‘The more aspects you study, the more specialization there is, the more life becomes a mass of “factors” and “influences” with no unifying theme.’1 So wrote Theodore Zeldin when describing the problems of trying to encapsulate long periods of history, covering large, general questions of historical importance, over large areas of study: much as he himself had done in his own most famous work.2 Despite the problems associated with large-scale long-run histories, philosophers, theorists and historians have sought at various times to capture human society on a vast canvas. This chapter focuses on two such approaches. The first, the vogue for ‘systemic’ or ‘total story’, most closely associated with Fernand Braudel, offers an opportunity to consider the interplay between history and social sciences at its grandest level. The second, the emphasis upon comparative methodologies, allows us to focus upon one of the most important examples of the interconnection between social science and history. In both instances, we will be discussing some important theories and methods which help to explain the structures of history and enhance the study of social phenomena by providing a systemic, scientific account of past society as a whole.
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- ‘A mass of factors and influences?’ Systemic, ‘Total’ and ‘Comparative’ Histories
Donald M. MacRaild
- Macmillan Education UK
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