history


history
   Britain’s contemporary historiography has, with some exceptions, its basis in the international community. Since the mid-1960s, history, like many other discourses, has been subject to the influence of two opposing forces: fragmentation and conjunction. The ‘Great Men’ school of political history has surrendered its dominance to a diversity of approaches. While most stress the democratic necessity for a description ‘from below’, there are a variety of techniques to enable that shift. British Marxist history, for so long impenetrable to external influence, took on new developments in psychology, structuralism and post-structur-alism and merged them with the base/super-structure model and class relations to create something more modern, with the focus on everyday life. After the Annales school in France, structuralism stressed the importance of the ‘series’ in the use of statistical methods. Taken up by the social and economic history discipline, and boosted by computer access, such approaches were seen to be empirically faultless, while still allowing the liberty of interpretation. Historical demography has been given the opportunity by this means to process large amounts of data to examine hidden trends. However, subsequently post-structuralism stressed the importance of the ‘text’ as the true instrument of evidence. Context became crucial to analysis, giving rise to a reawakened interest in historiography. Interdisciplinarity has enabled history to confront literature, in ‘the new historicism’. Cultural history, having subsumed methodologies from anthropology, semiotics, psychohistory, literary and critical theory and other, more marginal techniques, lays claim to ‘total history’. Intellectual history, the study of ideas, parries claims of elitism by evoking the ‘trickle down effect’ of the works of great thinkers. Similarly, the histories of medicine and science have increased attention to the social context of technical progress. History has seen the reclamation of the voice for the muted: women, the sexually marginalized, minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities, the aged and the young. A growth of interest in local history has changed the focus away from the national to the regional, with Scottish, Welsh and Irish histories echoing the growing autonomy of those nations. In conclusion, history, like all intellectual disciplines, is subject to the vagaries of fashion, both economic and cultural. The current postmodern hegemony of ‘liberalism and the markets’ ensures that history will speak with a pluralistic, democratic voice, legitimizing whomsoever is the paymaster.
   Further reading
    Burke, P. (ed.) (1991) New Perspectives on Historical Writing, London: Polity Press.
   GORDON URQUHART

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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