From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Historical materialism is the methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history which was first articulated by Karl Marx (1818-1883), although Marx himself never used the term (he referred it as "philosophical materialism", a term he used to distinguish it from what he called "popular materialism"). Historical materialism as an explanatory system has been expanded and refined by thousands of academic studies since Marx’s death.The fundamental proposition of historical materialism can be summed up in a sentence: "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness." (Marx, in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.)
Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human societies in the way in which humans collectively make the means to live, thus giving an emphasis, through economic analysis, to everything that co-exists with the economic base of society (e.g. social classes, political structures, ideologies).
Although Marx said he was only proposing a guideline to historical research, by the twentieth century the concept of historical materialism became a keystone of modern communist doctrine.