history: History in the Twentieth Century and Since

History in the Twentieth Century and Since

The trend toward broader social and economic history continued in the 20th cent. Anthropology and sociology contributed new ideas to history and opened the way to the history of cultures in the round (related to, but different from, such theories of spiritual cultural history as that of Karl Lamprecht). Modern psychology also began to be applied to the interpretation of history, and the growth of technological society stimulated some historians' concern with the development of science. The constant growth of the body of critical professional historiography led in the 20th cent. to historical research in extraordinary detail, stimulated by the techniques of Sir Lewis Namier. Perhaps in reaction to this increasing emphasis, G. M. Trevelyan reasserted the principle of history as an art as well as a scientific study.

The adherents of the “new social history” sought to replace the previous emphasis of most historians on political history with a range of social and economic concerns. The most influential social historians have been members of the French Annales school, such as Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel, who focused primarily on medieval and early modern European history. Another influential group of historians, including Eric Hobsbawm, E. P. Thompson, and Herbert Gutman, who were influenced by Marxist class analysis, wrote histories of working people and the popular classes. Other social historians have explored the history of those who formerly were largely ignored, such as women and minorities. The study of social history was also reinforced by the development of computer analysis of historical materials. The quantitative analysis made possible by computers seemed to allow detailed study of far broader areas than had been possible for the historian using traditional methods. In recent years some of the most successful and popular historians—such as Eric Foner, Simon Schama, and Jonathan Spence—have found innovative ways of integrating the older concerns of national political histories with the new methods of social history.

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