Charles Barjon II
Nelson Mandela College of Social Sciences
“Avenues of History”
April 11th, 2021
Professor Peter Breaux
Avenues of History
One could imagine that history as a field of study would have many avenues. According to Eileen Ka-May Cheng’s “Historiography, An Introductory Guide” these can be viewed as six major types of history recognized at a surface level as: Enlightenment History, Philosophical History, Romantic History, Critical History, Scientific History, and Social History. This study through the timeline of its own history can be seen as a field with an emphasis on Politics, Religion, and War. This would be a history used to better understand the past and from whence mankind and each of its civilizations had come from. This form of history is one to be used to promote ideas of nationalism and a romanticized view of the reality of the present. Scientific History is a history that can truly be applied to each of the said “avenues” of history. For it is essentially a process of carrying out history; a methodology. Yet, it is important to understand that history as an independent study was not always seen as a profession. There was a time before the professionalization of history that history was mere story tellings and more of an art form than an analysis of mankind and his actions. To be a profession an area of focus must be “a vocation requiring special training in a field of learning, art, or science”, History through a process of empirical development eventually evolved to become this characterization. When given the chance to analyze the historiography and the progression of the field as a profession we begin to wonder about these different avenues and modes of history. Two great pillars within the temple of History namely “Scientific History” and “Social History” are perhaps the most influential avenues of history in this modern world and time.
History and Science
The road towards this eventual professionalization came about through the Scientific Revolution, a revolution which could actually be viewed as a series of revolutions which changed scientific understanding “gradually over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”. This phenomena encouraged historians to reach conclusions “based on empirical evidence and observation.” Therefore, history was a direct contrast of its previous self as an art form based on the perspective of the writer. The gradual shift from artistic writing to empirical writing finds roots in the example and advocacy of Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon, who was a scientist and historian from England, is one of the many who advocated for the use of the scientific method. The application of ideas from the scientific revolutions of the 16th and 17th centuries called for a history based on factual data. In a time where religion and history were still synonymous there was much tension within the social spheres of history. The book “Historiography, An Introductory Guide” by Eileen Ka-May Cheng actually provides that individuals like Sir Francis Bacon saw empirical application as an aid to religion and saw no issue with a methodical veering.
Moving from the influence of the Scientific Revolution we look to the period of the Enlightenment which was in a respect a revolution of its own; to cite the beginnings of scientific history. This enlightening was off making and as Immnuel Kant would say it is actually, “man’s release from his self-imposed tutelage” and a subversion from adherence from traditional scholarship. This a movement that emphasized man using his reason to come to his own conclusions. As Cheng says, “reason was so important to Enlightenment thinkers because they believed it was necessary to achieve progress.” Within the midst of this movement we can pinpoint Göttigen School of German historians as a breeding ground for the professionalization of history; which directly leads to the creation and composition of Scientific History. According to the book “Historiography, An Introductory Guide” the school Göttigen “contributed to the development of history into a science by placing the discipline on an empirical basis and providing historians with technical skills” which were crucial for the analyzing of collected data. It was this process through the scientific revolution and enlightenment birthed out of professionalization which brought forth Scientific History. Scientific History is a history that is focused upon empirical analysis by recording history using a methodical approach.
Speaking of Scientific History its father Leopold Von Ranke should be mentioned, for it is him that is the cornerstone of these ideals. Ranke, a German philosopher, established his view of history on one of the pillars of Scientific History; objectivism. According to the American College Dictionary objectivism is the “tendency to lay stress on the objective or external elements of cognition.” The ability to observe the external world without tainting it with reasoning and perspective. An idea which in my judgement is a contrast to the enlightenment philosophes conception of the use of reason to generate a tactful history. The Scientific History of Leopold Von Ranke is one that’s “goal was supposed to be the disinterested pursuit of objective truth.” In this view if history is attached to a conception of the mind it is a history that is tainted. Within Scientific History it is the goal to present the past as if it is the present, in as much that the information is accurate. Earning his fatherly title, Ranke spread his methods through graduate seminars that he carried regularly at Göttigen University where they became essential by 1848. Ranke though a catalyst for science within history was also great in promoting the art side of things. History to Leopold was a “literary artform” that was to draw the reader into the analysis. There was an importance in making sure the reader learning from the history was engaged and hooked to the information. He was able to join together the two schools of historical thought; art and science. By sharing in the want for the readers to expirence history as if it is currently being carried out, Ranke felt in order to achieve this romantic ideal and exercise his artistic pen, historians had to engage with primary sources and use them as the basis of research. Leopold Von Ranke and his Scientific History gave rise to the professionalization of history by providing a blueprint for the basis of future historical writing. To be exact, making use of seminars he directly revolutionized history and therefore demanded the collegiate respect that it deserved. As mentioned before to be a profession an area of focus must be “a vocation requiring special training in a field of learning, art, or science.”
Social History (Question 5)
Returning to these avenues of history we see that Scientific History is not the only method of recording the human experience that has merit. The conception of Social History is one that deals with the lives of everyday people and their lives. This mode of history though presented itself in two distinct ways. These being the Annales School which is in France and that of the United States, in France social history was catalyzed by the happenings of World War II. The war in fact being one of the reasons this history dominated this period, the exposure to other cultures and regions, in turn enlightened the Social Historians. The United States however was influenced by the protest and civil rights movements of the 1960s. The major difference between these two schools of thought was the view of politics, Annales saw the shunning of politics as essential to the study of peoples yet the United States scholars of social science saw it as necessary. These are both ultimately due to the atmospheres of these two very different countries. One was affected directly by political happenings that resulted in war, while the latter has an atmosphere with the lack of political awareness. It was the Annales school that emerged after World War II and has its roots in 1929, “when Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvren founded the journal from which the movement took its name”. Annales influenced Social History in many ways, Fernand Braudel was a crucial figure in “propagating the influence of the Annales school” and provided an explanation for one of the school’s most interesting claims. This being the emphasis on the multiplicity of time, time being a unified linear process. Braudel explained this view by splitting time into three distinct parts that collectively were called the “histoire totale”. Braudel representing the Annales School also took social history beyond the romantic period. Rather than focusing on specific nations, within the Annales school via Fenand we see a broader perspective being introduced. Regions rather nations become the primary focus in this mode of analysis. “The Scientific character of history also required collaborative research that would enable historians to pool together and organize”. American historians saw Social History with a different lens, here in the United States this became known as the “New” Social History. Influenced by the motivations of the New Historians; which were a group of scholars who felt a need to make history relevant to the present, the American Social Scientist found it important to use history as a “vehicle for social criticism” It was an emphasis on struggling groups of people rather than the French idea of broadening beyond nations. In the American case the historians are inversely broadening their focus by turning attention away from the macrosom and to the realities of the microsoms. These being minority communities and gender groups now getting attention. Leading historian in this field Jesse Lemusch saw this method of recording as not “just socially valuable but. . . truthful [and] understanding of the past”. Lemusch felt that if the histories of the underserved and looked over communities, who are not completely able to write and record their own histories, was done that it would directly inspire them to rebel against their oppression thus creating a better civilization. In this modern day we see the influence of Social History (both French and American) within the mainstream flows of historical dialogue. These subjects such as African-American studies and Women’s studies have now become the common talk of universities and forums. Although a good thing, this also leads to the current fragmentation within the field, since all are focused in on their island of research historians have seemingly forgotten about the broadening of their scope.
Haile Selassie the First, the Emperor of Ethiopia once said that, “the mere existence of a fund of knowledge is not enough; unless knowledge is nurtured and nourished by devoted teachers and eager students alike, it will, like a pool of water following the rains, change its hue and slowly disappear.”As historians and lovers of history alike this quote must be taken whole heartedly. Each Avenue of history whether it is Enlightenment History or Philosophical History, whether it is Romantic History or Critical History, whether it is Scientific History or Social History. The study must progress and be nurtured, not only by reading but by applying methods of analysis to the accounts we come across. The field of history is rich in opinion and perspective, yet, these notions come together to embark on the quest to find and relay absolute truth.
The American College Dictionary Clarence L. Barnhart ; Editor in Chief. Random House, 1954.
Cheng, Eileen K. Historiography: An Introductory Guide. Continuum, 2012.
The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. English Language Institute of America, 1977.Selassie, Haile, Ermias Sahle. Selassie, and Asheda Dwyer. The Wise Mind of H.I.M. Emperor Hailie Sellassie I. Research Associates School Times Publications, 2017.