable also to historical research. Of necessity, written histories were granted evidential authority. Archival research and the study of in scriptions, coins, and similar historical evidence were only sporadically practiced. A full discussion of the methodology of medieval Muslim historiography is preserved in a work written in Arabic by a Persian scholar, Muhammad b. Ibrâhîm al-Îjî, who wrote in 1381-1382 and whose work is thus the oldest extensive treatise on the subject known so far. On a less theoretical level, comprehensive works on Islamic historiography, its methods, its problems, and its history were composed in Egypt in the following century by al-Kâfiyajî (d. 1474), who wrote in 1463, and, following him, by as-Sakhâwî (d. 1497), who wrote in 1492.

Philosophy and sociology of history. The Islamic historians’ own views regarding the meaning of history are implied in their works and spelled out in the methodological writings just mentioned. They were convinced that history was the chosen instrument of God for the gradual improvement of mankind and for man’s preparation for the final reckoning at the inevitable end of the world. The coming of Muhammad and Islam was viewed as the great turning point of world history, at which, for the first time, the purpose of history revealed itself clearly and history became a comprehensible reality. From then on, control of history’s progress was within the reach of human beings, if—and that remained the great question—they followed the comprehensive plan for the good life laid down, for both the individual and society, in the religious injunctions of Islam. While there was no automatic sin-and-retribution mechanism operative in history, the rulers at least were judged by their compliance or noncompliance, according to the historian’s sources of information, with Islamic moral norms. There were, however, a few exceptional historians who, while not denying the validity of Islamic the ology, tried to understand history as a purely human social phenomenon. This approach ran counter to the major premises of the Muslim world view and was, therefore, always slightly suspect. It was hinted at by Miskawsyh when, in his large history entitled The Experiences of the Nations, he denied that events caused by the interference of the super natural in history, such as the events connected with the life of the Prophet, could provide a useful experience for students of history. Eventually, the northwest African Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406), writing in 1377, constructed a coherent system of the historical process in purely human terms and devoted to its exposition the famous Muqaddimah (”Intro duction“) of his large universal history, Kitâb al-’Ibar. He explained human society as depending on material and psychological forces, which were described by him in detail; and he defined history in terms of a cyclic motion (with a slight, but continuous, forward movement) of growth and decay within the various forms of human associations. [See the biography ofIbn KhaldŪn.]

Contemporary Muslim historiography. The old forms of historical writing have persisted until recent times, especially in the more shielded regions of the Muslim world. At the time of the first true clash of Islam with the modern world, precipitated by Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, it was still possible for an important work of the annalistic type to be produced by a man of genuine historical perception, the Egyptian al-Jabarti (d. 1826?). During the nineteenth century, there were a few Arabic translations of then popular Western historical works. The study of certain aspects of world history not directly affecting the Muslim countries began to attract some limited interest, especially on the educational level. To this day, it can fairly be said that the interest in all non-Islamic history has remained limited, and nothing of first-rate importance appears to have been produced in the field. On the other hand, from the beginning of the twen tieth century and increasingly accelerated by the political developments that took place in the wake of World War II, the meaning of history and the practice of historiography as it affects Muslim life has become a major concern everywhere in Muslim countries. Some have contended, for example, that the communal conflict between Muslims and Hindus preceding the partition of India was largely the result of the wrong teaching of history and, therefore, amenable to redirection through the efforts of historians (see S. Nadvi, in Philips 1961, p. 493). Others have held that Muslim history is unable to give any guidance for the solution of present-day problems and remains better forgotten and disregarded.

Popular feeling tends to glorify the study of the great Muslim past as an inexhaustible source for the building of national morale and the strengthening of nationalist aspirations. This use of history is fostered by writers devoting their literary talents to historical themes, writers such as Muhammad Husayn Haykal and Mahmūd ’Abbâs al-’Aqqâd. Motion pictures and, to a lesser degree, stage plays effectively exploit historical themes (see Landau 1958, pp. 114 ff., 198 f.). More recently, numerous Muslim historians with Western training in scholarship and methodology have begun to publish, in their various languages, serious and often impor tant historical works as well as biographical, social, and economic studies on past Muslim history. Archival studies are getting underway—particu larly in Turkey, where much of the preserved material is concentrated. The publication of medieval historical texts is being continued at an accelerated pace with the maintenance of, generally speaking, satisfactory standards in editing technique.

The great pre-Islamic past of the Muslim countries inspired different political ideologies and movements based on historical speculation. These had their greatest efflorescence between 1920 and 1945. At present, the excavation, conservation, and study of the archeological remains of the pre-Islamic and the Islamic past are competently cultivated nearly everywhere.

Franz Rosenthal

[See alsoIslam.]


The bibliography is restricted to works written in west European languages. The most convenient sources of information on contemporary Islamic historiography are Lewis & Holt 1962 and Philips 1961; other works on this subject are Ayalon 1960; Chejne 1960 and 1963; Haddad 1961; Hourani 1962; Inalcik 1953; Key 1954; and Von Grunebaum 1962.


Abbott, Nabia 1957 Studies in Arabic Literary Papyri. Volume 1: Historical Texts. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Ayalon, David 1960 The Historian al-Jabartī and His Background. London, University of, School of Oriental and African Studies, Bulletin 23:217–249.

Babinger, Franz 1927 Die Geschichtsschreiber der Osmanen und ihre Werke. Leipzig: Harrassowitz.

Brockelmann, Carl 1937-1949 Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur. 5 vols. Leiden (Netherlands): Brill.

Chejne, Anwar G. 1960 The Use of History by Modern Arab Writers. Middle East Journal 14:382–396.

Chejne, Anwar G. 1963 Intellectual Revival in the Arab World: An Introduction. Islamic Studies (Karachi) 2:413–437.

Fischel, Walter J. 1967 Ibn Khaldūn in Egypt; HisPublic Functions and His Historical Research (13821406). An Essay in Islamic Historiography. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Gibb, Hamilton A. R. 1962 Studies on the Civilization of Islam. Boston: Beacon. Haddad, George M. 1961 Modern Arab Historians and World History. Muslim World 51:37–43.

Hardy, P. 1960 Historians of Medieval India: Studiesin Indo—Muslim Historical Writing. London: Luzac.

Hourani, Albert H. 1962 Arab Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–2939. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. See especially pages 87 and 333 ff.

Inalcik, Halil 1953 Some Remarks on the Study of History in Islamic Countries. Middle East Journal 7:451–455.

Key, Kerim K. 1954 An Outline of Modern Turkish Historiography. Istanbul: Kagit ve Basim Isleri.

Landau, Jacob M. 1958 Studies in the Arab Theater and Cinema. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

Lewis, BERNARD; and Holt, P. M. (editors) 1962 Historians of the Middle East. Oxford Univ. Press.

Maqbul Ahmad, S. (editor) 1960 Al-Mas’udi Millenary Commemoration Volume. Algiers: Aligarh Univ., In stitute of Islamic Studies. → See especially pages 7— 10, written by Bernard Lewis.

Philips, Cyril H. (editor) 1961 Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Historical Writing on the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Rosenthal, Franz 1952 A History of Muslim Historiography. Leiden: Brill. → Includes translations of the works of al-Kâfiyajî and as-Sâkhawî.

Sauvaget, Jean; and Cahen, Claude (1943) 1965 In troduction to the History of the Muslim East. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press. → First published in French.

Storey, Charles A. 1935-1953 Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey. London: Luzac.

Von grunebaum, Gustave E. (1962) 1964 Modern Islam: The Search for Cultural Identity. New York: Vintage.


al-BalÂdhŪrÎIl Califfo Mu’âwiya I. Translated by Olga Pinto and Giorgio Levi Delia Vida. Rome: Bardi, 1938. → A translation of a chapter from al-Balâdhurî’s Ansâb.

al-BalÂdhŪrÎThe Origins of the Islamic State, Being a Translation From the Arabic, Accompanied With Annotations, Geographic and Historical Notes of the Kitāb futūh al-buldān. 2 vols. in 3. Translated by Philip K. Hitti. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1927–1958.

al-SūliAkhbâr ar-Râdî billâh wa’l-Mutaqqî billâh (Histoire de la dynastie abbaside de 322 d 333/934 a 944). Translated from the Arabic by Marius Canard. Institut d’Etudes Orientales de la Faculte des Lettres d’Alger, Publications 10, 12. Algiers: Carbonel, 1946–1950.

at-TabariThe Reign of al-Mu’tasim (833–842). Translated and annotated by Elma Marin. American Oriental Series, Vol. 35. New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1951.

Ibn HishamThe Life of Muhammad. A translation of Ibn Hisham’s adaptation of Ibn Ishaq’s Slrat rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by A. Guillaume. London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1955.

Ibn Khaldon (1375–1382)1958 The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. 3 vols. Translated by Franz Rosenthal. New York: Pantheon Books. → Contains a selected bibliography by Walter J. Fischel.

Ibn Sasra A Chronicle of Damascus 1389–1397. 2 vols. Translated, edited, and annotated by William M. Brin-ner. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1963. → Volume 1 is the English translation; Volume 2 is the original Arabic text.

JoveyniThe History of the World Conqueror. 2 vols. Translated from the text of Mirza Muhammad Qazvini by John A. Boyle. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1958. → A translation of Td’rikh-i-Jahdn-gushd.

MiskawsyhTajdrib al-umam: And Excerpts From Other Historians of His Time. Edited by H. F. Amedroz. Volumes 1-2 in H. F. Amedroz and David S. Margoliouth, The Eclipse of the Abbasid Caliphate. 7 vols. Oxford: Blackwell, 1920–1921. → Volumes 4-5 are the English translation, by D. S. Margoliouth, of Volumes 1–2.

NarshakhiThe History of Bukhara. Translated by Richard N. Frye from a Persian abridgment of the Arabic original. Cambridge, Mass.: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1954.

Yusuf Ibn Taghri-BirdiHistory of Egypt: 1382-1469 A.D. Translated by William Popper. Parts 1-7 and indexes. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1954–1960. → First published as an-Nujum az-zdhirah.


The Japanese historiographical genius has extended less to the fashioning of grand systems of interpretation than to the assiduous working out of domestic history. Of all national histories outside the Western world, none has been revealed in such precise and abundant detail or in such a variety of interpretive forms as that of Japan. The work of Japanese historians, particularly in the last century, has been both prolific and comprehensive. And while the events of Japanese history have yet to find a prominent place in the main body of world historiography, the reverse condition, whereby Japanese history is treated in world context, has been carried forward in impressive fashion by the Japanese. Today every segment of Japanese history is served by the professional archivist, the scholarly monographer, and the interpretive synthesizer, alive to modern currents of historical philosophy and methodology.

History is one of the most popular academic fields in Japan today. The standard Japanese Publisher’s Annual for 1964 lists 1,249 single titles under history. Each of Japan’s more than 230 universities has its department of history, often in more than one faculty. A recent handbook of historical research lists 75 libraries and archival repositories worthy of general note. The same handbook lists 56 scholarly serials published by national historical associations and 40 by societies of primarily local importance.

While Japan does not have a central national archives, the Historiographical Institute of Tokyo University serves somewhat in this capacity, and in addition, numerous private and government libraries preserve or collect materials on a large scale. Printed archival collections are abundantly available. The Historiographical Institute alone has published over 350 weighty volumes of sources, while the standard reprinting of premodern Japanese histories runs to more than sixty volumes. The aspiring Japanese historian has at his command the product of four generations of modern historical scholarship and a full reference shelf of encyclopedias and dictionaries on every major subject from bibliography to religion. For stimulus to his thinking he may turn to volumes on the meaning of history by notable Japanese historians or to translations of standard works by Croce, Weber, Marx, Toynbee, Freud, or Parsons.

Japanese use of history

History is more than a popular field well served by its specialists; history is, and has been, impor tant to the Japanese people in their persistent search for their own identity and for a sense of order in the world about them. Japanese historians have been eclectic in the theories to which they have sub scribed but remarkably consistent in the objectives that they have pursued. Since the eighth century, Japanese historians have looked to history to explain the political and moral order. This search has been served by a variety of world views and historio-graphical traditions just as it has had to respond to the constantly shifting conditions of Japan’s domestic politics and world position. The earliest and most original view of history adopted by the Japanese grew out of an age when Japan existed in comparative isolation from China and the dominant culture of the continent. It conceived of a world with Japan at the center, the proud inheritor of an ideal order built around the imperial house and protected by the native (Shinto) deities. This world view was kept alive into modern times as the Japanese clung to various tokens of their imagined cultural or racial superiority. But Japanese ethno-centrism was seldom free of competition from other, more widely based systems, and by the sixth century both Confucianism and Buddhism were challenging the claims of Shinto.

By medieval times, while not openly admitting the moral superiority of China or India, Japanese historians had taken to explaining causation in political affairs by reference to Confucian conceptions of proper or improper conduct or to Buddhist interpretations of retribution for good and evil. Japan’s confrontation with Western civilization was historiographically even more traumatic, for it not only presented Japan with a multiplicity of theories of historical explanation, but also imposed upon her a view of the world order that placed the West at the center of the human drama and made the Judaeo-Christian tradition the driving force in human progress.

Japanese historical writing, reacting to these several pressures, has tended to be assimilative in concept and methodology. In strictly technical terms it has demonstrated a growing sophistication in its capacity to deal with basic facts and causal phenomena. And this cumulative quality of Japanese historiography—its constant increase in historical detachment and critical judgment and its steady improvement in basic techniques—is one of its most impressive over-all features. On the other hand, the search for order and status has proved continually illusive. The questions asked by every Japanese—who are we? what distinguishes us as a people and culture? what is our place in the world order?—remain a source of uncertainty even today; and it is this uncertainty that has kept Japanese historiography oscillating between the extremes of nationalism and universalism.

The Japanese have never been ones to accept a secondary position in the world gracefully. Historiography in modern Japan has kept pace with the national desire to achieve world prominence. History and nation, in fact, have been closely linked. For history has been drawn into the service of the state, either to provide the people with a crucial sense of continuity with their traditional values or as a means of justifying the revolutionary changes endorsed by a government intent upon modern reform. Throughout most of the last cen tury, history has seemed inevitably to teach the lesson of Japan’s inferiority to the more enlightened peoples of the West. Only once did the Japanese people appear to have it in their power to turn history in their favor so that their private view of the world could be extended into a universal vision. During the era of continental expansion, the march of Japanese armies seemed on the verge of making truth out of the propagandist’s claim that the goal of world history was to draw mankind under the benevolent rule of the Japanese emperor. The discrediting of that claim gave back to the Japanese historian the task of finding a realistic position for Japanese history in an objectively conceived world environment. The task has not been easy.

Early historical writing

Japan’s earliest extant histories, the Kojiki(a.d. 712; “Record of Ancient Matters“) and the Nihon shoki(a.d. 720; “Chronicle of Japan“), were both products of the desire of the Japanese ruling house to “clarify the political order” and to produce a national chronicle comparable to those that added luster to the dynasties of China. The Kojiki is a narrative of the Japanese people from the “age of the gods” through the establishment of the Ya-mato hegemony to the end of the reign of Empress Suiko in a.d. 628. The purpose of the work is to display the background of the Yamato house and to document the dependent status of various noble lines. While the sources of the Kojiki are obscure, and hence its historiographical conceptions diffi cult to date, it is safe to assume that it exemplifies the earliest recorded views of the Japanese people regarding themselves and their past. The work is notable for its matter-of-fact treatment of super natural events, particularly its uncomplicated han dling of the relationship between human society and the deities. The Kojiki contains no generalized myths of creation and no culture heroes. Nor does it depict the Japanese gods as active agents in the lives of mortals once the world of man was set down upon the Japanese islands. Rather, the story of creation begins with the first male and female deities, proceeds through generations of their off spring, and then by genealogical descent enters the age of man in Japan. In the human political world, power and status derived simply from the circumstances of lineal descent from particular ancestral deities. The imperial family established its claim to sovereignty by virtue of direct descent from Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess.

Because of its limited circulation, the Kojiki had little immediate influence on Japanese historians. Not until the eighteenth century, when nationalistic scholars found in its archaic contents the ingredients of an idealized society based on “pure Japanese” values, did it become the revered source of the Japanese view of history. For over a millennium, therefore, it was the Nihon shoki that had the reputation of being Japan’s first history. The Nihon shoki had the advantage of being written in Chinese and being more closely based on Chinese models than was the Kojiki; it sought, in other words, to place Japanese history into a world that acknowledged the existence of China as the source of a Confucian world view, although it sought to maintain Japan’s independent and competitive position in that world. More historiographically self-conscious than the writers of the Kojiki, the Nihon shoki’s authors attempted to assign dates to the amorphous events associated with the early generations of the imperial house and thus establish a chronology comparable to that of China. It was from this effort, using the Chinese theory of “great cycles,” that the authors arrived at the controversial date 660 b.c. for the ascension of Jimmu, “the first emperor,” a date that modern historians more properly place in the third or fourth century a.d.

The Nihon shoki and five succeeding official histories that chronicled the events of the imperial court down to 887 are known together as the Rikkokushi (”Six National Histories“). Although they constitute an attempt of the Japanese to write history in the Chinese official manner, they differ considerably from their models. The writer of history met in Japan conditions very different from those in China, for the Japanese dynasty had already established itself “in perpetuity,” and the historian could have very little to say about its right to rule. As a consequence, the Japanese never fully adopted the premises of the Confucian moral order which made political power contingent on virtue but rather found ways of equating their own highly aristocratic social hierarchy to that of China by the assumption that the moral right to sovereignty followed the line of hereditary succession. In fact, as the Japanese imperial line continued unbroken for century after century, the Japanese began to turn the Confucian order to their advantage and to claim superiority in matters of government over the Chinese, who were constantly rebelling against their emperors.

The writing of official history lost its meaning in Japan once the imperial bureaucracy gave way to the direct rule of aristocratic houses and the emperor was pushed above politics to serve as a sacred legitimizer. By the tenth century the compilation of official annals i.^d given way to the writing of private histories. The monogatari (narratives) and kagami (mirrors) exemplify a style of history that was as distinctive a product of the aristocratic society of the Heian court as the literary masterpiece, the “Tale of Genji.” Written in Japanese, not Chinese, the new histories combined the intimacy of single authorship with the immediacy of narrative writing. The most famous of these, the Okagami (”Great Mirror“), combined a synthesis of Japanese history up to the eleventh century with an explanation of the rise of the Fujiwara family, which then dominated the court.

The Middle Ages

By the twelfth century Japanese historical works were showing the influence of Buddhist concepts of karma and salvation. The immensely popular epic history of the war between the Minamoto and Taira, Heike monogatari, was written and recited chiefly for its didactic message. The writing of history generally passed into the hands of priests, who relied on Buddhist explanations for the rise and fall of family or individual fortunes. Their works were characteristically suffused with a sense of compassion for human suffering, sadness over the transience of life, and concern over the imminence of the age of decay. Works written from the point of view of the Buddhist establishment, therefore, looked at Japan from a viewpoint that played down worldly political orders in the face of the universality of the human condition. Visible power and circumstance were often depicted only to reveal the inevitability of decline. Yet even among the Buddhists, a voice was raised which claimed Japan to be the center of the Buddhist world. Nichiren (1222–1282) militantly proclaimed Japan to be the land destined to bring the Buddhist faith to perfection.

In terms of domestic history, the rise of the military aristocracy and the creation of the shogunate (headquarters of the military hegemony) in 1192 added new dimensions to the historians’ task of interpretation. Historians now had to explain not only the virtue of the imperial house but also the reason for the decline of the civil aristocracy and the ascendancy of military houses. Two note worthy products of the Middle Ages in Japan deal with these questions at the same time that they show distinct advances in historiographical technique. Gukansho (”Miscellany of Ignorant Views“), written by the priest Fujiwara Jien (1155–1225), explains the balance between civil and military ministers as dependent on the quality of service they provided and on the requirements of the times. Jien, to some extent, therefore, applied Confucian concepts of rulership to the behavior of “imperial advisors.” But the Gukansho is particularly noted for being the first example of “purposeful” historical writing in which the author was able not merely to record but to survey, interpret, and explain while exercising personal detachment.

Jinno shotoki (”Records of the True Descent of the Divine Emperors“) by General Kitabatake Chikafusa (1291–1354) was written to inform the scion of a displaced branch of the imperial family of the true state of political affairs into which he was born. Its great importance to later generations lay in its emotional revival of the theme of Japan’s superiority as a nation because of the unique virtue of the unbroken imperial line.

The Tokugawa period

Japan’s great age of historical writing prior to modern times came in the peaceful years of the Tokugawa period (1600–1868). Up to this point the writing of history had been the province of relatively few courtiers and priests. With the cessation of civil war in 1600, the Tokugawa house and the territorial lords (the daimyo) gave official encouragement to the pursuit of learning, and history became a major concern of the entire samurai class. The multicentered political order, which included a regenerated imperial court, a shogun with unmatched powers, and stable daimyo administrations in the provinces, provided incentive for the compilation of numerous official histories, while the cultivation of intellectualism led many a private scholar into the fields of Japanese history and literature.

At the same time, profound changes were affecting the Japanese climate of opinion. The rigorous pursuit of Confucian philosophy among the samurai, not simply as an esoteric pastime, but for practical use in political affairs and the betterment of education, improved the Japanese scholar’s mastery of historical technique. More important, it rejected Buddhist mysticism for a more rationalistic view of history. In addition, a new interest in native Japanese studies (e.g., study of the Kojiki), which refocused interest upon the imperial house, gave the Japanese the ingredients of a nationalistic revival in scholarship and the confidence to reject in time even the Confucian values that had so long dominated their thinking.

Chief among the historical works of this age were certain products of official patronage and committee authorship. Heading the list of “house histories” was the voluminous Tokugawa jikki (”Veritable Annals of the Tokugawa House“), the first part of which was completed in 516 chapters between 1809 and 1849. The primary effort of the Tokugawa house to write a national history so as to legitimize its rule was the Honcho tsugan (”Comprehensive Mirror of Japan“), completed in 1670 by the Hayashi family of shogunal Confucian advisors. The text was in Chinese, and, as the title indicates, the form was modeled after Ssu-ma Kuang’s famous Tzu-chih t’ung-chien (1084; “Com prehensive Mirror for Government“).

Destined to become more influential than the Honcho tsugan was the Dai Nihon shi (”History of Japan“), compiled under the auspices of the Mito branch of the Tokugawa house. It was the first (and only) successful attempt of the Japanese to write according to the full specifications of the Chinese dynastic history style and required the efforts of a large compilation bureau from 1657 to 1906, when the essays were finally complete. But the annals had been made public in 1720, and from that time the work had acquired a reputation for its sentiments of loyalty to the imperial house.

Historiographically more important than the works of group authorship, however, were the writings of two private historians. Arai Hakuseki (1657–1725), a scholar-statesman in the Confucian sense, was a writer of wide versatility. His Dokushi yoron (”Commentaries on History“) contained an entirely original system of periodization based on the shifting locus of political power. The Koshi tsu (”Survey of Ancient History“), in which he called for philological studies to penetrate the Japanese classics and state that the kami (gods) were humans and understandable in rational terms, exemplified both the high moral sense of the Confucianist and the growing rationalism with which many Japanese scholars were able to approach historical causation.

Rai Sanyo (1780–1832), less competent as a historian, exemplified the new interest in national studies. His Nihon gaishi (”Unofficial History of Japan“) continued in the tradition of Kitabatake’s emperor-centered historical narrative. More accessible than the Mito Dai Nihon shi, it was widely read and everywhere stirred up sentiments of loyalty toward the emperor and pride in the uniqueness of Japan’s national structure. . Such works of compilation and interpretation could hardly have been written had it not been for the diligent labor of a large body of archivists and antiquarians during the Tokugawa period. This labor, in fact, laid the foundations of Japan’s modern archival repositories. The contemporary Cabinet Library, for example, is heavily dependent upon collections begun under Tokugawa patronage. The program of the Historiographical Institute today is also a continuation of the remarkable work of the blind bibliographer Hanawa Hokiichi (1746–1821) and his son, who scoured the country collecting and collating historical texts, which they published according to a subject classification under the title Gunsho ruiju (”Classified Texts“). These highlights of the historiographical story of the Tokugawa period constitute but a small fraction of the total activity of the age. By the eighteenth century, historical studies were no longer limited to a narrow court circle or to individuals patronized by the central military authorities. Nearly all of the more than 250 daimyo promoted the writing of house histories or the collection of local documents. The spread of learning among diverse groups (even outside the ruling class) encouraged variety and specialization. Antiquarians wrote on ancient usages or court ceremonies, philologists studied the meaning of archaic Japanese words, and bibliographers began the task of examining critically Japan’s heritage in the field of letters. Adding impetus to the growth of scholar ship and the diffusion of ideas was the remarkable expansion of the printing industry, which put much of the output of Tokugawa writers on the market and into the hands of other scholars. The growth of private and official academies, particularly in the great cities of Edo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagasaki, led to a lively interchange of ideas.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, when Japan was abruptly thrust into the company of Western powers and her intellectuals were brought face to face with the latest products of science and scholarship from the West, Japan had at her disposal a mature tradition of historical scholarship, based on sound, though antiquated, principles of Chinese methodology and suffused with a growing national self-consciousness. It required only the touch of Western influence to set in motion a complex historiographical revolution. On the one hand, the Japanese were quick to absorb the methods and philosophies of history offered by the West. On the other hand, they comprehended immediately that the West posed a vital threat to their intellectual security and their historical importance as a nation. In the world views of the West, Japan had no recognized place other than among the “uncivilized” peoples.

The Meiji period

The basic revolution in historiography took Japan roughly thirty years, the same period of time required to lay the foundation for the modern Japanese state. Japan’s first task was the fairly straightforward one of recapturing in modern scientific form the facts of Japan’s past. For several years the government dominated this work of basic compilation. Interest in history ranked high among the Meiji leaders, for they sought justification for the new regime as well as knowledge about past laws and administrative practices to serve as a basis for new legislation. In 1869 an Office for Collection of Historical Materials and Compilation of National History was established by government order. Its director, Shigeno Yasutsugu, was immediately caught in the dilemma of objective versus propagandistic compilation. The projected national history was eventually abandoned after attack from Shintoist scholars, who claimed the work gave insufficient support to the emperor. The collection of materials, however, has been continued to the present. Meanwhile most of the new departments of government were busy collecting records and compiling documentary histories. The most ambitious and currently useful of these transitional works is Koji ruien (”Encyclopedia of An cient Matters“), a monumental encyclopedia in the Chinese manner compiled by the Department of Shrines between 1879 and 1913.

The conflict over interpretation that divided the official historiographers of the early Meiji era reflected the deep problems that Japan faced in the realm of historical ideology. Ranged on one side were the successors to the Shinto revivalist school of the Tokugawa period, who wished to use history to stimulate patriotism and to keep alive the memory of a noble past with which they could proudly confront the rest of the world. For them Rai Sanyo’s history remained a model, and between 1876 and 1884 five supplements to this work were printed. Yet just as in the political arena, the traditionalists were attacked by the advocates of “progress” and intellectual freedom. Private historians with more flexible and cosmopolitan views were at work absorbing new Western concepts and rethinking Japan’s historical circumstances. Many of them, in fact, saw Japan as half-civilized in contrast to the “enlightened” peoples of the West. Soon translations of such contemporary laissez-faire writers as Mill and Spencer began to circulate in Japan, and the broadly interpretative works of men like Henry Thomas Buckle and Francois Guizot showed the way to the writing of cultural history. Fukuzawa Yukichi’s Bummei ron no gai-ryaku (1875; “A Short Account of the Theory of Civilization“) and Taguchi Ukichi’s Nihon kaika shoshi (1877-1882; “Short History of Japanese Civilization“), based on these models, opened a new era of Japanese historiography that would shift the attention of the historian away from the purely political to encompass the intellectual, ar tistic, and religious dimensions of Japanese culture and would begin the task of finding a place for Japan in a world view made larger by the addition of the West.

These two streams of historiography, official-nationalistic and private-international, carried on into the 1890s, but not until the government had abandoned direct interference in the writing of history behind an avowed insistence on objectivity and the advocates of patriotic history had turned their attention to the more impressionable field of elementary education. In the realm of scholarship it was expected that history would become an objective science. And for this purpose a German scholar, Ludwig Reiss (1861–1928), had been invited to establish a chair of history at Tokyo University. Under Reiss the German Geschichts-wissenschaft school was accepted as the basis for historical training at Tokyo. In 1895 the government attached its Historical Bureau to Tokyo University with the aim of compiling the Dai Nippon shiryo (”Historical Materials of Japan“) along the lines of the German Monumenta germaniae his-torica. Thus the combination of the University of Tokyo professorships and the Historiographical Institute became the hard core of Japan’s modern historical profession, from which emanated the dominant academic orthodoxy.

Beginnings of modern historiography

Japanese historiography came of age as a modern discipline during the forty years after 1890. This era was marked by conspicuous success along four main lines: (1) the perfection of a modern historical methodology, (2) the writing of specialized monographic studies on particular institutions and aspects of Japanese civilization, (3) the preparation of general historical surveys, and (4) the publication of reference works and source materials. The outstanding historiographic work of the period was undoubtedly Kuroita Katsumi’s Kokushi no kenkyu (1908; “Study of Japanese History“). Kuroita, of Tokyo University and schooled in the German historical-scientific tradition, succeeded in formalizing the periodization of Japanese history and in supplying a definitive critique of the standard sources in the field of political history. Simultaneously, Japanese historians began the task of dividing their history both horizontally by periods and vertically by topics into numerous specialties. Monographic studies of political history, foreign relations, legal institutions, economic history, and the history of art, literature, and religion were produced in abundance. By the 1920s the ground had been prepared for the appearance of new and more satisfactory historical surveys, such as Nihon bunkashi (1922; “Cultural History of Japan,” 12 volumes) and Sogo Nihon shi taikei (1926; “Synthetic Survey of Japanese History,” 20 volumes), both works of multiple authorship.

The mid-1920s stand out as a quiet and productive interlude in Japanese historiography, when few fundamental conflicts of interpretation disturbed the academic calm. Although “academic” and “cultural” historians were separated by obvious differences in approach or subject matter, they shared basic premises about the function and aim of history. Both believed essentially in “scientific” methodology, and both were concerned with the task of “discovering” Japan’s past in all its political subtleties and cultural richness. They saw Japan as having successfully joined the ranks of the modern powers, so that Japanese history could be viewed as simply another tributary flowing into the mainstream of modern progress. The Japanese were content to study their past descriptively as a subject sufficient to itself and worthy of pride.

But this atmosphere was not to last long. First of all, Japanese historians began of their own accord to look beyond their own history to discover relationships with other histories and to subject their history to new comparative judgments. Nishida Naojiro’s brilliant analysis of Japanese culture saw in Japan its “Gothic art,” and its “rise of a commercial spirit.” Tsuda Sokichi broke through the taboos that still obscured Japan’s early history to reveal Japan’s cultural growth as an unfolding of human qualities shared by “all people.” Honjo Eijiro, Ono Takeo, and Tsuchiya Takao began the economic interpretation of Japanese history.

The new currents of historical inquiry were sufficiently strong to bring into being a number of new societies dedicated to specific types of history. Up to then the chief association of Japanese historians had been the Shigakkai (Historical Society of Japan), founded at Tokyo University in 1889. Among the new associations, the Keizaishi Kenkyukai (Society for the Study of Economic History) was organized at Kyoto University in 1929, and the Shakai Keizaishi Gakkai (Social and Economic History Society) was organized in Tokyo in 1931. In 1933 a group of young historians of the Tokyo area, organizing themselves into the Rekishigaku Kenkyukai (Historical Science Society), began the move toward “progressive” history that was to lead increasingly in the Marxian direction.

By the late 1920s history had again become a pivotal subject for a people who had begun to question the course their country was pursuing both at home and abroad. Social and political problems that followed World War I and were accentuated by the depression now agitated the academic world. Intellectuals saw a growing discrepancy between “government” and “people,” between the way things were and the way they ought to be. The fading of the democratic ideal, not only in Japan but in much of Europe, left the Japanese open to the competitive ideals of socialism and national socialism.

During the 1930s, as Japan began her expansion on the continent and drifted toward war in the Pacific, her scholarly world was torn increasingly between the ideas of left and right. Marxist historians rewrote Japanese history as a story of national development from primitive to socialist society. They hotly debated whether or not the Meiji Restoration was a bourgeois revolution and criticized the government of Japan as capitalist and imperialist. Perhaps the most significant contribution of the Marxist school in these years was the series entitled Nihon shihonshugi hattatsu shi koza (1932; “Essays on the History of the Development of Capitalism in Japan“). Marxists eventually came under heavy attack. After the middle 1930s open expression of their views declined, although a strong underground commitment to them continued among Japanese intellectuals and much of the Marxist vocabulary passed into common usage. By the mid-1930s the tempo of nationalistic writing had accelerated. Incited by government and public opinion, historians lent their energies to propagandistic purposes and the rewriting of national history along messianic lines. Although the higher levels of scholarship were able to maintain a precarious objectivity, by the time of the war Japan’s youth was uniformly being taught a brand of history that stressed the old myths of uniqueness and invincibility and claimed as the goal of history the ultimate conquest of the world by the Japanese.

Postwar historiography

After disastrous defeat in war, Japan embarked upon the slow process of economic and spiritual rehabilitation. The very foundations of her history had been challenged: much of her heroic past had been discredited, and the seemingly successful attempt at modernization had ended in failure. Where did Japan now stand in the world? And what of Japan’s past was now worthy of remembrance? These questions were put to a generation of scholars strongly disillusioned by their wartime experience. The purging of old-guard scholars brought younger men in large numbers into the universities, while the freedom of expression that the Occupation authorities permitted encouraged a vigorous iconoclasm among all intellectuals. Many of the new scholars were men of strong Marxist conviction whose desire to express themselves had been increased by the long years of silence imposed upon them during the war.

Few subjects were as controversial as history during the first fifteen years after World War II. For history lay both at the heart of the revised system of “education for democracy” and of the Japanese attempt to understand a world divided between two great power blocs and two ideologies. Battles raged over the rewriting of elementary school history textbooks, and lines were drawn between the Marxist-dominated Rekishigaku Kenkyu kai and the still academically oriented Shigakkai.

In the first years after the war, it seemed as though Japanese historians had uniformly and precipitously abandoned the extreme of nationalist history only to take up another extreme of socialist history in which nation and emperor were both totally rejected. The theme of the common man in his struggle against feudalism, absolutism, fas cism, and capitalism was played with dramatic eloquence.

Yet by the 1950s, as political and economic conditions began to settle down, historians also began to relax their extreme ideological orientation. In volume of research and publication, historians of the 1950s had begun to surpass their prewar out put; new encyclopedias, new survey histories, new works of basic research were published, so that by the end of the decade the entire literature of Japanese history had practically renewed itself. New documentary series that penetrated even more deeply into the details of government or economic activity encouraged research at new levels of refinement and precision. The creation of new universities and research centers served to break up the prewar factions of historians and increase the variety of historical writing.

In the face of such diversity, any simple characterization of the Japanese historiographical scene today is hardly possible. Most of the vast product of the Japanese historian is of a strictly empirical nature and is little affected by problems of bias or interpretation. But there are underlying issues of great consequence. Japanese historians are still troubled by questions of fundamental philosophy. Marxism continues to provide the most widely accepted historical world view. Recent experimentation with various social science methods has offered certain alternatives to Marxism, although nothing like a “complete system.” There are followers of Max Weber and of special techniques of statistical data gathering or group research, but these are chiefly techniques, and the Japanese must still grapple with the question of where history is taking them and where Japan fits into the ultimate scheme of things. Increasingly, however, it does appear that the Japanese are gaining the assurance to forgo their ideological preconceptions and engage in a less self-conscious approach to their own history.

John Whitney Hall

[Directly related are the entriesBuddhismandJapanese Society.]


Beasley, William G.; and Pulleyblank, E. G. (editors) 1961 Historians of China and Japan. New York and London: Oxford Univ. Press. → Contains five essays on Japanese historiography. The first three provide the most complete analysis of premodern historical writing available in English.

Comite Japonais des Sciences Histobiques 1960 Le Japon au XI* congres international des sciences historiques a Stockholm: L’etat actuel et les tendances des etudes historiques au Japon. Tokyo: Nippon Gaku-jutsu Shinkokai. → Part 1 contains essays by leading Japanese historians on the state of research, latest trends, and major fields of Japanese history. Parts 2 and 3 cover Asian history and European history. Contents are in English; a Japanese language version was also published.

Hall, John W. 1954a Historiography in Japan. Pages 284-304 in Henry S. Hughes (editor), Teachers of History: Essays in Honor of Laurence Bradford Pack ard. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press. → A survey of Japanese historical writing from its origins to the time of writing.

Hall, John W. 1954b Japanese History: A Guide to Japanese Reference and Research Materials. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press. → A bibliographical study of the Japanese treatment of Japanese history. Introductory essays cover basic reference works, historical sources, documentary collections, journals, and secondary works in each major field of study. A total of 1,551 works are annotated.

Iwanami koza Nihon rekishi (Essays on Japanese History).

1963 Tokyo: Iwanami. → Volume 22 is devoted to essays on Japanese historians. This is the latest of many Japanese works surveying Japanese historical writing.

Nihon shi kenkyu nyumon (Introduction to the Study of Japanese History). 2 vols. Compiled by Toyama Shigeki and Sato Shin’ichi. 1954-1962 Tokyo Univ. Press. → Practical handbooks for aspiring Japanese historians, these volumes contain essays on the latest trends in major fields, bibliographical lists, and information on research institutions and libraries.

Nihon Shisoshi Kenkyukai 1961 Nihon ni okeru re-kishishiso no tenkai (The Development of Japanese Historical Thought). Tokyo: Shibundo. → A collection of fourteen essays on historiography and historical thought in Japan from early times to the present. Contains a chronology and one of the most complete bibliographies of Japanese historiography available.

1963-nen no rekishi gakkai (Historical Studies in 1963).1964 Shigaku zasshi [1964] Annual summary. → Be gun in the journal Shirin, the series has been kept alive since-1916 and provides an annual summary of the previous year’s publication by Japanese historians. The journal Rekishigaku kenkyu has published a similar series since 1933.


Historiography in south and southeast Asia, as elsewhere, developed in close relation with the sources of literacy. As literacy came from several sources and at different times, so was history writing similarly varied and differentiated. Most important of such sources before the twentieth century, however, were the many religions which, for at least six centuries, united some parts of the region and divided others. Five of the areas representing different religions and literate experiences may be distinguished for a survey of historiographical traditions.

There has been little in common between popular Hinduism in India and the Theravada Buddhism of Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and Ceylon. These two areas again have little in common with a third area, the extensive sphere of Islam, with large centers in Pakistan and India and in Muslim societies throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, and the southern Philippines. The fourth and the fifth areas are somewhat peripheral to the rest, that of Vietnam, where a variety of Chinese religion and culture still survives, and that of the largely Christianized society of the Philippines. In each of these areas a different attitude toward the idea of history may be discerned.

Traditional historiography

South Asia

The earliest literate religion introduced to the preliterate animistic communities of the region was that of the Vedas. The religion was restricted primarily to India and produced its earliest annalistic literature in the Puranas. The pu-ranic tradition was further extended and other dynastic and regional annals were compiled, but they remained “marked by obscurity, exaggeration, paucity of authentic data and neglect of topography and chronology” (Ghoshal 1961, p. 2) down to the Muslim invasions of the twelfth century. The only exception to this Hindu heritage was a work completed in the middle of the twelfth century, the Rajatarangini (”Kashmir Chronicle“) by Kalhana. Of Kalhana, Majumdar (1961a, p. 21) says that he “held that the first requisite of a true historian was to keep a detached mind, free from bias and prejudices (and), like a judge, must discard love and hatred while recounting the events of the past but Basham (1961a, p. 61) maintains that Kalhana was more concerned “to teach moral lessons.”

The great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, had considerable influence and were used as sources by an independent historical tradition. While they did not lead to the growth of history writing, they were remarkable repositories of stories which were as real and meaningful to most of the peoples of south and southeast Asia as the Homeric epics were to the peoples of Europe. For centuries, they were the nearest thing to history and may be said to have performed the role of history among the peoples who transmitted the stories.

In addition, the two epics, in conjunction with the stories of the Pancatantra and the Buddhist Jataka stories, also provided a strong anecdotal and narrative tradition for the Buddhist genealogies and chronicles of Ceylon and mainland southeast Asia. Such Buddhist stories and chronicles ranged from simple eulogies to types of hagiography and were used for moral and spiritual education in the monasteries and at the courts. It took several centuries before the chronicles advanced from recounting the philosophical progress of Gautama Buddha and his disciples to the conscious record of contemporary political and religious events. Eventually, in Ceylon, where the vamsa tradition (notably, the chronicles known as the Dipavamsa, the Maha-vamsa, and the Culavamsa) produced several court-sponsored chronicles compiled by learned monks, a kind of history writing appeared. The works were annalistic and anecdotal and mainly written in verse. They were also restricted to court use. There was no tradition of individual authorship, for each chronicle was largely the continuation of a previous one and incorporated materials from earlier chronicles. The success of any set of chronicles was determined more by its literary quality than by its historical accuracy. If a new compilation achieved high literary standards, it might supersede earlier works altogether (Perera 1961; Godakumbura 1961).

Indian historiography was greatly enriched after the Muslim conquests of northern India at the end of the twelfth century. A well-developed tradition of history writing was introduced, and for more than six centuries a branch of Muslim historiography dominated the south Asian scene. The main features of these Muslim writings are common to those of Muslim historiography in Persia, west Asia, and north Africa. They remained bound to the need for orthodox authority and the desire to serve God and the Muslim community. They were also largely directed to teaching moral and religious lessons through descriptions of prophets, caliphs, sultans, and other great men of both religion and government. Furthermore, they were limited to the accounts of the triumphs and disasters of Muslim rulers and kingdoms and barely touched on the peoples of other faiths in India.

Despite these limitations, the Muslim writings provided a historical picture of India not available among any other community in India until recent times. For this reason, at least two of the greatest Indo-Muslim historians may be singled out to illustrate the range and scope of the tradition. The first is Ziauddin Barani, whose work, the Tarikh-i Feroz-shdhi, was completed in 1357. Here, Barani achieved a new consciousness of the value of history. Not only could history strengthen faith, reason, and judgment, give comfort, teach patience, and distinguish between good and evil, but it was also “the necessary foundation of truth” (Hardy 1960, pp. 22-23). Although his awareness of truth was strictly within the framework of Islam, it remains a vital ingredient in distinguishing the best Muslim histories from the many written.

This was also true of the Moghul historian Abul Fazl (1551–1602), whose history of the reign of the emperor Akbar (1556–1605) is regarded as the height of Indo-Muslim historiographical achievements. This work, the Akbar Namah, is not free from conventional eulogy and stylistic flourish, but it represents the result of great steps forward in archival collection, document examination, and close analytical research. To this day the section called Ain-i-Akbari is regarded as the classic study of the institutions and workings of an empire at the height of its extent and power.

Although all Indo-Muslim writings were determined by extraneous non-Indian concepts of history, they have become part of the Indian (and now also Pakistani) historical heritage and may be seen now as an integral part of traditional south Asian historiography (Hardy 1961; Rashid 1961; Elliot 1867-1877).

Southeast Asia

The Mon-Khmer and Cham peoples of mainland southeast Asia acquired much of the art and architecture of India and left many great historical monuments which are still intact to attest to the richness of the heritage (Coedes [1948] 1964, pp. 35-72). But the earlier Hindu-Buddhist accretions left little impact on the Mon and Cambodian chronicles that came to be written later.

With the spread of Theravada Buddhism after the thirteenth century, the Mons in particular compiled chronicles (Rajawan, or genealogies of various kinds) which established the tradition of bringing together dynastic information, anecdotes about the kings, and various myths and legends which gave meaning to each reign (Shorto 1961, p. 64). This tradition was strengthened by the Burmese, who brought a keener sense of chronology to the compilations. Although still essentially a derived tradition from Buddhist Ceylon, the later Burmese Yazawin (“Chronicles”) of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were clearly indigenous writings influenced by local animism and Burmese concepts of kingship and cosmology. As works compiled by learned monks, learned brahmans, and learned ministers, they provided valuable material for early European works on Burmese history (Htoot 1961; Ohn 1961; Maha Yaza Win Taw Kyi).

Similarly, the Thai tradition, also developed by learned monks and ministers, was derived from Ceylon, probably through the Mon-Khmer-speaking peoples of the Menam valley. Most of the earlier versions of the Thai chronicles were destroyed when Ayuthia was sacked by the Burmese in 1767.

A notable exception was the P’ongsawadan, compiled in 1680, which covered the period 1350–1605. This chronicle form was revived during the late eighteenth century, and many chronicles were written not only for Thailand but also for Burma, Cambodia, and the states of southern Thailand, including the Malay states of Songkhla and Saiburi (Kedah).

The situation was different, however, among the Javanese and Malay peoples. Hindu-Buddhist mon uments and inscriptions abound, but there also developed quite independently a native concern with the past and the use of the past as symbol and magic to give power and confirm authority. From the epic poem Nagara-Kertagama to the Pararaton and the Babad Tanah Jawi (fourteenth to seventeenth centuries), the court poets lauded their kings, worked out impressive genealogies, and perfected their verse. These were not works of history, but they were approaching an autonomous tradition in historical awareness. Of particular interest is the framework of Hindu gods, Buddhist identifi cations, and indigenous beliefs in the first two works and their extension to include Muslim proph ets in the Babad. The sense of continuity is unmistakable. The desire to link legitimacy and sovereignty to past heroes and their origins is sustained through the centuries. Lacking both an accurate chronology and a secular concern with kings, ministers, subjects, and enemies, the great lists of names of people and places are more like exercises in metrics and incantation than history writing. But as the tradition developed into the nineteenth century, later Babad closer to modern histories were produced, notably, the Babad Dipanagara and the Sejarah Banten. In addition, there were lesser historical writings in south Celebes (Sudjatmoko et al. 1965; Berg 1965; Graaf 1965; Noorduyn 1965; Johns 1964).

Far better developed as histories are the writings in Malay, especially the Sejarah Melayu and a number of works concerning the Johore and Riau Ling-ga empires, as well as “rhymed chronicles” like the Sha’ir Perang Mengkasar and similar compositions. Malay writing is richer than the Javanese in anecdote and more vivid in the description of men and places. It still lacks chronology but is more accurate about personal relationships. There is less concern with magic than with moral values like loyalty and sincerity, and, as a whole, Malay histories entertain as well as teach. Three outstanding examples of a nascent social history, the Misa Melayu, the Hikayat Abdullah, and the Tuhfat-ul Nafis, appeared in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is possible to discover a certain amount of outside influence in these works, but they clearly show their continuity with the Sejarah Melayu tradition (Bottoms 1959; Amin 1963, pp. 1-46; Teeuw 1964; Josselin de Jong 1964).

Finally, a brief note on the importation of traditional Chinese historiographical forms in the writing of Annamese (Vietnamese) history. In ruling the Tongking region of north Vietnam for a thousand years, the Chinese determined the nature of its historiography. Such traditional works were still being written throughout the nineteenth century and even during the early years of the twen tieth century. But, interestingly, these forms are not traceable in those parts of the Indochinese pen insula which fell under the influence of Theravada Buddhism. Similarly, with the Spanish invasion of the Philippines at the end of the sixteenth century, a kind of traditional Roman Catholic historiography was introduced which matched the Malay chronicles of the Sulu Archipelago. This limited European clerical tradition remained dominant in the Philippines until the latter half of the nineteenth century, and vestiges remain even today.

Features of traditional historiography. It has often been noted that the history of south and southeast Asia had little unity of theme until the coming of modern industrial civilization during the last hundred years. The traditional historiography of the region seems to confirm this view. Except for the common lack of chronology in the historical works and the fact that there are so many gaps to be filled in the region’s history, there appear to be more major differences than similarities in the types of writings mentioned above. Some of the traditions may have had common origins, but they developed as discrete and autonomous traditions in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Java, and the Malay world. Even the Islamic tradition was not homogeneous, and what emerged in northern India was quite different from Muslim historical writings in Acheh, Java, Malacca, Johore, south Celebes, and Sulu. This suggests that there were strong indige nous features in each of the traditions which were peculiar to the different peoples. The subject has now aroused considerable interest, and it is to be expected that more precise analyses of the indigenous cultures will soon appear to help us understand the differences better.

Based on present information, the following list indicates the common features and major differences.

Common features are that (a) most of the works are strong in genealogy but weak in chronology and biographical detail; (b) the emphasis is on literary style, anecdotal material, and the use of history as moral and religious teaching; (c) where they are primarily secular, there is a common central interest in kingship, and the emphasis is placed on orthodox qualities of loyalty and conformity; (d) cosmological and astrological considerations tend to exclude causal explanations as well as the idea of progress.

Major differences are that (a) religion cut off the Indo-Muslim historians from the Hindu socio-economic background of Indian history; it cut off the Thais and Cambodians from the east Asian historiographical tradition in its Vietnamese form; and it cut off the Malayo—Javanese world from the Thais and Burmese on the one hand and the Filipinos on the other; (b) national rivalry influenced, for example, Burmese and Thai historical writing about each other; (c) language differences in India before the use of Persian and in mainland southeast Asia after the decline of Pali were complex; most of the works were not intelligible outside of the country’s boundaries; (d) royal policies about historical writings varied considerably; Muslim and Malay works were in circulation, while Thai, Burmese, and Vietnamese works were kept mainly for official use.

Two further points about the nature of the early traditional chronicles need to be emphasized. First, modern scholarship has begun to show appreciation of such traditional writings and has applied the techniques of Biblical and Homeric criticism to their study. It is now realized that these chronicles are best understood in the context of the total cultural system in which they were compiled. Second, whether these works may be called “histories” or not, their value as historical documents has now been proved. What is required are finer and more sensitive techniques for obtaining from them the data needed to write the history of south and south east Asia.

Modern historiography

The growth of modern historiography in Europe coincided with the expansion of European activities in Asia. But as European activities were peripheral to Asian history between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries and as traditional European attitudes toward the nature and use of history changed very slowly, there was no impact on the historiography of south and southeast Asia during this period. It was only in the latter half of the nineteenth century, when Western science and culture were consciously taught and learned, first in south Asia and then in parts of southeast Asia, that the region became affected by Western historical methods. What was being widely introduced, however, were the traditional techniques of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for example, the philological methods of William Jones and the historical writings of James Mill, Mountstuart Elphin-stone, and Vincent Smith. There was a time lag in methodological change, and these traditional techniques were still regarded in the early part of the twentieth century as advanced and valid for imitation. The developments toward “scientific” history and the growth of social sciences in Europe and America were hardly noticed until after the end of World War II. Application of Western his-toriographical techniques to the study of India and Ceylon came first, but the Dutch eventually applied them to Indonesia, and the French, although coming last, were quick to apply them in their thorough study of Indochina.

South Asia

Serious Western scholarship in India dates from William Jones’s founding of the Asiatic Society at Calcutta in 1784. The activities of this and similar kinds of societies for Oriental research in Bombay, Madras, Mysore, and Ceylon, together with the growth of learned societies in France and Germany and the creation of university chairs in Europe during the nineteenth century, laid the foundations of modern south Asian historiography.

The most important contributions were initially in the field of Sanskrit philology and in the editing of Vedic and Buddhist texts, but the study of Indian antiquities eventually provided a more scientific basis for dealing with the otherwise intractable materials on ancient India. The pre-Muslim period was the most challenging because there were none of the essentials for the historian—no chronology, no reliable genealogies, no clear identifications of people and places. It was here, too, that the most dramatic discoveries and achievements were recorded. Particularly notable was James Tod’s An nals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, published from 1829 to 1832, and James Prinsep’s epigraphical and numismatic studies published in 1858 under the title Essays on Indian Antiquities. Their success led to the setting up of an archeological department in 1862 under Alexander Cunningham; this became in 1902 the famous Indian Archaeological Survey under John Marshall (Ancient India, 1953).

In comparison, the traditional European historians were far less successful. Mill, Elphinstone, and Smith, as well as French and German historians of India, were either too ready to show the superiority of Western rule or too uncritical of the available Muslim and non-Muslim material. Their impact was initially greater on European audiences than on Indians. It was not until the establishment of British-type universities in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras (all three in 1857), and elsewhere that formal history teaching introduced the European writings to young Indian scholars. By that time, while historical sciences in Europe had made further progress, Indian scholars like R. G. Bhandarkar were learning the techniques and attitudes of the earlier period well enough to criticize the works of European historians themselves (Philips 1961a; Basham 1961b).

It is only in the twentieth century that south Asian historiography began to respond directly and strongly to Western methodology. It did so in at least two different directions. The first was a more intensive appreciation of Western scientific methods, especially following the brilliant archeological work on the Indus civilization at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. The second was a nationalistic or anti-imperialistic approach, which in its extreme forms produced obscurantist and revivalist historical writings on the one hand and stimulated Marxist and other forms of radical historiography on the other (Majumdar 1961b).

Modern historiography may be said to have begun with the British publication of the Cambridge History of India, published in 6 volumes between 1922 and 1932. This aroused considerable interest in India, even among those who resented the dominance of British contributors. It was recognized, however, that in the fields of archeology, epigraphy, and numismatics, the great collections produced by European scholars were indispensable. So also were the collections of documents and the interpre tative works on British activities, the politics of the East India Company, and the extension of British power in India. But this was not the case with works that dealt with Indian religion and culture, the Indian response to British rule (for example, the 1857 mutiny and the nationalist movement), and the social and economic changes in India since the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was in these fields that a new generation of scholars first challenged the results of European scholarship. Notable among this generation were R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychaudhuri, K. A. A. Nilakanta Sastri, and K. M. Pannikar. Most of them were products of university departments of history, whether in Britain or in India, and many were professional teachers of history. They continued the tradition of forming learned societies to publish scholarly journals and learned to use and appreciate the great libraries and archival collections organized by the states and the government of India (see Nilakanta Sastri 1956; Datta 1957).

Since independence, the work of history writing has continued. Institutions like the Archaeological Survey, the Historical Records Commission, and the Indian History Congress are particularly active. Among the historical publications of academic standing, two are noteworthy: the Indian Historical Quarterly and the Journal of Indian History. A major enterprise has been the 11-volume series, History and Culture of the Indian People, published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan under the general editorship of R. C. Majumdar. Also significant has been the Indian History Congress conference on Asian history in 1961 and the meeting at Delhi in 1965 of the International Congress of Orientalists. These developments reflect the new Indian historical consciousness, which has revealed a considerable acceptance of modern scientific methods of historiography. The most important measure of modern Indian achievements is that there are today trained historians to cover almost every period and type of problem in Indian history. In addition, several of the younger historians have begun to apply the tools of social science to the study of modern history. In this respect, many have turned to new academic disciplines developed in the United States for their methodological assistance.

Less outstanding has been the development of historiography in Pakistan after 1947. Separation from India deprived the new state of the best developed research facilities and the best library and archival collections in the region. The scholars, therefore, had to work under grave disadvantages. They continued to revive the traditions of Islamic historiography, but the most important achievements are the works of those scholars who first made their reputations before separation from India, for example, A. Yusof Ali, Shafa’at Ahmad Khan, and I. H. Qureshi. Although the majority of the scholars feel greater kinship with the historical traditions of Persia and west Asia, they cannot deny their Indian heritage completely. Their struggles with modern historiography, therefore, are part of the progress of history writing in south Asia.

In Ceylon, modern historical attitudes developed later, but standards are high, as may be seen in the publications of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and the recent Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies.

Finally, the remarkable fact must be noted that the bulk of historical works of significance in south Asia have been written in English. There have been important works published in Bengali, Urdu, and Hindi from the early years of the twentieth century, but so far none are widely known outside of regional schools and universities. It is important to note they all show the influence of modern historical works. There is no reason to doubt that in time more scholarly studies in the Indian languages will reach the high academic standards achieved by works in English.

Southeast Asia

Unlike south Asia, there was no center in southeast Asia where modern scholar ship could take root and fan out over the whole region. The manner in which different parts of the region came under European control and the limited resources of the small states prevented a systematic development of modern historiography. For example, the early Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English accounts of the region (sixteenth to eighteenth centuries) had no influence on southeast Asian writings and were really part of the history of European historiography. Even the founding of the famous Bataviaasch Genootschap von Kun-sten en Wetenschappen (Batavian Society for the Study of Arts and Sciences) in Jakarta in 1778 and the publication of William Marsden’s History of Sumatra in 1783 and T. S. Raffles’ History of Java in 1817 gave little impetus to the study of history. Only in the latter half of the nineteenth century, with the revival of the Bataviaasch Genootschap and with the founding of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1878, did serious scholar ship begin in Indonesia and Malaysia. In fact, European writings of the nineteenth century were produced while the indigenous traditions of Babad and Sejarah were still alive, and Western scholars often depended on native chronicles for their material on earlier history. In any case, such European works ran parallel to and were external to the local efforts at historical writing and did not affect the traditional forms and attitudes.

Similarly, among the mainland countries of southeast Asia, the Burmese and the Thais were particularly active at compiling their Yazawin and P’ongsawadan, even as European amateur scholars like Arthur Phayre (History of Burma, 1883) and W. A. R. Wood (A History of Siam, 1926) were working on their histories and as research journals like the Journal of the Burma Research Society and the Journal of the Siam Society were being published. Both British scholars, for example, acknowledged their great debt to native scholarship. In Vietnam, traditional Vietnamese historians helped early French scholars attached to the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (founded in 1900), whose works were to gain fame for the school’s Bulletin. Also, the Imperial Archives at Hue pre served their documents in the traditional fashion for some years after the French conquest.

The Philippines was a special case where one stage of Western historical scholarship displaced another. Still, Spanish traditional history continued to be written under American rule (after 1898), while scholars from the United States studied Phil ippine history from Spanish colonial and missionary records. The most valuable of its kind was E. H. Blair and J. A. Robertson’s 55-volume work The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898, published between 1903 and 1909.

In the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, there have been three distinct areas of modern southeast Asian historiography. First, ancient history, of which the native peoples had little or no knowledge, was being recovered by the methods of philology, epigraphy, and archeology. Second, colonial history, involving European trade, wars, treaties, and administration, was the special interest of European historians themselves and aroused little interest among local scholars. And third, the “middle period,” varying from four to ten centuries before the nineteenth century, was a period of some indigenous historical writing; modern methods can be used to help rearrange, date more accurately, and even reinterpret the writings of this period (Hall 1961).

In contrast to what they did in south Asia, the British, the Dutch, and the French in southeast Asia made no effort to train local historians until the years just before World War II. Except among the Dutch in the twentieth century, history writing was primarily an amateur affair, a by-product of administration and long residence in the country concerned. There were fine scholarly works, in particular by the professionals, for example, N. J. Krom on early Indonesian history and George Coedes on southeast Asian epigraphy before the coming of Islam. R. O. Winstedt’s textual work for Malay history and G. H. Luce’s great collections of inscriptions for Burmese history were also out standing. The best work, however, was done in early history; no historians of the colonial period produced works of comparable stature. Further more, such colonial history as was written could better be seen as part of European historiography than of southeast Asian historiography.

There were two countries in the region where developments were different—independent Thailand and the Philippines under United States administration. In Thailand, Thai royal patronage was given to the Siam Society, which published a useful journal; and Chulalongkorn University, founded in 1917, taught both traditional and modern history. In the Philippines, missionary universities like Santo Tomas, founded in 1611, taught little secular history but began to introduce modern historical methods into the curriculum by the end of the nineteenth century. In addition, the Americans founded in 1908 a secular university, the University of the Philippines, which taught some modern history from the start, although little work was done on southeast Asian history itself.

Since the end of World War II and particularly following the independence of the Philippines, Burma, Indonesia, and Malaya (now Malaysia), there have been new advances in the historiography of the region. A major landmark was the publication in 1955 of D. G. E. Hall’s A History of South east Asia, which has successfully established that the whole span of history for all of southeast Asia is an intelligible historical unit. Also, a searching debate on the nature of European scholarship on southeast Asia has followed the provocative studies on early Asian trade by J. C. van Leur. As a result, southeast Asia was given a separate place in the series of conferences held in London in 1956 on historical writings on the peoples of Asia (Hall 1961). This stimulated another collection of papers on Indonesian historiography, first sparked by the seminar on national history held in Jogjakarta in 1957 (Singhal 1960; Smail 1961; Benda 1962; Sudjatmoko et al. 1965; cf. Seminar Sedjarah 1958).

The region still faces a long debate about whether national history should form the basis of the new southeast Asian historiography. The struggle for national identity in Burma, Indonesia, and Vietnam has reduced historical research to a trickle in those countries. Only in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore has there been sustained interest in modern research, and these countries have supported international conferences on history to keep this interest alive. A joint effort led to the creation of the International Association of Historians of Asia, which meets every three or four years and shows signs of being an organization primarily for southeast Asian historians.

Features of modern historiography

In the two regions of south and southeast Asia, modern Indian historiography is clearly the most impressive both in volume and in quantity. Pakistan and Ceylon, however, have much in common with Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia, and the Philippines in terms of stage of growth, present and future resources, and trends of scholarship. There is a chance that Ceylon, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore may develop differently because their traditional historiography does not stand in the way of rapid modernization. What is clear is that modern historiography is being confronted by nationalism and may well be subordinated to national needs. The example of India is before the others. National history takes precedence over scientific history, but as long as the means of teaching and using modern academic tools and methods remain, this situation may soon change. Thailand remains the exception. Active historical research is limited, and some work is still being done within the framework of traditional values, but there is no nationalist flavor in the work. Also, a new generation is using modern methods with increasing skill and confidence.

Autonomy of historiographic tradition

History has had a relatively small place in south and southeast Asian traditions. Its main functions had been to strengthen the authority of kings, to teach moral and religious lessons, and possibly also to please and amuse. Exact times and places and the lives of great and lesser men had never been important in themselves. They had to serve the purpose of the historian’s audience, which often comprised only the kings, priests, and courtiers of the day. Each historiographical tradition had evolved according to the needs of different audiences and had been either strong or weak depending on whether the institutions which produced the audiences were stable or unstable. As long as the institutions had been able to survive, the historical tradition which supported them also survived.

In south Asia and in the Philippines, the impact of colonial rule was felt over a long period, and this had marked consequences on the indigenous historiographical traditions. Hence, apart from some of the traditions of Muslim historiography, no other tradition has survived. In other parts of southeast Asia, however, Western influence has had only a brief history—in most cases, much less than a hundred years, during which colonial scholars and policy makers did not try to destroy the local traditions. Thus, much of the traditions still survive within the new historiography itself. This is particularly true where nationalist movements have effectively revived the historical works of the past.

But historiography is no longer a static discipline even in the West, and it is undergoing radical changes as new social science disciplines are turning to the study of the past. What is important is not that historiography in south and southeast Asia has still not freed itself completely from traditional attitudes and their limitations. It is that lines of communication have been established between Asian and Western academic institutions, important works have become mutually available, and new disciplines have been introduced and understood. The key concepts have already reached south and southeast Asia: that time and place must be accurate, that knowledge about man’s past must be secular and humanistic, and that historical fact and interpretation must always be tested by the best scientific methods.

Wang Gungwu

[See alsoAsian Society, articles onSouth AsiaandSoutheast Asia. Other relevant material may be found inBuddhismandIslam.]


Amin, ENTJI’ 1963 Sja’ir Perang Mengkasar (The Rhymed Chronicle of the Macassar War). Edited and translated by C. Skinner. Instituut voor Taal-, Landen Volkenkunde, The Hague, Verhandelingen, Vol. 40. The Hague: Nijhoff.

Ancient India. → Published since 1946. See especially the “Special Jubilee Number,” No. 9, 1953.

Basham, A. L. 1961a The Kashmir Chronicle. Pages 57-65 in Cyril H. Philips (editor), Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. Oxford Univ. Press.

Basham, A. L. 1961fc Modern Historians of Ancient India. Pages 260-293 in Cyril H. Philips (editor), Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. Oxford Univ. Press.

Bastin, John; and Roolvink, R. (editors) 1964 Ma layan and Indonesian Studies: Essays Presented to Sir Richard Winstedt on His Eighty-fifth Birthday. Ox ford: Clarendon.

Benda, Harry J. 1962 The Structure of Southeast Asian History: Some Preliminary Observations. Journal of Southeast Asian History 3, no. 1:106–138.

Berg, C. C. 1965 The Javanese Picture of the Past. Pages 87-117 in Sudjatmoko et al. (editors), An Introduction to Indonesian Historiography. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Bottoms, J. C. (1959) 1965 Some Malay Historical Sources: A Bibliographical Note. Pages 156-193 in Sudjatmoko et al. (editors), An Introduction to Indo nesian Historiography. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Coedes, George (1948) 1964 Les Hats hindouisis d’ln-dochine et d’Indonesie. New ed. Paris: Boccard.

Datta, Kalikinkar (1957) 1963 A Survey of Recent Studies on Modern Indian History. 2d ed. Calcutta: Mukhopadhyay.

Elliot, Henry M. (1867–1877) 1964 The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians: The Muhamma-dan Period; the Posthumous Papers of the Late Sir H. M. Elliot. Edited and continued by John Dowson. 8 vols. Allahabad (India): Kitab Mahal. → Reprinted with an introduction by Muhammad Habib.

Ghoshal, U. N. (1944) 1957 Studies in Indian History and Culture. Rev. ed. Calcutta: Orient Longmans. → First published as The Beginnings of Indian Historiography and Other Essays.

Ghoshal, U. N. 1961 Presidential Address. Part 1, pages 1-20 in Indian History Congress, Proceedings of the Twenty-third Session, Aligarh, 1960. Calcutta.

Godakumbura, C. E. 1961 Historical Writing in Sinha lese. Pages 72-86 in Cyril H. Philips (editor), Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. Oxford Univ. Press.

Graaf, J. J. de 1965 Later Javanese Sources and Historiography. Pages 119-136 in Sudjatmoko et al. (edi tors), An Introduction to Indonesian Historiography. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

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Htoot, U tet 1961 The Nature of the Burmese Chronicles. Pages 50-62 in Daniel G. E. Hall (editor), Historians of South East Asia. Oxford Univ. Press.

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Johns, Anthony H. 1964 The Role of Structural Organisation and Myth in Javanese Historiography. Journal of Asian Studies 24:91–99.

Josselin de Jong, P. E. de 1964 The Character of the Malay Annals. Pages 235-241 in John Bastin and R. Roolvink (editors), Malayan and Indonesian Studies. Oxford: Clarendon.

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Majumdar, R. C. 1961a Ideas of History in Sanskrit Literature. Pages 13-28 in Cyril H. Philips (editor), Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. Oxford Univ. Press.

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Nilakanta Sastri, K. A.; and Ramana, H. S. 1956 Historical Method in Relation to Indian History. Madras (India): Viswanathan.

Noorduyn, J. 1965 Origins of South Celebes Historical Writing. Pages 137-155 in Sudjatmoko et al. (editors), An Introduction to Indonesian Historiography. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

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HISTORIOGRAPHY. The early modern era witnessed enormous changes in historiography, both in the quantity and variety of works written about the past and in the status of history within intellectual and social life. At the dawn of the Reformation, history was still a minor genre, read principally in manuscript or in small printed editions. The Renaissance had enriched the medieval chronicle tradition, especially in Italy, by revisioning selected periods and subjects (the history of particular city-states first and foremost) according to humanist principles and in Latin that aspired to Ciceronian purity, while also focusing on the political lessons to be gleaned from the past, as done most famously by Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527). The changes of the next two centuries would be considerably more profound and would be driven by two engines: ideology (both religious and political), which sought to make command over the interpretation of the past a weapon in present struggles, and print, which enabled the replication and dissemination of historical works in ever-increasing numbers and, especially in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, in forms accessible to an expanding readership below the level of the most affluent classes.


In the German Reformation, Martin Luther's vision of a medieval past that was not simply that of a dark time of poor learning and bad Latin (the humanist position) but of a church corrupted and led astray by unwritten traditions and papal monarchy, set the polemical tone of much sixteenth-century historical writing. Among the most noteworthy books to be produced by German Reformation scholars was Commentaries on the State of Religion and the Empire under Charles V by Johannes Sleidanus (15061556), which made use of documentary sources and information from reformers. Sleidanus's later Chronicle of World Empires popularized the idea, derived from the Book of Daniel, that history had unfolded in an apocalyptic series of four major "empires," of which the Roman would be the last. Johann Carion (14991537 or 1538) also produced a chronicle that would be completed by Luther's adherent Philipp Melanchthon (14971560). Most significant and influential, though riddled with error, was the vast Magdeburg Centuries, a multivolume effort initiated by the Croatian Matthias Flacius Illyricus (15201575), one of Luther's more radical disciples.

With some variation according to doctrine, this reinterpretation of the past was taken up by Protestant (Calvinist, Anglican, and Reformed) churches elsewhere in Europe. In England, where Sleidanus's works were issued in translation, the divorce of King Henry VIII (ruled 15091547) from Catherine of Aragon and his break with Rome were both defended through historical research, while a series of Protestant chroniclers from Edward Hall (d. 1547) through Richard Grafton (d. 1572) and Raphael Holinshed (d. 1580?) rewrote England's past to establish its adherence to "primitive" or pure Christianity prior to the corruption of the medieval church. The fires of persecution in several parts of Europe also ignited a new genre, the Protestant martyrology: John Foxe in England (15161587), Heinrich Pantaleon (15221595) in Basel, Adriaan Cornelis van Haemstede (15261562) in the Netherlands, and Jean Crespin (d. 1572) in France were among its major practitioners, their accounts of the deaths of Protestant martyrs at the hands of popish persecutors creating a strongly anti-Catholic version of history for subsequent generations.

Protestants held no monopoly on historical writing. Catholic Europe responded to the challenge of the Reformation in different ways. The Italian tradition of urban and official historiography continued through the sixteenth century, surviving the collapse of the medieval and early Renaissance city-state regime in the era of grand duchies and Spanish rule over much of the peninsula. Spain itself produced a series of able historians such as the Jesuit Juan de Mariana (15361624). Though many of these reflected a Castilian perspective, other parts of the monarchy also developed historiographically, in particular Aragon, represented by the Annals of Jerónimo de Zurita y Castro (15121580), and Catalonia, by Francisco de Moncada (15861635). The mid-seventeenth-century Spanish crisis served as a further stimulus to the development of rival traditions there and in the Basque region. Perhaps most significant in the longer run were the works of Spanish missionaries abroad, since they introduced to European readers lands and pasts previously unknown. Following earlier works by Portuguese visitors to South and Southeast Asia such as João de Barros (c. 14961570) and Fernão Lopes de Castenheda (c. 15001559), Spaniards now wrote accounts of the Americas, in particular the Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas (14741566) and the Jesuit José de Acosta (15401600). One of the first indigenous writers, Garcilaso de la Vega, El Inca (15391616), son of an Inca princess and a Spanish soldier, contributed Royal Commentaries of the Incas, which provided a valuable corrective to earlier Spanish representations of the Inca Empire.

In Italy, Counter-Reformation scholars such as Cardinal Cesare Baronio (15381607) sought to repudiate Protestant historical writing through scholarship as well as rhetoric. Baronio's Ecclesiastical Annals, which reverted to the year-by-year format favored by medieval chroniclers, repudiated the Magdeburg Centuries only to be attacked in turn by a Huguenot scholar, Isaac Casaubon (15591614), who had significantly greater philological skills than Baronio. In Venice, which was one of the few cities to retain its independence and was itself under a papal interdict in the early seventeenth century, a moderate priest named Paolo Sarpi (15521623) captured, in his History of the Council of Trent, the lost moment in the mid-sixteenth century when Christendom might have been put back together. Himself nearly the victim of assassination, Sarpi's critical stance toward Rome and his shrewd, Tacitean appreciation of the motives of political behavior led to his book having to be published pseudonymously in London, where it was well received by Protestant readers.

In Bohemia, early Czech nationalism was integrated with a Catholic perspective in the Czech Chronicle by the priest Vaclav Hajek (d. 1553); a century later he was followed by Bohuslav Balbín (16211688), another Catholic but one who regretted the decline in Czech culture since the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Elsewhere, Latin historiography was initiated in the Hungarian Renaissance by the Italian Antonio Bonfini (14271502) and followed in the sixteenth century by István Szamosközy (c. 15651612), a contemporary historian of his own semi-independent Transylvania, and by Miklós Istvánffy (15381615), who covered events from the late fifteenth to the early sixteenth century in the Habsburg-controlled parts of Hungary.

There were significant contributions to historical writing in parts of Europe relatively unaffected by the main conflicts of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. In Poland, for instance, the heirs of the late medieval chronicler Jan Długosz (14151480), who had written in Latin, eventually included some vernacular authors, for instance Maciej Stryjkowski (1547c. 1582) and Reinhold Heidenstein (15561620); a full synthesis of Polish history would first be produced by Marcin Kromer (15121589) in the late sixteenth century. Romanian and Moldavian historiography emerged slightly later in the work of Romanian-language aristocratic exponents such as the executed boyar conspirator Miron Costin (16331691). Further east, Russian historiography began to mature in Andrei Mikhailovich Kniaz Kurbskii's (15281583) History of the Muscovite Grand Prince, written in the 1560s and largely an account of the reign of Ivan IV the Terrible (15301584). Seventeenth-century Russian historians were faced with a new challenge, that of integrating their own history with that of the newly absorbed Ukraine, a task accomplished by Innokentii Gizel (d. 1683) in his Synopsis (1674). Finally, altogether outside Christian Europe, Ottoman historiography also developed during this period in the hands of Ibrahim Peçevi (15741649 or 1650), a historian of the era since Suleiman the Magnificent (d. 1566), and Mustafa Naima (16551716), whose Annals of the Turkish Empire from 1591 to 1659 of the Christian Era is the outstanding record of the Ottomans during that period.


The establishment of national churches and of state-supported confessional regimes stimulated a tendency to promote national and ethnic myths (many of which had medieval or classical origins) and then to produce debate over their veracity. In Germany, humanists such as Beatus Rhenanus (14851547) seized on the ancient historian Tacitus's Germania, a text that had praised primitive German virtue while criticizing imperial corruption. In Scotland Presbyterian scholars such as George Buchanan (15061582) wrote accounts of their national past fiercely defending that realm's independence from its wealthier southern neighbor, England; the myth of an ancient line of Scottish kings going back to pre-Christian times would prove durable until undermined by the relentless scholarship of a much later Scot, the emigré Catholic priest Thomas Innes (16621744). In Sweden, the Vasa regime produced Olof Petersson's (Olaus Petri, 14931552) Swedish Chronicle in the 1530s (though King Gustav Vasa disliked this and prevented its publication), while Catholic Swedish exiles such as Archbishop Johannes Magnus (14881544) wrote the anti-Vasa History of the Gothic Kingdom of Sweden. The particular role of the Goths as European and especially Swedish ancestors was foregrounded by Magnus's brother Olaus or Olof (14901557) in his History of the Nordic People; it was given new life in the late seventeenth century in Atlantica, a peculiar work by Olof Rudbeck (16301702) that identified Sweden with the lost kingdom of Atlantis. The old medieval myth of the founding of Rome and other states by Trojan refugees was reenergized in western Europe during the sixteenth century, as Gallican French writers argued for a foundation of their country by Francus or Francio, and English writers theirs by Brutus or Brute (a Trojan foundation being preferable to a medieval one since it would precede the establishment of the city and empire of Rome).

Most of these accounts did not stand up to scrutiny. In England, an émigré Italian named Polydore Vergil (c. 14701555) wrote the first full-length history of England in humanist Latin, evincing skepticism both about Brutus and about the historicity of a late-Romano-British hero, King Arthur; he was widely criticized by Welsh and English writers, including able scholars such as John Leland (c. 15061552) and John Bale (14951563). The French attack on myth was much more formidable and, for a time, decisive. The end of the sixteenth century witnessed a flourishing of scholarly activity on the past, much of it affiliated with study of the law, and Estienne Pasquier (15291615), among others, expressed considerable doubt about the Trojan descent and many other venerable mythsinhisseriesof Researches on France. Pasquier's own teacher, the Huguenot lawyer François Hotman (15241590), argued for the national affiliation of the Franks and the Germans (an unpopular position in the absolutist France of the next century), his position reached by a combination of comparative legal scholarship and hatred of the royalist regime that had committed the atrocity of St. Bartholomew's Day in 1572. It is significant that Hotman's and Pasquier's findings were endorsed by the Catholic antiquaries Jean du Tillet (d. 1570) and Nicolas Vignier (15301596): by 1600 the Trojan myth seemed all but demolished in France, and even English scholars were now handling it with cautious skepticism.


As the work of these French érudits suggests, one of the most significant developments in historical writing at this time was the advent of antiquarianism. This had several origins, and its practitioners often had little to do with the writing of history as a formal genre; they were thus not bound by the prescribed rules for the writing of history laid down in classical and Renaissance artes historicae (see below). Many antiquaries approached the past through study of the law: in France, a long tradition of legal scholars from Guillaume Budé (14681540) and François Baudouin (15201573) to Hotman and Jean Bodin (15301596) applied the humanist concern for accurate editing of texts to the study of the law (the so-called mos gallicus or French method). Bodin in particular was able to rise above his sources to achieve a philosophical perspective on history, most clearly articulated in his Method for the Easy Comprehension of History (1566). A work that was widely read elsewhere in Europe, the Method attacked well-worn schemes for interpreting the past such as the "four empires" propagated by earlier historians like Sleidanus.

Other antiquaries focused on the study of words, of objects, and of places: a prominent genre from the late sixteenth century was chorography, which studied the history of particular regions or towns but used place rather than time as the organizing principle. Continental chorographers included the Brescian Ottavio Rossi (15701630), Guillaume Catel of Toulouse (15601626), and the Provençal Cesar de Nostredame (15531629). Their contemporary William Camden (15511623), the greatest English practitioner of this genre, followed the lead of his predecessor John Leland, who had journeyed about England in the 1530s and 1540s and recorded his observations in a series of unpublished Itineraries. Camden's own Britannia (1586) was a much-reprinted work in Latin and English editions. The group of scholars of whom he was a leading member, including a short-lived Society of Antiquaries, had close ties with Continental scholars, both Protestant and Catholic, such as the numismatist and librarian Janus Gruter (15601627), the chronologer and philologist Joseph Justus Scaliger (15401609), the Dutch writer Gerhard Vossius (15771649), and the French contemporary historian Jacques-Auguste de Thou (15531617). The wealth of Latin and vernacular correspondence, a good deal of which was published at the time, and which is now held by European and English libraries, testifies to the existence of a western European "republic of letters" that could transcend confessional divisions in the pursuit of an accurate understanding of the past.

The multiplication of forms of historical writing and the tension between a belief in the unity of truth and the inescapable fact of disagreement about the past produced in the late sixteenth century a series of attempts to make some sense of historical genres and to prescribe principles for the writing, or at least the reading, of history. A variety of works of uneven sophistication, collectively known as artes historicae ('arts of history') were produced all across Europe by authors such as the Spaniard Melchor Cano (15091560) and the German Bartholomew Keckerman (c. 1571c. 1608). Many, following the ancient writer Dionysius of Halicarnassus, were little more than summaries of what had been written from antiquity to the current era, with critical comments. A number of such works were published together by the Swiss printer Johann Wolf in 1579. A few, such as Bodin's Method, Francesco Patrizi's (15291597) Ten Dialogues on History, and Francis Bacon's (15611626) somewhat later Advancement of Learning (which dealt with many other subjects than history), aspired to a more systematic view and borrowed from educational theorists such as the Frenchman Petrus Ramus (15151572). Among the most interesting products of this time was the History of Histories, with the Idea of Perfect History and the Design for a New History of France (1599) by the Frenchman Henri Lancelot Voisin de la Popelinière (15411608). La Popelinière espoused the goal of an accurate history that would be "perfect" or complete in the sense of resting on firm scholarly foundations and would not be subject to constant revision. This notion seems foreign today, but in La Popelinière's time it amounted to a bulwark against confessional polemic and unjustified nationalist myth. It was also an answer to credulity's opposite extreme, a rising "pyrrhonist" doubt (associated with the followers of the ancient skeptic Pyrrho) that the past could ever actually be known with any accuracy.


Ideology continued to influence the writing of history in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, for instance in Scotland, where rival Presbyterian and Episcopalian interpretations of the ecclesiastical past were represented respectively by David Calderwood (15751650) and Archbishop John Spottiswoode (15651637). But though religion remained the preeminent point of difference, ideological disagreements were not always exclusively religious, especially as the century wore on and the era of confessional warfare was displaced by one of contending commercial empires. In England, a period of bloody civil strife and regicide in the middle of the century led to a virtual explosion of historical writing from various points of view ranging from the absolutist position of Thomas Hobbes (15881679) to the republicanism of the Machiavellian-influenced James Harrington (16111677) to the radicalism of the Leveller and Digger movements, with their view that England had been enslaved not by a Roman but by a Norman yoke at the Conquest of 1066. On the Continent, the solidification of absolutist regimes, especially in France, led to a retreat from the kind of open-ended inquiry practiced in Bodin's and Pasquier's day, as a series of crown-sponsored historiographers royal became instead "artisans of glory." The Trojan myth, once thoroughly discredited, returned in full force, and the scholar Nicolas Fréret (16881749) went to the Bastille in 1714 for the crime of maintaining the ancient connection between the Franks and the Germans. Despite such instances of persecution, however, the "erudite" tradition remained strong in Europe, assisted by the establishment of national academies of learning and by early examples of scholarly journals. Cultural exchange between scholars of different religions and countries continued after the end of the religious wars by about the middle of the seventeenth century and into the early eighteenth. This scholarly community was not always as civilized and friendly as it has often been portrayed; the language of scholarly dispute was often heated and rhetorical to a degree that would embarrass even a scathing modern book reviewer. In this the later seventeenth-century érudits were simply following the lead of some of their illustrious predecessors, in particular the polymath Scaliger, possibly the most learned scholar of his own day, and John Selden (15841654), his younger English admirer, both of whom were also vituperative critics of those they perceived as guilty of willful error.

A century of publication and a much more widespread interest in the past meant that by the late seventeenth century, history had established itself as a printed genre much in demand: publishers in the next decades would use devices such as serial publication and advance subscription to extend history's readership far beyond its previous social bounds. At the same time, the youth of Europe acquired both an understanding of the past (thought to be useful both in civilized discourse and in future political or legal careers, or even in the mundane matter of running estates), and a sensitivity to its difference from the present. Many students followed the grand tour that took in famous historic sites and monuments across Europe. Along the way, they collected coins and artifacts, for which a vigorous market had developed, a virtual "archaeological economy" that saw the trade and export of ancient and medieval curiosities. By the end of the century this interest had extended to natural remains such as fossils, and many scholars were shifting their attention from the explanation of physical objects according to ancient texts toward their systematic observation, collection, and comparison. Although still constrained by a scriptural chronological framework that ran no further back than six thousand years, the study of fossils and the conclusion to which it led, that there might once have lived species no longer extant, when put together with a century of awareness of New World and East Asian societies, produced a renewed wave of skepticism. Among the products of this "crisis" in belief was some searching criticism of the literal truth of the Old Testament account of the Creation, Patriarchal descent, and the Flood, especially by the Frenchman Richard Simon (16381712) and the Englishman Thomas Burnet (16351715). The skepticism and anticlericalism of Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire would be built on such foundations as these.

As the eighteenth century dawned, historiography flourished in a number of different traditions. The erudite tradition, associated with the republic of letters, continued to mix philological scholarship (the continuous improvement of editions of earlier writers) with antiquarian observation, the latter now blending with natural philosophy or science, as it did notably in the work of the Welshman Edward Lhuyd (16601709) and the Scot Sir Robert Sibbald (16411722). The polymathic ideal of seamless learning was represented perhaps most strikingly by the mathematician, philosopher, and scholar Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (16461716). Within this broad erudite tradition, the activity of producing precise, learned texts ruled by rigorous scholarship remained prominent, and in several different spheres. These included sacred history, best represented in the activities of the seventeenth-century Bollandists (whose Acta Sanctorum continues to this day) and Maurists, especially the founder of systematic paleography and diplomatics, Jean Mabillon (16321707). Late antique history was set on a new critical footing by the likes of Louis-Sebastien Le Nain de Tillemont (16371698). Further strides were made in administrative and legal historythe Polish Volumina Legum of the first half of the eighteenth century, for instance, or the studies and texts of two English antiquaries, Thomas Rymer (16411713) and Thomas Madox (16661727). National collections of historical documents were printed and annotated by a number of scholars, for instance the medieval sources of Italian history published by Ludovico Antonio Muratori (16721750) and the Hungarian records produced by his slightly younger contemporary, Matthias or Matyas Bél (16841749).

The second grand tradition, mainstream political history writing, continued to produce accounts of the national past in each land, with a few outstanding examples setting the pace, for instance Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon's (16091674) History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars, modeled on an earlier account of the French religious wars by the Italian Arrigo Caterino Davila (15761631) and François Eudes de Mézeray's (16101683) History of France. The first Russian history to be based on detailed analysis and critical annotation of medieval sources was Vasilii Nikitich Tatishchev's (16861750) Russian History from Antiquity, though it remained in manuscript until the late eighteenth century. Full-length national histories such as this were much in vogue, perhaps the most durable being the Scottish historian and philosopher David Hume's (17111776) mid-eighteenth-century History of England.

Finally, the third tradition, a more philosophical one (though often based on learning as sophisticated as that of the érudits ) stretches back to Bodin and forward to Voltaire and Herder in the Enlightenment proper. The Moldavian prince Dmitrie Cantemir (16731723), whose History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire combines deep knowledge of Ottoman society with a cyclical view of history, belongs to this tradition, as does the Croatian proto-nationalist Pavao Vitezovic (16521713). Perhaps the greatest practitioners of erudite philosophical history were two Italians, the jurist Pietro Giannone (16761748), who wrote a Civil History of the Kingdom of Naples combining profound learning with an understanding of the development of culture and society, and Giambattista Vico (16681744), author of New Science. Vico conceived of three major ages of history, each with a distinctive mode of knowledge and communication, and of a series of recurring cycles in civilization. The originality and innovative perspective of his book would largely be ignored until its rediscovery in the nineteenth century, but the New Science now stands as the climactic achievement of early modern historical thought on the eve of the Enlightenment.

See also Archaeology ; Bossuet, Jacques-Bénigne ; Budé, Guillaume ; Condorcet, Marie-Jean Caritat, marquis de ; Gibbon, Edward ; Grand Tour ; Guicciardini, Francesco ; Hagiography ; Herder, Johann Gottfried von ; Machiavelli, Niccolò ; Martyrs and Martyrology ; Muratori, Ludovico Antonio ; Robertson, William ; Sarpi, Paolo ; Sleidanus, Johannes ; Vasari, Giorgio ; Vico, Giovanni Battista.


Allan, David. Virtue, Learning, and the Scottish Enlightenment: Ideas of Scholarship in Early Modern History. Edinburgh, 1993.

Cochrane, Eric W. Historians and Historiography in the Italian Renaissance. Chicago, 1981. Mainly on the Renaissance, but extends into the seventeenth century.

Franklin, Julian H. Jean Bodin and the Sixteenth-Century Revolution in the Methodology of Law and History. New York, 1963.

Goldgar, Anne. Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters, 16801750. New Haven, 1995.

Gregory, Brad S. Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, Mass., 1999. Useful material on the martyrologies.

Huppert, George. The Idea of Perfect History: Historical Erudition and Historical Philosophy in Renaissance France. Urbana, Ill., 1970.

Johannesson, Kurt. The Renaissance of the Goths in Sixteenth- Century Sweden: Johannes and Olaus Magnus as Politicians and Historians. Translated and edited by James Larson. Berkeley, 1991.

Kelley, Donald R. Faces of History: Historical Inquiry from Herodotus to Herder. New Haven, 1998.

. Foundations of Modern Historical Scholarship: Language, Law and History in the French Renaissance. New York, 1970.

Knowles, David. Great Historical Enterprises. Problems in Monastic History. London and New York, 1963. Essential account of Bollandists and Maurists.

McCuaig, William. Carlo Sigonio: The Changing World of the Late Renaissance. Princeton, 1989.

Momigliano, Arnaldo. "Ancient History and the Antiquarian." In his Studies in Historiography. New York, 1966. Seminal article on the division between erudition and narrative history writing.

Pocock, J. G. A. The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, U.K., 1987. Revised edition of classic 1957 study of English legal historical thought.

Pompa, Leon. Vico: A Study of the "New Science." 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1990.

Ranum, Orest A. Artisans of Glory: Writers and Historical Thought in Seventeenth-Century France. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1980.

Schiffman, Zachary. On the Threshold of Modernity: Relativism in the French Renaissance. Baltimore, 1991.

Woolf, D. R. The Idea of History in Early Stuart England: Erudition, Ideology, and "The Light of the Truth" from the Accession of James I to the Civil War. Toronto, 1990.

Woolf, D. R., ed. A Global Encyclopedia of Historical Writing. 2 vols. New York, 1998. Includes survey articles by various authors on a variety of national historical traditions and biographical entries on representative historians.

D. R. Woolf

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The historiography of early modern warfare has been shaped for the last fifty years by debate surrounding the concept of a "military revolution." The attraction of such a thesis for many historians stems, paradoxically, from the extent to which it transcends a purely military perspective and presents warfare as a transforming force, acting upon social and political institutions.


The original argument for a "military revolution" in early modern Europe was presented by a historian of Sweden, Michael Roberts, who started from the proposition that between 1560 and 1660 initiatives in tactics and troop deployment sought to exploit gunpowder weaponry more effectively. Armies identified with these initiatives abandoned the mass and depth of traditional infantry formations. Instead musketeers were deployed in shallow, linear formations that maximized firepower, while interspersed groups of pikemen protected them from attack. Difficulties in controlling and coordinating infantry formations extended in shallow lines led the reformers to adopt smaller, more manageable units. The Dutch "battalion" or Swedish "squadron," models for these reformed armies, typically contained 500550 men compared to the traditional infantry formation of 1,5002,000. The risk that smaller units would be swept aside in hand-to-hand engagement with traditional formations was counteractednotably in the case of the Swedish army under its royal commander, Gustavus II Adolphus (ruled 16111632)by associating them in coordinated and mutually supportive deep deployment, making use of multiple lines to contain enemy assaults and reinforce the units of the front rank. These deployments also permitted the infantry to aspire to that elusive goal of tacticians, combining massed firepower with offensive strength. Interlocking squadrons rendered the Swedish "push of pike" as formidable as traditional, massed infantry formations. If the central concern of the military reformers was with the infantry, cavalry and artillery were not neglected. It was Gustavus Adolphus again who recognized that the main value of cavalry lay in shock and mass, not in complex maneuvers allowing mounted troops to discharge pistols at enemy formations. More numerous, lighter artillery was also to be deployed on the battlefield in close coordination with the other arms, and it was to be used in a continuous supporting role.

These arguments about tactical change would not necessarily have excited wider historical interest. The key to Roberts's thesis is the claim that new tactics broke a previous stalemate of indecisive, limited warfare. Instead of standoffs and campaigns of maneuver, strategy was now influenced by the possibility of annihilating the enemy in battle and imposing peace from a position of outright military superiority. Strategies changed; rulers and commanders became more ambitious and less compromising in waging war. But these grander strategies could only be achieved by larger armies. If war was now more decisive and fought for higher stakes, it was essential to increase the number of troops in the campaign, whether to provide numerical superiority in battle, to ensure that successes could be followed up, or to contain defeats. In the aftermath of the victory at Breitenfeld (1631) Roberts describes a Swedish army swollen by recruitment to 175,000 men and undertaking a vast strategy to remodel the religious and political structures of the Holy Roman Empire. If these larger armies were to adopt the tactical innovations that provided overwhelming battlefield advantages, they needed more rigorous systems of drill and discipline. Soldiers were to be drilled in use of weapons and group maneuvers by constant practice at the hands of trained noncommissioned and subaltern officers. This could not be achieved by raw recruits overnight; a progressively higher proportion of armies had to serve permanently.

Larger and more permanent armies needed to be paid for, and they needed to be recruited, maintained, and controlled more effectively. European rulers had traditionally raised armies through ad hoc mechanisms that were partly feudal and partly contractual but respected the social and political structures of their states. Local elites contributed their organizational and financial resources to raising troops in return for the right to command and control them. But as the size of armies was ratcheted upwards, only a central administration could absorb the burden of mass recruitment, and only a centralized and more powerful financial administration could sustain the costs of warfare on this new scale. Once this more sophisticated administration was put in placeand backed by a considerably larger permanent armythe coercive potential of the state increased exponentially. If ordinary subjects resented paying ever higher taxes, and local elites objected to systems of centralized control that excluded them from power, the state now had the strength to sweep both aside.

A permanent army implied an increasingly professional officer corps. While some officerships would continue to be occupied by the traditional nobility, others, notably in the artillery or the bulk of the infantry, were open to the sons of new nobles or bourgeois, according to talent. Such officers acquired not just paid employment but social prestige in a society whose financial and administrative raison d'être became the maintenance of permanent armed forces. This process of militarization reached down into society as the struggle to maintain larger permanent forces could be resolved only through systems of conscription. The political, administrative, and social consequences of "military revolution" appeared momentous: changes in the character of warfare were to sweep away a traditional political culture dominated by the bonds of locality and social hierarchy, replacing them with the centralized modern state, existing for and underpinned by the military.


Michael Roberts's skillful linking of changes on the battlefield with some of the most fundamental political and social transformations in European history has ensured that his thesis has enjoyed great influence. It has not, however, passed without criticism, and revisionism since the 1980s has taken issue with almost every aspect of the "military revolution."

Chronological problems. It is questionable whether a "revolution" in military affairs spread over a full century has any real meaning. Other changes that fundamentally altered the nature of warfarethe breech-loading rifle, the machine gun, the ironclad warshiphad a notably more rapid and specific impact than the tactical evolution described by Roberts. And precisely because of the indeterminacy of this evolution, historians have argued that even the century from 1560 to 1660 is a truncation of a more extensive process.

If the driving force behind military change is taken to be the emergence and development of more effective gunpowder weapons, then a starting date of 1560 appears arbitrary, indeed incomprehensible. If there was a "gunpowder revolution" in European warfare, it lay in the decades between 1450 and 1530. Technologically, the long period that follows is marked by little change in either artillery or infantry firearms. The development of better and much cheaper gunpowder had been a feature of the later fifteenth century, as had credible cast-iron artillery. Conversely, the crude technology, poor range, and inaccuracy of the matchlock infantry firearm remained little changed between the early sixteenth and late seventeenth centuries.

In the matter of infantry tactics, European commanders and theorists were wrestling with problems of combining infantry firearms and thrusting weapons throughout the sixteenth century, and here again, a number of historians have pointed out the fallacy of attributing dramatic success to a particular sequence of practitioners within a circumscribed chronology. Geoffrey Parker has emphasized that Spanish armies from the early sixteenth century onward were the most innovative in their experiments to try to combine infantry firearms, defensive capacity, and offensive mass in their infantry units.

If doubt has been cast upon a series of military changes claimed to start in 1560, historians have also questioned the end date of 1660. Indeed Jeremy Black has contrasted the stagnation of the century down to 1660 with the radical tactical and organizational changes occurring in the following century. The development of the ring bayonet finally permitted the phasing out of the pike in favor of infantry units entirely equipped with firearms and possessing their own defensive capability. The introduction of cartridges, which prepackaged shot and a charge of powder, and the mass production of a reliable flintlock musket, were equally important. The musket was no longer fired by means of a separate length of smoldering match, and infantry could be packed into a genuinely close order. All of these changes ensured that the killing power of infantry was dramatically increased, opening the way to a further reduction of the depth of formations, which by the 1740s1750s were deployed in the three ranks that remained typical up to and beyond the Napoleonic Wars.

Whereas there is ambiguity about the growth in troop numbers during the century of the military revolution (see below), there is none for the period after 1660. By the 1690s France was maintaining around 340,000 troops in combat, and a battle such as Steenkirk (1692) set 57,000 French troops against 70,000 allies. The scale of warfare after 1660 moves into a league that was entirely unprecedented and would remain relatively constant until the wars following 1792.

If the original chronology of 15601660 looks too extensive for claims to a "revolution" in warfare, subsequent historians have thus added to the problem. One response, proposed by a historian of Poland, Robert Frost, is to argue that there was no single military revolution, but a plethora of separate military revolutions, separated both chronologically and by the military needs and cultures of different European nations; what might be deemed obsolete on the battlefields of the Spanish Netherlandsthe massed cavalry charge, for exampleremained central to tactics in eastern Europe. Another approach, advanced by an historian of medieval warfare, Clifford Rogers, questions whether "revolution" is an appropriate concept for understanding a process such as military change. Rogers proposes an alternative model, derived from the theory of "punctuated equilibrium" in evolutionary biology, in which rapid technological and organizational changes in warfare may provide short-term advantages but are then either absorbed by all those involved in warfare or neutralized by specific counter-developments, after which the military system once again assumes a modified equilibrium.

Conceptual issues. An early and major challenge to Michael Roberts's thesis was offered by Geoffrey Parker, who questioned whether the battlefield was the appropriate locus for the military transformation of early modern Europe. He suggested instead that the discussion had neglected the more fundamental role of siege warfare. Developments in artillery rendered obsolete traditional medieval fortifications based on tall curtain walls. Early experiences of this vulnerability stimulated experiments with systems of fortification, the so-called trace italienne, which relied upon low-lying, earth-packed walls, whose faces were defended by triangular, projecting bastions from which defending artillery and muskets could sweep the approaches. The result of this development was stalemate; it became almost impossible to take these fortifications by bombardment, and sieges became drawn-out blockades. Yet commanders, justifiably doubting the capacity of troops to make decisive progress in a field campaign, seized upon the capture of fortresses or fortified cities as strategic targets. Such sieges required ever increasing numbers of troops, both to secure the blockade and to make good the losses from wounds, disease, and desertion. European warfare and all of its political and social consequences were determined by attritional sieges, not by tactical and strategic revolution.

Examination of warfare in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries raises more questions about the "military revolution." The significance of firearms in a period of matchlock muskets and unstandardized and cumbersome artillery can easily be overestimated. Commanders and theorists who continued to favor mass and cohesion in infantry tactics were not necessarily anachronistic. Historians have drawn attention to the persistence of debates about infantry deployment up to the end of the eighteenth century, indicating that claims to have achieved a tactical panacea in the early seventeenth century look premature. The Battle of Nördlingen (1634) has become a touchstone for skeptics. Not only was this one of the two or three most decisive battles of the Thirty Years' War, but it saw the annihilation, at the hands of traditional Spanish and imperial forces, of the Swedish army that was heir to the tactical and strategic principles of Gustavus Adolphus. The frequency of military success by armies that were not identified as the originators or sponsors of military change gives cause for reflection. One conclusion from the experience of battle is that a key factor in success was the presence of veteran troops. Armies able to maintain significant numbers of long-serving troops, regardless of tactical deployment, were likely to gain the advantage, whether in battle or in protracted siege warfare. When forces with significant numbers of veterans in their ranks encountered each other, the outcome would tend to be bloody and indecisive, unless one force, as with the Swedes at Nördlingen, made a major tactical error.

The next stage of the argument, that tactical success could lead to a widening of strategic vision, has also been scrutinized. The missing factor here, critics have maintained, is logistics. Ambitious warwinning strategies may require the defeat of the enemy, but this will only be achieved if armies can be fed and supplied. It is clear that systems of supply, transportation, and distribution were inadequate throughout the period down to 1660 to sustain large-scale strategies. By prioritizing supply over strategic goals, small armies might extract subsistence locally, but such forces were ill adapted to winning wars. A picture of massive armies destroying opposing forces through their tactical superiority and then rolling forward onto enemy territory simply ignores the insuperable contemporary problems of supply.

Other conceptual criticisms of the "military revolution" take issue with those features that nonmilitary historians have always found most compelling. The increasing size of armiesfor whatever reasonis assumed to be the catalyst for the developing fiscal and administrative mechanisms of the state. But here a number of historians have raised questions about the actual scale of military increase in the period up to 1660. Armies of twenty to thirty thousand were attained by states waging war before 1500. The total military establishments of the great powers moved up toward forty to fifty thousand by the 1540s1550s, and this appears to have marked a plateau of military effort. Alone among the European states, the Spanish monarchy of Philip II (ruled 15561598) may have maintained seventy to eighty thousand men by the 1580s. No other power was capable of rivaling an establishment on this scale, and it was not until the Thirty Years' War that some of the belligerents could claim that their total forces surpassed this. And if the imperial army under the generalship of Albrecht von Wallenstein (15831634) could claim to have over 100,000 men under arms, and Gustavus Adolphus was reported briefly to have had as many as 175,000 men, other military establishmentsincluding the imperial and the Swedish for most of the warremained well below 100,000 men. Despite traditional claims for an army of 150,000, the reality of the French war effort during the 1630s and 1640s is nearer half that number. Moreover a contrast between the total military establishments of the belligerents and the actual size of campaign armies is still more revealing. To all intents the maximum force that could operate in a campaign theater remained at thirty thousand until the latter decades of the seventeenth century. Most of the specific campaigns and battles of the Thirty Years' War took place with far fewer troops on either side; engagements with more than twenty thousand combatants in each army were rare. This was no larger than the battles of the Italian wars, a century earlier.

These less impressive increases in numbers raise obvious questions about a necessary transformation of the fiscal and administrative mechanisms of the state. The questions are reinforced by recognition that increases in the size of armies did not require a growth in centralizing state power. The disparity between overall military establishments and the modest "cutting edge" of the campaign armies in the Thirty Years' War hints at a more fundamental issue. Military expansion from the 1520s was largely met by contracting out responsibility for the recruitment and maintenance of soldiers. By 1558 a French military establishment of around fifty thousand troops was composed of 70 percent foreign mercenaries.

Although large-scale mercenary contracts initially implied only administrative decentralization, from the later sixteenth century and the Thirty Years' War they were also fueled by fiscal delegation. Mercenary contractors would reimburse themselves through "contributions," war taxes extracted under direct threat of military force. Bigger armies did not mean more extensive central state structures; bigger armies in fact came into being to facilitate the extraction of contributions and other forms of plunder and extortion. Far from being synonymous with the growth of absolute monarchies and centralized administrations, war encouraged a retreat by the state from many of its essential functions. Even where states had retained some degree of control over government or fiscality, the tendency was not to tighten this, but to market it. Desperate for cash to maintain those parts of the war effort that still fell under their responsibility, governments such as that of France under Cardinals Richelieu (in power 16241642) and Mazarin (in power 16431661) launched into an orgy of short-term fiscal expedients, most resulting in the confirmation or multiplication of existing privileges and fiscal exemptions and a huge increase of proprietary office holding.

Such comprehensive skepticism about one of the central planks of the original military revolution thesis, the link between war and state formation, finds support in recent work on early modern absolutism. Traditionally, absolutism was portrayed as the triumph of centralized, bureaucratic structures over societies made up of multiple layers of personal, provincial, and institutional privilege. Revisionist historians have questioned whether it was practical, or in any sense the intention of these regimes, to exclude traditional elites from government and its institutions. Indeed the efficacy of socalled absolutist states in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries stemmed, it is argued, not from exclusion of the elites, but from more self-conscious and deliberate collaboration with them. By maintaining or rebuilding close relations with the elites, based upon respect for their fiscal and juridical privileges, and by ensuring that they retained access and promotion within key institutions, notably the army, the European states of the later seventeenth century set the stage for massive military expansion. In both Brandenburg-Prussia and Russia state service, for the most part in the military, was a positive obligation upon the established nobility, though one that offered promotional prospects and status. Elsewhere political and social pressures ensured that the officer corps was dominated by traditional elites. The armies of the eighteenth century were a potent symbol of the power of the state, but this was a direct product of compromises with the privileged. If particular rulersPeter the Great of Russia (ruled 16821725), Charles XII of Sweden (16971718), Frederick II of Prussia (17401786)seemed able to obscure this compromise and to deploy their armies and their states' resources in pursuit of untrammeled dynastic ambition, the underlying reality of armies as virtual joint stock companies reasserted itself with regularity throughout the eighteenth century.

These different emphases in studying the relationship between rulers, states, and armies in early modern Europe have done much to strand an unmodified "military revolution" thesis in a historiographical backwater. A productive recent development has been more systematic study of the effects of European military technology and organization beyond the Continent. Historians have given much more attention to the impact of European armies and warfare in non-European contexts. Was there a "Western way of war"? How did the Europeans capitalize on their military advantages in a colonial context? Perhaps most interesting, to what extent did non-European states on their own initiative replicate some of the organizational and technical changes associated with early modern European warfare? In other cases, how quickly and how effectively did non-European states adopt the characteristics of European warfare, and what impact did this have upon their own political and social organization?

See also Absolutism ; Engineering: Military ; Firearms ; State and Bureaucracy ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


Adams, Simon. "Tactics or Politics? The 'Military Revolution' and the Habsburg Hegemony, 15251648." In Tools of War: Instruments, Ideals and Institutions of Warfare, 14451871. Edited by John A. Lynn. Urbana, Ill., 1990. Reprinted in Rogers, The Military Revolution Debate (see below).

Beik, William. Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1985. The classic revisionist case study of absolutism as a compromise between the central regime and provincial elites.

Bérenger, Jean, ed. La révolution militaire en Europe (XVe XVIIIe siècles). Paris, 1998.

Black, Jeremy. A Military Revolution? Military Change and European Society, 15501800. Basingstoke, U.K., 1991.

Black, Jeremy, ed. War in the Early Modern World. Boulder, Colo., 1999.

Eltis, David. The Military Revolution in Sixteenth-Century Europe. London and New York, 1995.

Feld, M. D. "Middle Class Society and the Rise of Military Professionalism: The Dutch Army, 15891609." Armed Forces and Society 1, no. 4 (Summer 1975): 419422.

Frost, Robert I. The Northern Wars: War, State, and Society in Northeastern Europe, 15581721. Harlow, U.K., and New York, 2000.

Lynn, John A, ed. Feeding Mars: Logistics in Western Warfare from the Middle Ages to the Present. Boulder, Colo., 1993.

Parker, Geoffrey. "The 'Military Revolution, 15601660'a Myth?" Journal of Modern History 48, no. 2 (June 1976): 195214. Reprinted in Parker's Spain and the Netherlands, 15591659: Ten Studies (London, 1979), and in Rogers, The Military Revolution Debate.

. The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 15001800. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1996.

Parrott, David. "Strategy and Tactics in the Thirty Years' War: The 'Military Revolution."' Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen 18, no. 2 (1985): 725. Reprinted in Rogers, The Military Revolution Debate.

Redlich, Fritz. "Contributions in the Thirty Years' War." Economic History Review, 2nd Ser., 12 (19591960): 247254.

Roberts, Michael. Gustavus Adolphus: A History of Sweden, 16111632. 2 vols. London and New York, 19531958.

. "The Military Revolution, 15601660." In Essays in Swedish History. London, 1967. Also reprinted in Rogers, The Military Revolution Debate.

Rogers, Clifford J., ed. The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe. Boulder, Colo., 1995.

Storrs, Christopher, and H. M. Scott. "The Military Revolution and the European Nobility, c. 16001800." War in History 3, no. 1 (1996): 141.

Van Creveld, Martin. Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1977.

David Parrott

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Trends in historical writing about the Middle East.

Academic history-writing about the Middle East took shape during the first half of the twentieth century. European-style universities were founded in the early 1900s in Istanbul and Cairo, and state education, museums, historical associations, and journals expanded between the wars, alongside state-building. History-writing became a profession. Long-established formsdynastic chronicles, political biographies, and historical topographieswere slowly displaced. History (taʾrikh) took on its ambivalent, modern meaning, referring not just to a form of knowledge, but also to the actual course of past events. In Europe, scholars working in Oriental Studies and trained in language, philology, and the study of Islam increasingly produced work recognizable as modern historiography. The amateur histories of colonial officials and travelers became much-trawled primary source material to complement chronicles and literary texts.

Civilization and Nationalism

Before 1945, historians from Europe and the Middle East formulated the past in terms of the flowering of an Islamic civilization that achieved its zenith at some point during the Middle Ages and subsequently entered a lengthy decline. The last centuries of Ottoman rule in particular were depicted as years of decay and oppression. Exemplary historians in this period were the prolific and popular Ottoman-Syrian Christian Jurji Zaydan (18611914), who wrote Taʾrikh al-Tamaddun al-Islami (19021906; History of Islamic civilization), and the British Orientalists Hamilton Gibb and Harold Bowen, who did more than anyone else in English to set afoot the historical study of the modern Middle East, particularly in Islamic Society and the West (1950). Such work measured civilization by great men and their battles, politics, and high cultural production. Nationalist historians such as the Egyptian Abd al-Rahman al-Rafiʾi (18891966) and Palestinian George Antonius, author of The Arab Awakening (1938), chronicled the recent past in terms of the triumphant rise of the new nation, led by a new elite, who disseminated enlightened ideas in a backward land, and thus drew their fellow citizens toward freedom.


With the beginning of the Cold War, national independence in the region, and the emergence of Area Studies, academics trained as historians started to multiply in and outside the region. They added to the older sources colonial reports, state correspondence and statistics, and the tracts of modernizing elites. Borrowing from conventional currents in Europe, the field divided into political, intellectual, economic, and social history. Bernard Lewis, Stanford Shaw, and others wrote political histories of the Ottoman Empire, European colonial rule, and the high politics of nationalism. Albert Hourani wrote a seminal work of intellectual history, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 17981939 (1962). Charles Issawi did most to chart what he saw as the decline and rise of Middle Eastern economies. Influenced by the Annales School, Ömer Lutfi Barkan and Halil Inalcik pioneered Ottoman socioeconomic history, which was taken up also at Cairo University by students of Muhammad Anis. Gabriel Baer studied guilds, town and country, and André Raymond transformed historians' understanding of socioeconomic change in eighteenth-century Egypt.

The achievements of these decades were very real, but assumptions left over from Oriental Studies, entrenched by bourgeois-nationalism and introduced by modernization theory, were pervasive. The object of study was often Islamic society, which was still often assumed to be in long-term decay. Many judged the region according to a linear and idealized notion of European modernization, seeing the Middle East as laggard mainly as a result of local failings that were often linked to psychology. Europe's impact, typically marked off as commencing with Napoléon Bonaparte's brief occupation of Egypt (17981801), still signified the beginnings of progress in the region.

The drastically limited success of state-led projects of modernization and development, underlined by the Arab defeat in the ArabIsrael War of 1967 and the rise of more radical currents in Third World socialism and nationalism, gave increasing currencyinside and outside the regionto more critical scholarship. Rigid boundaries dividing politics, economics, and society started to blur, and history drew increasingly on other disciplines.


Particularly influential during the 1970s was the broad current of Marxism: dependencia, world systems theory, and analysis based on social class. These ideas gave rise to numerous groundbreaking studies. Samir Amin, Resat Kasaba, and Roger Owen situated the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East within the world economy. Hanna Batatu's monumental study, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, remains without peer. Ervand Abrahamian's seminal history of twentieth-century Iran, Iran Between Two Revolutions, owed much to notions of uneven development and social class. Anwar Abd al-Malik, Mahmud Hussein, and Eric Davis understood Egyptian history in terms of different fractions within the bourgeoisie in interaction with the state. Amin Izz al-Din, Raʾuf Abbas, Joel Beinin, and Zachary Lockman chronicled the rise of the working class in Egypt from the late nineteenth century until the 1960s.

Instead of depicting an Islamic society in decline, these scholars detailed the incorporation of a part of the periphery into a world economy with its core in Europe. Instead of seeing backwardness as the result of local cultural and political failings, backwardness was seen as the systemic result of a process of world capitalist development. Instead of viewing transformation as a process of elite-driven, ideas-based modernization that remained laggard, society and change were freshly understood as internally structured by state and class.

Social History

Critiques of Marxist determinism, not least from Edward Said, who depicted Karl Marx as an Orientalist in Orientalism (1978), formed the background to increased interest in more grounded social history, which took a critical distance from grand meta-narratives of modernity. Social history particularly benefited from increasingly accessible national archives, especially the use of Islamic court records. Kenneth Cuno, Beshara Doumani, Suraiya Faroqhi, André Raymond, and others transformed understandings of the period 1600 to 1800, showing dynamism, market forms, urban change, social stratification, and changing patterns of social reproduction instead of backwardness and decline. Their work, along with that of Juan Cole, Zachary Lock-man, Donald Quataert, and others has greatly diversified understandings of socioeconomic change and popular protest in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: The deindustrialization thesis has been challenged; the end of the guilds appears to be far more complicated than it did; and the rise of the working class is no longer seen econometrically, and workers outside the factory, from artisans to migrants, are also seen as playing active roles in popular politics and world economic incorporation. F. Robert Hunter, Eugene Rogan, and others have given a far more embedded sense of state formation in Egypt and Jordan, respectively. Edmund Burke's Struggle and Survival in the Middle East (1993) made groundbreaking use of popular social biography.

Such work has opened the door to new forms of cultural history, in which culture is no longer an elite preserve, and constitutes (rather than simply reflects) the social process. Exemplary here are Abbas Amanat on the beginnings of the Bahaʾi movement in Iran, Ussama Makdisi on the modernity of sectarianism in Lebanon, and Ella Shohat on Israeli cinema. Work by historically minded anthropologists such as Michael Gilsenan, who studies violence and narrative in rural Lebanon, is highly suggestive for new directions.


Another important body of work has challenged the verities of idealist, elite-centered, and teleological nationalism. Rashid Khalidi, C. Ernest Dawn, James Gelvin, and others have given more heterogeneous and less emancipatory histories of the rise of Arab and regional nationalism, and have pointed to the agency of previously ignored social groups. Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappé, Benny Morris, and others, working with newly released archival material, have presented a dramatic and far-reaching challenge to the conventional Zionist account of the events of 1948.

Women and Gender

Feminist historiographical influence, and growing criticism of male-centered history, gave impetus from the 1970s onward to research on women and gender. Leila Ahmed, Lila Abu-Lughod, Judith Tucker, and others have paid systematic attention to the place of women in society and to constructions of gender, and they write the social, cultural, and political histories of women. Patriarchy, seclusion, and veiling are no longer understood as simply vestigial backwardness or as the expression of some essential Islamic essence, but as cultural practices grounded in processes of political and cultural contestation. The hypocrisy of colonial feminism has been exposed, as well as the pitfalls of simple nationalist assertion as an unwitting defense of patriarchy. After 1990 scholars successfully made the social construction of gendermasculinity as well as femininityan integral part of larger accounts of social change. Elizabeth Thompson's work on Mandate Syria, for example, has argued that forms of colonial citizenship were forged in part from an interwar crisis of paternity, which had much to do with changing gender practices and norms.


A number of historians have been inspired by the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, whose oeuvre suggests a radically critical genealogy of modernity. Timothy Mitchell's groundbreaking work sees Egypt's nineteenth-century history in terms of the inscription of modern disciplinary practices, which gave rise to and were ordered by a new metaphysics of modern representationthe "world-as-exhibition." Khaled Fahmy on nineteenth-century Egyptian state-building and Joseph Massad on Jordanian national identity have undertaken rich archival research to pursue such insights in productive ways.

Overall, the historiography of the region has become less vulnerable to the charge of being outmoded. It presents a diversity of approaches, a more developed theoretical awareness than before, and an increasingly rich resource for those trying to understand the past, present, and future of the region.

See also antonius, george; barkan, Ömer lutfi; bonaparte, napolÉon; hourani, albert; zaydan, jurji.


Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1992.

Antonius, George. The Arab Awakening. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1938.

Batatu, Hanna. The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978.

Beinin, Joel. Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Burke, Edmund III, ed. Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Gibb, Hamilton A. R., and Bowen, Harold. Islamic Society and the West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950.

Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, Vols. 13. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Mitchell, Timothy. Colonising Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books, 1978.

john t. chalcraft

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Historiography is the writing of history, the aggregation of historical compositions. The establishment of history as a modern scholarly discipline in Russia dates back to the end of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries. At the order of Peter the Great, the accumulation of historical sources began with the translation of works of Western European historians such as Samuel Pufendorf. Compositions that justified the tsar's activity and, in particular, the reasons behind the Northern War were recounted by Peter's companions, including Feofan Prokopovich and Petr Shafirov. The eminent Russian statesman and Historian of the first half of the eighteenth century, Vassily Tatischev, was influenced by rationalism. He understood history as a political history of the country. In Istoriia Rossiiskaia (Russian History, published after his death), he provided, for the first time, the classification of the periods of Russian history.

German historians were invited to work at the Academy of Sciences in the 1730s and 1740s, and they had a great impact on Russian historiography. Three of these Germans were particularly important: Gerhard Friedrich Müller and Gottlieb Siegfried Bayer, who formulated what is known as Norman theory, and August Ludwig Schlözer, who tried to reconstruct the original text of the earliest Russian chronicle, Povest Vremennykh Let (The Primary Russian Chronicle), in his work titled Nestor.

Also important were the works of Major General Ivan Boltin, written in the 1780s and 1790s. Boltin proposed the idea of a comparative method of studying history, an approach that would take into account the cause-and-effect connection between historical events. A great impact on social conscience was made by Nikolai Karamzin's Istoriia Gosudarstva Rossiiskogo (The history of the Russian state), published in twelve volumes between 1816 and 1829. This work was sold in enormous quantities, according to the time's standards. While working on the History, Karamzin developed the modern Russian language. According to Alexander Pushkin, Russia was discovered by Karamzin, like America was discovered by Columbus. Methodologically, however, the belles-lettres style of Karamzin's work did not suit the standards of historical science of the time. Karamzin proved that autocracy was vital for Russia, having proposed the thesis that the history of the people belongs to the tsar.

As a counterweight to Karamzin's history of the state, publisher and journalist Nikolai Polevoi tried to create Istoriia Russkogo Naroda (A History of the Russian People), but he could not cope with the task. Instead of the history of society, his six-volume work, published between 1829 and 1833, was yet another version of the history of state power. He was unable to break away from the convention of organizing the material by ruling periods.

In the nineteenth century, historiography became professional, and a majority of historical works were now created by scholars at universities. The development of Russian historiography was greatly affected by the philosophy of Georg Hegel and the works of German historians, especially the representatives of the German historical law school. From 1840 through the 1860s, in the works of Konstantin Kavelin, Sergei Soloviev, and Boris Chicherin, the Russian state (judicial) school of historiography was formed. According to the views of the historians of the Russian state school, Russia differed markedly from the West, where social development came from the bottom. In Russia, according to this view, the organizer of society, classes, and the relations between classes was the state. The society was typically weak, unorganized, and movable, which was supported by the geographical distribution of Russian people on the Western European plain, a circumstance that provided for no natural borders. For Kavelin, the state acted as a creator of history.

The theoretical views of historians of the state school were most fully embodied in the Istoriia Rossii S Drevneishikh Vremen (History of Russia from Ancient Times), published in twenty-nine volumes between 1851 and 1879. This work was written by the greatest Russian historian, Sergei Mikhailovich Soloviev. His conception was characterized by the perception of the inner organic pattern of the historical process, defined by objective, primarily geographical, factors and of the state, as the supreme embodiment of the history of the people. He believed the most important factor of Russian history to be its colonization, and he saw the breakthrough in Russian history to be the reign of Peter the Great, who put Russia on the path to Europeanization.

As a counterweight to the members of the state school, referred to as Westernizers, who believed that Russia was developing the same way as Western Europe, Slavophiles (among them Ivan and Konstantin Aksakov and Ivan and Petr Kireyevsky) believed that Russia's development was independent and self-directed, and that Peter the Great's reforms were artificial. They believed that it was necessary to return to the policies of the seventeenth century, when the tsar had the power of rule and the people had the power of opinion. They were influenced by German Romanticism, especially as expressed in Friedrich Schelling's philosophy. Slavophiles did not create any significant historical works other than Ivan Belyaev's Krestiane na Rusi (Peasants in Russia), published in 1860.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, more and more works of Russian historians concerned the socioeconomic problems, the history of peasants and serfdom, and peasant communes. The eminent historian of this time period was Vasily Osipovich Klyuchevsky, who replaced his teacher, Soloviev, in the Department of Russian History at the Moscow University. Klyuchevsky believed that Russian history developed under the influence of various factors, geographical, economic, social, and political. Klyuchevsky's great influence is partly explained by the brilliant style of his works, especially his lectures Kurs Russkoii Istorii (A Course of Russian History), first printed in 1880 as lithographs, appearing in five bound volumes between 1904 and 1921. He was known for his deeply psychological approach, and his portraits of Russian historical figures are still unmatched. Klyuchevsky was skeptical of Peter the Great's reforms, believing them to be chaotically organized and prompted by the needs of the Northern War.

Klyuchevsky's school became the leading school in Russian historiography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The members of this school included Paul Milyukov, Alexander Kizevetter, Mikhail Lubavsky, Mikhail Bogoslovsky, and others. Methodological searches were typical for Russian historians of that time: they were affected by ideas of neopositivism (Miliukov), neokantianism (Alexander Lappo-Danilevsky), and Marxism (Mikhail Tugan-Baranovksy, Petr Struve). The more popular general work on the history of Russia published in this period was Milyukov's Ocherki Po Istorii Russkoii Kultury (Essays on the History of Russian Culture), which came out in several parts from 1896 to 1903. Milyukov formed a thesis about the simplicity and slowness of Russia's historical process, and of the structure of Russian history as having been built from the top down. Standing apart from the supporters of Russia's independent historical process, Nikolai Pavlov-Silvansky tried to prove its similarity to the Western European experience, postulating the presence of feudalism in medieval Russia in his Feodalizm v Drevnei Rusi (Feudalism in Old Russia) published in 1907.

For the Moscow school generalizations were typical, but the historians of the St. Petersburg school (Konstantin Bestuzhev-Riumin, Sergei Platonov, Lappo-Danilevsky, and others) paid special attention to publication and the analysis of earlier historical sources.

In general, Russian historiography of the early twentieth century blossomed early, but this ended abruptly with the October Revolution of 1917. After the Bolsheviks prohibited the teaching of history in schools and dismantled the historical departments in universities, the last citadel of non-Marxist historiography was the Academy of Sciences, but after the so-called Academic Affair and mass repressions against historians from 1929 to 1931, the Marxist-Leninist school of historiography became supreme in the USSR.

See also: karamzin, nikolai mikhailovich klyuchev sky, vasily osipovich


Byrnes, Robert F. (1995). V. O. Kliuchevsky: Historian of Russia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Mazour, Anatole. (1975). Modern Russian Historiography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Sanders, Tomas, ed. (1999). Historiography of Imperial Russia. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharp.

Vernadsky, George. (1978). Russian Historiography: A History. Belmont, MA: Nordland.

Oleg Budnitskii

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historiography The art of, or employment of, writing history. To study historiography is to study the methodological (including epistemological) questions raised by the writing of historical accounts.

In an article published in the Polish Sociological Bulletin in 1981 (‘Narcissism or Reflexivity in Modern Sociology’), Colin Bell
and Howard Newby argued that sociology in the 1970s had been damaged by an obsession with epistemological matters, evident in the growth of a specialized sociology of sociology. A quite proper concern for reflexivity had degenerated into narcissism, and had threatened a degree of angst and a paralysis which seriously undermined empirical research into issues of social and sociological concern. By contrast, historians (even Marxist historians) had long avoided the dangers of the epistemological anomie that beset sociology (despite facing even more severe problems of reliability and validity), by the simple expedient of dealing with issues of historical methodology under a separate heading from that of ‘doing history’; that is, historiography. As they put it, ‘since epistemology cannot be allowed to dominate the practice of history to the exclusion of all other considerations without leading to historical enquiry grinding to a halt, it has had to be separately institutionalized. As a result historians have invented historiography, within which issues pertaining to the philosophy of history may be discussed without calling a halt to the ongoing activity of historical research’.

However (as Bell and Newby themselves recognize), it is doubtful if sociologists would accept a similar division of labour, on the grounds that it tends to suggest that theory and data can be regarded as somehow entirely separate entities. See also EPISTEMOLOGY; METHODOLOGICAL PLURALISM; METHODOLOGY.

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his·to·ri·og·ra·phy / hiˌstôrēˈägrəfē; -ˌstär-/ • n. the study of historical writing. ∎  the writing of history. DERIVATIVES: his·to·ri·og·ra·pher / -ˈägrəfər/ n. his·to·ri·o·graph·ic / -əˈgrafik/ adj. his·to·ri·o·graph·i·cal / -əˈgrafikəl/ adj.

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historiographydaffy, taffy •Amalfi •Cavafy, Gaddafi •Effie •beefy, Fifi, leafy •cliffy, iffy, jiffy, Liffey, niffy, sniffy, spiffy, squiffy, stiffy, whiffy •salsify •coffee, toffee •wharfie •Sophie, strophe, trophy •Dufy, goofy, Sufi •fluffy, huffy, puffy, roughie, roughy, scruffy, snuffy, stuffy, toughie •comfy • atrophy •anastrophe, catastrophe •calligraphy, epigraphy, tachygraphy •dystrophy, epistrophe •autobiography, bibliography, biography, cardiography, cartography, chirography, choreography, chromatography, cinematography, cosmography, cryptography, demography, discography, filmography, geography, hagiography, historiography, hydrography, iconography, lexicography, lithography, oceanography, orthography, palaeography (US paleography), photography, pornography, radiography, reprography, stenography, topography, typography •apostrophe •gymnosophy, philosophy, theosophy •furphy, murphy, scurfy, surfy, turfy

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This article is arranged according to the following outline:

The Bible
Second Temple Period
Chronicles of the Jews
early middle ages
spanish and portuguese
sixteenth to the seventeenth centuries
Systematic Histories
early studies
the wissenschaft
the twentieth century
publication of sources
local jewish history
United States
Women's Studies

The Bible

One can best appreciate biblical historiography by comparing it with Greek historiography. Herodotus, a contemporary of authors of the later parts of the Bible, begins his book by explaining that he was publishing his researches "in the hope of preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done." In contrast, biblical historiography explains the events of history as parts of a divine plan at the center of which is God's chosen people. The point of biblical "remembrance" is religiously didactic. Past events, some real, others imagined, are recounted in order to show that the fortunes of the Israelite-Jewish people are directly proportional to their loyalty to Yahweh. The sequence of historical works in the Hebrew Bible is probably unparalleled in ancient historiography, in that it endeavors to place the history of a particular people – the Hebrews – in the setting of the history of the human race. The record begins in Genesis at creation and traces the beginnings of all humankind. From Genesis 12 the purview is narrowed to the story of the Hebrews from the days of their progenitor, Abraham, onward. Yet even then the wider setting is not overlooked: the genealogical data (Gen. 25, 36, et al.) purporting to give the broad outlines of the record of the kindred peoples who were neighbors of the Hebrews. Whatever the origin of the various documents which go to make up the pentateuchal story, they have been skillfully welded together into a narrative with a majestic sweep.

The Pentateuch's narratives are succeeded by an account of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the invading Hebrew tribes in the Book of Joshua. The major traditions of the Pentateuch, including the Egyptian enslavement, the exodus from Egypt, and the trek through the desert must be understood as political and religious allegories (Sperling) rather than factual accounts. The nature of the lost *Book of the Wars of the Lord, mentioned in Numbers 21:14, can only be conjectured, but it seems to have been a poetical elaboration of some part of the pentateuchal story. The Book of Judges comprises a somewhat heterogeneous collection of episodes relating to the pre-monarchic period: there is considerable chronological overlapping; no differentiation is made between happenings restricted to part of the country and those affecting it as a whole; and while some stories are dismissed in a few lines, others, e.g. the epic of Deborah (4–5), Abimelech (9), Samson (13–16), and the gruesome story of the concubine in Gibeah (19), are given extended treatment which does not necessarily reflect their significance in the overall story. Despite the presence of mythical and legendary elements, the Book of Judges presents a picture of pre-monarchic life that conforms reasonably well to the picture drawn by archeology.

Attention to national historiography is resumed in the Book(s) of Samuel. This gives a consecutive history of the Israelite people and its principal leaders in the period approximately coinciding with the 11th century b.c.e., with special emphasis on the lives of Samuel (1–7), Saul (8–31), and David (16ff., ii Sam. 1–24). The writer displays an intimate knowledge of his subject and background material: as an attempt to convey an objective picture of the times and the personalities involved it is probably unique in ancient Oriental literature. The detailed biography of David, perhaps incorporated from an independent composition, is a splendid piece of historical writing and character delineation. The hero is presented as a human being with traits of nobility but at the same time capable of the basest actions. The story of the physical decline of the great amorist (incorporated in the first chapters of the Book of Kings) is dramatically but delicately indicated in three telling words (i Kings 1:4). Some descriptive passages show an extraordinary mastery of the literary craft – e.g., the last days of Saul (i Sam. 31), and the rebellion of Absalom and David's mourning for him (ii Sam. 14–19).

Possibly a good deal of this material was derived from the composition of an official court chronicler or historiographer, an office that may already have existed at this period. This seems to have been the function of the royal mazkir (lit. "remembrancer"; cf. ii Sam. 8:16; i Kings 4:3). The first specific mention of a contemporary historiographical record is the Book of the Acts of Solomon (referred to in i Kings 11:41) which obviously contained a great deal more biographical material than that part which was incorporated in the extant Books of Kings and of Chronicles. The period of the monarchy was also covered wholly or in part by the Books of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah and Israel and – apparently another work – the Book of Kings of Israel and Judah (ii Chron. 27:7). The extant Book of Kings, which used these sources, is an uneven work, expatiating on the reign of Solomon (i Kings 1:11), the division of the kingdom after his death (12–14), and the epic of the house of Ahab and its dramatic fall (i Kings 16–ii Kings 9), which contains some of the finest descriptive writing in the whole of historical literature, ancient or modern (especially ii Kings 9:4–13, 29–37). The Book(s) of *Chronicles retells a good deal of the contents of Samuel and Kings, but with different stresses and from a different point of view, more favorable to David and later emphasizing the centrality of the Temple and adding many incidental details regarding the organization of the cult. The chief historiographical contribution of Chronicles is its consistent theodicy. Whenever a "good" king suffers, it is due to some impiety otherwise unattested outside of Chronicles. In like manner when a "bad' king prospers Chronicles attributes that to an otherwise unattested good deed. The Hebrew Bible also contains historical monographs relating to a more restricted field or period in the Books of Daniel (with much extraneous material), Ruth, and Esther.

[Cecil Roth /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

Second Temple Period

The period of the Second Temple, until its last days, was far poorer in its historiography (as in other literature) than the period of the First Temple. On the other hand, the historical works then produced were memorable because they were admittedly based to some extent on what many termed archivistic research. The official documents and correspondence found in the Book of Ezra (see chs. 4, 6) were derived – or purported to be derived – from official records preserved in public collections. The Book of Nehemiah, meanwhile, claimed to embody extensive quotations from the actual autobiography or memoirs of Nehemiah himself, whose authenticity seems to be established by the pathetic personal interjections ("Remember unto me, O my God, for good") which are interspersed (5:19, et al.). Thereafter there is a virtual blank in Jewish historiography extending over some three centuries. Two writers then devoted works to the revolt of the Hasmoneans, both of which have been incorporated in the Apocrypha. The author of i Maccabees – who wrote in Hebrew – was obviously an admirer of the Hasmonean dynasty who probably lived in the reign of John Hyrcanus, when independence seemed to have been definitely reestablished. Factual and straightforward, it is a historical source of first importance. Perhaps earlier than this work was the original author of ii Maccabees, who may be regarded as the earliest Jewish historian known by name. This was *Jason of Cyrene, a Hellenistic Jew probably of the second century b.c.e., who wrote in Greek, though his writing indicates no knowledge or influence of the great classical Greek historians. The work – an abstract of a five-volume history on an ambitious scale – centered around the personality of Judah Maccabee, except insofar as it cites a number of authentic documents drawn probably from public records. In contrast to i Maccabees it is naive in tone and credulously recounts a number of "miracles" in which the author implicitly believed. The other narrative books of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (iii and iv Maccabees, Judith, Tobit) are basically fictitious rather than historical and need not be taken into consideration here. A separate work of John Hyrcanus, now lost, is mentioned in i Maccabees 16:23–4.

The last days of the Second Temple period were marked, it seems, by a reawakening of a historical sense among the Jews which led to the emergence of a significant historical literature. *Philo of Alexandria, as well as his philosophical writings, wrote a historical work, basically theological in inspiration, intended to demonstrate the operation of Divine Providence in protecting the Jewish people. Of this work, only two of the original five parts have been preserved: an account of the persecution of the Jews of Egypt by the Roman governor Flaccus and the retribution that was meted out to him; and a vivid description of the delegation of the Alexandrian Jews, including Philo himself, to the unbalanced Roman emperor Caius Caligula. Philo shows himself in these writings to be master of vivacious descriptive powers. His contemporary Nicholas of Damascus, the private secretary of Herod the Great, was not a Jew, but had a considerable influence on Jewish historiography because of the lengthy account of Herod's reign in his voluminous universal history. The full text of this has been lost, but considerable portions of it were incorporated, apparently almost unchanged, in the historical writings of *Josephus. The latter's political rival, *Justus of Tiberias, private secretary of King Agrippa ii, wrote in Greek an account of the great war against Rome of 66–73 – or at least of its earlier stages – in which Josephus' ambiguous conduct in Galilee at this time was scathingly described. It is now lost, but is of significance because it goaded the latter (who indeed did not scruple to make use of the information which it contained) to defend himself in his own historical writings. Justus also wrote a work on the Jewish monarchy, similarly no longer extant.

The personal character of Josephus has no bearing on his importance as a historian, which was extremely significant: it is indeed possible to regard him as one of the great historians of antiquity. Beginning to write at the conclusion of the great war against Rome in order to excuse his own conduct and reply to the attacks which were being made on him, he soon extended his interests and became a historian by vocation. His failings as well as some of his qualities are obvious to the most casual reader. He did not have the virtue of consistency, sometimes giving contradictory accounts of the same episode in different passages. To this he was impelled to some extent by his constant need to justify himself and to present a favorable picture of Vespasian and Titus, his attitude toward whom was nauseatingly sycophantic. On the other hand, he took pains to consult documents in public archives, which he often quotes in extenso – though his paradoxical Jewish patriotism (except as far as concerned those Jews who set themselves in opposition to Rome) sometimes may have led him to modify his texts. His great virtue in his historical writing however was his tremendous sweep and effortless mastery of his materials. His Jewish Antiquities is a history of the Jewish people from its beginnings down to the period of the Hasmonean monarchy. The first part is based on the biblical accounts, reinforced by legend and allegorical moralizing: while it adds nothing to the known factual knowledge, it is memorable as an attempt, almost in a modern idiom, to reinterpret the ancient traditional accounts in accordance with the standards of contemporary historiography. The story enters a new phase with the account of the Hasmonean rising and monarchy, the Roman conquest, the reign of Herod and the Herodian house, and the events leading up to the revolt of 66 and the great war against the Romans which followed: this is contained in overlapping accounts at the end of the Jewish Antiquities and in the Jewish War – a work memorable in that here the author, instead of merely describing the revolt and the progress of hostilities, considers it necessary to give a detailed account of the political background and of the remote events indirectly leading up to the outbreak of the war.

Chronicles of the Jews

early middle ages

It is remarkable that for centuries subsequently to the publication of Josephus, Jewish historiography was utterly stagnant apart from the exceptional attempt made in the *Seder Olam Rabbah, plausibly ascribed to *Yose b. Halafta (c. 150 c.e.), to establish a chronological framework of biblical history. So far as is known, the Jews of the age of the Talmud had no knowledge of Josephus' fundamental writings; while the serious contribution of the Books of Maccabees to history were naturalized into Hebrew in the historically worthless *Scroll of Antiochus, written as a liturgical exercise. The revival of Hebrew studies in Italy in the eighth century, in an environment strongly affected by the culture of the outside world, resulted in an attempt to present the historical writings of Josephus in Hebrew in the chronicle ascribed to Joseph b. Goryon (Book of *Josippon), compiled probably in southern Italy in the tenth century: a fine literary exercise, though lacking basic historical importance. It was of great significance in Jewish historiography, however, as it was the main source of information for Jews in the Middle Ages – including even the greatest scholars – for the events of the last years of the Second Temple period. Its literary influence on the other hand was slight, except in such works as the 12th-century world chronicle of *Jerahmeel b. Solomon, also an Italian production though emanating from the north rather than the south of the peninsula. The most important historical work of Italian origin of the early Middle Ages was the Chronicle of Ahimaaz, compiled in 1054 but admittedly incorporating earlier materials as well as family tradition (see *Ahimaaz b. Paltiel). This is basically a delightful family chronicle, naively written and embodying much preposterous legend. On the other hand, it gives a vivid (if credulous) picture of Jewish life in southern Italy of the time with which it deals – formerly utterly unknown – and has important sidelights on conditions in Sicily, Byzantium, North Africa, and Ereẓ Israel. The Chronicle of Ahimaaz is preserved in a single manuscript, discovered last century (1869) – a fact which raises the tantalizing possiblity that it followed a prevailing literary fashion, and that there may have been similar family chronicles of the period which have disappeared without leaving even the slightest trace.

A wholly different production is the Letter of R. *Sherira b. Ḥanina, gaon of Pumbedita (987), written in reply to an enquiry addressed to him by the scholars of Kairouan. The information was needed as guidance in the study of the Talmud; but in reply Sherira gave a complete account of the chain of transmission of rabbinic tradition from remote times down to his own day, in the spirit of contemporary Arab writers on similar themes. The information that he gave was based on the archives of the academies, which may have comprised some methodical chronicles. This remains to the present day the framework for the history of Mesopotamian Jewry in the period between the close of the Talmud and the 11th century.

No historical record of any sort that has survived was produced by the Jews of northern Europe during the first centuries of the development of Ashkenazi Jewry: it is for this reason that knowledge of it is in so great a degree hypothetical. A couple of narrative fragments describe in a somewhat legendary vein persecutions in France in 992 and 1007 respectively. With the First Crusade of 1096, Jewish historiography, or at least chronography, somewhat abruptly begins. The precise interrelationship between the three accounts of the Rhineland massacres at the time of the First Crusade (by Solomon b. Simeon or Samson, *Eliezer b. Nathan of Mainz, and an anonymous author) is as yet undetermined, but they certainly do not greatly postdate the events which they describe: the anonymous account may be the original source, but on the other hand it is possible that all three derive from another source now lost. In any case, the somewhat abrupt beginning seems to suggest that these accounts are part only of a more extensive chronicle which has not survived. Moreover, the elevated and superb narrative style does not give the impression that this is a new literary experiment: the writer had models before him and was only continuing an already familar tradition. There is here in fact a further suggestion that medieval Jewish historiography is not to be measured only in terms of those relatively sparse fragments that have survived. The chronicles of the First Crusade were continued by the record of *Ephraim b. Jacob of Bonn covering the years 1146–96; this includes accounts of the blood libel at Blois and the sufferings of the Jews during the Second and Third Crusades, the passages relating to England being particularly noteworthy. It is significant that these works are all in the nature of martyrologies. They are accounts not of Jewish history but of Jewish suffering: chronicles of a wider historical nature were not produced by the Jews of northern Europe then or for a long time afterward.

spanish and portuguese

Possibly the first medieval Jewish writer who may be considered a historian in the wider sense was Abraham *Ibn Daud of Toledo, who wrote brief histories of the Second Temple period and of Rome in addition to his famous Sefer ha-Kabbalah, dealing with the transmission of rabbinic lore from the earliest times down to his own day, written in a vivid Hebrew style in the rhetorical tradition of Arabic historiography. Basically, the work is an attempt to prove historically the continuity of rabbinic teaching from the remotest times, in order to disprove the Karaite counter-claims; incidentally, it comprises a number of famous "purple patches" relating to individuals and episodes of Spanish Jewish history which have entered into the common store of Jewish historical legend. The latest editor, Gerson D. Cohen (1967), is, however, inclined to doubt fundamentally the historicity of these insertions, believing that many of them were adapted from Muslim sources.

The "chain of tradition" remained henceforth one of the main preoccupations of Spanish Jewish historiography: in the Sefer Yuhasin of Abraham *Zacuto, in the continuation of the Sefer ha-Kabbalah by *Abraham b. Solomon of Torrutiel (b. 1482) and others; though in all such works historical data (mainly relating to persecutions and massacres) were interspersed almost at random in the basic chronological account of scholars and scholarship. The same applied to the Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah (Venice, 1586) by Gedaliah b. Joseph *Ibn Yaḥya, member of a distinguished family of Portuguese exiles domiciled in Italy. This comprises a perplexing medley of information on scholarship and scholars, bulked out with much legend which later became part of Jewish folklore, and occasionally diverging into historical byways of considerable significance as raw material for the historian rather than a contribution to historiography as the term is now understood. Immanuel *Aboab's Spanish defense of Jewish tradition, Nomología (Amsterdam (1629), but written in Italy), though more serious and less diffuse, was in much the same category.

Seemingly of a different type, and historiographically more significant, was a chronicle dealing basically with the Jews of the south of France between 1187 and 1240, a precis of which (from a manuscript in the hands of Yom Tov Sanzolo, a rabbi of Spanish origin then living in Turkey) was incorporated by Joseph *Ibn Verga as an appendix to his father's Shevet Yehudah (see below).

Probably at the beginning of the 15th century, Profiat *Duran compiled a history of Jewish persecutions and suffering. The wide competence and general culture of the author makes it probable that this was a work of considerable significance. It is known, however, only through incidental mentions in later literature, though apparently it was used extensively by the 16th-century chroniclers, with whom Jewish historiography entered on a fresh phase. Outstanding among these was Samuel *Usque, in his great threnody written in classical Portuguese, Consolaçam as Tribulaçoens de Israel (Ferrara, 1553). It is in form a dialogue between a much-suffering shepherd and his comforters, following what was then a popular literary convention. Incidentally, the first part gives an account, wholly based on the Bible and some post-biblical traditions, of the First Temple period; the second deals similarly with the Second Temple; the third with a series of Jewish persecutions and sufferings in the Middle Ages. From the literary point of view this is one of the most memorable productions in the entire field of Jewish literature: it is certainly the most remarkable work of its type of Jewish significance written in the vernacular (other perhaps than Arabic) until recent times. It does not, however, purport to be a history and the episodes, except those relating to the writer's own period, are taken from other sources, sometimes heavily manipulated to suit his purpose.

Almost exactly contemporaneous with the publication of the Consolaçam was that of the Shevet Yehudah, one of the most curious Hebrew literary productions of the age. It seems to have been based on a chronicle of Jewish persecution, written by the martyred R. Judah ibn Verga of Seville, probably leaning heavily, so far as the earlier period is concerned, on the lost work of Profiat Duran. This in turn was edited and supplemented for the contemporary period (the expulsions from Spain and Portugal and the accompanying events) by the original writer's son, Solomon; it was prepared for press, with various supplements such as the brief chronicle mentioned above, by Joseph ibn Verga (Adrianople, 1553). The work as it has survived, however, is in the main the production of Solomon *Ibn Verga, who regarded it not as a mere chronicle but as a vehicle for conveying his critique on his Jewish coreligionists and the place of the Jews in a gentile society. He therefore interspersed among the historical episodes accounts of discussions and disputations at various Spanish courts which seem to be nothing more than the fabrication of his own perplexed imagination. Moreover, even in the historical episodes, he sometimes inserts caustic asides which throw more light on his own psychology than on the events which he describes. This is the case, for example, in the few pages which he devotes (§40) to the disputation of *Tortosa: it is significant that of this cataclysmic and relatively recent event in Spanish Jewish history he knew details of only five sessions out of the total of 69, the antipope Benedict xiii appearing in these pages as a kindly sponsor rather than the venomous oppressor that he was (cf. the parallel account to that in the Shevet Yehudah, differing from it however in many significant details, in Kobak's Jeschurun, 6 (1868), 45–65). In fact, there is barely any record of the disputation after the first few days in any medieval Jewish source, such was the historiographical myopia of even the most erudite Jewish writers of the period.

sixteenth to the seventeenth centuries

It is significant of the then prevailing backward state of Jewish intellectual life, which in the Middle Ages had been at the forefront of European cultural activity, that in the field of Jewish historiography Hebrew literature was only just arriving at the stage of the chronicle – that is, the treatment of independent episodes in chronological order – whereas European literature had already discovered, through the writings of Bruno, Guicciardini, and Machiavelli, "history" in its modern sense, with analysis of cause and effect, of motives and results, and the concatenation of events. Similarly Azariah de' *Rossi in his Me'or Einayim (Mantua, 1573) had introduced to Jewish scholarship the novel idea of using secular sources to supplement or check the data in talmudic literature and consulting the extraneous materials to establish a chronological framework for Jewish history. However, his work was frowned upon – if not worse – even by some of his more liberal contemporaries; its study was discouraged, and it had virtually no influence until the era of the Juedische Wissenschaft in the early 19th century. In any case, de' Rossi's writings were in the nature of prolegomena to Jewish historiography: so far as is known, he made no attempt to apply his scientific principles in any straightforward historical writing of his own.

It is possible that other significant works now lost were written at this period, the age of what might be termed the tyranny of the printing press. What was published entered into the common store of literature, while a work for some reason or the other not published, however great its merit, had only a restricted influence or none at all. Moreover, at this time so much of what there was to be recorded about the Jews centered on their persecution at the hands of their neighbors that its publication was difficult if not impossible. This may be one of the reasons why Isaac *Cantarini's Paḥad Yiẓḥak, describing the attacks on the Jews in Padua in 1684, was written in such cryptic language and published in Amsterdam (1685), though Abraham Massarano's Ha-Galut ve-ha-Pedut, giving an account of the sufferings of the Jews at Mantua at the hands of the German Landsknechten, appeared in Venice (1634). The Italian Jews, with their mastery of limpid Hebrew, their facility for self-expression, and their familiarity with the advanced literary standards of their non-Jewish neighbors, were always highly articulate and had a facility for recording events which touched them closely. The recently-discovered record by Benjamin Nehemiah b. Elhanan of Civitanova, largely personal, of the times of Pope Paul iv and his relations with the Jews is a significant contribution to Hebrew prose literature as well as to Jewish historiography. The same may be said of the account of the plague in Padua in 1631 by Abraham Catalan (published in Kobeẓ al Jad, 14 (1946), 67–102). Parallel to this is the Spanish story, largely legendary, of the arrival of the first settlement of Marranos as professing Jews in Holland at the close of the 16th century. This, however, is an almost unique composition. The paucity of Jewish historical literature in Hebrew is perhaps less surprising than its virtual absence in languages other than Hebrew.

The newly-awakened chronographical (rather than historiographical) sense among the Jews is best exemplified in the writings of *Joseph ha-Kohen, who at least used non-Jewish sources, showed a broad geographical sweep, and tied up – clumsily, it is true – Jewish historical events with general history. However, his writing loses much of its effectiveness by his cloying attempt to imitate biblical narrative style, especially regrettable in a period when the Hebrew prose style of Italian Jews was so spontaneous and vivacious. His magnum opus was his history of the kings of France and Turkey, Divrei ha-Yamim le-Malkhei Zarefat (Sabionetta, 1554; Amsterdam, 1733), which earned him from Basnage the title of "the second Josephus." It is in fact a somewhat jejune production, not restricted to the subject matter of the title but giving a broad account of European history in chronological form, mainly in the 15th–16th centuries, all derived from familiar sources; there are occasional sidelights on Jewish history, mostly, however, repeated in his other writings. The book was nevertheless very popular, most copies of the first edition having many pages thumbed out of existence; and it helped to give its reader some idea of the main issues in general, and the background of Jewish history. Of greater importance as a source of Jewish history, however, was Joseph ha-Kohen's Emek ha-Bakha ("Valley of Tears"; cf. Ps. 84:7). For obvious reasons (for it was basically an account of the persecution of the Jews by their neighbors, stressing the share of the popes of the period of the Catholic Counter-Reformation) this was not published at the time (it was rediscovered only at the close of the 19th century) and underwent revisions and updating by the author, and after his death by an anonymous editor. The author makes use not only of Hebrew sources and Usque's chronicle but also of some non-Jewish authors whom he cites by name. This type of research was an innovation in Jewish historiography, but there are few other traces of modernity in the work, which is an episodic treatment in chronological sequence, valuable mainly for the information that the author gives on his own age and environment.

Even more blatantly chronological is the work of David *Gans. Notwithstanding his wide general culture, his intimacy with the most distinguished astronomers of his day, and his acquaintance with the broad outlines of general history, his Ẓemaḥ David (Prague, 1592) is no more than a chronological record in two parts, the one dealing with general, the other with Jewish historical events, with occasional narrative amplifications. Notwithstanding its obvious defects it was important in helping to arouse some sense of history among the Jews of central and northern Europe. Yet it is significant that Jehiel *Heilprin, in his Seder ha-Dorot (Karlsruhe, 1769) in which he tried to systematize the confused data about the rabbis of the Talmud and their successors (down to 1696), spoke scathingly about his contemporaries' lack of interest in history and historical literature.

Perhaps none of the 16th-century Jewish historians was more capable than Elijah *Capsali, a Cretan scholar-physician who had studied in Padua. His parallel works on the history of Turkey and of Venice, the former including a remarkable account of the expulsion from Spain and the fate of the exiles, cannot be evaluated properly until they are published in full. To a large extent, however, they are based on personal observation and reminiscence, and the latter especially contains much autobiographical material which removes it from the strict category of history. Crete being at that time under Venetian rule, Capsali was essentially European in culture, and his work is therefore in a different category from the chronicle of scholars by the Egyptian Joseph *Sambari (Neubauer, Chronicles, 1 (1887), 115–62), the Kore ha-Dorot of David *Conforte (1677), or the later History of Fez (ed. by G. Vajda).

The *Chmielnicki massacres in Poland (1648–49) occasioned a spate of historical publications, the most noteworthy being the Yeven Meẓulah of Nathan Nata *Hannover (Venice, 1653), true to medieval precedent in concentrating on massacre and suffering. The autobiographies produced at this period by Leone *Modena and *Glueckel of Hameln, invaluable though they are for reconstructing the history of the period, are hardly to be considered in the category of historiography.

Systematic Histories

early studies

*Manasseh Ben Israel included in a list of his unpublished works a Heroica Historia of the Jewish people, intended as a continuation of Josephus. If this was ever written, it has disappeared. After his day editions of Josippon appeared both in Hebrew and in Yiddish with a supplement entitled She'erit Yisrael (Amsterdam, 1741) by Menahem Mann b. Solomon ha-Levi *Amelander. This gave the Jewish reader some idea of the continuous history of his people. But the first systematic history of the Jews, from remote times onward, was compiled not by a Jew but by the French Protestant pastor Jacques *Basnage (Histoire des Juifs…, 7 vols., 1706–11; Eng. tr. 1708) which he wrote while living in exile in Holland. Unoriginal and of little independent value, it is nevertheless memorable as the first attempt since the days of Josephus to give a comprehensive history of the Jewish people from antiquity onward. It therefore enjoyed great popularity, and was often translated and republished. The occidental Jew who wished to learn in a systematic fashion something about the past of his people had for many years no other work to consult except this. It constituted, moreover, the basis for several more popular and less voluminous presentations such as The History of the Jews from the Destruction of Jerusalem to the Present Time (New York, 1812) by the American Christian writer Hannah *Adams (which included for the first time in Jewish historiography some lines devoted to America). The once popular work by H.H. Milman, later dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London (London, 1830), was in much the same category, as was the history by Charles Malot (Paris, 1826) in French. The first Jew to attempt a consistent history of his people in a modern European language was Solomon *Loewisohn in his Vorlesungen ueber die neuere Geschichte der Juden (Vienna, 1820). He was followed by Peter *Beer, while David *Ottensosser published a similar work in Hebrew characters (Fuerth, 1821–25). The History of the Jews, from their Origin to their Ultimate Dispersion (1824) by M. Mayers of Yarmouth, England, was based, like his other writings, on Beer.

Meanwhile, as a by-product of the interest in Hebraic studies by Christian (mainly Protestant) theologians, a number of local histories by more or less well informed Christian scholars appeared in the 18th century, before any similar work by a Jew made its appearance: e.g., Anglia Judaica by D'Blossiers *Tovey (Oxford, 1738); Giovanni di Giovanni's L'ebraismo della Sicilia (Palermo, 1748); J.C. *Ulrich's Sammlung juedischer Geschichten in der Schweiz (Basle, 1768); Andreas Wuerfel's history of the Jews in Fuerth (1754) and Nuremberg (Nuremberg, 1755); and J.C. Aretin's history of the Jews in Bavaria (Landshut, 1803) – all of them serving to prepare the ground for more consistent and thorough treatment of Jewish historical material.

the wissenschaft

The period of the *Wissenschaft des Judentums witnessed the first serious attempt by a Jew to present the history of his people as a whole in accordance with the standards of modern scholarship. It was only in 1820 that Isaac Marcus *Jost, a teacher in the Jewish school in Frankfurt, published the first volume of his history of the Jews from the Maccabean period to contemporary times: the ninth and last volume appeared in 1829. This was the first history of the Jews written in accordance with the criteria of modern scholarship by a person with an intimate knowledge of the Hebrew sources and capable of making full use of them. The deficiencies of the work resulted from the personal attitudes of the author. A leader of German Reform Judaism in its early stages, he was to some extent out of sympathy with traditional Jewish life: he was coldly rationalistic, and his intention was nakedly apologetic; literary history rather than the history of the people occupied the forefront of his picture, and he lacked historical training as well as the personal warmth which is needed for a great historian. His later work, a history of Judaism and its sects concentrating on religious history (3 vols., 1857–59), has similar defects but made use of a greater range of research and was therefore in certain respects definitely superior. Nevertheless, the two works still retain some importance, and Jost may fairly be regarded as the father of serious Jewish historiography.

It is said that when Moritz *Steinschneider, the father of Hebrew bibliography, heard that Heinrich *Graetz was engaged on his great work, he observed disapprovingly: "What, another history of the Jews?" to which his interlocutor replied, "Yes, but this time a Jewish history." The claim was justified. Graetz's great Geschichte der Juden (11 vols., 1853–76, not produced however in chronological order) was different from that of Jost mainly in the warm and sympathetic spirit that infused it, and a style which is sometimes of classical beauty; it covered moreover the whole of Jewish history from biblical times onward. He used a bewildering mass of source material in many languages. Whereas Jost had used the obvious sources, Graetz revealed for the first time many that had previously been overlooked, and the analyses in his learned appendices (omitted in the English editions) are sometimes of fundamental importance. The results of the research of the emergent Juedische Wissenschaft up to his day were exhaustively exploited and incorporated. He showed himself, inevitably, a child of his time. He paid too little attention to social and economic factors; his lack of sympathy with Jewish mysticism is readily apparent; and he tended to overlook the vast importance of Russian and Polish Jewry in Jewish history. Intellectual history sometimes overwhelms entirely the political history, and in the latter greater prominence is given to suffering than to achievement. Nevertheless, his history remains one of the most remarkable products of a single individual in the entire course of Jewish literature, and is still to be regarded as the standard history of the Jews down to the early 19th century. The subsequent editions by M. Brann modified the work only in inconspicuous details. On the other hand, the Hebrew translation by S.P. *Rabbinowitz, supplementing and at the same time modifying the original in important respects and containing appendices by A. *Harkavy and others, has an independent importance. It acquired moreover additional significance in that it introduced Jewish history in a modern sense to large numbers of Hebrew readers in Eastern Europe. This was also one of the merits of Wolf Ze'ev *Jawitz' presentation of Jewish history down to the medieval period from the point of view of strict Orthodoxy, which moreover reexamined the talmudic sources on the basis of a minute knowledge which Graetz lacked.

the twentieth century

Simon *Dubnow set out deliberately to correct the defects of Graetz's history. Of Russian birth and author of the history of Eastern European Hasidism (1930–32) and of the Jews of Russia and Poland (1916–20), he did not find the task difficult. Belonging to a later generation, he was naturally able to pay proper attention to factors which his precursors had overlooked. Nevertheless, notwithstanding his professed intention, he failed to carry out his plan of devoting adequate attention to social and economic life. Moreover, the subsequent Holocaust, in which he himself perished, threw his work out of balance; and indeed the annihilation of Eastern Jewry, and the consequent catastrophic decline of Yiddish in its former homeland, removed from the realm of actuality the living centers which were the focus of his treatment.

The only remaining massive treatment of Jewish history as a whole is the Social and Religious History of the Jews by Salo W. *Baron (27 vols., 1952–832). This work, overwhelming in its vast erudition and its superb bibliographical equipment, has elevated the author to the first rank among Jewish historians, but it is essentially a discussion of the interplay of social and religious forces in Jewish history rather than a consistent history of the Jews. Popular single-volume histories of the Jews have also been produced in many languages in the course of the past generation, e.g., in English by M.L. *Margolis and A. *Marx, S. *Grayzel, R. Learsi, A.L. *Sachar, C. *Roth, and others.

During the past century there has been a spate of historical writing on specific periods, aspects, or geographical areas of Jewish history – without taking into account the mass of writing on biblical history to which Jewish scholars such as E. *Speiser and B. *Mazar made fundamental contributions. Thus a number of Christian scholars such as Emil *Schuerer and Eduard *Meyer have dealt with the period of the birth of Christianity – for the most part in a somewhat biased religious spirit. This has been counterbalanced on the Jewish side by the work of Adolf *Buechler, Joseph *Klausner, Gedaliah *Allon, Solomon *Zeitlin, Yitzhak *Baer, and, so far as Hellenistic Egypt is concerned, by Victor (Avigdor) *Tcherikover, and for the Roman Empire generally by Jean *Juster. Social history engaged the attention of Moritz *Guedemann, Israel *Abrahams, Abraham *Berliner, and Simhah *Assaf, and economic history that of Levi *Herzfeld, Georg *Caro, Mark *Wischnitzer, and a devoted band of Eastern European writers, for the most part Dubnow's disciples, such as Ignacy Isaac *Schipper, Bernard *Weinryb, and Jacob *Lestschinsky. The history of the Khazars was treated by the non-Jewish scholar D.M. Dunlop, that of Beta Israel by Wolf *Leslau, the German Court Jews by Selma *Stern-Tauebler and the Marranos by Cecil Roth and Benzion *Netanyahu. The relations of the Catholic Church and the Jews engaged the attention of Moritz *Stern, Bernard *Blumenkranz, and Grayzel, and, from the Christian side, of Peter Browe and (more objectively) James William *Parkes. Gershom *Scholem, as a logical sequel to his works on Jewish mysticism, wrote the definitive account of the messianic movement associated with the name of Shabbetai Ẓevi.

There is an extremely large number of monographs of varying value on individual towns and communities, such as Rome (H. *Vogelstein and P. Rieger, A. Berliner, H.J. *Leon), Florence (U. *Cassuto), Frankfurt (I. *Kracauer), Vilna (I. Cohen), Paris (L. *Kahn), Cologne (A. *Kober), Mantua (S. Simonsohn), Vienna (M. *Gruenwald), Baghdad (D.S. *Sassoon), Salonika (J. Nehama, I.S. *Emmanuel), Castoria (M. Molho), Ragusa [i.e. Dubrovnik] (J. Tadić), and many more. This material has in some cases been digested in histories of the Jews in individual countries, such as Germany (I. *Elbogen), Spain (Y. Baer; for the Muslim period E. *Ashtor), Italy (C. Roth, A. *Milano), Portugal (Mendes dos Remedios), England (A.M. *Hyamson, C. Roth), Egypt (V. Tcherikover for the Hellenistic period; J. *Mann, E. Ashtor, and J. Landau for the Muslim period), Babylonia (J. *Neusner) with later Iraq (A. Ben-Jacob), Persia (W.J. *Fischel), North Africa (H.Z. *Hirschberg), Holland (H. Brugmans and A. Frank: vol. 1 only), Sweden (H.M. *Valentin), Switzerland (F. *Guggenheim-Gruenberg), Russia and Poland (S. Dubnow), the Byzantine Empire (J. *Starr), South Africa (L. Herman, G. Saron and L. Hotz), and Canada (B.G. *Sack). The history of the Jews in Latin America has been partially investigated by Boleslao Lewin, S.B. Liebman, A. Wiznitzer, Martin Cohen, I.S. Emmanuel, and others. Some of these works made only slender use of the Hebrew sources, while some areas (e.g., Turkey, notwithstanding the learned volumes of S. *Rosanes and the long series of monographs by A. *Galanté) still lack adequate histories. On the other hand, the breadth of David *Kaufmann's interests probably prevented him from producing a major historical work, though his incidental contributions to Italian and German Jewish history were of the highest importance. The historical dictionaries Gallia Judaica and Germania Judaica deal preponderantly with the scholars and intellectual history relating to the individual centers.

This is apart from the thousands of separate articles both on aspects of general Jewish history and on the annals of individual communities which have appeared in general scientific periodicals (especially those devoted to local history) and in specialist Jewish reviews such as the *Revue des Études Juives, Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland (two series), the *Jewish Quarterly Review, *Tarbiz, Rivista Israelitica, Historia Judaica, and Zion (the historical quarterly published since 1936 by the Historical Society of Israel). Salo W. Baron's monumental Social and Religious History of the Jews is thus far the only major work that has attempted to take into account the entire range of this vast accumulated source material.

publication of sources

From the close of the 19th century, following the tendencies in general scholarship, a beginning was made with the systematic investigation and publication of historical sources. This was the principal object of the Historische Kommission fuer Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland, established in 1885, which published a number of important source books on the subject. In England, investigation of medieval sources was begun in a systematic though superficial fashion by Joseph *Jacobs. The *Jewish Historical Society of England, of which he was the founder, subsequently began the complete publication of the records of the medieval English Exchequer of the Jews. A calendar was made of the rich 13th and 14th century material in the archives of the crown of Aragon by Jean *Régné. Jacobs had carried out in 1894 a cursory inquiry into the manuscript sources for the history of the Jews in Spain, setting the example for the more systematic investigation made by Y.(F.) Baer in the 1920s. The rewriting of Spanish Jewish history was thus made possible. Magyar-zsidó oklevé tár (Monumenta Hungariae Judaica, 11 vols., 1903–67) collected the basic material regarding Hungarian Jewry, and Regesty i Nadpisi (3 vols., 1899–1910) materials regarding Russia. The General (now Central) Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been engaged since 1939 in collecting archivistic material both from governmental archives and Jewish communal bodies from every land. The discovery of the Cairo *Genizah at the end of the 19th century revealed a vast amount of hitherto unknown record material for Middle Eastern Jewry in the early Middle Ages: this has been investigated by a number of scholars, on the historical side, especially by Jacob Mann and S.D. *Goitein in his studies on social and economic life.

Historical source materials in Hebrew have been collected and published by Adolf *Neubauer (Medieval Jewish Chronicles, 1887–95), Abraham *Kahana (Sifrut ha-Historyah ha-Yisre'elit), Simḥah Assaf (especially his source book for the history of Jewish education), Simon *Bernfeld (Sefer ha-Dema'ot, on the history of Jewish persecution), and Benzion *Dinur, in an ambitious collection covering a great part of the Middle Ages. Jewish historical source books have been published in English by J.R. *Marcus and L.W. *Schwarz. Inscriptions and epitaphs have been collected and published by numerous scholars, such as J.B. *Frey (classical period), I.S. *Emmanuel (Salonika, Curaçao), F. *Cantera (Spain), M. *Schwab (France, Spain), S. *Hock (Prague), D. Henriques de Castro (Amsterdam), E. Shilstone (Barbados), D. de Sola *Pool (New York), B. Wachstein (Vienna), and many others.

local jewish history

Meanwhile attention began to be paid by various scholars to local Jewish history in different lands, cities, or environments. Societies for the study of local Jewish history, all producing valuable publications, were established in the U.S. (*American Jewish Historical Society, 1892), England (Jewish Historical Society of England, 1893), Czechoslovakia (Society for the History of the Jews in the Czechoslovak Republic, 1927), etc. In addition, societies for Jewish studies in the various countries, such as the French Society of Jewish Studies (*Société des Études Juives), naturally devoted special attention to local Jewish history. The result was the publication of important monographs which otherwise might not have seen the light, and of hitherto neglected source material without which Jewish history in its fuller sense could not be written.

Local Jewish historiography may be illustrated by two 20th-century works in which the revival of Jewish studies reached its climax. Yitzhak (Fritz) Baer's History of the Jews in Christian Spain (Heb. 1945, Eng. 1931, 1961–19662) was based on the corpus of documents on Spanish Jewish history which he had collected and published under the auspices of the *Akademie fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums (2 vols, 1929, 1936), and an exhaustive study of all the published sources, both Hebrew and secular, literary archivistic. This placed the history of one of the greatest centers of Jewish life in the Middle Ages on a sound basis for the first time, replacing former works on the subject such as those of M. *Kayserling and J. *Amador de los Rios. It immediately took its place as one of the fundamental works on medieval Jewish history. Baer's later interest is in the religious history of the period of the Second Temple, in which he has shown how the earlier rabbinic sources, long considered legendary, reflect actual conditions and have to be taken into account in any attempt to understand life and institutions in Ereẓ Israel before 70 c.e. Of a smaller scope than Baer's work on Spain is U.(M.D.) Cassuto's exhaustive study of the Jews in Florence during the period of the Renaissance, based on a minute study of the contemporary archives and of all other available material, literary and administrative, printed and manuscript, Jewish and secular. This work laid down new principles for the identification of Jews prominent in the business world and mentioned in secular sources with scholars and patrons of learning known to us under different names in Hebrew documents. It thus illustrated the interaction of Jewish and general culture at one of the seminal points of intellectual history, and provided a model for all similar studies in the future.

In Ereẓ Israel, scientific historiography in a modern sense may be said to have been instituted with the establishment of the history faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, mainly under the direction of Y. Baer from 1930 onward: later, the universities of Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan created important historical faculties. Naturally such historiography has concerned itself largely with the history of the Jews in Ereẓ Israel, the centrality of the country in Jewish history, and the development of the national idea among the Jews.

There has also been a tendency to extend serious historical research almost for the first time into the history of the Jews in Oriental countries, among whom the historical sense was almost undeveloped. Izhak *Ben-Zvi, second president of Israel, was particularly interested in this, and was responsible for the founding of the Ben-Zvi Institute for research on the Jewish communities in the Middle East. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People were officially established, comprising manuscript materials which had survived the Holocaust in Central Europe and elsewhere and a systematic collection of microfilms or photocopies from private and public archives throughout the world. The outstanding scholars who are working or have worked in the history faculties of Israel universities include, besides those mentioned above, R. *Mahler, important for his economic interpretation of the history of the Jews in modern times; I. *Halpern, who edited the surviving fragments of the records of the Council of the (Four) Lands, besides his other contributions to Eastern European Jewish history; A. *Schalit, biographer of Herod the Great; H.H. *Ben-Sasson, specializing in late medieval European Jewish history; and J. *Katz, who has studied penetratingly Jewish-gentile relations in medieval and early modern times. Historiography in Israel has been strongly influenced by the desire to perpetuate the memory of the annihilated Eastern European Jewry as well as by specific attention to military and activistic elements in Jewish history. More important probably is the fact that it has been able to rid itself of the somewhat apologetic tendencies which were inevitably discernible in even the most objective of the works written by Jews in the Diaspora of the history of their people.

[Cecil Roth]

For Holocaust historiography, see *Holocaust.

United States

The first specimen of historical writing about American Jews appeared in a Hebrew oration written by Gershom Mendes Seixas and delivered by Sampson Simson at the Columbia College commencement of 1800. A better-researched and more substantial discussion, based on correspondence with Jews, appeared in a history of the Jews (1812) by the Protestant scholar Hannah Adams. This and other early, brief efforts by Mordecai M. Noah (1818) and Isaac Harby (1826) possess limited historical value beyond their authors' observations concerning their own generation. However, they contained one idea which characterized American Jewish historiography: that the Jews of the United States represent a unique departure in Jewish history by virtue of having enjoyed equal rights and full opportunity from their first arrival, all as a matter of course. This conception of the uniqueness of American Jewry and its history paralleled American historiography's view of the United States as a fresh beginning in world history. During the 19th century little historical research was done, although the traveler I.J. Benjamin furnished historical information supplied to him in numerous communities, Isaac Markens published historical sketches of notable Jews (1888), and Charles P. Daly and Max Kohler produced a survey of The Settlement of the Jews in North America (1893). American Jewish history became a subject of serious study with the founding in 1892 of the American Jewish Historical Society, the establishment of its archives, and the appearance from 1893 of its Publications (92 vols. to 2004; from 1961, American Jewish Historical Quarterly, from 1978, American Jewish History). The regnant point of view during the late 19th and early 20th century paralleled that of historical studies among other ethnic and religious groups, seeking to honor notable ancestors and demonstrate the depth, range, and fervor of Jewish patriotism and contributions to American life. Notwithstanding their antiquarianism, filio-pietism, and isolation from general historical scholarship, studies of value were produced by M.J. Kohler, L. Huehner, A.M. Friedenberg, S. Oppenheim, L.M. Friedman, C. Adler and others. They focused on Jews in Colonial and Revolutionary America, rarely passing the year 1840. Broader surveys appeared in a supplement to the American edition of K. Magnus, Outlines of Jewish History (1890), written by C. Adler and H. Szold, and in the Jewish Encyclopedia.

From approximately 1940 there was substantial improvement in the range of subjects, extent of sources employed, and quality of interpretation. The rising interest of professional American historians in subjects closely bearing on American Jewish history, such as immigration, religion, ethnic and racial groups, and philanthropy, stimulated Jewish research and helped to elevate its standards. In 1947 the American Jewish Archives was established at the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College, and its journal of the same name began to appear in 1949; historical studies were also published under the Archives' imprint. yivo also developed a major archive on American Jewry. Jewish institutions began to teach American Jewish history, and the American Jewish Tercentenary observances of 1954–55 demonstrated Jewish communal interest in the field. Subsequently, the development of ethnic studies, the funding of positions in American Jewish history at American universities, and the 350th anniversary commemoration of American Jewish Life in 2004–05 all helped to strengthen the field and bring it greater respect and recognition.

Initially, the best cultivated chronological period was that from 1654 to approximately 1790, in which J.R. Marcus made the prime contributions, in addition to others by S.F. Chyet, L. Hershkowitz, E. Faber, W. Pencak, S. Rezneck, and historians of older local communities. The period from the Revolution to 1881 drew attention later, with valuable broad studies by, among others, A. Barkai, N. Cohen, H. Diner, and J.R. Marcus, and more specialized studies, including biographies, community studies, and studies of religion by D. Ashton, E. Bingham, M. Davis, R. Glanz, H.B. Grinstein, J. Hagy, L. Jick, B.W. Korn, J.D. Sarna, A. Silberstein, L. Sussman, and G. Zola. The great era of East European Jewish immigration, and its implications, were broadly surveyed by I. Howe and G. Sorin. More specialized studies of the era include books by G. Best, S. Brumberg, S. Cassedy, E. Eisenberg, S. Glenn, A. Goren, A. Heinze, T. Kessner, B. Marinbach, T. Michels, M. Rischin, R. Sanders, J.D. Sarna, M. Slobin, D. Soyer, S. Tenenbaum, and S. Weinberg. The era from World War i through World War ii is less studied. In addition to valuable surveys by H. Feingold and J. Teller, specialized studies include volumes by M. Alexander, J. Oselit, D.D. Moore, and B. Wenger; as well as two fine books on the Leo Frank case by L. Dinnerstein and S. Oney, and books on the New York Jewish intellectuals by, among others, A. Bloom, C. Kessner, and A. Wald. A shelf of books treats diverse aspects of World War ii, American aspects of the Holocaust, as well as Holocaust memory in America, including works by G. Arad, H. Feingold, W. Helmreich, D. Lipstadt, A. Mintz, D. Moore, P. Novick, M. Penkower, D. Wyman, and E. Zuroff. Finally, scholars have now turned their attention to the postwar era. Key books have been authored by M. Dollinger, D. Moore, M. Staub, S. Svonkin, and J. Wertheimer.

Institutional and community histories dominate the field of American Jewish history. Organizational histories written by professional historians include the histories of the American Jewish Committee (N.W. Cohen), American Council for Judaism (T. Kolsky), B'nai B'rith (D. Moore), Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (M. Meyer), Jewish Publication Society (J. Sarna), Jewish Theological Seminary (J. Wertheimer), Joint Distribution Committee (Y. Bauer), National Council for Jewish Women (F. Rogow), ort (L. Shapiro), Rabbinical Assembly (R. Fierstien), Yeshiva University (J. Gurock), and the Jewish fraternal organization, Zeta Beta Tau (M. Sanua). Hundreds of synagogue and community histories have appeared, many produced by significant scholars. For a survey see A.S. Korros and J.D. Sarna, American Synagogue History: A Bibliography and State of the Field Survey (1988) as well as the list of community histories in Daniel Elazar's Community and Polity (19952).

Topical studies have become more common in the field. The most important works on American antisemitism are by L. Dinnerstein, D. Gerber, and J. Higham. On black-Jewish relations, see especially works by H. Diner, C. Greenberg, S. Forman, M. Friedman, J. Schorsch, and C. Webb and edited works by M. Adams and J. Bracey as well as J. Salzman and C. West. Cultural history is covered in older works by I.S. Meyer, J. Kabakoff, and A.G. Duker, as well as newer works by S.B. Cohen, P. Ewens, L. Friedman, N. Gabler, L. Harap, A. Heinze, J. Hoberman, A. Most, J.D. Sarna, S. Rubin Schwartz, J. Shandler, and S. Whitfield. The economic history of American Jewry has scarcely been written; see preliminary works by B. Chiswick, S. Kahan, and S. Kuznets. No definitive work on the history of Jewish education in America has appeared either, but see valuable studies by A. Dushkin, P. Gold, M. Ben-Horin, L. Gartner, I. Janowsky, J. Krasner, S. Niger-Charney, J. Pilch, E. Rausch, J. Sarna, A. Schiff, and Z. Scharfstein. The central work on genealogy is by M.H. Stern. For studies of immigration and labor, see works by G. Alroey, D. Berger, M. Epstein, L. Gartner, R. Glanz, O. and M. Handlin, I. Howe, T. Kessner, A. Kahan, S. Kuznets, E. Lederhendler, T. Michels, E. Morawska, M. Rischin, Z. Szajkowski, E. Tcherikower, M. Wischnitzer, and I. Yellowitz. Political history has also been inadequately studied; the best single book is the collection of essays edited by L.S. Maisel and I. Forman. J.D. Sarna's American Judaism (2004) synthesizes work on Jewish religious life in America; other contributors to this area include J.L. Blau, K. Caplan, M. Davis, E. Diamond, J. Gurock, L. Jick, A.J. Karp, D. Kaufman, B.W. Korn, B. Kraut, C.S. Liebman, M. Meyer, P. Nadell, R.E. Prell, M.L. Raphael, A. Rothkoff, S. Rubin Schwartz, A. Silverstein, H. Soloveitchik, L. Sussman, A. Tarshish, and J. Wertheimer. On Sephardim in America, see works by M. Angel, A. Ben-Ur, M. Cohen and A. Peck, and J.M. Papo. The most important work on American Jewish thought is by A. Eisen. The field of American Jewish women's studies (see also below) has burgeoned with valuable books by J. Antler, L. Davidman, H. Diner, S.B. Fishman, R. Glanz, K. Goldman, P. Hyman, D.R. Kaufman, M. Klapper, L.G. Kuzmack, J.R. Marcus, M. McCune, P. Nadell, R.E. Prell, J. Sochen, L.M. Schloff, and E. Umansky and D. Ashton. For the history of American Zionism, see works by N.W. Cohen, E. Friesel, A. Gal, S. Halperin, R. Medoff, M. Raider, R. Rojanski, and M. Urofsky.

Methodological discussion and bibliographic surveys include M. Davis and I.S. Meyer, eds., The Writing of American Jewish History (1957); S.W. Baron, "American Jewish History: Problems and Methods" pajhs, 39 (1950), 207–266; M. Rischin, An Inventory of American Jewish History (1954); L.P. Gartner, "The History of North American Jewish Communities…," Jewish Journal of Sociology, 7 (1965), 22–29; E. Lifschutz, Bibliography of American and Canadian Jewish Memoirs andAutobiographies (1970); D. Zubatsky, Jewish Autobiographies and Biographies (1989); O. Handlin (ed.), Report of a Conference on the Jewish Experience in America (1948; mimeo.); A.G. Duker, "An Evaluation of Achievement in American Jewish Local Historical Writing," pajhs, 49 (1960), 215–53; I.S. Meyer, "American Jewish Biography: An Introductory List," Jewish Book Annual, 8 (1949–50), 77–96; John J. Appel, "Hansen's Third-Generation 'Law' and the Origins of the American Jewish Historical Society," jsos, 23I (1961), 3–20; O. Handlin, "A Twenty Year Retrospect of American Jewish Historiography," ajhq, 65 (June 1976), 295–309; R. Singerman, Judaica Americana: A Bibliography of Publications to 1900 (1990); N. Kaganoff, Judaica Americana: An Annotated Bibliography of Publications from 1960 to 1990 (1995); J. Gurock, American Jewish History: A Bibliographical Guide (1983); J.Sarna in Modern Judaism, 10 (1990) and in The Schocken Guide to Jewish Books (1992) and in Jewish Studies, 33 (1993); and J. Wertheimer in The Modern Jewish Experience: A Reader's Guide (1993).

[Lloyd P. Gartner /

Jonathan D. Sarna (2nd ed.)]

Women's Studies

The recognition that women's lives and experiences in any particular historical era may differ significantly from men's has wrought profound changes in how many historians approach and interpret their research data. The use of gender as a category of analysis by historians of the Jewish past began in the 1980s, under the influence of the academic field of women's studies. In recent decades, both female and male historians have delineated the constructions and consequences of gender in Jewish societies of many times and places, producing a growing body of historical scholarship about Jewish women's social and economic roles, religious lives, and creative contributions. Valuable reference works include The jps Guide to Jewish Women: 600 b.c.e.1900 c.e., ed. E. Taitz, S. Henry, and C. Tallan (2003); Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia, ed. P.E. Hyman and D. Ofer (2006); and Jewish Womenin America: An Historical Encyclopedia, ed. P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (1997). For collections of scholarly essays that include analyses of women's situations in a number of times and places, see edited volumes by Y. Azmon, J.R. Baskin, S. Grossman and R. Haut; R. Levine-Melammed, and L. Levitt and M. Peskowitz. Historical studies focused on Jewish women in late antiquity include works by C. Baker, B. Brooten, M. Peskowitz, R. Kraemer, and T. Ilan; for recent historical studies of medieval and early modern Jewish women in Europe, see H. Adelman, J.R. Baskin, E. Baumgarten, N.Z. Davis, A. Grossman, R. Levine Melammed, A. Rapoport-Albert, and R.L. Winer. Historians who write about Jewish women in Europe from 1700 to 1939 include N. Deutsch, R. Elior, H. Friedenreich, C.R. Freeze, M. Galchinsky, B. Hahn, D. Hertz, P.E. Hyman, M. Kaplan, L.G. Kuzmack, I. Parush, E. Umansky, and C. Weissler. Anthologies on women and the Holocaust have been edited by D. Ofer and L. Weitzman and by R. Baer and M. Goldenberg. Historians who study Jewish women in the early modern and modern Muslim world and in pre-state and post-1948 Israel include D. Bernstein, R. Lamdan, R. Kark, F. Malino, S. Reinharz, M. Shilo, and R. Simon; for historical essays on women in pre-state and post-1948 Israel, see the anthologies edited by D. Bernstein, M. Raider and M.B. Raider-Roth, E. Fuchs, and M. Shilo, R. Kark and G. Hasan-Rokem. For a review of historical scholarship on Jewish women in North America, see the section above on U.S. Historiography.

[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]


M. Steinschneider, Geschichtsliteratur der Juden… vol. 1: Bibliographie der hebraeischen Schriften (1905); S.W. Baron, History and Jewish Historians (1964); A. Marx, in: ajhsp, 20 (1911), 1–9; Shunami, Bibl, index S.V. History; for a partial list of monographs on Jewish history see: Cambridge Medieval History, 7 (1932), 937–47; A.S. Freidus, List of Works in the New York Public Library Relating to the History and Condition of the Jews in Various Countries (1913; repr. from: New York Public Library Bulletin, 17 (1913), 537–86, 611–64, 713–834); G. Gabrieli, Italia Judaica (1924); Milano, Bibliotheca; Roth, Mag Bibl; Lehmann, Nova Bibl. add. bibliography: B. Halpern, The First Historians (1988); T. Thompson, in: abd, 3:205–11 (incl. bibl.); M. Brettler, The Creation of History in Ancient Israel (1995); J. van Seters, In Search of History (repr.; 1997); S.D. Sperling, The Original Torah (1998).

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Caesar. It is ironic that Gaius Iulius Caesar, a contemporary of Cicero and Catullus, and certainly another contender for the title of Most Important Roman of the Republic, is barely studied any more in schools and universities; generations of Latin students have been turned off the subject by having to read about his martial exploits, mostly in the Gallic War. He actually came from Rome itself, and his writings are arguably the most Roman of all the literature that survives. His works take the form of a commentary, notes taken down as a basis for a full-fledged history. Since he himself was the protagonist in the warfare he describes, his account is of course necessarily subjective. While some books of the Greek historian Thucydides read like sketches or early drafts of a history, Caesar’s “notes” are not obviously modeled on any Greek author and read like a lean but paradoxically finished product, including some of the geographical and ethnographic digressions characteristic of ancient historiography. His style is as remarkable as Cicero’s, with a tendency to formulaic expressions. He deserves to be read again as a man of letters and a politician rather than as a general and used as a training ground for translating ablatives absolute or indirect speech.

Critique of the Aristocracy. The historian Gaius Sallustius Crispus (generally called Sallust in English) appeals much more to the modern mind than does Caesar. In his two monographs, The War with Catiline and The Jugurthine War, written after Caesar’s death and Sallust’s retreat from public life, consciously echo both the format and the style of the famous Greek historian Thucydides. Even the fragmentary Histories in five books seem to have included some quasi monographs within their annalistic structure. Sallust’s view of Roman history is highly critical of the Roman aristocracy, which, in the war against the Numidian king Jugurtha, proves itself to be incompetent and corrupt. The sly crook Jugurtha manipulates the Roman aristocrats to his own advantage until Gaius Marius, a man of common origins, puts an end to aristocratic shortcomings and to the war. The Roman revolutionary Catiline (see also under Cicero) exemplifies, for Sallust, everything that is wrong with the young aristocrats: they have all fallen prey to ambitio (ambition) and avaritia (greed). These two vices have, in Sallust’s analysis, taken root since the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C.E. Like most ancient historians, Sallust therefore sees history as a process of rise and fall. His own period is presented as one of moral and political decline, and the culprits are clearly the ruling Roman noblemen. His abrupt, sententious style, which avoids Ciceronian periods and balance, can be seen as an expression of his dissent.

Ab urbe condita. One of the greatest historical sources for ancient Rome is the massive work of Titus Livius, or Livy, as he is called in English. His annalistic history, referred to as Ab urbe condita or From the Foundation of the City, begins with Aeneas and, in its final form, ends with the death of Augustus’s stepson Drusus in 9 C.E. The work was originally conceived in 120 books, ten times the length of the Aeneid, ending with the death of Cicero (and of the republic). This design already indicates Livy’s great love for the republican form of government and the glorious days of senatorial rule, a fact apparent to the emperor, who jokingly called him a supporter of Pompey the Great. Livy added the final 22 books to cover the most recent years and presumably acknowledge the achievements of Augustus. It has been argued that Livy’s Ciceronian style indicates his overall approval of the status quo, while dissenters such as Sallust and Tacitus choose a terse, cryptic manner of writing. Only books 1-10 (early Rome down to the third Samnite War), 21-45 (second Punic War and war against Macedonia), and a fragment of 120 survive. The contents of the lost volumes are summaries called periochae. The vast amount of material is arranged at least in part in chunks of ten books called decades, which may have been the original units of publication. In collecting the material for this huge work, Livy necessarily relied on the accounts of previous historians who often had their own axes to grind. Like his Greek precursor Herodotus, Livy has been judged to be insufficiently critical of his sources. This is not entirely true, as can be seen in the vexed question of Hannibal’s route across the Alps (“I cannot understand why there should be any doubt about the route he followed over the Alps, or why it is often supposed that he crossed by the Pennine Alps” [21.38 translation by de Sêlincourt]). Livy weighs the accounts carefully and then forms his judgment. His guiding principle, however, is not the often biting criticism of Sallust or Tacitus, but rather an interest in what the Greeks called aitia (causes, origins), thus connecting the past with the present. Furthermore, Livy seems well informed about Roman army administration and public finances, so he must have used at least some archival material.

Guide to Life. Ancient writers of history conceived of their craft less as a recording of what actually happened than as a guide to lives. Readers were meant to draw lessons for their own lives and times from their accounts. For Livy this means that individuals shape history, standing out as either models of conduct such as Scipio, or negative examples such as Hannibal. The latter is directly characterized in book 21.4 as a godless villain reminiscent of Sallust’s Catiline, a man of iron constitution: “Indefatigable both physically and mentally, he could endure with equal ease excessive heat or excessive cold; he ate and drank not to flatter his appetites but only so much as would sustain his bodily strength. His time for waking, like his time for sleeping, was never determined by daylight or darkness”. (21.4 translation by de Sêlincourt). Scipio, on the other hand, is indirectly characterized by his deeds, foremost of which is his carrying his wounded father out of the battle at the Trebia (21.46) as Aeneas had carried Anchises out of Troy. Roman pietas (sense of duty toward gods, country, and family) like this cannot help but win out in the end against an opponent who has nulla religio (no respect for religious observances, 21.6).

Dramatic Episode. The other building block of Livy’s account is the dramatic episode. In a work of this proportion it is difficult to keep the reader’s attention. Brilliantly described individual events are Livy’s remedy. Who could forget the twin accounts of how the elephants are taken across the river Rhône (21.28)? The version in which they are shipped on rafts symbolically anticipates the Carthaginians’ situation in Italy: surrounded by a hostile medium,

those who lose their cool fall into the river, while those who stay calm in spite of their fear make it to the other side. Another famous episode occurs in 21.37 on the south side of the Alps, where the Carthaginians cut a serpentine path into a rocky precipice to allow their elephants to descend. This is done in four days by heating the rock with fire and then pouring vinegar on it. Whether true or not, this account highlights the extraordinary difficulties of the Alpine crossing in a much more vivid way than logistical considerations would. Consider this: Hannibal used North African elephants, which were smaller than the West African ones in modern zoos. A West African animal eats about 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of vegetation per day. Hannibal managed to get thirty-seven elephants into Italy. Even if his smaller elephants consumed only half of the West African’s ration, Hannibal would have had a major supply problem on his hands. This requirement is why he crosses in fall when the harvest has been brought in and stores are generally full. It is also the reason for local opposition to his force: “Coming to the territory of another mountain tribe, a numerous one for this sort of country, Hannibal encountered no resistance, but fell into a cunningly laid trap. In fact he nearly succumbed to the very tactics in which he himself excelled.” (21.34, translation by de Sélincourt). Hannibal needed to raid the winter supplies of the mountain dwellers, essentially leaving them to starve. Instead of this dry analysis, Livy gives us colorful episodes of deceiving the local opposition, of men and beasts rolling down mountainsides, creatures slipping and sliding on the ice, breaking through and getting stuck, as well as the rock episode.

Rise and Fall. While the narrative focuses on individual episodes, the overall scheme of Rome’s history is the familiar pattern of rise and fall already found in Herodotus. Like Sallust, Livy sees Rome as ascending until the year 146 B.C.E. when Corinth and Numantia were destroyed. The decline of the republic finds its logical end in the death of Cicero, its most vocal champion, in book 120. The scheme of rise and fall, however, allows for a new period of recovery under Augustus which, like the Aeneid, ends on a sad note with the death of Augustus’s own stepson. In Livy, too, empire has its price.

Astute Observer. A writer of similarly great interest to the social historian is Gaius Caecilius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger), who, in the published version of his speech for the emperor Trajan in the Senate as well as in the nine-book collection of prose letters, offers unrivalled documentation for life around 100 C.E. Literature ran in his family, since his uncle and adoptive father of the same name had written an encyclopedic work called Natural History covering all human knowledge about nature. The younger Pliny’s published speech, titled Panegyric, started a tradition of writing such formal praises of an emperor’s virtues. In his published letters he describes Roman life in his day from a detached perspective. The most famous example is his description of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in which his uncle dies:

“The closer they came, the hotter and thicker the ash that was now falling on his ship. Now black pumice stones and rocks that were burnt and broken by fire were falling. Now the collapse of the mountain and a sudden wave fell on the opposing shore. Hesitating whether he should turn back, he soon told the helmsman who was encouraging him to do just that: ‘Fortune favors the brave. Steer towards Pomponianus!’ He was in Stabiae cut off by the middle of the bay.” (Letters 6.16).

Pliny describes all of this disaster from a safe distance. He laments the deaths of poets Silius Italicus and Martial. Generally, he tries to find something positive to say about the people he describes.

Tacitus’s Critique of Monarchy. One of Pliny’s closest friends was Publius Cornelius Tacitus, the most unusual historian that Rome produced. Apart from his biography of his father-in-law, Agricola, and his ethnographical account of Germany, he also wrote a work (in Ciceronian style, which he subsequently abandoned) called Dialogue on Orators, on the decline of oratory. Of his Histories, dealing with the civil war of 68-69 C.E., four books and some fragments have come down to us; his most famous work, the Annals, was probably left unfinished at his death, which is why only books 1-4, part of 5, 6, part of 11, 12-15, and parts of 16 remain. The picture he gives of the principate in his Annals is the gloomiest and most critical to be found anywhere. While he claimed to write “without anger or bias” (sine ira et studio, 1.1), one cannot help but note that in his view the only good emperor is a dead emperor. Tiberius’s reign starts with the devastating phrase “primum facinus novi principatus fuit Postumi Agrippaecaedes” (“the first crime of the new régime was the murder of Agrippa Postumus,” 1.6). Tacitus’s portrait of Tiberius is devastating: A somewhat dark and unapproachable character who would not have done well in the television age, Tacitus sets him up against his nephew Germanicus, whom he had to adopt at Augustus’s behest. In Tacitus’s account, the able general Tiberius, who had salvaged many potentially disastrous situations for Augustus, can do no right, whereas the inept but popular Germanicus can do hardly any wrong. Germanicus is set up as a check on Tacitus’s cruel and violent character, which reveals itself in stages. After Germanicus’s death Tiberius becomes slightly less cruel, but hides it behind the even crueler face of Sejanus, his right-hand man and commander of the palace guard: Of audacious character and untiring physique, secretive about himself and ever ready to incriminate others, a blend of arrogance and servility, he concealed behind a carefully modest exterior an unbounded lust for power. Sometimes this impelled him to lavish excesses, but more often to incessant work. (4.1, translation by Grant). When Sejanus is discovered as having plotted to become emperor himself, Tiberius finally reveals his true nature in a bloody purge of Sejanus’s supporters. Tacitus’s picture of Nero is similarly stylized. First, his mother Agrippina manages to control the young monster, then his tutors and advisors Seneca and Burrus, but when he has eliminated all of them, he reveals his childish, conceited, and fiendish true nature. While Tacitus’s picture of Nero probably has a great deal of truth to it, Tiberius was much more able as an administrator than Tacitus would have one believe. In his account, anything apparently positive done or said by Tiberiusis interpreted as hypocrisy. The emperor is violent by nature and his administration becomes a civil war on his own people. (All this is told in a prose style that sends Latin students screaming for help.) Tacitus cultivated in the Annals a remarkable style that avoids parallel grammatical constructions and balance, thereby making the reader pause, reread, and think again. This deliberately difficult style has recently been seen as a hallmark of historiographers who are highly critical of the times they describe, such as Thucydides and Sallust. This picture seems to fit Tacitus quite well, since he had demonstrated that he was perfectly capable of writing like Cicero in his Dialogue on Orators.

Suetonius: Lives of People such as Ourselves. Tacitus’s contemporary and fellow-historian, Gaius Sueto nius Tranquillus, chose a different style, outlook, and format for his works. His preferred genre was biography. Of his Lives of Famous Men we only have the ones on teachers of grammar and rhetoric. His 12 Lives of the Caesars, however, have survived largely intact. Biography had been cultivated in Greece by such authors as Plutarch, but Suetonius develops a different approach: rather than proceeding chronologically he describes different “rubrics,” which describe an emperor’s personal virtues and vices. His main interest is in the emperor’s private lives, delving into court gossip about scandals, and personal shortcomings. Emperors suddenly look like any human being rather than gods on earth: the emperor Claudius, Suetonius says, hardly ever left the dining room not bloated and drunk so that a feather was put in his mouth for relieving his stomach as he went to sleep immediately and kept his mouth open while asleep (Claudius 33.1). Seeing an emperor as fully human is exactly the effect that Suetonius tried to create.


Michael von Albrecht, A History of Roman Literature: From Livius Andronicus to Boethius (Leiden & New York: E. J. Brill, 1997).

Ronald H. Martin, Tacitus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

P. G. Walsh, Livy: His Historical Aims and Methods (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961).

A. J. Woodman, Rhetoric in Classical Historiography: Four Studies (London: Croom Helm, 1988).

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This entry consists of the following articles:

an overview
western studies [first edition]
western studies [further considerations]

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HISTORIOGRAPHY. The historiography of the American Revolution always has been a much larger subject than the historiography of the War of Independence. Consider comments by two of the Revolution's major participants. For John Adams, the real Revolution was the huge change in Americans' attitudes as they abandoned being British. That change was over before a shot was fired. But for Philadelphia's Benjamin Rush, the end of hostilities marked the beginning of the real Revolution, the change in how Americans lived their lives.

The consequence is that much of the Revolution's most sophisticated study has paid scant attention to the long, bloody, difficult conflict that actually achieved independence. For scholars in Adams's long shadow, primarily interested in problems of language and consciousness, the interest has been to probe the destruction of British identity and the creation of what Gordon Wood has called "the American Science of Politics." For scholars more inspired by Rush, the experience of places, individuals, and groups has loomed larger than campaigns, battles, and generalship.

Most would agree with the proposition that the military narrative is not strong enough by itself to carry the larger Revolutionary story. This is unlike the Civil War, in which the story of armed conflict also is the story of failed southern white nationhood, of slavery's destruction, of African American freedom, and of the transformation of the fundamental terms of American existence. Yet the Revolutionary War is the second longest in American history. Its roughly 30,000 American casualties cannot possibly equate to the Civil War's 630,000, but they struck a much smaller population. Almost every place except central New England saw actual conflict at one point or another.

As Washington Irving's fictional Rip Van Winkle found, the war did leave America a vastly different place. Some of its historians have dealt only with the movement of troops, but many others have understood the need to see the Revolutionary War in all of its complexity. Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, the problems of military history and revolutionary transformation have come together in sophisticated ways.


In the beginning there were the participants. No military leader of the Revolution on either side produced a memoir comparable to the majestic achievement of Ulysses S. Grant. We cannot know the direct, first-hand experiences and remembered consciousness of Washington, Charles Lee, Nathanael Greene, and Henry Knox or of Thomas Gage, William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Henry Clinton.

But ranging from slightly below their level to ordinary privates, participants did believe that their stories were worth recounting. Many of these were published during the nineteenth century, and in 1968 the New York Times and Arno Press assembled most of the published editions into one series, called Eyewitness Accounts of the American Revolution (1968). The books show the Revolutionary War through many eyes and from many perspectives, and they are of great value. The memoirs of Hessian Major General Friedrich Adolphus Riedesel provide the best single source on Burgoyne's failed campaign down the Champlain-Hudson corridor in 1777. Virtually every historian of the war in the North draws on the rich diary kept by Connecticut private Joseph Plumb Martin during his long service in the Continental army. Between those two extremes, the Times series presents a wide variety of experiences, at all ranks and from all sides.

In the aftermath of the actual war, writers set out to create more formal histories, most of which are reprinted in the Times series. Necessarily, they took sides. For New York Loyalist Thomas Jones (as for others of his ilk), the story told in his History of New York during the Revolutionary War (2 vols., 1879) was of illicit, ungrateful rebellion. For the South Carolina physician David Ramsay, the tale in his History of the American Revolution (2 vols., 1793) was of heroic resistance and American liberty. Though Ramsay took direct part in the conflict, his real interest was political rather than military. Plagiarism was not a writerly sin in his time, and Ramsay unashamedly drew much of his account from Britain's Annual Register. The playwright Mercy Otis Warren of Boston, whose brother Joseph died at Bunker Hill, gave the war much more extended treatment. In her three-volume History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (1805), the conflict takes up half of the first volume and all of the second. But Warren was partisan in more than simply taking the American side. For her, the real point of the Revolution was not simply American independence, but the triumph of the Jeffersonian vision (limited rather than active government, agriculture-based development, and civil liberties) of what independence should mean.

As the Revolutionary generation aged and memories faded, emphasis shifted. Ordinary men and occasionally ordinary women who had served with the Revolutionary army found reason to recover and tell their personal stories. That was the only way to get the pensions owed them from the federal government, and frequently it meant overcoming the suspicions of latter-day clerks and budget-conscious Congressmen. Their petitions eventually found their way to the National Archives, where they became the stuff of genealogy.

Historians have realized that these accounts present a mosaic of first-hand Revolutionary experience. John C. Dann assembled a collection of them in 1980 as The Revolution Remembered, covering the whole war from the firefight at Lexington in 1775 to Washington's departure from command in 1783. However rich the volumes in the New York Times series, there is no need anymore to rely on it alone for contemporary perspectives. The full riches of the tales in the archives remain to be exploited. Two studies by Alfred F. Young demonstrate the possibilities. The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution (1999) shows the surprises and changes in one very ordinary man's life. Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier (2004) turns its subject from a figure of curiosity into a boundary prober (a woman who probed the boundaries of gender and opportunity) who redefined herself in uniform for fourteen undetected months and who grasped the Revolution's possibilities. Many women in addition to Sampson had direct military experience. A few others disguised themselves, though only briefly. Most were "women of the army." Holly A. Mayer tells their story in Belonging to the Army: Camp Followers and Community during the American Revolution (1996).


While the veterans were telling their stories, nineteenth-century historians were embarking on other tasks. George Bancroft, in particular, set out to tell the American story in epic terms. During his studies in Germany, Bancroft felt the influence of the philosopher G.F.W. Hegel, who insisted that the course of history led to an increase in human freedom. During this time, Bancroft produced a History of the United States from the Discovery of the Continent (6 vols., 1888) that construed the entire tale in terms of the rise of American liberty. Bancroft was a staunch follower of President Andrew Jackson, and like Warren before him, he had a political agenda. The war years filled one and one-half volumes. His rhetoric could be overblown, as in his account of the spread of the news of fighting at Lexington and Concord:

Darkness close upon the country … but it was no night for sleep. Heralds by swift relays transmitted the war message … till village repeated it to village; the sea to the back woods; the plains to the highlands … its loud reveille broke the rest of the trappers of New Hampshire…. The hills along the Hudson told to one another the tale. As the summons hurried to the south, it was one day at New York; in one more at Philadelphia…. Crossing the Potomac near Mount Vernon, it was sent forward without a halt to Williamsburg.

Bancroft's German training had given him a strong positivistic sense of evidence as well as the capacity for high-flown generalizations about the course of history. Even at its most overblown, his prose rested on hard fact.

Benson J. Lossing's two-volume Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution (1860) was another monument of the era. Intended for general readership, it was a compilation of accounts of battles, capsule biographies, and verse, told in good part in the first person as Lossing explored the Revolution's sites. Like the enormous county histories that were popular at the time, Lossing's volumes were lavishly illustrated with steel engravings of historic places, natural features, the dwellings of great men and Lossing's hosts on his travels, and such latter-day achievements as a suspension bridge across the Niagara River below the Falls. Like Bancroft's account of the history of a United States that did not yet exist, Lossing's volumes indiscriminately included details from the whole colonial era. Its combined total of nearly fifteen hundred closely packed pages presented a formidable reading task. But the book is one to be leafed through and perhaps consulted for facts rather than taken as a narrative or analytical account.

Another nineteenth-century project was simply to assemble and preserve primary materials before the paper crumbled and the ink faded on aging manuscripts. Overt interpretation could wait. The contents of European and American archives, town records, muster rolls, and officers' reports were more important. Yet these collections were haphazard and often incomplete. Peter Force's nine massive volumes of American Archives (1837–1853) provide immense detail on the years from 1776 to 1778, but then they stop. Force originally planned at least twenty volumes, funded by the Department of State. Publication stopped when Secretary of State William Marcy withdrew funding. Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan's fifteen-volume Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York (1853–1887) include three on the war years. Half a century later, New York State archivists assembled an alphabetical list of soldiers who served in the Revolution. Such collections are invaluable for the war's social history. But to put faces on that list of names one must make a long trawl through county and town histories.


After the turn of the twentieth century, scholarship on the Revolution turned in different directions. One, reflecting America's own emergence as an imperial power, was toward appreciation of Britain's difficulties in dealing with the cantankerous, disobedient, tax-resisting colonists. Another, drawing on the open class divisions of industrial capitalist society, was to break down the hitherto unitary concept of undifferentiated "Americans" into groups that conflicted with one another over the terms and conduct of American life. The first tendency is associated primarily with the work of Charles McLean Andrews and the second with that of Carl Lotus Becker and Charles A. Beard. Yet neither they nor their students and disciples dealt with the problems presented by the actual war.

For the most part, study of the war remained at the level of accounts of campaigns and battles or of particular units. Frequently, that meant recounting familiar tales about a half-organized rabble in arms who managed somehow to face down the might of Britain's majestic, highly trained, well-disciplined, and well-equipped armed forces. Virtually all such writing construed the conflict solely in terms of one white group facing down another white group, with virtually no attention paid to the importance of the war from the point of view of both Native people and black slaves. To such writers, these people were simply problems to add to the American grievance list against Britain. John Richard Alden's mid-twentieth-century synthesis dismissed Natives, particularly, as no more than "savages" or, in one memorable phrase, "fickle, red-skinned allies." (The American Revolution, p. 139)

The British perspective. Matters changed during the twentieth century's second half. One reason was the Revolution's bicentennial, which provoked interest in (and funding for) studies of virtually every aspect of the Revolutionary era, the war included. Another was the emergence of a new style of military history, whose practitioners were interested not simply in armed hostilities but also in the entire social, economic, and cultural experience of warfare. Still another was a broadened scope of American social history, taking into account not only the class divisions that preoccupied early-twentieth-century "progressive" historians such as Becker and Beard but also the experiences of race and gender. It also became possible to take the experiences of both major sides seriously without waving either the Stars and Stripes or the Union Jack. The problem ceased to be one of justifying either the British or the American position and shifted to understanding a complex, total, and in many ways tragic historical process.

An important early statement came in 1964 from Oxford military historian Piers Mackesy. In The War for America, 1775–1783, Mackesy sought to understand the whole British experience of a distant, lost war from which Britain extricated itself slowly and painfully but ultimately successfully. Mackesy took London's perspective, in the sense that he set out to understand the problems of logistics, grand strategy, and politics that surrounded actual campaigning. He came closer than any previous historian to appreciating Britain's difficulties. As one instance, though British soldiers were better trained man-to-man than American ones, each of the former also represented a very high investment. Their lives were not to be squandered because every casualty was very difficult and very expensive to replace. This was one reason for the reluctance of British strategists to provide the forces needed or commanders to commit them in battle.

Mackesy also understood the sheer difficulty of supplying the distant troops. Previous accounts of the inland campaigns of Burgoyne in northern New York and of Charles Lord Cornwallis in the South had treated their problems of supply as, in effect, matters of happenstance or foolishness. The tale of Burgoyne's mile-long baggage train, laden with his and his officers' china, good food, and fine wine as well as with the troops' basic needs, is well-known. But Mackesy linked it to the larger problem that any British force faced as soon as it advanced more than a few miles from open water.

Mackesy's principal achievement was to explore the problems that the British effort faced at the very highest levels, among ministers and commanding officers of the army and the fleet. Far from being unified, they were a squabbling, conflicted lot, wracked with mutual antipathy, self-centered ambition, clashing goals, and poor coordination. Lord George Germain, who was war minister for much of the conflict, had no doubts about the goal he was pursuing in the king's name (although privately he wrestled with the lasting shame of his supposed cowardice at the Battle of Minden three decades earlier). His generals and admirals, however, did have doubts. It was impossible to recruit many of Britain's most experienced generals, such as Sir Jeffrey Amherst. But the first commander in chief, Thomas Gage, knew America well. He had replaced Amherst as commander, and his wife, Margaret Kemble, was American. Among the commanders in chief and lesser generals who followed him, both William Howe and John Burgoyne were opposition members of Parliament.

Mackesy also understood that from Britain's viewpoint the war during its course turned into a global conflict. To Americans, the combined French-American victory at Yorktown in 1781 marked the end of the struggle. But to British policy makers another problem loomed from 1778: protecting the West Indies from the combined force of the French and Spanish navies. The Royal Navy did so successfully in 1782 at the Battle of the Saints, capturing the French commander Admiral de Grasse. Yet even with that victory, Britain's problems were not over. The very last armed conflict between representatives of the two sides took place in India, in 1783. It ended without conclusion, thanks to the arrival of the news of a preliminary peace. Mackesy succeeded in turning a favorite American phrase to describe the opening bullets at Lexington in 1775—"the shot heard round the world"—into a statement of literal fact.

Three major works. Three important books by American scholars followed directly on Mackesy's achievement and in the direction he charted. John Shy, a West Point graduate with a Princeton doctorate in history, explored the place of the British army in the coming of the Revolution in Toward Lexington (1965). Shy's interest was not at all in the conventional stuff of military history; he was writing about a peacetime army. He understood that the army's very presence was a major irritant to the colonials and sought to explore the reasons. As one reviewer noted, Shy broke free of "headquarters" history and explored the army's role in American society, particularly the ways in which both soldiers and officers came into conflict with their respective civilian counterparts. Sixteen years later, Sylvia Frey extended this theme into the war years with The British Soldier in America: A Social History of Military Life in the Revolutionary Period (1981). Ira Gruber returned to the level of generals and generalship in The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution (1972). Using previously untouched British archives, he probed the connections between the two brothers' political ambitions, their commissions both to wage war and to negotiate peace, and their duty as joint commanders in chief between 1776 and 1778. Among the problems that Gruber confronted was William Howe's reluctance, particularly, to follow through whenever he seemed to have an advantage over his opposite number, George Washington.

Mackesy's treatment of the large issues of the war from a British (though not chauvinistic) viewpoint virtually required an American-framed riposte on a similar scale. In 1971 Don Higginbotham provided that response with The War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practice, 1763–1789. As one British reviewer noted, Higginbotham's great theme was to link military experience on the American side to the sort of people Americans were, meaning both their long experience as colonials and their immediate needs as revolutionaries. Mackesy had shown the infighting and sheer inefficiency of the British command and logistic structures, leading to their inability to achieve what policy makers and strategists wanted. Higginbotham began with the fact that though the rebellious colonials had ample experience of subordinate service under British leadership, they had no experience at all at the levels of organizing, financing, supplying, and fighting a major war by themselves. Their eventual success at the first three underpinned their ultimate success at the fourth. Like Mackesy, Higginbotham blended policy level, strategic level, and soldier level history into a coherent account. Taken together, the two books form a remarkably complementary pair.

Shy returned to the subject of the Revolution in 1976 with a collection of essays, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence. Published in the aftermath of America's own losing experience in Vietnam, the volume asked what was genuinely revolutionary about the armed conflict. Its centerpiece was his previous contribution to Essays on the American Revolution (1973), titled "The Military Conflict as a Revolutionary War." Shy knew better than simply to stamp the American struggle with a latter-day mold constructed from the writings and experiences of Trotsky, Mao, and Giap. But he did understand what already was implicit in the work of Mackesy: the British were using conventional European military means to attempt to suppress an extra-European attempt at revolutionary social and political change. Taken this way, several old-chestnut questions found new answers. One is whether the British "lost" the war through their mistakes or the Americans "won" it by their virtues and the help of their French friends. Another is whether on the American side it is more important to consider the Continental army or the separate state militias. The real point, Shy suggested, was that from the American perspective the whole experience of war between 1775 and 1781 was "a social process of political education that can be explored and should be analyzed" (The American Revolution: The Military Conflict Considered as a Revolutionary War, p. 156).

Culture and the military. One major general development in Revolution studies during the twentieth century's third quarter was an extended exploration of political culture, especially in the work of Bernard Bailyn and Gordon S. Wood. Primarily, this meant the study of civilian writings as Americans wrestled with the problem of creating their eventual republic, but as both Higginbotham and Shy understood, the problem spilled over into military life. Charles Royster rose to the task of linking culture and warfare in A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783 (1979). Densely argued and not reader friendly, Royster's book set out to bridge the whole gap between conventional (or even new-style) military studies and cultural development. One of his achievements reached right back to Bancroft's highly dramatized account of the spread of the war news from Lexington in 1775. Bancroft had rightly understood that as the messengers rode north, west, and south, they precipitated a general crisis. Royster described what ensued as rage militaire, (martial enthusiasm) and he explored both that phenomenon's extent and its limits.

In particular, Royster picked up on a point that military historians long had understood. Whatever the importance of the militia, the Continental army had perdured throughout the war and ultimately could claim victory. Royster explored both the tensions between the fact of what Washington would describe as a "respectable army" and a culture that regarded standing armies as dangerous. He also considered the emergence of the army's officer corps as a self-conscious gentry, however absurd their pretensions appeared to the real gentlemen and outright aristocrats whom they faced. One outcome of the Revolution is the subordination of military might to political control in American life. Royster turned that outcome into something much more complex than Washington's personal squelching of the Newburgh Conspiracy and his resignation from command in 1783.

Military supply. Culture alone, however, does not keep an army in the field. Supply is not a glamorous subject, but both Mackesy and Higginbotham understood its great importance. E. Wayne Carp addressed the problem squarely in To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administration and American Political Culture, 1775–1783 (1984). Carp's insights fitted both with Royster's and with the earlier economic history of Curtis P. Nettels, The Emergence of a National Economy, 1775–1815 (1962), developing the point that both the absolute needs of the army and the experience of the people charged with meeting those needs began the process of transforming divergent provincial and local economies into a single structure.

The local context. James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender brought many of these themes together in their student-level synthesis, A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763–1789 (1982). At a more specialist level, so did the collection edited by Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, Arms and Independence: The Military Character of the American Revolution (1984). Other historians probed the question of the war and its effects from the very different perspective of local and group experience. Unlike general arguments about strategy, political culture, and supply, their studies were concerned with particular people in specific places.

One pioneer study was Robert Gross's account of The Minutemen and Their World (1976). Short and elegant, Gross's book worked within the then-dominant paradigm of New England town studies to examine how the very ordinary farmers, artisans, and gentlemen of Concord, Massachusetts, came to the point of confronting British regulars at the bridge on the edge of their town on the morning of 19 April 1775. Their town's moment of actual armed conflict was brief, but it was part of a much larger transformation.

Gross's townsmen rallied, of course, because messengers like Paul Revere brought them the news that "the Regulars are coming out." Revere's ride and the firefights that followed were the moment when uneasy peace bled into conflict that British soldiers and New Englanders alike had been expecting. Paul Revere's Ride (1994), by David Hackett Fischer, explored that tense moment. Like Royster, Fischer wrote in George Bancroft's long shadow, but more than Bancroft he understood that what happened was the result of intense preparation and organization. New Englanders had risen spontaneously and incoherently in September 1774, when news spread that General Gage had seized the gunpowder in the Cambridge powderhouse. They were quick to rally the following April, and this time they were disciplined and ready. The damage they inflicted on retreating British troops and the impromptu siege that they imposed on occupied Boston sprang from those facts. So did their Pyrrhic victory at Bunker (Breed's) Hill in June, when they inflicted unacceptable losses on the British before finally retreating.

The war in Connecticut. For most Massachusetts people the war was effectively over after the British withdrew from Boston in March 1776. But for their Connecticut neighbors it had barely begun. The British occupation of New York City and Long Island the following summer made Long Island Sound into a permanent war zone and put great pressure on the people on that zone's northern side. Richard Buel Jr. explored that problem in Dear Liberty: Connecticut's Mobilization for the Revolutionary War (1980). Like Carp, his prime concern was how people supplied the army. Much more than Carp, however, he dealt with the demands that doing so placed upon civilian life. Beyond supply, Connecticut people had to deal with constant raiding across Long Island Sound. They never endured a major campaign, but the war was on their doorsteps, particularly in 1779, when the British attacked New Haven and destroyed the towns of Fairfield and Norwalk. In Buel's estimation, Connecticut did not fully recover from the war's costs until into the nineteenth century.


Of all the founding states, New York probably suffered longest and most intensely. The British took over its "southern district"—New York City and vicinity—just after independence was declared. They stayed there until 1783, withdrawing only when the Treaty of Paris required them to go. The state lost two of its counties when Vermont seceded from it early in 1777. It experienced not only invasion by the largest seaborne armada the modern world had seen when the Howe brothers drove Washington from Brooklyn and Manhattan, but another major invasion a year later when Burgoyne came south from Montreal. In its western reaches, what had been a mixed society of Native and white people collapsed into a civil war that seemed to pit all against all and that lasted for years. With so much and such extended conflict, it is not surprising that the state generated a rich wartime historiography.

Barnet Schechter's The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution (2002) brings much of that seven-year agony into a single account. Schechter's interest is much larger than the battle of New York that followed immediately on the British invasion, although that does comprise somewhat more than half of his account. To his mind, New York City remained central throughout the war. As he shows, Washington would have agreed, wanting until the very end to achieve military recompense for the humiliation he had suffered at the hands of the Howes. The fiasco of British policy in 1777, when Burgoyne's grand expedition came to nothing and when Howe decided to take Philadelphia, formed part of the larger battle for the city. Within New York, only the western conflict does not fit into Schechter's framework.

Taken on its own, the Saratoga campaign of 1777 has generated a great deal of writing. The most recent complete account is Richard Ketchum's extended narrative, Saratoga (2002). But Max Mintz's The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates (1990) develops the human interest point that the two had known each other since they joined the same British regiment at the entry-level rank of subaltern during Britain's long contest with the French. That Burgoyne climbed to fame, wealth, and a seat in Parliament while Gates left the army and settled in Virginia, speaks to the large differences between the two sides. It also lends poignancy to their famous exchange at the surrender, when Gates told Burgoyne that he was "very glad" to see him and Burgoyne broke gentlemanly form by replying that he was not glad to see Gates at all.

War against Native peoples. New York's other great conflict was westward. Irregular war broke out in 1777 as Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger led an expedition of regulars, Loyalists, and Native fighters east from Oswego to link up with Burgoyne. The sharpest conflicts came that summer as Patriot militia blundered into slaughter in a ravine near Oriskany, and in 1779, when an American expedition under Generals John Sullivan and James Clinton set out to ravage the country of the Six Nations.

But Isabel Kelsay's more-than-full-length biography, Joseph Brant: Man of Two Worlds (1984), more than compensates. Brant acquired a ferocious, Atlantic-spanning reputation, but Kelsay shows both him and his people as caught up in a complex struggle in which they sought their own best interests on completely rational grounds. They were not at all the "merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions" whom Jefferson described in the Declaration of Independence. Kelsay shows as well that this struggle was not entirely racial; many of the people whom the highly cultured Brant led in combat were white, not Native at all. Like their settler neighbors, the nations of the Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois Confederation, had split. For each of these convoluted sides, the Revolutionary War amounted to a total conflict that, in fact, did end in mutual "undistinguished destruction."

Colin Calloway has expanded this theme in what is the most comprehensive account of warfare against Native Americans in The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities (1995). Calloway understands that to speak simply of "Indians" is to phrase the subject so broadly as to render it meaningless. Instead of synthesizing, he offers close descriptions of eight separate Native communities, from Abenaki people near the St. Lawrence to Choctaws on the Mississippi. Like Kelsay, Calloway understands that Native people split, that they became totally caught up in the war, and that no matter which side they chose, they got little good from the Revolution at all.

Many of the same points emerge from modern studies of the southern interior, including Henry Lumpkin's From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South (1981) and such anthologies as An Uncivil War: The Southern Backcountry during the American Revolution(1985), edited by Ronald Hoffman and Peter Albert. For southerners the duration of civil conflict was shorter than for New Yorkers and the Iroquois, really erupting only when British strategy turned southward in 1779. The British hope was to find loyalist support, which did exist. But the reality was to tear the South's tri-racial society to shreds. Cherokee Indians already had experienced Patriot wrath for joining the British side, but they had negotiated their way out of a losing situation at the price of surrendering a huge amount of land.

Impact on Black Americans. In the South and North alike, enslaved and free black people also became part of the Revolutionary struggle. The era saw the beginning of western-hemisphere slavery's long, difficult destruction, and in important ways the war opened into a struggle for black liberation. But as with Native and white people, the broad category "black" is far too simple. On both the British and American sides there were white people who were bothered by slavery and other white people who cared not at all. Some black people found their own freedom under the Union Jack, others under the Stars and Stripes. British General Lord Cornwallis disgraced himself by expelling black people from his ranks during the siege of Yorktown. But to his credit, Sir Guy Carleton, the final commander in chief, refused to permit victorious revolutionaries to remove self-freed slaves from transports about to depart from New York.

The full story of black soldiers remains to be told. But it is explored by Benjamin Quarles (The Negro in the American Revolution [1961]) and Sylvia Frey [Water From the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (1991)]. Sydney and Emma Kaplan provide a great deal of evidence in The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution (1989), including a brief discussion of the so-called Black Regiment of Rhode Island. George Washington's own journey, from rejecting the black men among the New Englanders who besieged to including one largely black Rhode Island company among the troops making the final assault at Yorktown, is described by Henry Wiencek in An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America (2003).

The Rhode Island Black Regiment deserves a full treatment. But the most famous black unit of the era was Lord Dunmore's Aethiopian Regiment, recruited from among slaves "pertaining to rebels" by Virginia's final royal governor late in 1775. By then Dunmore's own safety required that he be on shipboard in Chesapeake Bay, and his proclamation helped rally white Virginia opinion in favor of independence. Nonetheless, about eight hundred black men made their way to the British, and the uniforms he provided bore the motto "Liberty to Slaves."

Inoculation against smallpox. Sadly, most of them perished in the smallpox epidemic that was breaking out at the same time they tried to claim their freedom. Elisabeth Fenn's Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82 (2001) shows how the war between human beings and the variola major virus for control of human bodies intersected with the war of humans with one another for control of America. As she demonstrates, one of Washington's great achievements as the American commander was to require that his soldiers undergo the dangerous process of inoculation rather than wait for the disease to come and take them.


As of 2005, Washington himself is the prime subject of three of the most recent studies of the Revolutionary period. Each has received wide attention. All are part of a general surge of interest in the "founding fathers" on the part of writers, publishers, and the general reading public. One of them, Joseph Ellis's His Excellency: George Washington (2004), is a biography in snapshots, devoting two chapters to the war years. In the spirit of his earlier writing, Ellis unashamedly rejects the social history project, presenting what some might call "traditional (narrative, heroic) American history" in virtually pure form.

The other two are more tightly focused in time and much more ambitious intellectually. David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing (2004) is in the spirit of his earlier close study, Paul Revere's Ride. Fischer rejects all determinism, arguing strongly that historians must deal in the language of change and contingency. Nowhere is this more true for him than in the study of war. But in another sense he draws deeply on social historiography, including its recognition that structures do count. Taking as his theme Emmanuel Leutze's famous painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware (1850), he shows that far from being latter-day patriotic bombast, the canvas tells a great deal about the sort of people whom Washington led against Hessians at Trenton and Princeton at the end of 1776, when the Revolution's fortunes and prospects looked very dark. Reaching beyond that core group, he goes on to explore the lives and situations of all ranks among the Hessians Washington attacked, their British allies, Washington's own soldiers, and the civilians who surrounded them all. One of his points is to contrast the two sides in the largest terms, but also to show each as presenting a different face of emerging modernity. The face of the British and their hired Hessians was of hierarchical obedience for the sake of a common cause. The face of the Americans was of voluntary adherence, again for the sake of a common cause. Neither side was capable of fully understanding the other. The result is both a grand narrative of the first two years of the war and an intense dissection of the participants.

David McCullough's project is very similar in 1776 (2005). His goal is simply to describe one intense year in the fullest possible narrative detail, without theorizing or academic controversy. But, like Fischer, he understands that during that year, a very large number of human beings became caught up in events that were not wholly or even largely of their choosing and that turned on the most fundamental questions that they were capable of imagining.

In one sense, early twenty-first-century accounts of the Revolutionary War have returned full circle to the themes running through the patriotic narratives of Mercy Otis Warren and George Bancroft. In this they were prefigured by the strong emphasis on traditional military history by Robert Middlekauff in The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789 (1982). Taken this way, they can be seen as in reaction to the concern with the experience of minorities and subordinates and to the interest in internal conflict that ran through much of the social history movement of the second half of the twentieth century. Abandoning overt analysis, their authors opt to tell highly readable stories. But no reaction can be complete. Taken in another way, Fischer and McCullough attempt to present a picture of the Revolutionary War not so much in the spirit of George Bancroft, with his unashamedly purple prose, as in the spirit of another great nineteenth-century American writer who is read much more often now than Bancroft: the poet Walt Whitman. Whitman sought to grasp the full complexity of American life in his time. Perhaps the full complexity of the Revolutionary War still eludes writers, at least in terms of a single comprehensive account. But anybody who chooses can learn a great deal about it, particularly if the reader finds that one book leads to another, and then another.


Alden, John R. The American Revolution, 1775–1783. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954.

Shy, John. "The American Revolution: The Military Conflict Considered as a Revolutionary War." In Essays on the American Revolution. Edited by Stephen G. Kurtz and James H. Hutson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973.

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