From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Social history is an area of historical study considered by some to be a social science that attempts to view historical evidence from the point of view of developing social trends. In this view, it may include areas of economic history, legal history and the analysis of other aspects of civil society that show the evolution of social norms, behaviors and more. It is distinguished from political history, military history and the so-called history of great men. Social history is often described as 'history from below' or 'Grass- roots history' because it deals with the every-day people, the masses and how they shape History rather than the leaders. While proponents of history from below and the French annales school of historians have considered themselves part of social history, it is seen as a much broader movement among historians in the development of historiography. Unlike other approaches, it tries to see itself as a synthetic form of history not limited to the statement of so-called historical fact but willing to analyse historical data in a more systematic manner. A question in social history is whether the masses follow the leaders or whether it is the other way around.
An example of social history can be seen in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Typical history would focus on the who, what, when and where; whereas social history focuses on the causes of the movement itself. Social historians would pose such questions as, "Why did the movement come about when it did?", and "What specific elements fostered the growth?" "What elements hindered the development?" This approach is favored by scholars because it allows for a full discussion on the sometimes less studied aspects. By understanding the past, we can begin to understand who we are now.
Another example of social history may be found within the domain of Translation Studies, an area of research in which some scholars focus on translation history. They study the different types of translations of a given source text that were produced over time, and try to posit explanations for the differing translation strategies, uses of language, and so on, which are observed. They thus seek to account for the form of a given translated text, by asking themselves such questions as; What was the input of the individual translator? How does that translator's life and attitudes as portrayed in their writings, shed light on their interpretation of the source text and their translation solutions? How was the translation affected by such other causes as the prevailing norms or values attached to language and translation at the time; how did the function or target readership affect the target text; how did the differences between the source and target languages contribute to the form of the translation; what was the role of editors, publishers and so on?
The study of the lives of ordinary people was revolutionized in the 1960s by the introduction of sophisticated quantitative and demographic methods, often using individual data from the census and from local registers of births, marriages, deaths and taxes, as well as theoretical models from sociology such as social mobility. H-DEMOG is a daily email discussion group that covers the field broadly.
Demographic history is the study of population history and demographic processes, usually using census or similar statistical data. It became an important specialty inside social history, with strong connections with the larger field of demography, as in the study of the Demographic Transition
Black history or African-American history studies African Americans and Africans in American history. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History was founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1915 and has 2500 members and publishes the Journal of African American History, formerly the Journal of Negro History. Since 1926 it has sponsored Black History Month every February.
Ethnic history is especially important in the U.S. and Canada, where major encyclopedias helped define the field. It covers the history of ethnic groups (usually not including blacks). The Immigration and Ethnic History Society was formed in 1976 and publishes a journal for libraries and its 829 members.
- The American Conference for Irish Studies, founded in 1960, has 1,700 members and has occasional publications but no journal.
- The American Italian Historical Association was founded in 1966 and has 400 members; it does not publish a journal
- The American Jewish Historical Society is the oldest ethnic society, founded in 1892; it has 3,300 members and publishes American Jewish History
- The Polish American Historical Association was founded in 1942, and publishes a newsletter and Polish American Studies, an interdisciplinary, refereed scholarly journal twice each year.
- H-ETHNIC is a daily discussion list founded in 1993 with 1400 members; it covers topics of ethnicity and migration globally.
Labor history, deals with labor unions and the social history of workers. See for example Labor history of the United States The Study Group on International Labor and Working-Class History was established: 1971 and has a membership of 1000. It publishes International Labor and Working-Class History.
Women's history exploded into prominence in the 1970s, and is now well represented in every geographical topic; increasingly it includes gender history.
Gender history focuses on men's history, the gender roles and homosexuality, in terms of actual behavior. However the "construction" of gender roles is usually part of cultural history.
Family history emerged as a separate field in the 1970s, with close ties to anthropology and sociology.
The history of childhood is a subfield.
History of education
Most histories of education deal with institutions or focus on the ideas histories of major reformers, but a new social history has recently emerged, focused on who were the students in terms of social background and social mobility. In the U.S. attention has often focused on minority and ethnic students. In Britain, Raftery et al. (2007) looks at the historiography on social change and education in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, with particular reference to 19th-century schooling. They developed distinctive systems of schooling in the 19th century that reflected not only their relationship to England but also significant contemporaneous economic and social change. This article seeks to create a basis for comparative work by identifying research that has treated this period, offering brief analytical commentaries on some key works, discussing developments in educational historiography, and pointing to lacunae in research.
Historians have recently looked at the relationship between schooling and urban growth by studying educational institutions as agents in class formation, relating urban schooling to changes in the shape of cities, linking urbanization with social reform movements, and examining the material conditions affecting child life and the relationship between schools and other agencies that socialize the young.
The most economics-minded historians have sought to relate education to changes in the quality of labor, productivity and economic growth, and rates of return on investment in education.
The "new urban history" emerged in the 1960s seeking to understand the "city as process" and, through quantitative methods, to learn more about the inarticulate masses in the cities, as opposed to the mayors and elites. A major early study was Stephan Thernstrom's Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City (1964), which used census records to study Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1850-1880. A seminal, landmark book, it sparked interest in the 1960s and 1970s in quantitative methods, census sources, "bottom-up" history, and the measurement of upward social mobility by different ethnic groups.
Agricultural History handles the economic and technological dimensions, while Rural history handles the social dimension. Burchardt (2007) evaluates the state of modern English rural history and identifies an "orthodox" school, focused on the economic history of agriculture. This historiography has made impressive progress in quantifying and explaining the output and productivity achievements of English farming since the "agricultural revolution."
Social history in Europe
Social history has dominated French historiography since the 1920s, thanks to the central role of the Annales School. Its journal '"Annales focuses attention on the synthesizing of historical patterns identified from social, economic, and cultural history, statistics, medical reports, family studies, and even psychoanalysis.
Social history developed within West German historiography during the 1950s-60s as the successor to the national history discredited by National Socialism. The German brand of "history of society" - Gesellschaftsgeschichte - has been known from its beginning in the 1960s for its application of sociological and political modernization theories to German history. Modernization theory was presented by Hans-Ulrich Wehler (1931- ) and his Bielefeld School as the way to transform "traditional" German history, that is, national political history, centered on a few "great men," into an integrated and comparative history of German society encompassing societal structures outside politics. Wehler drew upon the modernization theory of Max Weber, with concepts also from Karl Marx, Otto Hintze, Gustav Schmoller, Werner Sombart and Thorstein Veblen.
In the 1970s and early 1980s German historians of society, led by Wehler and Jürgen Kocka at the "Bielefeld school" gained dominance in Germany by applying both modernization theories and social science methods. From the 1980s, however, they were increasingly criticized by proponents of the "cultural turn" for not incorporating culture in the history of society, for reducing politics to society, and for reducing individuals to structures. Historians of society inverted the traditional positions they criticized (on the model of Marx's inversion of Hegel). As a result, the problems pertaining to the positions criticized were not resolved but only turned on their heads. The traditional focus on individuals was inverted into a modern focus on structures, the traditional focus on culture was inverted into a modern focus on structures, and traditional emphatic understanding was inverted into modern causal explanation.
With the collapse of Communism in Hungary in 1989. Marxist historiography collapsed and social history came into its own, especially the study of the demography patterns of the early modern period. Research priorities have shifted toward urban history and the conditions of everyday life.
Social history had a "golden age" in Canada in the 1970s, and continues to flourish among scholars. Its strengths include demography, women, labour, and urban studies.
List of historians
- Marc Bloch (1886–1944). Medieval, Annales School
- Martin Broszat (1926–1989), Germany
- Natalie Zemon Davis, (b. 1928) France
- Eugene D. Genovese (b. 1930), American slavery
- Oscar Handlin (b. 1915), American ethnic
- Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, leader of Annales School, France
- Ram Sharan Sharma (b. 1919), India
- Stephan Thernstrom (b. 1943), ethnic U.S.
- E. P. Thompson (1924–1993), British labour
- Hans-Ulrich Wehler, 19c Germany
- History of sociology