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An accessible introduction to historiography
on 14 May 2013
In this short book on historiography (study of history), the author deals with issues such as
--what is historical "truth", how the concept has evolved
--what is the role of the historian, the purpose of his work (+how it has evolved over time)
--the way writing on past facts has evolved over the centuries. [style, codes, rhetoric]
--how to give past events a meaning, how to understand them.
--are people who lived a few centuries ago to be considered different enough from us for methods used by anthropologists for studying foreign cultures to be applied to historiography?
--Who are the people the historians chose to concentrate on and write about, do they exemplify their entire community?
-- what are the advantages and inconvenient of dividing (arbitrarily) the studied past into periods (antiquity, middle ages, modern times, etc), how and why?
--What is an historical "source"? (+ how that concept has evolved).
A few historiographic schools are mentioned (e.g. the "Annales" with French historians such as Febvre, M. Bloch and Braudel, or the influence of Karl Marx), but their study is not the main purpose of this book, which doesn't address history students.
The author's style is such that the reader feels invited to join as he is questioning short excerpts and sources. However, you might find it difficult to sum up the book afterwards, the key-ideas being loosely organised and somehow swept away by the conversational flow. I found the language register sometimes unpleasantly low, casual (e.g "I have ideas about these things but they are "my" ideas, p. 12, or "inquisitors who had particular jobs to do", p.10), and some readers might also think the font is a little too small. Nevertheless, a large number of important themes are approached from several standpoints in a short 123 pages, which in itself is an achievement. This is a good introduction.