Glossary of history

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This glossary of history is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to the study of history and its related fields and sub-disciplines, including both prehistory and the period of human history.


absolute monarchy
A system of government headed by a monarch as the only source of power, controlling all functions of the state.
A summary of a textual source.
access rights
Information about who can access the resource or an indication of its security status.
accrual method
The method by which items are added to a collection.
accrual periodicity
The frequency with which items are added to a collection.
accrual policy
The policy governing the addition of items to a collection.

Also spelled eon.

A chronological inconsistency, in particular the introduction of an object, linguistic term, technology, idea, or anything else into a period in time to which it does not belong.
ancient history

Also antiquity.

Annales School
A style of historiography linked to the French scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale and broadly associated with the social history of cultural practices.
Historical accounts of facts and events ranged in chronological order, year by year.
The study of humanity, culturally and physically, in all times and places. Forensic anthropology is the application of anthropological knowledge and techniques in a legal context, to detect crime and identify criminals. This involves detailed knowledge of osteology.

Also antiquary.

A historian who studies antiquities or things of the past, often with particular attention to artifacts, archives, manuscripts, or archaeological sites from ancient history, as opposed to more recent history. In a broader sense, an antiquarian may also be a person who is simply a collector or aficionado of such artifacts and not necessarily a professional historian.
Historical study focusing on the empirical evidence of the past, including manuscripts and archives, and archaeological and historic sites and artifacts. The term is now often used in a pejorative sense, to refer to an excessively narrow interest in historical trivia, to the exclusion of a sense of historical context or process.
Objects or artifacts from ancient history, especially from the Classical civilizations and cultures of the Mediterranean region and the ancient Near East.
See ancient history and Classical antiquity.
The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of physical remains.
architectural history
The study of buildings in their historical and stylistic contexts.
archival bond
The relationship that each archival record has with other records produced as part of the same transaction or activity and located within the same group.
archival science
An accumulation of historical documents and records, or the physical repository in which they are located.
art history
The study of objects of art in their historical and stylistic contexts.

Also spelled artefact.

Any material object associated with a culture, such as a tool, an article of clothing or a prepared food item.
A class of entity for whom a given resource is intended or useful.
An individual's account of his or her own life.
auxiliary sciences of history
A set of specialist scholarly disciplines which help evaluate and use historical sources, and which may be used to support historical research.
A separate plate in the Early Paleozoic consisting of much of what is now Northern Europe, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and some coastal parts of New England.


A separate continental plate of the Early Paleozoic composed of what is now the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, European Russia and Central Europe. It is named for the Baltic Sea.
A Greek word adopted by the Romans to refer to any people who did not adopt the Roman way of life. It is said to have come originally from the sound "bar-bar", which, according to the Greeks, was supposed to be the noise that people made when speaking foreign languages.
Bering Land Bridge

Also called Beringia.

The vast tundra plain that was exposed as a land bridge between the continents of Asia and North America during the Last Glacial Maximum, about 21,000 years ago. It is theorized to have served as a migration route for people, animals, and plants for several thousand years before being once again submerged beneath rising sea levels.
A list of works, including books, journals and essays, on a particular subject.
Big History
An account of an individual's life, especially one written by someone other than the individual featured in the account.
black legend
German for "lightning war". A military strategy used by the German Army at the beginning of World War II to achieve victory through a series of quick offensives, especially in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. The strategy involved a heavy initial bombardment, followed by the rapid mobilisation of armour and motorised infantry to break the weakest parts of the enemy line.
A small, tightly organised, revolutionary Marxist group in early 20th-century Russia which split from the Russian Socialist movement in 1903 and was led by Vladimir Lenin. In November 1917, during the so-called October Revolution, the Bolsheviks ("Majority") took control of a chaotic Russia, becoming the de facto rulers after the subsequent civil war. They then renamed themselves the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).
book review
A critical examination of a text, usually including a summary of the work and opposing views.
The capitalist class that came to be known as the middle class, between the aristocracy and the working class. A new middle class of merchants and businessmen prospered throughout Europe from the 16th century, and especially in Britain, which Napoleon described as a "nation of shopkeepers". In modern times, the term bourgeois is often used derogatorily to describe anything considered humdrum, unimaginative and/or selfishly materialistic.
Bronze Age
In Britain, a period from about 2300 to 700 BCE when metal first began to be widely used, possibly as a result of the increase in contact with mainland Europe. However, various types of stone, particularly flint, remained very important long after metal became available. The Bronze Age saw the introduction of cremation of the dead and burials in round barrows. The later (and best-known) phases of construction at Stonehenge also date from this period.
Written chronicles of Ahoms, a medieval kingdom of Assam, India.


A Roman family name best known for being used by several rulers of Ancient Rome. Contrary to popular opinion, the name "Caesar" did not originally mean "emperor", although in modern times it has come to be defined as a synonym for autocrat. When the Roman leader Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE, his nephew and successor Augustus had himself formally adopted by the dead man and so also adopted the family name Caesar. Tiberius and Caligula inherited it by adoption as well. Later Roman emperors acquired the name upon their succession or when they were formally adopted as heirs.
A descriptive list of archival documents, sometimes compiled in sufficient detail that it can be used as a substitute for the originals.
Cathaysian Terranes
A set of small landmasses that developed in tropical to subtropical latitudes on the eastern side of Pangaea during the Permian and Triassic, comprising what is now North China (Sino-Korea), South China (Yangtze), Eastern Qiangtang, Tarim, and Indochina.
A period of 100 years. Centuries are numbered ordinally in English and many other languages.
A legal grant of authority or rights.
The geographical description of regions, often with reference to their history and antiquities.
A historical account of facts and events arranged in chronological order.
The study of the sequence of past events.
Classical antiquity
Cimmerian Terranes

Also called Cimmeria.

An archipelago of small landmasses that developed in tropical and subtropical latitudes on the eastern side of Pangaea during the Triassic. Blocks that comprised it include what is now Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Tibet, and Malaysia.
A reference to the published or unpublished source for an assertion or argument.
classical tradition

Also called classical studies.

The systematic application of economic theory, econometric techniques, and other formal or mathematical methods to the study of history; a quantitative economic history.

(pl.) codices

A book constructed of a number of sheets of paper, vellum, papyrus, parchment, or similar materials, especially a manuscript book with handwritten contents and formatted so that individual pages are stacked and fixed to a spine along one edge.
The study of codices or manuscript books as physical objects, specifically the materials and techniques used to make books, including writing surfaces (such as parchment or vellum), pigments, inks, bindings, handwriting, marginalia, glosses, and so on.
coherence theory of truth
A theory that regards statements as true if they are coherent within some specified set of sentences, propositions, or beliefs.
comparative history
The comparison of different societies which existed during the same time period or shared similar cultural conditions.
Congo Craton
A separate continental plate that rifted from the supercontinent Rodinia in the Late Precambrian. It contained a large part of what is now north-central Africa.
In archaeology, a discrete physical location, distinguishable from other contexts, which forms one of the units making up an overall archaeological site. The context in which an artifact is found provides important evidence for its interpretation.
correspondence theory of truth
A theory that regards statements as true if they correspond to the world that we know by perception.
counterfactual history
A form of historiography that seeks to explore history by extrapolating a timeline in which key events happened in ways other than the ways in which they did in fact occur.
Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway

Also referred to simply as the Western Interior Seaway.

The epicontinental sea that formed as marine waters from the north spread over North America from around 130 to 70 million years ago (Ma). At its peak in the Middle Cretaceous (~90 Ma), it extended from present-day Utah to the Appalachians and from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico.
cultural history


A specific point or period of time.
The textual analysis of historical documents.
The study, or practice, of a specific subject using a specific set of methods, terms and approaches. History is a discipline, as is archaeology, chemistry and biology.


economic history
The study of economies or economic phenomena in the past.
A cultural and intellectual movement of the late 17th to late 18th centuries that emphasized reason and individualism rather than tradition, predominantly among Western European cultures but also in other parts of the world.
See aeon.
The study of ancient inscriptions.
Any span of time defined for the purposes of chronology or historiography. In chronology, an era is the highest level of organization for the measurement of time, as used in defining calendar eras for a given calendar and regnal eras in the history of a monarchy. The term is also used in geologic time, where an era is a subdivision of an aeon.
A supercontinent that existed in the Late Silurian through Devonian, formed by the collision of Baltica, Laurentia, and Avalonia. It included what is now North America, Greenland, Scandinavia, and Europe. It is also sometimes referred to as the “Old Red Continent” for the red color of its oxidized deposits.


The study of military orders, decorations and medals.
The legal and social order prevailing through much of medieval Europe, in which society was structured around a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations.
In archival science, an aggregation of documents which all originate from the same source.


The study of family relationships.
A supercontinent that existed from the Cambrian to Jurassic, mainly composed of what is now South America, Africa, Madagascar, India, Antarctica, and Australia.


A biography of a saint or saints, or more broadly any biography in which the author is uncritical or reverential towards the subject.
The study of armorial devices.
The theory and methodology of the interpretation of texts.
The study of the past as it is described in written documents; events occurring before written record are generally considered prehistory. Although commonly used to refer to any set of events which happened earlier in time, history in academic study is considered the product of our attempts to understand the past, rather than the past itself. History relates to past events as well as the memory, discovery, collection, organization, presentation and interpretation of information about these events.
A scholar who studies or writes about history.
historical classification
historical revisionism
historical thinking
A mode of historical enquiry that insists that the past must be understood on its own terms.
1.  The study of the methodology and development of history as a discipline.
2.  A body of historical work on a particular topic.
human history
An intellectual movement of the Renaissance associated with the rediscovery of Classical ideas.


Iapetus Ocean
A relatively small ocean that existed between the continents of Laurentia, Baltica, and Avalonia from the Late Precambrian to the Devonian.
illuminated manuscript
A manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration.
The study or practice of a subject which applies the methods and approaches of several disciplines. For instance, while history, literature and archaeology are separate disciplines, they may be combined in an interdisciplinary approach.


A scholarly periodical, often focusing on a particular historical theme.


A gap in a manuscript, inscription or text.
landscape history
A supercontinent that existed from the Jurassic to Early Tertiary after splitting from Pangaea. It was composed of Laurentia, Baltica, and Avalonia (what is now North America, Scandinavia, Greenland, and Western and Central Europe), and eventually fragmented into Eurasia and North America in the Tertiary with the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean.
A separate continental plate that existed from the Late Precambrian to Silurian, consisting of the major part of what is now North America, northwest Ireland, Scotland, Greenland, and pieces of Norway and Russia.
local history
The study of the history of a small geographical area, of a local community, or of the local incidence of broader national or international trends. If undertaken with a view to casting light on larger historical questions, local history may be regarded as a branch of microhistory.
longue durée


The study of large, long-term trends in world history, undertaken in order to uncover ultimate patterns that cut across the more specific details of diverse historical cultures.
Any document written by hand, as opposed to one that is printed or reproduced in some other way.
The intensive historical investigation of a small and narrow unit of research (an event, a community or an individual), generally undertaken with a view to casting light on broader historical questions. Local history may be considered a branch of microhistory.
military history
The study of the history of armed conflict and its impact on society. It may range from the study of specific military actions and engagements to the much broader examination of warfare as a political tool.
modern history
The collected body of myths shared by a culture or a group of people, or the academic study of such myths.


The study of coins.
natural history
A domain of inquiry involving organisms including animals, fungi and plants in their natural environments which leans more towards observational than experimental methods of study.



Also onomatology.

The study of the etymology, history, and use of proper names.
original order
A concept in archival theory which proposes that a group of records should be maintained in the same order as they were placed by their creator.


The study of old handwriting.
Paleo-Tethys Ocean
A large ocean that originated between eastern Gondwana, Siberia, Kazakhstan and Baltica in the Ordovician and finally closed in the Jurassic. It was replaced by the Tethys Ocean as eastern Pangaea was assembled.

Also spelled Pangea.

A supercontinent that existed from the end of the Permian to the Jurassic, assembled from large continents like Euramerica, Gondwana and Siberia, as well as smaller landmasses like the Cathaysian and Cimmerian Terranes. The name Pangaea is Greek for “all lands”.
A supercontinent that existed in the Late Precambrian and gave rise to the continents of Gondwana, Laurentia, Siberia and Baltica in the Cambrian.
Panthalassic Ocean

Also called the Panthalassa.

A vast ocean that existed from the Late Precambrian to the Jurassic, circling the globe and connecting to smaller oceans that developed throughout the Phanerozoic.
The entire set or any subset of events which happened previously in time.
The study of postage stamps.
political history
The study of political events, ideas, movements and leaders of the past.
The application of present-day ideas and perspectives to depictions or interpretations of the past.
primary source
Material from or directly related to the past. The term usually refers to records and documents created during the period that is being studied, such as diaries, letters, legal documents, accounts, photographs, news reports, and artefacts. Contrast secondary source.
The investigation of a historical group of individuals through a collective study of their lives.
The chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object, document or group of records.
public history
A range of activities undertaken by people with some training in the discipline of history, but who are generally working outside of specialized academic settings.


quantitative history


radiocarbon dating
respect des fonds
An archival principle which proposes that collections of archival records should be ordered and preserved according to the administration, organization, individual, or entity by which they were created or from which they were received.
A supercontinent that existed during the Late Precambrian before the supercontinent Pannotia, and the oldest supercontinent for which scientists have a good record. The name Rodinia is Russian for "homeland".
A cultural and intellectual movement of the late 18th to mid-19th centuries that emphasized emotion and sentiment rather than reason, predominantly among Western European cultures but also in other parts of the world.
reference work
A text, usually in the form of a dictionary or encyclopedia, which contains facts and information but typically not discussions.


A length of time approximately equal to the potential lifetime of a human being or, equivalently, to the time it takes to completely regenerate a human population with new individuals – that is, the duration between the moment at which an event occurs (such as the founding of a city) and the point in time at which every individual who was alive at the first moment has died.
secondary source
Material created by somebody removed from the event being studied; i.e. someone who was contemporaneous with the event but not physically present to witness it, or who was working from a period of time after the event occurred. All historical textbooks, for example, are secondary sources. Contrast primary source.
A device for making an impression, usually in wax, or the impression so formed, historically used to authenticate documents.

Also called Angaraland, Angara or Angarida.

A separate continental plate that existed from the Latest Precambrian to the Carboniferous, composed of a large part of what is now central Russia, namely the modern region of Siberia.
The study of seals.
social history
A branch of history that studies the experiences of ordinary people in the past.
The study of the collection, organization, and interpretation of (historical) data.
In archaeology, a key concept in interpreting a site through establishing the relative chronology of its separate physical contexts.


A mode of historical interpretation that holds that events move towards a definite end state or goal.
Tethys Ocean
A small ocean that existed from the Triassic to the Jurassic. As Pangaea was split into Gondwana and Laurasia in the Jurassic, an arm developed westward called the Tethys Seaway or Tethys Sea.
The indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, to the future.
The study of placenames.
The quality of a concept or entity that persists throughout human history and is not governed or defined by the frame of reference of a particular time and place.
In archaeology, the classification of artifacts, buildings and field monuments according to their physical characteristics; an important tool for managing large quantities of archaeological data.


universal history
unwitting testimony
The unintentional evidence provided by historical sources.
urban history



Also simply called war.

Whig history
A mode of historical interpretation which presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment; or, more broadly, any teleological or goal-directed narrative that assumes the inevitability of progress.
world history



See also[edit]


General information
  • "A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology". Society of American Archivists. Retrieved 2013-02-24. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  • USMP Glossary: Paleontology[permanent dead link]
  • DCMI Metadata Terms