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The development of historical writing
Ancient times. The world's oldest written history comes from China. Archaeologists have discovered records of Chinese history written before 1000 B.C. The first great Chinese historian, Sima Qian (also spelled Sou-ma Ch'ien), wrote the earliest major history of China about 100 B.C.
Western historical writing began in ancient Greece. The first major Greek historian was Herodotus, who lived during the 400's B.C. He wrote a long account of the wars between the Greeks and the Persians. Herodotus, who is often called the "Father of History", had few Greek documents and could not read Persian. Therefore, he based his narrative primarily on tradition and oral testimony. He added fictitious details to make it more lively, but modern historians have confirmed the basic accuracy of his writing. Herodotus' most famous successor, Thucydides, strove to write critically and accurately. His History of the Peloponnesian War is an authentic account of the 27-year war in which Sparta finally defeated Athens in 404 B.C.
Several ancient Romans also became famous historians. Livy wrote a long, detailed narrative called History from the Founding of the City. It tells the story of Rome from the city's birth until 9 B.C. Cornelius Tacitus is known especially for his Histories and Annals. These works examine Roman history from the death of the emperor Augustus in A.D. 14 through the reign of Vitellius, which ended in A.D.69.
Medieval times. Christian writers, including a number of monks, contributed almost all the historical accounts of medieval times that were written during that period. Some Christian historians attempted to write a universal history by combining Jewish and Christian history with the record of the Greek and Roman past. During the early 300's, Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, produced the most important universal history of that type. In another work, Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius presented a history of Christianity to show that God controlled human events. During the 400's, Saint Augustine developed this idea fully into a philosophy of history in his book The City of God.
The greatest historian of the early Middle Ages was an English monk named Bede. His major work, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation (731), is still the principal source for English history up to that time. Bede and the other medieval historians tried to show the hand of God in historical events. Today, their works are significant chiefly as records of the events of their times.
During the 1300's, a great Arab historian named Ibn Khaldun wrote his seven-volume Universal History, a study of world civilization. Also at this time in Europe, people other than members of the clergy started to write histories. European historians of the 1400's began to concentrate more on the human view of events and less on the divine aspect.
Modern times. An important early modern historian was the British scholar Edward Gibbon. His masterpiece, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788), reveals Gibbon's accurate and thorough scholarship. This work also reflects the bias against Christianity of Gibbon and other great thinkers of his day. Gibbon's book blames Christianity in part for the fall of the Roman Empire.
The methods of modern historical study developed during the 1800's, and history became a recognized academic field. Leopold von Ranke, a German historian, had the most significant impact on the development of history in the 1800’s. Ranke, who is known as the “Father of Modern History”, devised the basic methods used by modern historians to analyze and evaluate documents. He also introduced the use of seminars for training future historians.
Ranke mainly studied political history. During the 1900's, however, European and American historians began to emphasize the importance of social and economic forces in history. Today, historians study these and all other aspects of the human past.
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