History is the study of past human events and activities. Although this broad discipline has often been classified under either the humanities or the social sciences, it can be seen to be a bridge between them, incorporating methodologies from both fields of study.

Traditionally, historians have attempted to answer historical questions through the study of written documents, although historical research is not limited merely to these sources. In general, the sources of historical knowledge can be separated into three categories: what is written, what is said, and what is physically preserved, and historians often consult all three. Historians frequently emphasize the importance of written records, which universally date to the development of writing. This emphasis has led to the term prehistory, referring to a time before written sources are available. Since writing emerged at different times throughout the world, the distinction between prehistory and history often depends on the topic.

As a field of study, history encompasses many subfields and ancillary fields. These include chronology, historiography, genealogy, paleography, and cliometrics, among many others.

The scope of the human past has naturally led scholars to divide that time into manageable pieces for study. There are a variety of ways in which the past can be divided, including chronologically, culturally, and topically. These three divisions are not mutually exclusive, and significant overlap is often present, as in "The Argentine Labor Movement in an Age of Transition, 1930–1945". It is possible for historians to concern themselves with both very specific and very general locations, times, and topics, although the trend has been toward specialization.



History and prehistory

Traditionally, the study of history was limited to the written and spoken word. However, the rise of academic professionalism and the creation of new scientific fields in the 19th and 20th centuries brought a flood of new information that challenged this notion. Archaeology, anthropology and other social sciences were providing new information and even theories about human history. Some traditional historians questioned whether these new studies were really history, since they were not limited to the written word. A new term, prehistory, was coined, to encompass the results of these new fields where they yielded information about times before the existence of written records.

In the 20th century, the division between history and prehistory became problematic. Criticism arose because of history's implicit exclusion of certain civilizations, such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian America. Additionally, prehistorians such as Vere Gordon Childe and historical archaeologists like James Deetz began using archaeology to explain important events in areas that were traditionally in the field of history. Historians began looking beyond traditional political history narratives with new approaches such as economic, social and cultural history, all of which relied on various sources of evidence. In recent decades, strict barriers between history and prehistory may be decreasing.

There are differing views for the definition of when history begins. Some believe history began in the 34th century BC, with cuneiform writing. Cuneiforms were written on clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a blunt reed called a stylus. The impressions left by the stylus were wedge shaped, thus giving rise to the name cuneiform ("wedge shaped").

The Sumerian script was adapted for the writing of the Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite (and Luwian), Hurrian (and Urartian) languages, and it inspired the Old Persian and Ugaritic national alphabets.

For others history has become a "general" term meaning the study of "everything" that is known about the human past (but even this barrier is being challenged by new fields such as Big History).

Sources that can give light on the past, such as oral tradition, linguistics, and genetics, have become accepted by many mainstream historians. Nevertheless, archaeologists distinguish between history and prehistory based on the appearance of written documents within the region in question. This distinction remains critical for archaeologists because the availability of a written record generates very different interpretative problems and potentials.



The term history entered the English language in 1390 with the meaning of "relation of incidents, story" via the Old French histos, from the Latin historia "narrative, account." This itself was derived from the Ancient Greek ἱστορία, historía, meaning "a learning or knowing by inquiry, history, record, narrative," from the verb ἱστορεῖν, historeîn, "to inquire."

This, in turn, was derived from ἵστωρ, hístōr ("wise man," "witness," or "judge"). Early attestations of ἵστωρ are from the Homeric Hymns, Heraclitus, the Athenian ephebes' oath, and from Boiotic inscriptions (in a legal sense, either "judge" or "witness," or similar). The spirant is problematic, and not present in cognate Greek eídomai ("to appear").

ἵστωρ is ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *wid-tor-, from the root *weid- ("to know, to see"), also present in the English word wit, the Latin words vision and video, the Sanskrit word veda, and the Slavic word videti and vedati, as well as others. (The asterisk before a word indicates that it is a hypothetical construction, not an attested form.) 'ἱστορία, historía, is an Ionic derivation of the word, which with Ionic science and philosophy were spread first in Classical Greece and ultimately over all of Hellenism.

In Middle English, the meaning was "story" in general. The restriction to the meaning "record of past events" in the sense of Herodotus arises in the late 15th century. In German, French, and indeed, most languages of the world other than English, this distinction was never made, and the same word is used to mean both "history" and "story". A sense of "systematic account" without a reference to time in particular was current in the 16th century, but is now obsolete. The adjective historical is attested from 1561, and historic from 1669. Historian in the sense of a "researcher of history" in a higher sense than that of an annalist or chronicler, who merely record events as they occur, is attested from 1531.



Historiography has a number of related meanings. It can refer to the history of historical study, its methodology and practices (the history of history). It can also refer to a specific body of historical writing (for example, "medieval historiography during the 1960s" means "medieval history written during the 1960s"). Historiography can also be taken to mean historical theory or the study of historical writing and memory. As a meta-level analysis of descriptions of the past, this third conception can relate to the first two in that the analysis usually focuses on the narratives, interpretations, worldview, use of evidence, or method of presentation of other historians.


Historical methods

The historical method comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write history.

Although the "father of history" has generally been acclaimed as Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BC – ca.425 BC), it is his contemporary Thucydides (ca. 460 BC – ca. 400 BC) who is credited with having begun the scientific approach to history in his work the History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides, unlike Herodutus and other religious historians, regarded history as being the product of the choices and actions of human beings, rather than as the result of divine intervention. In his historical method, Thucydides emphasized chronology, a neutral point of view, and that the human world was the result of the actions of human beings.

In the preface to his book the Muqaddimah, historian and early sociologist Ibn Khaldun warned of seven mistakes that he thought that historians regularly committed. In this criticism, he approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. The originality of Ibn Khaldun was to claim that the cultural difference of another age must govern the evaluation of relevant historical material, to distinguish the principles according to which it might be possible to attempt the evaluation, and lastly, to feel the need for experience, in addition to rational principles, in order to assess a culture of the past.

Other historians of note who have advanced the historical methods of study include Leopold von Ranke, Lewis Bernstein Namier, Geoffrey Rudolph Elton, G.M. Trevelyan and A.J.P. Taylor. In the 20th century, historians focused less on epic nationalistic narratives, which often tended to glorify the nation or individuals, to more realistic chronologies. French historians introduced quantitative history, using broad data to track the lives of typical individuals, and were prominent in the establishment of cultural history (cf. histoire des mentalités). American historians, motivated by the civil rights era, focused on formerly overlooked ethnic, racial, and socio-economic groups. In recent years, postmodernists have challenged the validity and need for the study of history on the basis that all history is based on the personal interpretation of sources. In his book In Defence of History, Richard J. Evans, a professor of modern history at Cambridge University, defended the worth of history.


See also

  • Historian: A person who studies history.
  • Pseudohistory: term for information about the past that falls outside the domain of mainstream history (sometimes it is an equivalent of pseudoscience).


  • List of basic history topics
  • List of history topics
  • List of historians
  • List of historians by area of study
  • List of history journals

Methods and tools

  • Contemporaneous corroboration: A method historians use to establish facts beyond their limited lifespan.
  • Prosopography: A methodological tool for the collection of all known information about individuals within a given period.
  • Historical revisionism: Traditionally been used in a completely neutral sense to describe the work or ideas of a historian who has revised a previously accepted view of a particular topic.


  • Changelog: log or record of changes made to a project, such as a website or software project.
  • Human evolution: process of change and development, or evolution, by which human beings emerged as distinct species.
  • Social change: changes in the nature, the social institutions, the social behavior, or the social relations of a society or community of people.
  • Historical drama film - The portrayal of history on film.
  • Wirkungsgeschichte: history of the impact

Particular studies and fields

These are approaches to history; not listed are histories of other fields, such as history of science and history of philosophy.

  • Archaeology: study of prehistoric and historic human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains and environmental data.
  • Archontology: study of historical offices and important positions in state, international, political, religious and other organizations and societies.
  • Art History: the study of changes in and social context of art.
  • Big History: study of history on a large scale across long time frames (since the Big Bang and up to the future) through a multi-disciplinary approach.
  • Chronology: science of localizing historical events in time.
  • Cultural history: the study of culture in the past.
  • Diplomatic history: the study of international relations in the past.
  • Economic History: the study of economies in the past.
  • Futurology: study of the future: researches the medium to long-term future of societies and of the physical world.
  • History painter: painters of historical motifs and particularly the great events.
  • Intellectual history: the study of ideas in the context of the cultures that produced them.
  • Maritime history: the study of maritime transport and all the connected subjects.
  • Military History: the study of warfare and wars in history and what is sometimes considered to be a sub-branch of military history, Naval History.
  • Paleography: study of ancient texts.
  • Political history: the study of politics in the past.
  • Psychohistory: study of the psychological motivations of historical events.
  • Historiography of science: study of the structure and development of science.
  • Social History: the study of societies in the past.
  • World History: the study of history from a global perspective.





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