A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history 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 publications or training and experience. "Historian" became a professional occupation in the late nineteenth century as research universities were emerging in Germany and elsewhere.
During the Irving v Penguin Books and Lipstadt trial it became evident that the court needed to identify what was an "objective historian" in the same vein as the reasonable person, and reminiscent of the standard traditionally used in English law of "the man on the Clapham omnibus". This was necessary so that there would be a legal bench mark with which to compare and contrast the scholarship of an objective historian against the methods employed by David Irving, as before the Irving v Penguin Books and Lipstadt trial there was no legal precedent for what constituted an objective historian.
Justice Charles Gray leant heavily on the research of one of the expert witnesses, Richard J. Evans, who compared illegitimate distortion of the historical record practice by holocaust deniers with established historical methodologies.
- The historian must treat sources with appropriate reservations;
- The historian must not dismiss counterevidence without scholarly consideration;
- The historian must be even-handed in treatment of evidence and eschew "cherry-picking";
- The historian must clearly indicate any speculation;
- The historian must not mistranslate documents or mislead by omitting parts of documents;
- The historian must weigh the authenticity of all accounts, not merely those that contradict a favored view; and
- The historian must take the motives of historical actors into consideration.
Schneider uses the concept of the "objective historian" to suggest that this could be used as an aid in assessing what makes a historian suitable to be an expert witnesses under the Daubert standard in the United States. Schneider proposed this, because, in her opinion, Irving could have passed the standard Daubert tests unless a court was given "a great deal of assistance from historians".
Schneider proposes that by testing a historian against the criteria of the "objective historian" then, even if a historian holds specific political views (and she gives an example of a well-qualified historian's testimony that was disregarded by a United States court because he was a member of a feminist group), providing the historian uses the "objective historian" standards, he or she is a "conscientious historian". It was Irving's failure as an "objective historian" not his right wing views that caused him to lose his libel case, as a "conscientious historian" would not have "deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence" to support his political views.
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 like archaeology.
Herodotus and Thucydides were as the founders of the discipline of history. Concerning Herodotus (5th century BC), one of the earliest 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 many 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. Herodotus was also known for visiting the various battle sites he wrote about, including the battle of Thermopylae. About 25 years after Herodotus, Thucydides, perhaps the most important of historians, 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 that lasted 27 years between Athens and Sparta 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. Moreover, he included transcriptions of speeches that were delivered by historic figures, although sometimes they were made up by Thucydides himself according to what those people should have said at the moment they delivered them.
Other noteworthy and famous Greek historians include Plutarch (2nd century AD), who wrote several biographies, the Parallel Lives, in which he wanted to assess the morality of its characters by comparing them in pairs, and Polybius (2nd century BC), who developed Thucydides's method further, becoming one of the most objective historians of classical antiquity. Polybius is also credited for being the first historian to write a History of the World, and to offer argued explanations and interpretations of history facts, and not only a record of them. The most important Roman historian of the classical world was Tacitus (late 1st and early 2nd century AD). The foremost Roman historian, he wrote an extremely influential account on Rome in the first century, the Annals. Due to his literary style and the thoroughness of his research—which seemingly included studying Roman imperial archives and heavily relying on Thucydides—and his apparent rigor—for he tended not to support any character or subject, taking an impartial point of view—he was by far the most read and admired historian during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the early Modern Era. Thus, his historian style has been imitated all through the ages, and had a strong impact in Edward Gibbon and Montesquieu.
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.
The first annalistic history of the Chinese-speaking world to survive transmission more or less unscathed was the Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋) of the state of Lu (鲁), which chronicles the diplomatic relations between feudal states, beginning and end of reigns of the Zhou sovereign and his feudal lords, as well as natural disasters and calamities from 722 to 481 BC. The organization is year-by-year, with entries for every season; the text is terse, documenting events without making explicit commentary. Three detailed commentaries from Warring States period (476-221 BC) survive which detail the events surrounding the entries in the Spring and Autumn Annals, with the Commentary of Zuo (左傳) being the longest, most detailed, and historically valuable. Contemporary sources indicated that chronicles of other states as well as the Zhou ruling house existed, but did not survive the warfare and political upheavals of the end of the Zhou and subsequent Qin dynasties. The Commentary of Zuo records one instance of exemplary professional conduct by the court historians of the state of Qi in the face of severe political pressure:
The grand historian wrote, "Cui Zhu usurped and murdered his lord (Duke Zhuang of Qi)." Cui murdered him. His younger brother succeeded him and wrote [the same thing, so then] two died. His younger brother again wrote [the same thing], and was spared. (Commentary of Zuo, 25th year of Duke Xiang)
Sima Qian (145-86 BC), a Prefect of the Grand Scribes (太史令) of the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), is regarded as the father of Chinese historiography because of his universal history, the Records of the Grand Historian (史記). It provides an overview of the history of China covering more than two thousand years from the legendary Yellow Emperor to Sima's contemporary Emperor Han Wudi (漢武帝) in the form of annals (紀), tables (表), treatises (書), histories of ruling houses (世家), and individual biographies (列傳). His work laid the foundation for the Twenty-Four Histories which, unlike Sima's independent endeavor, were government-sponsored works usually commissioned by new dynastic houses after the demise of the previous dynasty.
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 representative 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 (1332-1406) was a famous Arab Muslim historian who engaged in historiography philosophy of history. He is best known for his Muqaddimah "Prolegomenon".
Voltaire was a highly influential historian during The Enlightenment; he stressed the need to move away from great men and to study the people and their culture. Sakmann points out that he complained that too much historical writing combined boring detail, outrageous lies, and narrow-minded presentation. Good history, Voltaire argued, agrees with reason and natural science, and is based on the corroborating evidence. Equally influential was 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. Often called "the first modern historian", the English scholar Edward Gibbon wrote his magnum opus, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788).
Modern historiographical techniques were dramatically advanced in the German universities of the 19th century. Leopold von Ranke (1795 – 1886) was a founder of modern source-based historiography. His research seminar for graduate students set professional standards for historical training at the University of Berlin (1824 - 1871). His many books demonstrated how to rely upon primary sources in writing narrative history on international politics (Aussenpolitik). He dug through the archives of Europe, especially those of the Vatican and Venice, whose ambassadors followed events very closely and reported on them at length. Ranke thus sent the researcher to the archives for primary sources; there he should transcend his personal predispositions and parochial loyalties, and write objective history wie es eigentlich gewesen ("as it actually happened"). Highly influential German classicist historians were Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776-1831) and Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) Historians of Germany included Johann Gustav Droysen (1808–84), Heinrich von Sybel (1817–95), and Heinrich von Treitschke (1834–96). They deliberately avoided social, economic, and cultural topics because they might undermine the national political development which their writing celebrated. Von Sybel in 1859 founded the Historische Zeitschrift, which set the world standard for a scholarly history journal.
Since the 1960s, academic history has seen the emergence of new approaches and topics such as social history, demographic history, ethnic history, women's history, environmental history and cultural history. There has been a shift of emphasis away from national topics to the experiences of ordinary people. For example, labor history has shifted away from the study of union leaders to the study of the workers. Slavery studies used to be about debates among politicians. In Roll, Jordan, Roll, historian Eugene D. Genovese ignored all that and focused on the interaction on the plantation between slaves and their owners. Edward Said's Orientalism examines how and why Western societies came to consider non-Western ones as inherently inferior.
While there has been a flowering of new historical approaches and microscopic studies there has been much less attention to the pre-1960 staple of teaching, the development of one's own nation state and its values and practices. As historians provide highly detailed narratives of increasingly smaller subjects there is less concern for the larger picture of the meaning of it all. Fewer historians try to tackle all of the various historiographies relevant to a broader interpretive or analytic synthesis, and some suggest that a post-modern perspectives does not allow any real synthesis. On the other hand many scholars have been calling for a "new synthesis" in American history for years. Thomas H. Bender has argued that synthesis raises its own unresolved issues such as teleology, causation, agency, and subjective meaning; and inclusion and exclusion. Richard D. Brown worries that if historians fail to synthesize they, "run the risk of confirming the anti-academic canard that "historians know more and more about less and less."
Education and profession
An undergraduate history degree is often used as a stepping stone to graduate studies in business or law. Many historians are employed at universities and other facilities for post-secondary education. In addition, it is normal for colleges and universities to require the PhD degree for new full-time hires, and a Masters degree for part-timers. Publication is increasingly required by smaller schools, so graduate papers become journal articles and PhD dissertations become published monographs. The graduate student experience is difficult—those who finish their doctorate in the United States take on average 8 or more years; funding is scarce except at a few very rich universities. Being a teaching assistant in a course is required in some programs; in others it is a paid opportunity awarded a fraction of the students. Until the 1980s it was rare for graduate programs to teach how to teach; the assumption was that teaching was easy and that learning how to do research was the main mission.
Professional historians typically work in colleges and universities, archival centers, government agencies, museums, and as freelance writers and consultants. The job market for new PhDs in history is poor and getting worse, with many relegated to part-time "adjunct" teaching jobs with low pay and no benefits.
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- "Historian". Wordnetweb.princeton.edu. Retrieved June 28, 2008.
- Herman, A. M. (1998). Occupational outlook handbook: 1998-99 edition. Indianapolis: JIST Works. Page 525.
- Schneider 2001, p. 1531.
- Schneider 2001, p. 1534.
- Schneider 2001, pp. 1534, 1535.
- Schneider 2001, pp. 1534, 1538.
- Schneider 2001, p. 1539.
- "deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence" Justice Charles Gray (Schneider 2001, p. 1533)
- M. I. Finley, ed. The Portable Greek Historians: The Essence of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius (1977) excerpt and text search
- Christopher Smith and Liv Mariah Yarrow, Imperialism, Cultural Politics, and Polybius (2012)
- Original text: 大史書曰崔杼弑其君崔子殺之其弟嗣書而死者二人其弟又書乃舍之 （《左傳·襄公二十五年》）. Depending on where punctuation is inserted into the originally unpunctuated text, the middle sentence can also be rendered as, "His brothers who succeeded him, wrote [the same thing], and died, [there were] two," which makes a total of three historians who were killed for attempting to accurately record events. Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian seems to indicate (with slight ambiguity) that only two were killed.
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