1.4 Notable Scholars

1.4 Notable Scholars
The contributions of many scholars are important in the development of historiography. Let us have a look at the contributions of the few notable scholars.

René Descartes (1596-1650) : René Descartes was the foremost among scholars who insisted on verifying the reliability of historical documents by critically examining them. Among the rules given by him in his book, ‘Discourse on the method’, the following is supposed to have a great impact on the scientific method of research : Never to accept anything for true till all grounds of doubt are excluded.

Voltaire (1694-1778) : Voltaire’s original name was François-Marie Arouet. He was French. He opined that along with objective truth and chronology of historical events considering social traditions, trade, economy, agriculture, etc. was also equally important in historiography. It gave rise to the thought that understanding all aspects of human life is important for history writing. Thus, it is said that Voltaire was the founder of modern historiography.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) : Hegel was a German philosopher. He insisted that the historical reality should be presented in a logical manner. To him the timeline of historical events was indicative of progress. He also thought that the presentation of history is bound to change over time as new evidence would come forth. With Hegel’s philosophy many scholars were convinced that historical methods were not of lesser quality though they differed from scientific methods. The collection of his lectures and articles are published in a book, entitled ‘Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences’. His book, ‘Reason in History’, is well known.
Leopold von Ranké (1795-1886) :
Historiography of the nineteenth century was greatly influenced by the thoughts of Leopold Von Ranke of Berlin University. He spoke about the critical method of historical research. He put emphasis on the utmost importance of information gathered through original documents. He also stated that all types of documents associated with a historical event need to be examined with the greatest care. He believed that with this method it was possible to reach the historical truth. He criticised imaginative narration of history. Collection of his articles are published in two books, entitled ‘The Theory and Practice of History’ and ‘The Secret of World History’.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) : In the latter half of the nineteenth century a new school of thought arose keeping in view the new thesis formulated by Karl Marx. According to Karl Marx, history was not about abstract ideas; it was about living people. Human relationships are shaped by the fundamental needs of people and ownership as well as nature of prevalent means of production to meet those needs. The accessibility of these means to different strata of the society may not be equal. This inequality causes a division of the society into classes, leading to class struggle. According to Marx, human history is the history of class struggle, as the class that owns the means of production economically exploits the rest of the classes. ‘Das Kapital’, a treatise written by him is the most referred book all over the world.
Annales School : At the onset of the twentieth century a new school of historiography arose in France, which is known as ‘Annales School’. Annales school gave a new direction to history writing. It was recognised now that history is not only about the political events, kings, great leaders and accordingly politics, diplomacy and wars but also about the climate, local people, agriculture, trade, technology, means of communication, social divisions and their collective psychology, etc. in the historical times. The Annales School was started by French historians.
Feminist Historiography
Feminist historiography means the restructuring of the history from the perspective of women. The writings of Simone de Beauvoir, helped in establishing the fundamentals of feminism. She was French. The feminist historiography emphasised not only on the inclusion of women in history but also on the rethinking of the male dominated perspective of history. It drove historical research to focus in depth on various aspects of women’s life such as their employment, their role in trade union, institutions working for their cause, their family life, etc. In the historical writings after 1990 women were portrayed as an independent social class.
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) : The French historian of the twentieth century, Michel Foucault brought forth a new concept in historiography. He, in his book, ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’, argued that the prevailing practice of arranging historical events in chronological order is not right. He drew attention to the fact that archaeology does not strive to reach the ultimate historical truth but attempts to explain various transitions in the past. Foucault felt that explaining the transitions in history is more important. He called his method, ‘the archaeology of knowledge’. Foucault subjected the so far unacknowledged areas by historians such as psychological disorders, the science of medicine, prison administration, etc. to historical analysis. Thus, the scope of historiography kept continuously expanding. Writing of histories of various subjects like literature, architecture, sculpture, drawing and painting, music, dance, drama, films and television, etc. came into practice.


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