Most historians, if asked, would declare social history to be a relatively modern invention, one associated strongly with the growing influence of the Annales School, or Marxist approaches in the post-1945 period. In general, social history is considered to be the attempt of historians to appreciate ‘the social’ (however that might be defined), though it is often quite narrowly conceived. In some respects, social history has been relegated to a listing of things with a particularly ‘social’ bent: class struggle; the history of the family and affective relations; the impact of great caesura, such as the Industrial Revolution and so on. For others, social history is primarily at the interplay between historical methodologies and sociological theories. Certainly, sociologists of history or historical sociologists have produced some of the most important works of social history. There can be no doubting the influence of theory in shaping the precise nature or approach of social historians, particularly since the Second World War. But, as we have seen, aspects of social history have deeper roots — some lie in the Enlightenment and the ways in which philosophers envisioned human culture; other elements, perhaps more prosaic, can be traced back to early historians, such as J.R. Green, who, in the mid-Victorian years, was seeking to emphasise ordinary people and social occurrence at the expense of Great Men and the lofty events of state.
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Donald M. MacRaild
- Macmillan Education UK
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