Bloomsbury History: Theory and Method - Editors Note


The connection between historical theory and the practice of history

Much historical writing has been, consciously or unconsciously, informed by historical theory. Yet the writings on historical theory and the history of historiography have often been two sub-fields of history that did not show much overlap. They have been researched by different scholars, and they have different fora in which they discuss their results. Of course, there have been institutions that have expressed a desire to bring the two fields closer together. The name of the Commission for the History of Theory and Historiography, established in 1980, has been programmatic in that respect. And the International Network for Theory of History, despite in its title only appealing to one side of the divide, has certainly shown a keen interest to bring historical theory and the history of historiography together in its activities. One of the sub-networks of the European Social Science History Conference is the network ‘History of Theory and Historiography’ again indicating a close relationship. Major journals in the two fields, including ‘History and Theory’, ‘Storia della Storiografia’, ‘Rethinking History’, and ‘Historein’ are also publishing on both sides of the divide. Nevertheless, the scholars they do publish often identify more with one or the other: the theory of history or the history of historiography.

Teaching historical theory and historiography at university

When it comes to teaching history at university, in the Anglophone world, and in many other parts of the globe, we do now have standard courses for undergraduates on historical theory and the history of historiography, often indeed dealing with both issues in the same course, albeit invariably referring to different authors who have dealt with either one or the other. Postgraduates have many opportunities these days to engage with historiographical traditions and historical theory at their respective graduate schools. The best students achieve a high understanding of both historical theory and the history of historiography, and Bloomsbury History: Theory and Method will be an invaluable teaching tool, both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels to intensify student engagement with the theory of history and the history of historiography.

Explaining the Digital Resource

It is with the needs and requirements of students, but also scholars in mind that the editors of this digital resource have teamed up with Bloomsbury in order to build on the publisher’s strength in both the history of historiography and the theory of history. They want to provide to institutions of higher education a reliable, agenda-setting and state-of-the-art resource that brings together the theory of history and the history of historiography in an attempt to underline the manifold ways in which both have influenced the actual writing of history for many centuries in different parts of the world.

The resource is sub-divided into 5 sections: the first one deals with broad themes in history theory and the history of historiography, where authors have picked a wide variety of thematic approaches to the writing of history and of theories that impacted on this writing. They might include entire sub-fields of historical writing, specific debates over history and theoretical issues. The second section deals with concepts. Of course, everyone will immediately recognize a big overlap between themes and concepts, which is also why sometimes very similar titles emerge in both sections. Thus, for example ‘Heritage Studies’ is a theme in the writing of history, but we also have ‘heritage’ as a concept. The same goes for ‘Class’ as a concept and ‘Working-Class History’ as a theme. Many other examples can be found across the resource, but we understand this as being beneficial for the users of the resource, as it gives them a sense of concepts and their application within broader themes of historical writing.

A third section deals with ‘Key Thinkers’, and they can be theorists of history and scholars working on the history of historiography as well as important historians who have influenced the field of history writing through their empirical research findings and their application of theory to different concrete fields of historical writing. A fourth section on ‘Using Primary Sources’ provides practitioners of history, from students to experienced scholars, with guides on how to find and use a range of primary sources. A final, fifth section deals with ‘Classic Texts in Context’, where we have assembled ‘classic’ historical works that are selected, introduced and contextualized by leading historians. There is also a ‘Questions for Consideration’ section at the end of each extract published under this section.

Overcoming Western-centrism

There is still a strong Western-centric bias in the writing of history theory and the history of historiography. It is essential to reflect on themes that are not geographically focused on ‘the West’. At the same time, in many areas of the theory of history and the history of historiography, we are dealing with a long history of forms of colonialism and postcolonialism in which western ideas, theories and themes were adopted, adapted and revised in non-western parts of the world.

The resource covers themes, concepts, perspectives, and texts that engage with traditions from diverse regions. We have encouraged authors to explore the global entanglements that have shaped much historical research and practice. As new topics are added to the resource, fostering global perspectives and reflecting the richness of multiple historical traditions will continue to be a major concern.

A platform for the state-of-the-art but also for debate

The articles in this digital resource should give its readers a reliable base from which to start research or with which to understand particular areas in historical theory and the history of historiography. However, we have also encouraged authors to deal with new hypotheses and challenging ideas, which is why some articles might reflect particular positionings in history theory and the history of historiography which might not be shared by everyone. Hence, we encourage colleagues to use the resource as a platform for debate and dialogue, where they feel that a particular issue, theme, concept, key thinker or source has been dealt with in a way that can also be dealt with differently. Ultimately, we believe that history theory and the history of historiography are centrally about such kaleidoscopic and multi-perspectival debate.

Hence, we offer this digital resource, on the one hand, with the desire to provide a reliable information base, but, on the other hand, we also wish for lively debate that is not afraid of controversy.

Signed by the Editors' team

Stefan Berger (Editor-in-Chief)

Berber Bevernage

Maria Grever

Ogechukwu E. Williams

Q. Edward Wang

Tracey Loughran

August, 2021

In association with the Editorial Advisory Board

Allan Megill

Christophe Bouton

Daniel Woolf

Dipesh Chakrabarty

Kumie Inose

Lizette Jacinto

Peter Burke

Prasenjit Duara

Toyin Falola

Valdei Araujo