Writing of history, especially that based on the critical examination of sources and the synthesis of chosen particulars from those sources into a narrative that will stand the test of critical methods. Two major tendencies in history writing are evident from the beginnings of the Western tradition: the concept of historiography as the accumulation of records and the concept of history as storytelling, filled with explanations of cause and effect. In the 5th century BC the Greek historians Herodotus and, later, Thucydides emphasized firsthand inquiry in their efforts to impose a narrative on contemporary events. The dominance of Christian historiography by the 4th century introduced the idea of world history as a result of divine intervention in human affairs, an idea that prevailed throughout the Middle Ages in the work of such historians as Bede. Humanism and the gradual secularization of critical thought influenced early modern European historiography. The 19th and 20th centuries saw the development of modern methods of historical investigation based on the use of primary source materials. Modern historians, aiming for a fuller picture of the past, have tried to reconstruct a record of ordinary human activities and practices; the French Annales school has been influential in this respect.
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Historiography is often broken down topically, such as "Historiography of Catholicism" or "Historiography of China". There are many approaches or genres of history, such as oral history and social history. Beginning in the 19th century with the rise of academic historians a corpus of literature related to historiography has come into existence, with classic works such as E. H. Carr's, What is History? (1961) and Hayden White's Metahistory (1974).
The term "historiography" can also be used to refer to a specific body of historical writing that was written during a specific time concerning a specific issue. For instance, a statement about "medieval historiography" would refer to some issue in the academic discipline of Medieval History, and not to the actual history of the Middle Ages or to historical works written in that time (e.g., "during the last century, medieval historiography changed its focus from the study of political events to social and mental structures", or "medieval historiography has largely benefited from the recognition of the importance of parish records": that is, the discipline underwent some change).
Conal Furay and Michael J. Salevouris define historiography as "the study of the way history has been and is written — the history of historical writing... When you study 'historiography' you do not study the events of the past directly, but the changing interpretations of those events in the works of individual historians. One should be cautious, however, that in the sense given in the previous paragraph when a historian does historiography they are actually studying "the events of the past directly".
Some of the common questions of historiography are:
Issues engaged by critical historiography includes topics such as:
Written history appeared first with the ancient Greeks, whose historians greatly contributed to the development of historical methodology. The very first historical works were The Histories composed by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BC–ca.425 BC), who became later known as the 'father of history' (Cicero). Herodotus attempted to distinguish between more and less reliable accounts, and personally conducted research by travelling extensively, giving written accounts of various Mediterranean cultures. Although Herodotus' overall emphasis lay on the actions and characters of men, he also attributed an important role to divinity in the determination of historical events.
Thucydides, on the other hand, largely eliminated divine causality in his account of the war between Athens and Sparta, establishing a rationalistic element which became defining of subsequent Western historical writings. He was also the first to distinguish between cause and immediate origins of an event, while his successor Xenophon (ca. 431–355 BC) introduced autobiographical elements and character studies in his Anabasis.
The proverbial Philippic attacks of the Athenian orator Demosthenes (384-322 BC) on Philip II of Macedon marked the height of ancient political agitation. The now lost history of Alexander's campaigns by the diadoch Ptolemy I (367-283 BC) may represent the first historical work composed by a ruler. Polybius (ca. 203–120 BC) wrote on the rise of Rome to world prominence, trying to harmonize the Greek and Roman point of views.
The Chaldean priest Berossus (fl. 3rd century) composed a Greek-language History of Babylonia for the Seleucid king Antiochus I, combining Hellenistic methods of historiography and Mesopotamian accounts to form a unique composite. Reports exist of other near-eastern histories, such as that composed by the Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon; but his very existence is considered semi-fabled and writings attributed to him are fragmentary, known only through the later historians Philo of Byblos and Eusebius, who asserted that he wrote before even the Trojan war.
The Romans adopted the Greek tradition, becoming the first European people to write history in a non-Greek language. While early Roman works were still written in Greek, the Latin Origines, composed by the Roman statesman Cato the Elder (234–149 BC) in a conscious effort to counteract the Greek cultural influence, marked the beginning of Latin historical writings. Hailed for its lucid style, Julius Caesar's (100 BC–44 BC) Bellum Gallicum may represent the earliest autobiographical war coverage. The politician and orator Cicero (106–43 BC) introduced rhetorical elements in his political writings.
Strabo (63 BC–ca. AD 24) was a main exponent of the Greco-Roman tradition of combining geography with history, presenting a descriptive history of peoples and places known to his era. Livy (59 BC–AD 17) records the rise of Rome from city-state to world dominion. His inquiry into the question of what would have happened if Alexander the Great had marched against Rome represents the first known instance of alternate history.
Biography, although popular throughout antiquity, was introduced as a branch of history by the works of Plutarch (c. 46 - 127) and Suetonius (c. 69-after 130) who described the deeds and characters of ancient personalities, stressing their human side. Tacitus (c. 56–c. 117) denounces Roman immorality by praising German virtues, elaborating on the topos of the Noble savage.
In China, Sima Qian (around 100 BC) was the first to lay the groundwork for professional historical writing. His written work was the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), a monumental lifelong achievement in literature. Its scope extends as far back as the 16th century BC, including many treatises on specific subjects, along with individual biographies for prominent people, as well as exploring the lives and deeds of commoners found in his own time or in previous eras. His work influenced every subsequent author of history in China, including the prestigious Ban family of the Eastern Han Dynasty era.
Traditionalist Chinese historiography describes history in terms of dynastic cycles. In this view, each new dynasty is founded by a morally righteous founder. Over time, the dynasty becomes morally corrupt and dissolute. Eventually, the dynasty becomes so weak as to allow its replacement by a new dynasty.
Writing history was popular among Christian monks and clergy in the Middle Ages. They wrote about the history of Jesus Christ, the Church and of their patrons, the dynastic history of the local rulers. In the Early Middle Ages historical writing often took the form of annals or chronicles recording events year by year but this style tended to hamper the analysis of events and causes. An example of this type of writing are Anglo-Saxon Chronicles which were the work of several different writers and start during the reign of Alfred the Great in the late 9th century and one copy of which was still being updated in 1154. Some writers in the period did construct a more narrative form of history including Gregory of Tours and more successfully Bede who wrote both secular and ecclesiastical history and is known for writing Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
History was written about states or nations during the Renaissance. The study of history changed during the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Voltaire described the history of certain ages that were important according to him, instead of describing events in a chronological order. History became an independent discipline. It was not called philosophia historiae anymore, but merely history (historia).
The first detailed studies on the subject of historiography itself and the first critiques on historical methods appeared in the works of the Arab Muslim historian and historiographer Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who wrote historiographical writings in the Muqaddimah (Latinized as Prolegomena) and Kitab al-I'bar (Book of Advice). Among many other things, his Muqaddimah laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history, and he discussed the rise and fall of civilizations. He also developed a scientific method for the study of history, and is thus considered to be the founder of historiography.
Muslim historical writings first began developing earlier from the 7th century with the reconstruction of Muhammad's life in the centuries following his death. Due to numerous conflicting narratives regarding Muhammad and his companions from various sources, it was necessary to verify which sources were more reliable. In order to evaluate these sources, various methodologies were developed, such as the "science of biography", "science of hadith" and "Isnad" (chain of transmission). These methodologies were later applied to other historical figures in the Islamic civilization. Egyptology began in Arab Egypt from the 9th century, with the first known attempts at deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs made by Dhul-Nun al-Misri and Ibn Wahshiyya. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838-923) is known for writing a detailed and comprehensive chronicle of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern history in his History of the Prophets and Kings in 915.
Until the 10th century, history most often meant political and military history, but this was not so with Persian historian Biruni (973-1048). In his Kitab fi Tahqiq ma l'il-Hind (Researches on India), he did not record political and military history in any detail, but wrote more on India's cultural, scientific, social and religious history. He also discussed more on his idea of history in another work The Chronology of the Ancient Nations. Biruni is considered the father of Indology for his detailed studies on Indian history. Other famous Muslim historians included Urwah (d. 712), Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 728), Ibn Ishaq (d. 761), al-Waqidi (745-822), Ibn Hisham (d. 834), and Ibn Hajar (1372-1449), among others.
Franz Rosenthal wrote in the History of Muslim Historiography:
The French Annales School radically changed history during the 20th century. Fernand Braudel wanted history to become more scientific by demanding more mathematical evidence in history, in order to make the history discipline less subjective. Furthermore, he added a social-economic and geographic framework to answer historical questions. Other French historians, like Philippe Ariès and Michel Foucault described history of daily life topics such as death and sexuality. They wanted history to be written about all topics and that all questions should be asked.
Some of the more common historiographical approaches are: