Change and continuity

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Historians have questioned whether the New Deal in the US is best seen as a decisive change or more as being a case of societal continuity in the context of American history. The picture shows two children pumping water by hand. This was the sole water supply in this section of Wilder, Tennessee in 1942)

Change and continuity is a classic dichotomy within the fields of history, historical sociology, and the social sciences more broadly. The dichotomy is used to discuss and evaluate the extent to which a historical development or event represents a decisive historical change or whether a situation remains largely unchanged. The question of change and continuity is considered a classic discussion in the study of historical developments.[1] A good example of this discussion is the question of how much the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 represents an important change in European history. In a similar vein, historian Richard Kirkendall questioned whether FDR's New Deal represented "a radical innovation or a continuation of earlier themes in American life?" and posed the question of whether "historical interpretations of the New Deal [should] stress change or emphasize continuity?"[2]

The dichotomy lends itself to constructing and evaluating historical periodizations. In terms of creating and discussing periodizations (e.g. the Enlightenment or the Victorian Era,) the dichotomy can be used to assess when a period can be said to start and end, thus making the dichotomy important in relation to understanding historical chronology.

Economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron argues that continuity "appears to mean no more than absence of change, i.e. stability."[3] German historian Reinhart Koselleck, however, has been said to "challenge" this dichotomy.[4]"


  1. ^ Jørn Henrik Petersen og Klaus Petersen. "Præsentation: Dansk velfærdshistorie." Historisk Tidsskrift (Denmark), bind 110, hæfte 1, s. 217.
  2. ^ Richard Kirkendall. "The New Deal As Watershed: The Recent Literature." The Journal of American History Vol. 54, No. 4 (1968), pp. 839.
  3. ^ Alexander Gerschenkron. "On the Concept of Continuity in History." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 106, No. 3 (Jun. 29, 1962), pp. 195–209.
  4. ^ Reinhardt Koselleck (2006) "Conceptual History, Memory, and Identity: An Interview with Reinhart Koselleck." Interview by Javiér Fernández Sebastián and Juan Francisco Fuentes Contributions to the History of Concepts Vol. 2, pp. 110–12.