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Historiography and Historical Methods

Week III discussion questions


Ernst Breisach, Historiography:  Ancient, Medieval and Modern, 2nd edition (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1994).

Chapters 7-11

chapter 7

What three points does B make about the difference between the early Christian conception of history and that held by the Romans and Greeks?

For early Christians, what were the most important historical sources and why?

How did early Christians understand the historical relationship between the New and Old Testament?

What was the idea of the "education of mankind" (see, for instance, p. 79), and how did it relate to the evolving Christian conception of history?

According to B, what were the non-Christian influences on the early Christian conception of history?

What impact did the official Christianization of Rome have on Christian historical thinking?

What does B see as most important in the works of Eusebius?

How did Christians understand the organization of historical time?  What were some of the early Christian concepts of historical periodization?  What, for instance,  was the idea of "world ages"?

In what way did the Visgoths' sacking of Rome affect St. Augustine's re-thinking of history?  What two forces did he see as shaping history?  And how did he understand historical periodization?  (e.g., the figure on p. 87?)

B argues that the historian Orosius had a great influence over subsequent medieval historical writing--in what way?

What did the "fall" of Rome require a new Christian conception of history?

In what sense did the new Christian history "have to" erase much of the German epic tradition, and was this erasure complete?  Explain.

How and why did Christian German kingdoms, like the Goths, link their own histories to that of Rome?

Why was the issue of "continuity" so important for post-Roman Christian historians, and how was this linked to the concept of "universality"?

Why was the idea of Divine Providence so important to Christian historical thinking after the "fall" of the Roman (Western) Empire?

Why did post-Roman Christian historians run into problems applying the idea of "ages of the world" to "recent" history?

For Christian historians of this era, what was the purpose of history and of historical explanation?  How did this help them "link" the Old and New Testaments, and how did it help them understand "post-Biblical" history?

How did Christian historians understand cause and effect?

For early medieval Christian historians, what symbolized the continuity of time (past, present, and future, linked by Divine Providence)?

Did contemporary historians describe the early medieval clergy as pristine and free of sin?  Explain.  What is B's point about how contemporary historians treated church-lay relations?

Did these Christian historians understand the world in terms of change, of movement of mankind towards reform?  Explain.

Circa 750, what was the purpose of Christian history?  Did Isadore, for instance, believe in historical "interpretation"?  Explain.

What was the measure of "truth" for Christian historians, and how did that influence their historical methods (e.g., Bede?)?

Where did history writing flourish in the 750s-900s, and why?

According to B. what problem of Roman Christian historiography did the creation of the Carolingian Empire revive?  Explain.

How does B explain the purpose and popularity of biography in the Carolingian Empire?  What was hagiography?  What was its purpose, and how and why did the writing of the lives of saints change between 400s and 900s?

Were saints the only subjects of early medieval biographies?  Explain.

What were the "gesta" and what were their purpose? 

What were the "annals" and were their purpose?  What sorts of matters were recorded in the annals and why?

What was the most popular form of medieval history writing and why? 

What was the concept of "translatio imperii"?  How did this concept shape the writing of history circa 800s?

What does B see as most important about the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle?


chapter 8

In his first paragraph in this chapter, B more or less lays out the chapter's main point.  What is it?

What was the function of regional histories in the new western European kingdoms?  For instance, what was the purpose of Dudo's history of Normandy?

What was the purpose of Widukind's history of the Saxons?

What does B find most interesting and important about contemporary Germanic histories of German expansion into Eastern Europe?

What impact did Germanic expansion have upon native history writing in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe?  For instance, what was the aim of Kadlubek's history of Poland?

How did conversion to Christianity change the way Scandinavians understood their own history?

In what sense did Celtic historiography differ from the pattern B has just discussed?  Why does he consider Geoffrey's history of Britain significant?

So, what was the public function of history in the "new" European kingdoms?  For instance, what about Capetian France?  Anglo-Norman England?

How did the Norman victory in 1066 change the writing of Anglo-Saxon history?

What new view of the English past arose from the histories of Eadmer, Oderic, and William of Malmesbury?

By the way, what do you see as a common feature of the lives of almost all of the historians discussed in chapters 7 and 8?  What was their "profession" (besides writer of history)?

What was the public function of Norman histories of Norman-ruled Italy?

According to B, what basic problem faced the monk-historians of the 11th-13th centuries?  How did they solve this problem, and how does that help us understand the public function of history in medieval Europe?

What is B's point about the purpose of "romance histories" in the 12th-14th centuries (e.g., in France and England)?


chapter 9

Again, B tells you his main point in this chapter in the first paragraph---so, what will be the main argument of this chapter?  (Why call this chapter "The Ideal of the Christian Commonwealth"?)

What question is B asking in the first subsection of this chapter, and what is his answer?  What basic problem confronted medieval chroniclers who aimed at "universal" accounts?

What was the public function of the Saxon and Franconian chronicles, and how does that help us understand the chroniclers' dilema?

How and why did the contesting parties in the Investiture Conflict "use" history?

How does B explain the popularity of biographies of the Holy Roman Emperors?

When and why did Imperial historiography begin to decay?

How does B explain the legacy that early medieval historians bequeathed to their successors?

For medieval historians, what was the "true" subject of history?  Who was writing history in this era and why?  Wow did they understand the concept of "truth"?  And what did they see as the function of history?

Did medieval chroniclers present history as a story of cause and effect?  Explain--how did they understand causation?

B says that most chronicles contained three basic sections--what were these, and why was it hard to "connect" the first section to the last two sections?  Which section eventually got the most space, and why?

What were medieval histories supposed to teach people about contemporary life?

Why was chronology such a serious matter to Christian historians?

What is B's main point about contemporary histories of the First Crusade?  Were all of these histories "triumphal"?  Explain.

How did contemporary historians treat the subsequent Crusades?  Why?


chapter 10

What does B identify as the main social and political changes of the late medieval period, and what paradox does he say these changes created in intellectual life? 

According to B, what did new theological systems fail to explain and what were the implications for the study of history?

How did the "perceived relationship between God and human beings" change in late medieval Europe, and how did that affect the writing of sacred history?

For instance, how did Hugh of St. Victor understand historical change?  Did he see change in terms of progress?  Explain.

Did the views of Hugh of St. Victor, etc., have much impact on later medieval historians?  Explain.

How did "apocalyptic" twelfth century historians understand time?

How did Bishop Otto conceive of time and change (and the translatio imperii)?

What does B see as the major changes in chronicle writing in the late medieval period?  How did chroniclers adapt to the "knowledge explosion"?  (For instance, in England and in France...)

Did late medieval chroniclers follow Higden's prescription for explaining historical knowledge (see p. 148)?  Explain.

Were there any major contemporary histories of the Hundred Years War?  What sorts of works on the war does B consider most noteworthy?

Why were Burgundian chronicles of the Hundred Years War so popular among the region's nobility?

What seems to be B's main point about town and city chronicles in the 1200s-1300s?  What was their public function and what new social relaties did they reflect?

According to B, did the many major social and political changes of the 1200s and 1300s fundamentally alter the traditional Christian view of history?  Explain.