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The difference between history & historiography

Updated April 17, 2017

The discipline of history is not going anywhere. Yet, the critical perspective historiography offers is becoming more central to the field of history and offering new conclusions about past events and our relationship to them. The differences between history and historiography are many and minute, from the most basic definitions of the words themselves, to nuanced ways in which the fields offer value to the academic sphere and beyond.

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History is an aggregate of past events, while historiography is the study of history and its methodology.

Discipline and Sub-Discipline

Historiography is one of eight sub-disciplines of the discipline of history, which include: historical theories, intellectual history, political and economic history, social and cultural history, environmental history, the history of women and gender, historical anthropology and historiography.

Colloquial versus Academic

"History" is an academic discipline but it is also a commonly used word that does not necessarily denote academia. "History" can be used colloquially to refer to any passed span of time or set of stories associated with it. The word "historiography" did not come into common usage within scholarly circles until 1979, by the thought of Stanford University professor and scholar Lawrence Stone. "Historiography" is not used conversationally.

Humanities and Social Sciences

Even though historiography is a sub-discipline of history, they fall into different discipline-types because of their methodology. History falls into the humanities because of its emphasis on philosophy, art, literature and other non-sciences. Social sciences encompass the human element of the humanities plus the empiricism of the sciences. Historiography offers a social scientific approach to history.

Narrative and Analytical

Lawrence Stone described the field of history as being narrative in form and character. He described history as chronological, sequential and coherent storytelling. By contrast, historiography was a "new history" which focused not on narrative but analysis. He also called it "structural history" because it focuses more on the condition of humanity than on the factual, objective circumstances. Historiography focuses on the "how," of the past, and history on the "what." Historiography is at once highly focused and broad.

Which Begot What

History begot historiography; historiography begot critical cultural studies. Critical cultural studies is the umbrella discipline out of which Chicana studies, Latina studies, women's studies, African American studies and many other specified fields within the humanities emerged over recent decades. In its analysis of the construction of human history, it has revealed inadequacies, gaps and culturally skewed narratives. Historiography and its ethic of inquiry has opened up a platform for other disciplines to flourish.

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About the Author

Amanda Jane Gustafson has been writing professionally since 2009. Her work appears on various websites. Gustafson brings an expertise in crafting, haircare, fitness, religion and spirituality to her writings for eHow, Answerbag and LIVESTRONG.COM. She received a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and is currently studying to be a yoga instructor.

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