There are two basic issues involved in historiography (Breisach, 1994). First, the study of the development of history as an academic discipline over time, as well as its development in different cultures and epochs. Second, the study of the academic tools, methods and approaches that have been and are being used, including the historical method.

The term "historiography" can also be used to refer to a specific body of historical writing that was written during a specific time concerning a specific issue. For instance, a statement about "medieval historiography" would refer to some issue in the academic discipline of Medieval History, and not to the actual history of the Middle Ages or to historical works written in that time (e.g., "during the last century, medieval historiography changed its focus from the study of political events to social and mental structures", or "medieval historiography has largely benefited from the recognition of the importance of parish records": that is, the discipline underwent some change).

Conal Furay and Michael J. Salevouris define historiography as "the study of the way history has been and is written — the history of historical writing... When you study 'historiography' you do not study the events of the past directly, but the changing interpretations of those events in the works of individual historians."One should be cautious, however, that in the sense given in the previous paragraph when a historian does historiography they are actually studying "the events of the past directly".

Chinese historiography

In China, Sima Qian (around 100 BC) was the first to lay the groundwork for professional historical writing. His written work was the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), a monumental lifelong achievement in literature. Its scope extends as far back as the 16th century BC, including many treatises on specific subjects, along with individual biographies for prominent people, as well as exploring the lives and deeds of commoners found in his own time or in previous eras. His work influenced every subsequent author of history in China, including the prestigious Ban family of the Eastern Han Dynasty era.

Traditionalist Chinese historiography describes history in terms of dynastic cycles. In this view, each new dynasty is founded by a morally righteous founder. Over time, the dynasty becomes morally corrupt and dissolute. Eventually, the dynasty becomes so weak as to allow its replacement by a new dynasty.

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