Fred Gibbs

An Introduction to Historiography

A preliminary guide to continuities and ruptures

Despite the importance of historiography for modern enthusiasts of history, it often seems a intimidating subject with a high barrier to entry, mired in abstract theoretical, philosophical, and methodological jargon. The essays collected here take both a chronological and thematic approach to highlighting important developments, shifts, inflection points, continuities, and ruptures in the way people have conceived and produced historical interpretations of the western world. This website showcases the collaborative essays produced by an undergraduate historiography course at the University of New Mexico.

Even the very concept of historiography causes some confusion for most people. On one hand, it’s a study of history itself, a history of history. On the other hand, in the more literal sense of the word, it’s also the act of writing history. While these are often different enterprises (perhaps the study of history should be called something like historiology, but it’s not), they are both considered historiography.

While reading history often seems like an adventure into the past, it never fully leaves the present. Yet the ways in which existing power structures, political ideologies, personal interests, cultural criticism, and professional conventions impose on our narratives (and even the narrative form itself) and interpretations of the past are rarely obvious. Historiography, then, in the sense of a general considerations of the forces of production of historical writing, remains indispensable for any critical reading of history.

Two of our guiding questions have been: Who is history for? and What is history for? These essays show through careful synthesis of secondary sources and copious references to primary sources how this question can and perhaps should be answered at various periods throughout history. They emphasize the forest rather than the trees; readers curious for more detail can pursue the topic through the bibliographies for further reading at the end of each essay.

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