Historiography

“Now that I am old the most intriguing aspect of history turns out to be neither the study of history nor history itself … but rather the study of the history of historical study. The name given to this aspect of history is … Historiography.”
– Carl Becker (1938)[1, p.21]

The study of historical method is known as historiography. Becker summarizes the field well in his comment quoted above. To expand upon his comment, historiography is the study of the development of the methods which have been utilized by historians throughout the centuries. Where history is the study of past events, historiography is the study of how people have studied past events. What methods did they employ? What theology or philosophy influenced their narratives? This field provides insight into how conclusions have been formed and where improvements can be made.

“The eighteenth century, commonly hailed as the era of the birth of modern historiography, is less noted as the age also of the demise of chronology as a traditional historical form.”
– James William Johnson (1962)[2, p.124]

I hadn’t heard of the 18th century being hailed as “the demise of chronology as a traditional historical form” prior to reading Johnson’s quote. I would say that it is still in relative ruins today in 2020 of the 21st century. Anthony Grafton reported “It seems seems safe to assume that chronology will never again become fashionable.”[6] Chronology has been on a downhill road since it peaked around the time of Scaliger and Petavius.

Varona also commented that the 18th century was when modern historiography was born and when chronology fell out of fashion. However, they cite J. W. Johnson as their source, so I’ll still be keeping an eye out to see where exactly this idea originated.[11, p.389]

Historiography caught on in the USA between 1890 and the 1930s. J. Franklin Jameson, John Spencer Bassett, and Harry Elmer Barnes were among the American historiographers whose works were most influential during that time.[3, p.200]

“No one will deny that our concept of history today rests upon the creations of the Biblical mind modified by the Hellenic sense of epic and dramatic form, nor will they deny that it is always universal history, whatever else it may be.”
– Burr C. Brundage (1954)[4, p.386]

The writing of history in the West was for a long time controlled solely by religious hands and for ancient times was based mainly on the Bible.

Historiography Definitions

Historiography is not included in Samuel Johnson’s 1755 “A Dictionary of the English Language”.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary does include the word and defines it as a noun meaning: “The art or employment of a historian.”[10]

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defined the noun historiography as:[7]
1a – “the writing of history, especially the writing of history based on the critical examination of sources, the selection of particulars from the authentic materials, and the synthesis of particulars into a narrative that will stand the test of critical methods”
1b – “the principles, theory, and history of historical writing”
2 – “the product of historical writing a body of historical literature”

Dictionary.com defined the noun as:[8]
1 – “the body of literature dealing with historical matters; histories collectively.”
2 – “the body of techniques, theories, and principles of historical research and presentation; methods of historical scholarship.”
3 – “the narrative presentation of history based on a critical examination, evaluation, and selection of material from primary and secondary sources and subject to scholarly criteria.”
4 – “an official history: medieval historiographies.

Lexico defined the noun as:[10]
1 – The study of the writing of history and of written histories.
1.1 – The writing of history.

Historiography Etymology

Dictionary.com reports the etymology for historiography as: “1560–70; <Middle French historiographie<Greek historiographía. See history, -o-, -graphy.”[8]

Etymonline reports the etymology as: “”the art of writing history,” 1560s, from historio- (see historico-) + -graphy.”[9]

“Mid 16th century via medieval Latin from Greek historiographia, from historia ‘narrative, history’ + -graphia ‘writing’.”[10]

1569 – This is the first known time that historiography is used. Its meaning is that of 1a above.[7]

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References:

[1] – Becker, Carl. “What Is Historiography?” The American Historical Review, vol. 44, no. 1, 1938, pp. 20–28. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1840848. Accessed 19 Aug. 2020.

[2] – Johnson, James William. “Chronological Writing: Its Concepts and Development.” History and Theory, vol. 2, no. 2, 1962, pp. 124–145. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2504459. Accessed 19 Aug. 2020.

[3] – Cheng, Eileen Ka-May. “Exceptional History? The Origins of Historiography in the United States.” History and Theory, vol. 47, no. 2, 2008, pp. 200–228. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25478745. Accessed 19 Aug. 2020.

[4] – Brundage, Burr C. “The Crisis of Modern Historiography.” The Christian Scholar, vol. 37, no. 3, 1954, pp. 385-395. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41176818. Accessed 20 Aug. 2020.

[5] – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography. Accessed 5 Sept. 2020.

[6] – https://www.amacad.org/publication/dating-history-renaissance-reformation-chronology. Accessed 18 Sept. 2020.

[7] – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/historiography. Accessed 7 Oct. 2020.

[8] – https://www.dictionary.com/browse/historiography. Accessed 7 Oct. 2020.

[9] – https://www.etymonline.com/word/historiography. Accessed 7 Oct. 2020.

[10] – http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/historiography. Accessed 8 Oct. 2020.

[11] – Patricia Varona. “Chronology and History in Byzantium” (2018). file:///C:/Users/carle/Downloads/16035-19553-1-PB.pdf. Accessed 6 Nov. 2020.

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