Historiography is concerned with historical interpretations and representations of the past—put another way, the writing of history as opposed to history itself. Although historiography is primarily a disciplinary phrase introduced by contemporary academics, the inquiry it represents can be traced back to the very earliest origins of historical writing in the work of ancient Greek writers who reflected on each others’ historical conclusions.
At one level, focused on specific historical accounts, historiography reflects on the theories and philosophies that inform and motivate them and how they both might influence the conclusions drawn. This reflection might involve, for example, critical reflection of the authenticity, subjectivity, and authority of various information sources. At another level, taking a broader perspective, historiography sheds light on the dominant or collective interpretations of groups of historians within particular time periods and how they reflect disciplinary progress and change (this reflection might be thought of as reflecting on the disciplinary history of studying history). Importantly, however, what particularly characterizes historiography is, crosscutting both these levels, an exploration of the various contexts that affect historical thinking in any one time and place. In this sense, historiography involves consideration of the broader cultural, social, economic, and political forces that shape historical writers and their writing. This scholarship acknowledges that there is no pure historical truth that can be obtained totally impartially. Indeed, it is recognized that all historical accounts are produced by individuals who are products of their environments that affect their focus, what they include or leave out, and the conclusions they draw.
As a practice, historiography has progressed and changed. Over recent years, it has moved from practical concerns on data sources to include far greater consideration of these aforementioned contexts and forces. As the social sciences have gradually become more interested in historical reflection, historiography has played an important role in the development of subdisciplines such as historical sociology, historical geography, and historical economics in terms of reflecting both on how social sciences influence history and on how they represent history (and the people and groups who make history—such as women, working classes, and numerous ethnicities and cultures). Moreover, because of the reflection on the practice of writing history, the lessons learned from historio-graphical accounts help shape the future of history as a humanity.
Historiography—both as a critical way of writing history and as a reflection on the writing of history—has involved the use of a range of methods, often in combination, which includes the use of archived material and written historical accounts (including research, autobiographies, memoirs, diaries, and oral histories). For more recent historiographies, representation in the television, media, and other forms of mass communication might also be consulted. The distinguishing factor, however, in historiographers’ uses of these sources is a critical comparison and critical perspective on their origins, uses, and biases.
Document Analysis; Historical Context; Historical Research
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