Historiography: 20th Century (Relativism, Marxist & Economic Historiography)

The 20th-century historiography in major countries is characterized by a move to universities and academic research centers.

Historical Relativism

In summary, historical relativism argues that all written history involves interpretation.

Every historian writes from a frame of reference containing his judgments on the necessary, the possible and the desirable.

It is based on the theory that there can be no objective standard of historical truth, as the interpretation of data will be affected by subjective factors characteristic either of the historian or of the period in which the historian lives.

J.H. Robinson (1863–1936)

James Harvey Robinson was an American scholar of history who, with Charles Austin Beard, founded "New History", a disciplinary approach that attempts to use history to understand contemporary problems.

This greatly broadened the scope of historical scholarship in relation to the social sciences.

After traveling to Europe in 1882 Robinson entered Harvard University in 1884, earning his B.A. in 1887 and his M.A. in 1888.

In his crusade for this "New History" Robinson could enlist the support of many contemporary historians, the most notable of whom was "Charles A".

Charles collaborated with him on a two-volume text, "The Development of Modern Europe (1907–08)".

Robinson died of a heart attack at his home in Manhattan. His body was interred at Bloomington, Illinois, in the Robinson family plot at the Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.

C.A. Beard (1874–1948)

Charles Austin Beard was an American historian and professor, who wrote primarily during the first half of the 20th century.

A history professor at Columbia University, Beard's influence is primarily due to his publications in the fields of history and political science.

His works included a radical re-evaluation of the "Founding Fathers of the United States", whom he believed to be more motivated by economics than by philosophical principles.

Beard's most influential book, "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913)", has been the subject of great controversy ever since its publication.

While it has been frequently criticized for its methodology and conclusions, it was responsible for a wide-ranging reinterpretation of early American history.

Carl Becker (1873–1945)

Carl Lotus Becker was an American historian of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe.

He was Professor of History at the University of Kansas from 1902 to 1916.

He then became Professor of History in the Department of History at Cornell University from 1917 to 1941.

Carl Becker's 1915 "The Beginnings of the American People" is often cited for a description of "colonial merchants" as "sunshine patriots."

Becker is best known for "The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932)", four lectures on The Enlightenment delivered at Yale University.

Becker died in Ithaca, New York.

Economic History

Economic history is the academic study of economies or economic events of the past.

The increasing concern with the social and economic factors of life visible among the intellectual classes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in Britain, owed to the problems of the spreading Industrial Revolution and the emergent Marxian thought.

Henri Pirenne (1862–1935)

Henri Pirenne was a Belgian historian.

He was an educator, one of the most eminent medievalists, and a great scholar of Belgian national development.

Pirenne started not from political history but from a study of economic institutions.

Pirenne's greatest work, the seven-volume "History of Belgium (1899–1932)" won him international respect.

He was imprisoned by the Germans (1916–18) for refusing to teach while they occupied Belgium.

Pirenne died in 1935.

George Lefebvre (1874–1959)

Georges Lefebvre was a French historian, best known for his work on the "French Revolution" and peasant life.

He is considered one of the pioneers of "history from below"

He coined the phrase the "death certificate of the old order" to describe the Great Fear of 1789.

Lefebvre emphasized the economic and social aspects in history.

Among his most significant works was the 1924 book - "The Peasants of the North During the French Revolution", which was the result of 20 years of research into the role of the peasantry during the revolutionary period.

Sidney Webb (1859–1947)

Sidney James Webb was a British socialist, economist and reformer, who co-founded the London School of Economics.

He was an early member of the Fabian Society in 1884, joining, like George Bernard Shaw, three months after its inception.

Webb co-authored with his wife "The History of Trade Unionism (1894).

J.H. Clapham (1873–1946)

Sir John Harold Clapham was a British economic historian.

He was the first Professor of Economic History at Cambridge University from 1928 to 1938, and Vice-Provost of King's College, Cambridge from 1933 until 1943 when he received a knighthood.

Clapham's first book, "The Woolen and Worsted Industries (1907)" was published in Leeds, the centre of the textile trade.

One of Clapham's more notable quotations is: "Economic advance is not the same thing as human progress".

Marxist Historiography

The chief tenets of Marxist historiography include the centrality of social class, social relations of production in class-divided societies that struggle against each other, and economic constraints in determining historical outcomes (historical materialism).

Marxist historians follow the tenets of the development of class-divided societies, especially modern capitalist ones.

Marxist historiography has made contributions to the history of the working class, and the methodology of a history from below.

Christopher Hill (1912-2003)

John Edward Christopher Hill was an English Marxist historian and academic, specialising in 17th-century English history.

From 1965 to 1978 he was Master of Balliol College, Oxford.

Hill's first widely admired work came in 1956, "Economic Problems of the Church", which readjusted perceptions of the Reformation permanently.

His textbook "The Century of Revolution (1961)" was a very sophisticated Marxist history linking social, economic and political issues in a manner new to school teaching.

Christopher Hill calls for a history embracing the total activity of society.

E.H. Hobsbawm (1917-2012)

Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm was a British historian of the rise of industrial capitalism, socialism and nationalism.

Hobsbawm's abiding interest in the history and the future of the working class took him to the study of the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the British working class.

A life-long Marxist, his socio-political convictions influenced the character of his work.

Hobsbawm's three works proclaim his special interest in "the people" - "Primitive Rebels: Studies of Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1959)", "Labouring Men (1964)" and "Captain Swing (1969)".

E.P. Thompson (1924-1993)

Edward Palmer Thompson was an English historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner.

He is best known today for his historical work on the radical movements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular "The Making of the English Working Class (1963)".

He published the novel "The Sykaos Papers and a collection of poetry".

In a 2011 poll by History Today magazine, he was named the second most important historian of the previous 60 years, behind only "Fernand Braudel".

Fernand Braudel (1902-1985)

Fernand Braudel was a French historian and leader of the Annales School.

Braudel's venture of recapturing human life in all its variety succeeded in his masterpiece, "The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949)".

Braudel's last and most personal book was "The Identity of France", which was unfinished at the time of his death in 1985.

According to Braudel, before the Annales approach, the writing of history was focused on the short span, or on a history of events.

Braudel saw the Annales history which sought to replace historical positivism, as "a whole new way of conceiving of social affairs," in which the individual agent (actor) and the individual occurrence (event) were not the central elements in social explanation.