The Trends towards scientific history

Q. Outline the trends towards scientific history in modern times

The most significant trend in the historical writing of the modern times was the development of scientific history. With the growth of rationalism, theological conception lost its ground, sources came in for a critical study and nature of interpretation received due consideration. Presentation and style too assumed importance. Contributions made by more of writers and thinkers worked towards consolidating the scientific character of history as a branch of knowledge.


  • Widely regarded as the foremost historian of his age, Ranke (1795-1886) is considered the father of modern historical scholarship.

(ii) He developed an admiration for Roman history. The first of his works included the Histories of the Roman and German Peoples. It contained a critical analysis of the historical sources and exposed the errors committed by the early historians.

(ii) He suggested that the historian should use archives and study the documents for finding out the truth.

The Greatest of His Works Was The Popes

(i) The other important books were A History of France Principally in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth century and A History of the World. The History of the World in seven volumes serves as an introduction to his philosophy and method and represents a successful venture in writing a universal history.

(i) He pointed out that history should offer the same pleasure to educated
spirits as any successful work in literature.

 (i) He insisted that the ultimate aim of the historians should be universal history and that only with an all comprehensive vision could studies of details be effectively pursued.

 (iv) Scientific history was merely the expression of a German conservative,
who tired of the storm and stress of the French Revolution, wanted peace more than anything else.

i) This philosopher and historian of Germany too made significant contribution to the study of history. The reputation of Spengler rests upon his
Decline of the West, which is in effect a study in the history of philosophy.

ii) He argues that history is a succession of self-contained individual units or cultures.

iii) Each culture develops and expresses its special character in every detail of life and resembles other cultures in having an identical life cycle of an organism.

(iv) He interpreted history as the life of nine cultures-Fgyptian (3400-1205 BCE), Indian (1500-1100 BCE), Chinese (1300-200), classical (1100-400 BCE), Byzantine (300-1250 CE), Mayan (600-960 ce), Arabian (300-1250 CE), Aztec (1325-1500 CE) and Western.

(v) Every culture went through four distinct phases: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Alexander played the same role in classical culture as Napoleon in the Western culture.
(vi) The Western civilization completed its cycle and killed itself with the growth of the modern city, the power of money and the dominance of the masses. With the debacle of this decadent civilization, a new cycle was about to begin.

vii) A new elite, young and ruthless, would take over and rule mankind. Spengler dismissed as an illusion the idea of progress in history.
viii) Democracy, he considered, was a pious sham. World peace, he regarded, as both unattainable and undesirable.

i) Another British historian, whom we could mention keeping in view his contribution to the historical writing who wrote history but was a historical philosopher.

(ii) He is definite in his view that ‘history is an autonomous discipline with its own procedures and categories.

(iii) According to him, a historian’s thought has the fundamental concept of a historical enquiry.

(iv) His most important work which concerns students of historical theory is  his Idea of History.

i) With his magnum opus The Study of History in 12 volumes, Toynbee is praised by the Cambridge history of English literature as ‘the greatest single-handed historical achievement since The Decline and Fall.
(ii) In this intense work, he studied not the fortunes of an empire, a people or a country; but is concerned with all the great civilizations he has listed for his purposes of study.
(iii) According to him, the change from primitive to civilized society is a transition from a static condition to dynamic activity.
(iv) In the case of growth and disintegration of civilizations they are to be under-
stood in the context of the twin and associated principles of challenge and response.

Annales History

i) In France, it was the Programme of structural historiography, originated by L. Febvre and March Bloch their Annalists school which was intended to a free reflection on historiography from the implications of Berr’s synthesis.

(ii) Historiography was conceived in that programme as a science which strives for general and many-sided formulations and opposes, especially in the sphere of economic historiography, practical idiographism, that is, concerned with events and not explanations.

Scientific Socialism: Karl Marx

i) Karl Marx (1818-83), the founder of scientific socialism, expounded the economic interpretation of history. In association with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) and their combined efforts produced the path-breaking work Communist Manifesto. In 1867, he published the first volume of his great work on political economy, Das Capital.

(ii) Both these works have changed the course of social sciences domain across the globe as a whole.

(iii) There emerged a school of historians with emphasis on the cult of materialistic interpretation of history.

(iv) The fundamental principles rather doctrine evolved out of this school is definitely a trendsetter leading to a massive output in the name of scientific Socialism.

(v) From here, historical writing has taken a new direction by focusing attention on the neglected elements in society.

(vi) All these approaches and schools paved the way for the development of the modern historiography, which is known as scientific history

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