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Historiography and Historical Methods

Week V discussion questions


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

Chapters 15-17

chapter 15

Think about this chapter's title:  What is B saying about the public function of history in the early 19th century?

Was the public function of historiography identical across Europe--e.g., in England, France, and the German states?  What one theme seems to run through his discussion of historiography in these states (and in the USA)?

B argues that after 1800, German historians finally synthesized the various schools of 18th century historiography into a new historical "science."  Part of this process was a re-thinking of basic philosophical stands...  How did the Napoleonic wars contribute to this process, and how did Prussian scholars re-conceptualize philosophy after 1806?

How did the new German philosophy depart from the French Enlightenment?  What role did it give to the State?

How did this effect the study of history--e.g., of ancient history?  of legal history?  What were the "practical" implications of this view of history for "contemporary" policy?

Based upon B's discussion, explain Hegel's theory of history.  How did the Spirit/Idea move towards self-realization through a dialectical process (thesis/antithesis/synthesis)? What was the function of peoples/civilizations in the Spirit's advance?  What was the role of the individual in history?  And what was the role of the State?

[Note--I read Hegel differently than does B; as I read him, Hegel does argue that the Prussian state was the highest stage of history--the Idea self-realized...]

Did Ranke, the "father of historical science," agree with Hegel's dialectical-idealist approach to history?  Explain.

According to B, what made Ranke the "father of historical science"?  What was his method?  How did he teach?

Was Ranke a secularist?  How did religion shape his view of history?  Did he, for instance, consider history morally neutral or morally relative?  Explain.

Compare Ranke's view of the state to Hegel's view--how was it similar?  how was it different?

What "kind" of history did Ranke favor, and how was that related to the availability of sources?

[BONUS QUESTION!  B thinks that other historians misinterpret Ranke--what is his point here?]

Why were the Southwestern German states the center of German liberal historiography?  And what became of German liberal historians in the early 19th century?

According to B, what events made German historians turn to supporting the Prussian monarchy and Prussian-led unification?  And how did that influence their views of history?

According to B, how did the mainstream of German historians respond to Unification and how did it shape their views of history?  Does he think that these "pro-Prussian" historians were "objective" in their research?  Explain.

What public roles in German life did historians like the great classicist Mommsen play?  Was this reflect in Mommsen's historical works?  Explain.

Does B think that the greatest legacy of 19th century German historians are their politically partisan histories?  Explain.

Compared to historians who worked on publication of sources, guidebooks for methods, etc., does B think much of the legacy of the most famous late-19th century German historian, Treitschke?  Explain.

According to B, what was the basic public function of historians in post-Napoleonic France?

How did Catholic historians understand the French Revolution?  What lessons did Chateaubriand or de Maistre, for instance, think the Revolution had taught? 

And during the Restoration (1815-1830), how did conservative historians understand the Middle Ages?  Why?   What was the ecole narrative?

What common concern seems to link the writings of the Thierry brothers (Augustin and Amedee), Dubois, Michelet, and Guizot?

How did Michelet conceive of the causes of historical change and development?  Do you see any commonalities between his views and that of the Germans?  Explain.

How was Michelet's view of the past related to his hopes for France's future?  Explain.

What does B call the "greatest internal problem" facing Restoration France, and how did that shape the writing of history?  For instance, how did it shape liberal historical writing about the 1789-1799 Revolution?

French liberal historians generally identified the cause of the Third Estate with the cause of the Nation--was this view of the past "democratic"?  (e.g., in the works of Sismondi or Guizot?)

Why does B say it would be wrong to treat the writings of French liberal historians of the 1820s-1840s as "propaganda"?

How did Guizot understand the forces causing the French Revolution, and how was his view of the past linked to his conception of France's future?

SO--according to French liberal historians in the early 1800s, what were the moving forces in history? And how can we understand this view in relation to their politics?

How did the rule of Napoleon III (1451-1870) affect the writing of history in France?

PLEASE note the very interesting introduction to de Tocqueville on pp. 246-247...


chapter 16

What is B's main point about the English historical response to the French Revolution?  Why was the French Revolution such a threat to the "gradualist" thesis that dominated English historiography (think, for instance, of Burke)?

Besides the French Revolution, what other "force" was shaking up English historical thought in the early 1800s?  Explain.

What was the Whig view of history? 

What was Macauley's main thesis about why England was so "stable"?  What social classes were at the center of his history?  And why did Macauley's popularity fade after the 1860s?

According to B, why was the issue of historical identity in England different than in France or Germany?

In what sense did Carlyle's view of history contradict the Whig consensus? 

What did Carlyle identify as the 2 great forces in historical change?  Following from this, how did he understand the history of the French Revolution and its implications for England?

According to B, were histories of the American Revolution alone able to create a sense of clear historical identity in the USA in the 1800s?  Explain.

What was the main thesis of Bancroft's histories of the USA?  And what public function did these histories play?

OK--you've all had some US history---what problems do you see with Bancroft's approach?

How did Hildreth's thesis of US history differ from Bancroft's?  And why wasn't it as popular?

What is B's main point about the writings of US historians like Parkman, Prescott, and Motly?  What public function did these "literary" historians play?

Explain B's main points about the impact of the Civil War on US historiography in the 1800s:  e.g., about the place of the war in Divine Providence; about the question of war guilt; about Southern vs Northern views of the war; and about the re-establishment of a "national" view.

According to B, what "currents" helped make the 1800s a "golden age" of historiography?  (He's summing up chapters 15 and 16 here!)

What are some examples of the public roles played by historians in Europe and in the USA?  Did all historians B discusses prosper as a result of the political importance of history?  Explain.

What made "German historical science" different from the study of history elsewhere?  And how did the "German style" influence historians outside of the German states?

Here is the chapter's toughest question:  according to B, why did this new scientific history have a "corrosive effect on traditional historiography"?


chapter 17

This chapter "sets up" the next four chapters...

B. identifies 4 major changes in Western civilization in the late 1800s that would also change historiography--what were these 4 changes, and why does he think that they had such an impact on historiography?  (Here were are getting at one of his biggest points in the book, folks!)  What is his main point on p. 269?

According to B, Could late 19th century historians simply copy the methods of science without changing their fundamental view of the world?  Explain.  Why would a "strict" scientific history lead to a philosophical crisis?

According to B, why did historians start paying attention to economics? 

" "    ""     "", did 19th century historians really concern themselves with the experience of "ordinary" people?  Explain.

How does B explain the relative failure to write world histories in the late 1800s?