The auxiliary sciences of history (ASH) are those sciences which bolster the discipline of history. The sciences included in the ASH vary depending on which source you’re looking at. A few commonly named ones are chronology, paleography, and numismatics. I discuss the fuller smorgasbord of included sciences throughout this article.
The ASH are sometimes called the ancillary sciences of history. Given that both words begin with the letter A, the abbreviation ASH can stand for either of the terms. In this present context, ancillary and auxiliary are synonymous and they mean “the supporting”, as in “the supporting” sciences of history.
To my knowledge, the literature about the concept of the ASH and their history is scarce. From what I’ve seen, the ASH are typically referred to in passing and make up a notably small portion of the text in which they’re mentioned. In this article, I provide my study into the history of the concept of the ASH.
“The University of Göttingen was the first to cultivate the study of these auxiliary sciences in Germany during the 18th century.”
“The entire success of scientific history is due to the achievements of the ancillary sciences; as revolutionary in method and results as either physics, chemistry, or biology. In particular, history is the hopeless and grateful debtor of comparative sociology, philology, and mythology, of comparative religions, folklore and ethnology; and above all of comparative archeology.”
– William Milligan Sloane (1906)[23, p.31]
The term “auxiliary sciences of history” appears to me to be the most popular, followed by auxiliary historical sciences and then historical auxiliary sciences.
1 – Ancillary Sciences of History
2 – Ancillary Historical Sciences
3 – Auxiliary Sciences of History
4 – Auxiliary Historical Sciences
5 – Historical Ancillary Sciences
6 – Historical Auxiliary Sciences
German: Historische Hilfswissenschaften
French: sciences auxiliaires historiques
History of the term
elementa et adiumenta historica (Tübingen 1734)
Auxilia historica (Regensburg 1741)
historische Hülfswissenschaften (1761). Johann Christoph Gatterers’ Handbuch zur Universalgeschichte
subsidia historica (Marburg 1785)
There are some ASH that appear more frequently than others in the literature about the ASH. Based on the references in this article, I tallied up how many times each ASH was named. Out of the 46 included ASH, 27 (58.69) of them were named only once.
The ASH in this section are organized by the number of time they were mentioned by my references. Diplomatics was mentioned 12 times, same as paleography. Chronology was mentioned 11 times. That’s what the first number represents. The number in the parentheses indicated how many ASH are listed in each set.
12 (2): Diplomatics, Paleography
11 (1): Chronology
8 (1): Numismatics
6 (2): Archeology, Sphragistics/Sigillography
5 (3): Epigraphy, Genealogy, Heraldry
4 (2): Geography, Philology
3 (4): Anthropology, Archivistics, Codicology, Linguistics
2 (4): Bibliography, Historical Geography, Sociology, Statistics
1 (27): Archaeography, Canon Law, Cartography, Chemistry, Chorography, Cliometrics, Comparative Jurisprudence, Diplomacy, Hagriography, Historical Criticism, Liturgy, Medieval Archeology, Method, Onomastics, Politics, Phaleristics, Philately, Philosophy, Physics, Political Economy, Prosopography, Psychology, Scholasticism, Theology, Toponymy, Vexillology
This concise list is a compilation of all of the various ASH named in the Quotes & Commentary section of this article. There are about 46 ASH listed below.
Anthropology: the study of human activity
Archaeography: the study of ancient documents
Archeology: the scientific study of material remains of past human life and activities
Archivistics/Archival Studies/Sciences: the study and theory of building and curating archives
Bibliography: a list of books for further study or of works consulted by an author
Canon Law: ecclesiastical (Church) law
Cartography: the science or practice of drawing maps
Cliometrics: using economic theory and other mathematical methods to study history
Chemistry: the branch of science that deals with the identification of the substances of which matter is composed
Chorography: the study of regions and places
Chronology: the science of time, the study of the order of past events
Codicology: the study of codices or manuscript books
Comparative Jurisprudence: the study of the resemblances and differences between the different legal systems
Diplomacy: the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representatives abroad
Diplomatics: the study of old documents
Economics: the social science that studies how people interact with value; in particular, the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services
Epigraphy: the study of inscriptions
Genealogy: the study and tracing of lines of descent or development
Geography: the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments
Hagiography: the writing of the lives of saints
Heraldry: the design, display and study of armorial bearings
Historical Criticism: the attempt to verify the historicity of and understand the meaning of an event that is reported to have taken place in the past
Historical Geography: the branch of geography that studies the ways in which geographic phenomena have changed over time
Iconography: the study of the identification, description, and interpretation of the content of images
Linguistic/s/Language: the scientific study of language
Liturgy: a form of public worship; ritual
Method?, I’m not sure what was meant by this
Numismatics: the study of coins
Onomastics: the study of names
Paleography: the study of old writings
Phaleristics: the study of military orders, fraternities, and award items
Philately: the study of postage stamps
Philology: the study of language
Philosophy: the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence
Physics: the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy
Political Economy: the study of production and trade and their relations with law, custom and government; and with the distribution of national income and wealth
Politics: the academic study of government and the state
Prosopography: a study that identifies and relates a group of persons or characters within a particular historical or literary context
Psychology: the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context
Scholasticism: the system of theology and philosophy taught in medieval European universities
Sigillography/Sphragistics: the study of seals
Sociology: the study of society
Statistics: the practice or science of collecting and analyzing numerical data in large quantities
Theology: the study of the nature of God and religious belief
Toponymy: the study of place-names
Vexillology: the study of flags
Quotes & Commentary
Johann Christoph Gatterers (1761): chronology, geography, genealogy, heraldry, numismatics, diplomatics
Gottfried Uhlich (1780): chronology, geography, genealogy, heraldry, numismatics, anthropology, diplomatics, sphragistics[26, p.86]
“Jos. Jus. Scaliger (died 1609), was the principal author of the seventeenth century that largely contributed to the improvement of the auxiliary sciences of history, in general.”
– Whittingham, et al. (1801)[2, p.387]
Johann Georg Fessmaier (1802): chronology, genealogy, diplomatics, heraldry, numismatics, historical criticism
“… Historische Hilfswissenschaften (Chronologie, Heraldic, Genealogie, Mythologie, Numismatic, Archaologie [auth. – There is a sign here with which I’m not familiar. I think potentially it means “etc.”] …); ( nehmlich Zeitrechnunge , Wappens Geschlechter- , ‘ Götter- , Münz- und Alterthümer – Kunde , nebst der alten Geographie).”
Carl Benjamin Preusker (1860)[24, p.7]
“In the same line of usefulness I place all that group of studies which have as yet no fixed name in America, but which are known in Europe as the auxiliary sciences of history. These have reference to history as a whole, and are of use to any one who means to be a thorough student in it. They include chronology, geography, anthropology, numismatics, diplomatics, sphragistics, heraldry, and paleography.”
– American Historical Association (1894)[3, p.86]
“M. Langlois rightly holds that of all the auxiliary sciences relating to historical study, that of bibliography is the most useful and the most neglected. A course in bibliography has generally been confined to future librarians, but M. Langlois insists upon it that students of every art and science should be properly instructed in bibliography, that they may use all existing bibliographical tools to advantage and avoid giving time and wearing research to the production of books relating to subjects already covered far more authoritatively than they can hope to emulate.”
– The Publishers Weekly: Volume 49 (1896)[4, p.987]
Charles Victor Langlois & Charles Seignobos (1897): epigraphy, paleography, philology, diplomatics, chronology, sphragistics, History of Literature, archeology, numismatics, heraldry[29, p.37]
“All sciences stand in some relation to each other, and one aids and explains the other. In this wide sense we might say that all the philosophical, mathematical, physical and philological sciences stand in some relation to history; but even in a stricter sense many sciences, like chronology, geography, genealogy, diplomacy, sphragistics, heraldry, numismatics, and statistics are the essential auxiliary sciences of history, and they receive much light from her. History is … the mother of half of the sciences.”
– Association of Catholic Colleges of the United States (1899)[5, p.73]
Two groups were identified in 1904: the auxiliary historical sciences and the purely auxiliary sciences.
Auxiliary historical sciences:
1. “Archeology (which is the general science of the monumental remains and the customary objects of past generations)”[6, p.462]
a. artistic archeology
b. sigillography or sphragistics
f. archeology of customs
2. “Epigraphy (which comprises those sciences required in the deciphering and criticism of ancient engraved inscriptions)…”[6, p.462]
3. “Paleography (which is the art of reading ancient documents written on parchment, papyrus or paper)”[6, p.462]
4. “Diplomatics (which teaches the use of those documents not yet available for historical purposes)”[6, p.462]
5. “Historical criticism (which teaches the use, etc., of the chronicles)”[6, p.462]
6. “Chronology (which fixes events)”[6, p.462]
8. “Archivistics (which is the art of preserving and arranging ancient written documents)”[6, p.462]
“The progress of history as a science must depend largely in the future as in the past upon the development of cognate sciences, — politics, comparative jurisprudence, political economy, anthropology, sociology, perhaps above all of psychology. It is these sciences which have modified most fundamentally the content of history, freed it from the trammels of literature, and supplied scientific canons for the study of manking. They are the auxiliary sciences of history in a far deeper sense than are paleography, diplomatics, or even philology. The sciences relating to mankind will hereafter dominate the work of the historian.”
– James Harvey Robinson (1905)[9, p.51]
“The modern science of History has been so rigorously shaped by academic method and so deeply overlaid with materials from newly-discovered sources that some discrimination is needed in discussing the most trivial aspects of its study. Again, the rival claims of Universal History (with its huge excrescence known as Sociology) of General History (with its invitation to include the history of every science or art within our ken) of Political, Constitutional, Legal, Ecclesiastical, Naval and Military, Economic and Social History, and even the well-defined and exacting auxiliary sciences of History in the shape of Bibliography, Method, Linguistic, Paleography and Diplomatic, Archeology and the other hard terms with which the studies of coins and medals, seals, dates and pedigrees are labelled by the learned, have each to be duly considered even by those who aspire to no more than a modest knowledge of the history of their own country.”
– Y Cymmrodor (1907)[10, p.1]
“Finally, courses in the auxiliary sciences of history were organized little by little, and entered on the program of the faculties of theology and of philosophy and letters as optional studies, namely, in 1864, Christian archeology, and in 1881, paleography, chronology and diplomacy.”
– The Catholic University Bulletin (1907)[8, p.519]
“… auxiliary historical sciences (archives and libraries, chronology, diplomacy, inscriptions, genealogy, historical geography, heraldry, numismatics, paleography, and sphragistics).”
– The United States Bureau of Education (1908)[25, p.39]
“Chief among [the “auxiliary sciences” of history] are language, as a means to understanding of historical records; paleography, or the science of ancient writings; diplomatics, treating of official documents; epigraphy, or the science of inscriptions; numismatics, archeology, chronology, and historical geography.”
– A Cyclopedia of Education (1912)[11, p.253]
“For the ecclesiastical historian the chief auxiliary sciences are: Philosophy, and especially Scholasticism; Theology, both dogmatic and moral; Canon Law, which properly judged in its relation to Church history, is the Gospel of Christ in actual practice amongst Christians; Liturgy, and Hagiography. Theology is of supreme importance.”
– The Catholic Historical Review (1915)[12, p.359]
“Charles Victor Langlois … made contributions of the greatest importance to mediaeval scholarship and to the auxiliary sciences of history.”
– James F. Willard (1924)[13, p.66]
“…the auxiliary sciences of history … philology, diplomatic, paleography, chronology, and geography. Other sciences subordinate to these are brought into the circle as subordinate helps.”
– Peter Guilday (1925)[1, p.199]
“The historical cultural sciences have developed a broad spectrum of so-called historical auxiliary sciences, devoted exclusively to the securing of the quality of historical sources. To name just a few: sigillography (the study of seals), papyrology (the study of writing on papyrus), heraldry (the study of coats of arms), or numismatics (the study of coins).”
– Paul Hoyningen-Huene (2013)[21, p.107]
“Paleography and diplomatic are ancillary historical “sciences” that rest on a high level of precision and rigorous attention to detail. Roughly speaking, they are the technical counterparts of epigraphy and papyrology (which apply to stone inscriptions and papyrus writings) and numismatics (which applies to the study of coins and medals).”
– D. R. Woolf (2014)[24, p.688]
Harry D. Schurdel: diplomatics, paleography, archivistics, heraldry, sphragistics, genealogy, numismatics, chronology, Autographenkunde (autograph studies), epigraphy, insigniology, phaleristics, Realienkunde (reality studies), Titularenkunde, vexillology
Here are some other lists I found:
Eva Giessler-Wirsig: philology, paleography, epigraphy, numismatics, diplomatics, chronology, geography/cartography
Georg-August-Universitat Gottingen: medieval and modern paleography, diplomatics, archival studies, codicology, sigillography, heraldry, numismatics, epigraphy, chronology and genealogy
Krishna S,Gaikwad: physics, chemistry, archeology, anthropology
Studienwahl: paleography, diplomatic, chronology, genealogy, sphragistics, numismatics, heraldry, sociology, economics, and statistics
University of Groningen: chronology, codicology, diplomatic, epigraphy, historical geography, medieval archeology, numismatics, paleography, sigillography, 
University of Graz: chronology, codicology, digital history, diplomatics, epigraphy, genealogy, general studies of source, heraldry, historical geography, iconography, material culture studies, medieval Latin philology, numismatics, paleography, phaleristics, sphragistics, symbolism, vexillology. For some reason they listed “material culture studies” twice. I only listed it for them once here.
Peter Andreas Munch (1810-1863)[7, p.254]
Gustav Storm (1845-1903)[7, p.254]
“Hermann Grotefend and Theodor von Sickel were among the first to establish the historical auxiliary sciences.”
Benedikt Stuchtey (2011)[22, p.171]
 – Peter Guilday. “An Introduction to Church History: A Book for Beginners” (1925). https://www.google.com/books/edition/An_Introduction_to_Church_History/pS4aAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
 – C. Whittingham, Dean Street, & Fetter Lane. “The German Museum, Or Monthly Repository of the Literature of Germany, the North and the Continent in General ….Volume 3” (1801). https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_German_Museum_Or_Monthly_Repository/YGIHAAAAQAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
 – American Historical Association. “Annual Report of the American Historical Association” (1894). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Annual_Report_of_the_American_Historical/q748AAAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
 – “The Publishers Weekly: Volume 49” (1896). https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Publishers_Weekly/lGo-AQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
 – Association of Catholic Colleges of the United States. “Report of the Annual Conference” (1899). https://books.google.com/books?id=FDUXAQAAIAAJ&newbks=0&dq=%22auxiliary+sciences+of+history%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
 – Library Journal. United Kingdom, R. R. Bowker Company, 1904. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Library_Journal/lsjgAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
 – The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. United States, University of Illinois, 1905. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Journal_of_English_and_Germanic_Phil/pKlJAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
 – The Catholic University Bulletin. United States, n.p, 1907. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Catholic_University_Bulletin/srQmAQAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
 – Congress of Arts and Science: Universal Exposition, St. Louis, 1904. United States, Houghton, Mifflin, 1905. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Congress_of_Arts_and_Science/ZPYpAQAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
 – Y Cymmrodor: The Magazine of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion. United Kingdom, The Society., 1907. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Y_Cymmrodor/hVNRVva_rBYC?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.
 – A Cyclopedia of Education. United States, Macmillan, 1912. https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Cyclopedia_of_Education/ncagAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.
 – “Part I: The Auxiliary Sciences.” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 1, no. 3, 1915, pp. 359–363. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25011359. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.
 – James F. Willard. “Progress of Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies in the United States and Canada: Bulletin · Volume 2” (1924). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Progress_of_Mediaeval_and_Renaissance_St/F8RVAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021.
 – Giessler-Wirsig, Eva, “History, Auxiliary Sciences to”, in: Encyclopedia of Christianity Online. Consulted online on 14 April 2021 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2211-2685_eco_H206>First published online: 2011First print edition: ISBN: 9789004169678, 20080512
 – Georg-August-Universitat Gottingen. AUXILIARY SCIENCES OF HISTORY IN GÖTTINGEN. https://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/auxiliary+sciences+of+history+in+g%C3%B6ttingen/105443.html. Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.
 – University of Groningen. Historical Sources: Auxiliary Sciences for History (I). https://libguides.rug.nl/c.php?g=526731&p=3601566. Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.
 – University of Groningen. Historical Sources: Auxiliary Sciences for History (II). https://libguides.rug.nl/c.php?g=526731&p=3601567. Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.
 – University of Graz. “General History of the Middle Ages and Historical Auxiliary Sciences”. https://geschichte.uni-graz.at/en/medieval-history/medieval-history/. Accessed 1 May 2021.
 – Krishna S,Gaikwad. ““A Study of Contemporary Scientific Methods in Chronology and Historical Interpretation””, International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research (www.jetir.org), ISSN:2349-5162, Vol.4, Issue 12, page no.1058-1060. http://www.jetir.org/papers/JETIR1712147.pdf. Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.
 – https://studienwahl.de/en/study-opportunities/philology-cultural-sciences/historical-sciences. Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.
 – Paul Hoyningen-Huene. “Systematicity: The Nature of Science” (2013). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Systematicity/mk8oSTk78oQC?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 1 Mar 2021.
 – Benedikt Stuchtey. “German Historical Writing”, Chapter 8 of “The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume 4” (2011). https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Oxford_History_of_Historical_Writing/Ola8wEnMoM8C?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 1 May 2021.
 – William Milligan Sloane. “The Science of History in the Nineteenth Century” (1906). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Congress_of_Arts_and_Science_History_of/nrP6WCh1augC?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 1 May 2021.
 – D. R. Woolf. “A Global Encyclopedia of Historical Writing” (2014). https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Global_Encyclopedia_of_Historical_Writ/SHK3AwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 1 May 2021.
 – The United States Bureau of Education. “Report of the Commissioner of Education [with Accompanying Papers]: Volume 1” (1908). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Report_of_the_Commissioner_of_Education/j1I6AQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 1 May 2021.
 – Gottfried Uhlich. “Die historischen Hilfswissenschaften” (1780). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Die_historischen_Hilfswissenschaften_Als/T2AiK1kd9B8C?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 3 May 2021.
 – Johann Georg Fessmaier. “Grundriss der historischen Hilfswissenschaften” (1802). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Grundriss_der_historischen_hilfswissensc/qdw9AAAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 3 May 2021.
 – Harry D. Schurdel. “Quellen der Geschichte: Die Historischen Hilfswissenschaften” (2014). https://www.moneytrend.at/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/17-11.pdf. Accessed 4 May 2021.
 – Charles Victor Langlois & Charles Seignobos. “Les «sciences auxiliaires»” in “Introduction aux études historiques” (1897). https://books.openedition.org/enseditions/282?lang=en. Accessed 4 May 2021.
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