What Are Social Context and Historical Context?

Gwydion M. Williams/CC-BY 2.0

Social context is how the people surrounding something affect and interpret something, and historical context is the broader cultural environment of a topic or piece, which includes how time affects the importance of something. These two types of context are used to examine different types of items in the humanities, such as historical texts and literature.

Social context is concerned with people rather than culture in general. Social context changes depending on who is involved. Social class, religious affiliation and gender are a few factors that affect how people view something and build social context. When interpreting this type of context, the intended audience of a text or created work is an essential element that changes how the viewer should look at an item. For example, a comic written for lower classes has a different social context than a comic written for the royal family.

Historical context is a much broader type of context that includes politics, culture, religion, economics and societal norms. Social context can be included in historical context, but historical context focuses on the time period as a whole rather than a specific group of people. Whenever an item, such as a textbook, advertisement or piece of music, is from the past, it is necessary to examine the historical context to understand the purpose of the item.