Xxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Fri Mar 9 10:31:20 MST 2001

by Richard Lee (Fernand Braudel Center)

***HISTORY: from Gr., research, exploration, information; later an account.
Both in contrast with Germanic Geschichte, from verb to take place, to

In the nineteenth century Geschichte finally supplanted the term Historie
and was used by German historians and philosophers to designate the
collection of human facts  and their evolution. In the twentieth century the
term Historie regain[ed] ground. ... With the use of the ... term
[Geschichte] the accent is placed on the event ... in the [term history] on
the evocation, the evocative effort (Berr and Febvre, 1934, 357).

Although each came to be used in both senses, the one retained a more
critical, and the other, a more subjective connotation.

Humanist historians undermined the biblically-centered models of medieval
historiography placing emphasis on "the causal forces of events originating
in the individual psyche: reason, passion, and will. ... [But] history's
status among the disciplines remained unchanged. The accounts of the past
were dealt with in grammar, rhetoric, and ... in moral philosophy"
1983, 161-2). In 1440 Lorenzo Valla used the technique of textual criticism
to expose a political fraud. With Petrarca and Machiavelli, history took a
turn away from the search for final causes and the uncritical transcription
of earlier authorities to establish a secular interpretation of modern
problems. Machiavelli, who went beyond humanist historiography to search for
laws, was followed by the German Sleidan, the Frenchman de Thou and the
Englishman Clarendon in using his model which established the nation as the
unit of historical analysis. Guicciardini, followed by the Swede Chemintz
and the Brandenburgeois Pufendorf, examined "the history of a country
[Italy] within a large geographic area, not a city, strove to obtain a
broad, interpretive framework, and showed some of the connecting features in
various aspects of Italian experience" (Gilderhus, 1987, 28). During the
Reformation and Counter-Reformation interest in history intensified as
partisan use of interpretations of the past were employed to bolster the
authority of positions taken in the present. These 16th century
controversies also resulted in the establishment of some of the first
university professorships in history, e.g., by the Lutherans at Heidelberg
and the Calvinists at Leyden.

Already in 1566 Jean Bodin stressed the importance of primary sources. The
French historians of the Enlightenment, particularly Montesquieu and
Voltaire,  discarded the Christian interpretation of history as well as all
its valuations and blazed the path for a scientific and critical
interpretation of history. ... They endeavored to write universal human
history by including Asia and America in the range of their survey, and in
bursting the bonds of state and church history and aiming to bring within
their orbit all phases of social life they laid the foundations for a
general history of human culture (Goetz, 1934, 375).

But the practical consequence was of progress without development; turning
medieval historiography on its head, Voltaire "put little stock in basing
his claims on evidence. For him, reason and credibility, more than original
documents, should provide the test of truth" (Gilderhus, 1987, 35). In
contrast, Hume, who shared Voltaire's secularism, was rigorously empirical.

Vico, a professor of rhetoric who wrote with the aspiration to a chair in
law, "proclaimed the principle of the intrinsic worth of each age and the
role of each epoch in preparing the way for the succeeding one" (Goetz,
1934, 175). He rejected both Cartesian assumptions of truth through reason
alone and the "contemporary preference for the study of nature and its

What had been seen as a fixed human nature throughout time and was still
affirmed by many contemporaries was really made and remade in the course of
human events; and historians could understand the changes. At the core of
Vico's work stood the assertion that large-scale changes in the collective
frame of mind were the great events in cultural history (Breisach, 1983,

On the other hand, Leibniz's view of the world as one of interacting monads
which led to a dialectical relation between part and whole in which the
universal was in no way separate or superior, "led to the assertion that
historical study must concentrate on the actual and unique event or person.
... Hence the result of a historical inquiry can never be general laws, only
description and explanation of individual persons and events" (Breisach,
1983, 204).

By the end of the 18th century, measured by the multiplication of learned
societies, journals and scholarly output, the center of historical
scholarship was shifting to Germany. The University of Göttingen (1774) with
its excellent library and liberal postal and travel privileges made it
particularly attractive to scholars. It   built itself up as the leading
German historical school, seeking to give the subject a scientific
character, and making itself the centre for the study of method. ...
Gatterer ... called for a history of historiography. ... [F]oreshadow[ing]
Ranke in his argument that the mere history of the Emperors was not enough
... [he] urged the importance of  medieval history for the study of the
constitutions of the modern European states (Butterfield, 1955, 42-44).

The great importance attached to Universal History by Gatterer leads
directly to Ranke who considered it the supreme objective.

Leopold von Ranke, originally trained as a philologist, was called to the
University of Berlin in 1824 where he instituted the history seminar. He
combined "fully in his work the methodological achievements of philologists,
erudites, and legal historians with substantial interpretation and
traditional narrative history." Much in the manner of Humboldt, he did not
use facts to obtain generalizations inductively; critical research was to be
followed by "a process appropriate to the spiritual realm that governed all"
(Breisach, 1983, 233). Drawing on work of Wolf and Niebuhr, he instructed
students to report the past "wie es eigentlich gewesen ist", but not as a
"soulless positivist"--rather in the Humboldtian sense, forgotten by later
followers, of the shared but tacit conviction that against empiricism  there
is a deeper reality behind concrete historical phenomena, a reality which it
is the task of the historian to discover ... as Ranke put it, that "the
historian is merely the organ of the general spirit which speaks through him
and takes a real form." (Manicas, 1987, 118).

Among historians up until 1848 the alliance of pure scholarship and moderate
conservatism competed with the ideals of national unity and constitutional
government; however, the failure of the revolutions of 1848 gave priority to
nationalism. Ranke's generation witnessed the importance of Prussia in the
defeat of Napoleon (to the detriment of French egalitarian ideas as well)
and came to trust the state as a spiritual entity. In any case, German
liberalism and constitutionalism suffered the weakness of a philosophical
context which tended to subordinate individual rights to the social whole.
With the collapse of 1848 this social whole easily translated into the
destiny of the state "in which personal freedom was realized in public
service" (Breisach, 1983, 234). Rankean history became primarily political
history, and the universality of his historical vision, a cosmopolitan
community of Europe, went forgotten under the weight of nineteenth-century

Ranke's critical methodology based on detailed archival research checked
against its own context for the establishment of "objective facts" became
the mark of the professional historian. The Historische Zeitschrift,
established in 1859 after a long campaign, achieved a central position among
scholarly journals; it both championed the Rankean model and supported the
Prussian point of view until 1896. However, the idealist/transcendental leg
of Rankean methodology folded under the pressures of Realpolitik and
scientific progress. Droysen tried to refashion the remaining antiquarianism
with the introduction of a theory of interpretation from the point of view
of the present.

In France the defeat of 1870-'71 marked deeply those who wanted to emulate
the German model.

They aimed at wresting dominance from the amateurs or littérateurs who gave
stirring lectures at the Collège de France and the Sorbonne--institutions
that held no classes, gave no examinations, conducted no seminars, in short,
offered no academic training in the modern sense (Breisach, 1983, 276).

The École Normale Supérieure was academically structured but kept the
literary model. In 1868 the École Pratique des Hautes Études was established
with a history and philology section and, with the appearance of Revue
historique in 1876, France too seemed to have attained a science of the

In 1878, the German scientist Du Bois-Reymond called for a history based on
a natural science model and in the 1890's Karl Lamprecht provoked a
controversy by rejecting the Rankean approach because it left no room for
causality along positivist lines--he proposed psychological forces of a
collective psyche. However, the inclination in France was to regard German
scholarship as tinged with idealism and the tendency in French sociology to
treat history as simply the supplier of "facts", resulted in a backlash from
historians and a move to bridge the gap by Henri Berr, and the founding of
Revue de synthèse historique in 1900.

Between 1883 and 1910 sustained efforts were made to rethink theory and
method in history, for which Wilhelm Dilthey and Wilhelm Windelband, among
others are remembered. Dilthey found elements in the human realm absent from
nature; methods which  fit the natural world of necessity but not the human
world of freedom ... could not grasp the complex process in which
intentions, purposes, or ends shaped human actions.

A historian who looks at the past only from the "outside" (in the positivist
manner) will grasp little. "We explain nature, we understand the human
world, which is the  world of the mind." Hence Dilthey classified history
among the Geisteswissenschaften, a term best understood as referring to all
those scholarly disciplines which deal with  the world so far as it is a
creation of the mind in freedom. ... Windelband found that history, like
philosophy, needed a new axiological structure in order to have the
possibility of arriving at binding truth (Breisach, 1983, 281-82).

Windelband grounded historiographical categories in values and was again
able to specify the relationship between history and the sciences:

 The reality confronting human beings could be studied in two ways: by the
nomothetic approach aiming at general insights (typical for the
Naturwissenschaften--natural sciences) and by the idiographic approach
attempting to understand the unique, individual event (typical for the
Geisteswissenschaften--humanities). The idiographic approach could still
make use of the nomothetic approach as an auxiliary tool without
surrendering to its generalizing aim (Breisach, 1983, 283).

Max Weber did not consider possible any vantage point of absolute truth. The
result was that seeking to overcome the contingent relativism
methodologically, through the use of "ideal types",   historians [were]
separated completely from the world of values they investigated. They were
totally detached observers who objectively created islands of explained
actions in a landscape of total obscurity. Theory and practice had been
separated as the price for keeping the human world distinct from the natural
one and for still claiming a modicum of adherence to "scientific" precepts
(Breisach, 1983, 284).

In the English-speaking world there was little taste for the debates;
nonetheless J. B. Bury affirmed history as science in the name of positivist
generalization and condemned history as literary genre or moral guide.

Reviews played a particularly important role in the institutionalization of
history and offer sign-posts to its intellectual development (see Stieg, 198
6). Some of the oldest are: the Archiv für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde
founded in 1820; the Danish Historisk Tidskrift which appeared in 1840; the
Archivio storico italiano which began publishing in 1842; and the Archiv für
österreichische Geschichte established in 1848. In France, the Revue des
questions historiques, founded to advance critical scholarship and the Revue
critique d'histoire et de littérature--both inspired by Historische
Zeitschrift--were established in 1866. Gabriel Monod founded the Revue
historique in 1876 to further scientific history as well as a nationalist
agenda. The
Mitteilungen of the Institut für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung and the
Historisches Jahrbuch of the Görresgesellschaft both started publication in
1880. In Italy, the Rivista storica italiana founded in 1884 was bourgeois,
liberal, and influenced by German thought. It was countered in 1917 by the
Nuova rivista storica which favored the Entente powers. At Oxford,
Modern History was finally emancipated from Law and awarded as a degree in
its own right in 1871; the discipline moved even more slowly at Cambridge.
In this context, for the lack of a common philosophy of history the English
Historical Review founded in 1886 substituted documentary research and
liberal politics, and the desire to professionalize the discipline. In
Sweden, the Historisk Tidskrift appeared in 1889. The American Historical
Association was founded in 1884 and the American Historical Review appeared
in 1895 to become the official journal of the Society in 1905. As the
scientific/academic/professional historians gained prominence, the amateurs
withdrew from the Association and established their own Mississippi Valley
Historical Association in 1907.

Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch, the founders of Annales d'histoire économique
et sociale in 1929, were much influenced by Henri Berr and the Revue de
synthèse historique. In many ways they continued its work, particularly as
regards the interdisciplinary approach. This has constituted a major
twentieth-century intellectual thrust manifested in the pages of journals
such as Slavonic Review, Victorian Studies, and the Journal of
Interdisciplinary History among many others. A whole school developed around
Annales E.S.C. and was institutionalized in the VIth Section of the École
Pratique des Hautes Études, first under the presidency of Febvre from
1948[46], then Fernand Braudel from 1956. Annales E.S.C. was devoted to the
unification of the social sciences, including history, and opposed to the
establishment exemplified in Revue historique. Past and Present founded in
1951 by Marxist historians, focused on change, economic and social history,
internationalism, an interest in the social sciences, and a dissatisfaction
with historical scholarship as practices in English Historical Review.
History Workshop (1976) emphasized bottom-up history. From the 1960's as the
number of historians increased, so did the numbers of specializations which
were opened up, and hence the proliferation of more and more specialized

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
Ph.D Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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