[hi-stawr-ee-uhn, -stohr-]

An historian is an individual who studies and writes about history, and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, systematic narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all events in time. If the individual is concerned with events preceding written history, the individual is a historian of prehistory. Although "historian" can be used to describe amateur and professional historians alike, it is reserved more recently for those who have acquired graduate degrees in the discipline. Some historians, though, are recognized by equivalent training and experience in the field. Historian became a professional occupation in the late nineteenth century at roughly the same time that physicians also set standards for who could enter the field. The professional association of historians in the United States is the American Historical Association, founded in 1884.

History analysis

The process of historical analysis involves investigation and analysis of competing ideas, facts and purported facts to create coherent narratives that explain "what happened" and "why or how it happened". Modern historical analysis usually draws upon other social sciences, including economics, sociology, politics, psychology, anthropology, philosophy and linguistics. While ancient writers do not normally share modern historical practices, their work remains valuable for its insights within the cultural context of the times. An important part of the contribution of many modern historians is the verification or dismissal of earlier historical accounts through reviewing newly discovered sources and recent scholarship or through parallel disciplines such as your antarchaeology.

Historiography in Antiquity

Herodotus and Thucydides were the founders of the discipline of history, although there are other notable Greek histories including Plutarch's Parallel Lives.

Concerning Herodotus (5th century BC), one of the earliest nameable historians whose work survives, his recount of strange and unusual tales are gripping but not necessarily representative of the historical record. Despite this, The Histories of Herodotus displays some of the techniques of more modern historians. He interviewed witnesses, evaluated oral histories, studied multiple sources and then pronounced his particular version. Herodotus's works covered what was then the entire known world of the Greeks, or at least the part regarded as worthy of study, i.e., the peoples surrounding the Mediterranean. At about the same time, Thucydides pioneered a different form of history, one much closer to reportage. In his work, History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides wrote about a single long conflict with its origins and results. But, as it was mainly within living memory and Thucydides himself was alive throughout the conflict and a participant in many of the events, there was less room for myths and tall tales.

Sima Qian was a Prefect of the Grand Scribes (太史令) of the Han Dynasty and is regarded as the father of Chinese historiography because of his highly praised work, Records of the Grand Historian (史記), an overview of the history of China covering more than two thousand years from the Yellow Emperor to Emperor Han Wudi (漢武帝). His work laid the foundation for later Chinese historiography. Li Chunfeng was a Chinese historian who wrote the history of the Jin dynasty. (漢武帝).

Ibn Abd-el-Hakem was an Egyptian who wrote the History of the Conquest of Egypt and North Africa and Spain, which was the earliest Arab account of the Islamic conquests of those countries. Much like Herodotus' works, it mixes facts with legends, and was often quoted by later Islamic historians. Al-Jahiz was a famous Arab scholar and historian. Hamdani, an Arab historian,was the best representatives of Islamic culture during the last effective years of the Abbasid caliphate. Ali al-Masudi was an Arab historian, known as the “Herodotus of the Arabs.” Ibn Khaldun was a famous Arab Muslim historian and was the forefather of historiography and the philosophy of history. He is best known for his Muqaddimah "Prolegomenon".

Much of the groundwork in creating the modern figure of the historian was done by Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755). His wide-ranging Spirit of the Laws (1748) spanned legal, geographical, cultural, economic, political and philosophical studies and was greatly influential in forging the fundamentally interdisciplinary historian. Referred to as "the first modern historian", Edward Gibbon wrote his grand opus, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (three vols., 1776–1788). However, some authors such as Christiansen regard ancient Greek author Polybius as the first historian of a modern kind, criticising sources and making unbiased judgements based on presumed neutral analysis; indeed, Livy used him as a source. Polybius, one of the first historians to attempt to present history as a sequence of causes and effects, carefully conducted his research—partly based on what he saw and partly on the communications of eye-witnesses and the participants in the events.

Twentieth-century developments

At the turn of the twentieth century, Western history remained notoriously biased toward the so-called "Great Men" school of history concerning wars, diplomacy, science and politics. This point of view was inherently predisposed toward the study of a small number of powerful men within the socio-economic elite. A pronounced shift away from crude Whiggish analyses has started, in favor of a more critical and precise perspective. For example, it is common error that Thomas Edison alone invented the electric light bulb; a traditional American history might highlight Edison's story at the expense of all others. In contrast, a modern history of Edison mentions all his predecessors and competitors, in order to show that Edison's activities were one part of a group of inventors and rivals in the commercial deployment of the technology.

Since the 1960s, history as an academic discipline has undergone several evolutions. These changes fostered advances in a number of areas previously unrecognized in historiography. Formerly neglected topics have become the subject of academic study, such as the history of popular culture, mass culture, sexuality, geographical culture and the lives of ordinary people. Historians also started investigating the histories of ideas surrounding various categories of people, such as women's studies (including an entire branch of women's history), racial minorities (like African-American history) or disabled people (e.g., a historian's study of the construction of ideas about disabled people and the results thereof, perhaps in a specific historical setting, such as Nazi Germany).

Education and profession

Many historians are employed at universities and other facilities for post-secondary education. In addition, it is common, although not required, for many historians to have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in their chosen areas of study. During the preparation of their thesis for this degree, many develop into their first book, since regular publishing activities are essential for advancement in academia. There is currently a great deal of controversy among academic historians regarding the possibility and desirability of the neutrality in historical scholarship. The job market for graduate historians is relatively limited. Historians typically work in libraries, universities, archival centers, government agencies (particularly heritage) and as freelance consultants. Many with an undergraduate history degree also may become involved with administrative or clerical professions and an undergraduate history degree is often used as a "stepping stone" to further studies such as a law degree.


Listed by date

  • Richard B. Todd, ed. (2004). Dictionary of British Classicists, 1500–1960, Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004 ISBN 1-85506-997-0.
  • Kelly Boyd, ed. (1999). Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing. London [etc.] : Fitzroy Dearborn ISBN 1-884964-33-8
  • Lateiner, D. (1989). The historical method of Herodotus. Phoenix, 23. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • John Cannon et al., eds. (1988). The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1988 ISBN 0-631-14708-X.
  • Hartog, F. (1988). The mirror of Herodotus: the representation of the other in the writing of history. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Erik Christiansen (1970). The Last Hundred Years of the Roman Republic, Odense: Andelsbogtrykkeriet
  • Gottschalk, L. R. (1950). Understanding history; a primer of historical method. New York: Knopf
  • Barnes, M. S. (1896). Studies in historical method. Heath's pedagogical library. Boston: D.C. Heath & Co.
  • Taylor, I. (1889). History of the transmission of ancient books to modern times, together with the process of historical proof: or, a concise account of the means by which the genuineness of ancient literature generally, and authenticity of historical works especially, are ascertained, including incidental remarks upon the relative strength of the evidence usually adduced in behalf of the Holy Scriptures. Liverpool: E. Howell.
  • Herodotus, Rawlinson, G., Rawlinson, H. C., & Wilkinson, J. G. (1862). History of Herodotus. A new English version. London: John Murray.
  • Véricour, L. R. d. (1850). Historical analysis of Christian civilisation. London: J. Chapman.
  • Taylor, I. (1828). The process of historical proof. London: Printed for B. J. Holdsworth.
  • Elizabeth Kostova "The Historian"

Search another word or see historianon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature