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About this book

The expansion of social history that took place in the twentieth century has produced some of the most exciting works in the field of historical studies. As the range of the social historian's concerns has grown, so has the range of methodologies and theoretical approaches they employ. Historians have made greater use of the theoretical insights of social scientists, and boundaries between the disciplines have become blurred as a consequence.

Social Theory and Social History:
- covers the major developments within social history
- offers an introduction to the most important social theorists
- discusses the relationship between history and the social sciences
- considers the use of theory in the writing of history
- examines current debates within historiography

In this concise introductory guide, Donald M. MacRaild and Avram Taylor explore the complex relationship between social theory and social history, arguing that an awareness of the relation between the two is the key to a deeper understanding of the process of historical change.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Several years ago a colleague began teaching a course on the Fascist period in Italy. There was nothing unusual about the content of the course in itself. It was to look at the rise of fascism in Italy, the reasons for Mussolini’s accession to power, and various aspects of Italian society during the period of the Fascist regime itself. Such a course is quite typical of the specialised options any undergraduate might expect to study in a university today. As a way of introducing the topic, the tutor decided to ask the students what type of regime Mussolini’s dictatorship was. Was it an authoritarian dictatorship, a Fascist regime or a totalitarian state? What do we mean by terms like ‘fascist’ or ‘totalitarian?’ he asked. How can we offer a definition of ‘fascism’ that can encompass all the movements and regimes characterised as ‘fascist’? Is the ‘totalitarianism’ concept a valid one? Is it right to bracket together regimes as different as Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia? These are, you might think, perfectly legitimate questions to begin such a course with. The students did not agree. One particularly vociferous member of the group complained that ‘this was not proper history, and it wasn’t what they came to university to study’. Other members of the group agreed with the dissident student, and the unfortunate tutor felt obliged to defend his introduction of conceptual issues into the course.
Donald M. MacRaild, Avram Taylor

1. Cinderella Gets Her Prince? The Development of Social History

Abstract
When in 1962 Harold Perkin reviewed the academic position of social history at that time, he could have had no idea how far things would proceed in the next 40 years. ‘Social history is the Cinderella of English historical studies’, he argued ‘Judged by the usual criteria of academic disciplines, it can scarcely be said to exist: there are no chairs (i.e. professorships in social history) and, if we omit local history, no university departments, no learned journals, and few if any textbooks.’1 This was not the case, however, with Cinderella’s ‘second eldest sister’, economic history, whose scope was well defined and whose invitation to the ball was always open. Economic history, established in the early years of the twentieth century by such luminaries as George Unwin and John Clapham, enjoyed direct links to the historical mainstream. Clapham, for example, was an apostle of the economist, Alfred Marshall, and of Lord Acton. Economic history thus enjoyed a degree of acceptance — and acceptability — which social history was slow to acquire. Economic history existed beyond question, with universities providing a home to ensure its permanency. Whereas social history, even at the time Perkin was writing, lay at the edge of the discipline; it was experimental and inchoate, lacking the clear objectives and methodologies enjoyed by economic history.
Donald M. MacRaild, Avram Taylor

2. Fruit of a ‘special relationship’? Historical Sociology

Abstract
At the heart of any discussion of the development of social history as a discreet field of enquiry must be an appreciation of the intersection of two disciplines: history and sociology. The marriage of the two has not always been easy and is of relatively recent vintage. No one today would question the mutual benefits of history and sociology operating in concert: but it was not always the case. The early rumours of a dalliance between the subjects gained credibility in the immediate post-war years. Richard Hofstadter, writing in 1956, emphasised the potential of such a union, even if he did not name the disciplines directly:
The next generation may see the development of a somewhat new historical genre, which will be a mixture of traditional history and the social sciences. It will differ from the narrative history of the past in that its primary purpose will be analytical … It will be informed by the insights of the social sciences and at some points will make use of methods they have originated.1
Donald M. MacRaild, Avram Taylor

3. ‘A mass of factors and influences?’ Systemic, ‘Total’ and ‘Comparative’ Histories

Abstract
‘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.
Donald M. MacRaild, Avram Taylor

4. Social Structure and Human Agency in Historical Explanation

Abstract
In Britain before the Second World War higher education was largely the preserve of a privileged minority. It was extremely unusual for anyone from a working-class background to attend university. The main reason for this was that there was very little free educational provision after the age of 14 until the 1944 Education Act.1 Thus, those from poorer backgrounds were usually prevented from attending university for financial reasons. However, the existence of such structural factors did not prevent some, particularly determined, individuals from underprivileged backgrounds from gaining a place at a university. One such person was Ralph Glasser, who was born to Jewish immigrant parents, and grew up in the Gorbals, a slum district of Glasgow. Due to the family’s straitened financial circumstances, Glasser had to leave school at 14 and began work as a soap-boy in a barber’s and then as a presser in a clothes factory. Determined not to neglect his education, he continued to study both by himself and in extramural classes at Glasgow University. His hard work finally paid off when he was awarded a scholarship to Oxford after submitting an essay in the vague hope that something might come of it. Glasser made the journey from Glasgow to Oxford on a bicycle, because he was too poor to afford rail travel. Although his studies were interrupted by the Second World War, he returned after the war to complete his degree. After leaving Oxford, he went on to work for the British Council, became involved in development projects in the Third World, and also had several of his own works published. Thus that one action of submitting an essay transformed his whole life.2
Donald M. MacRaild, Avram Taylor

5. Ideology, Mentalité and Social Ritual: From Social History to Cultural History

Abstract
This chapter assesses an important historiographical development: the emergence of a ‘New Social History’ and, beyond that, of what is termed ‘Cultural History’. The chapter’s main aim is to explain, by drawing upon a wide range of examples, the linkages (and competition) between these more recent turns towards the cultural and the older forms of Marxist-inspired social history of the 1960s. In some respects, the two traditions have lived side by side: the keystones of Marxist social history, works by such influential writers as E.P. Thompson, were quickly assimilated into an Anglophone historiographic tradition. The Americans were particularly quick to seize the opportunities afforded by such analyses of workers’ lives. Whilst many important Annales’ social histories pre-dated the work of Thompson, the spread of their ideas in the non-Francophone world was initially restricted to those who could read French. Nevertheless, the two approaches were, as Lynn Hunt rightly argued, ‘two dominant paradigms of explanation’ in ‘the move towards the social’.1
Donald M. MacRaild, Avram Taylor

Conclusion

Abstract
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.
Donald M. MacRaild, Avram Taylor
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