This chapter outlines the materialist conception of history, commonly known as historical materialism, first developed by Karl Marx. It focuses upon three important dimensions of historical materialism in the work of Marxist historians: the dialectical model at the basis of Marx's grand narrative of human history; the adaptations of Marxist theory in Latin America; and the enduring question of class consciousness. The driving forces in Marx's conception of history are social classes, which arise from different economic roles in the productive process. In order to overthrow the dominant class, subordinate people must become aware of their oppression, and consequently the concept of human agency is critical to Marx's conceptual framework. Marx's theory, therefore, contains a kind of paradox: the dialectic of productive transformation (a consequence of the inner contradictions within the production process itself) is, nonetheless, dependent upon the consciousness and actions of men and women.
The historiography of the African American experience since 1980 is, for obvious reasons, less expansive than for earlier decades. The subject matter of the first studies of the African American experience in the last two decades of the twentieth century has been influenced by a number of factors. In common with early works on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s there has been a tendency for researchers to concentrate primarily on nationally known leaders and major political and legislative developments. In a 1996 study, political scientist Robert C. Smith concluded that since the 1970s the black Civil Rights Movement had 'been almost wholly encapsulated into mainstream institutions; co-opted and marginalized'. A notable historiographical development of the late 1990s was a sudden proliferation of studies on Louis Farrakhan, leader of the black separatist organization the Nation of Islam.
This chapter briefly outlines understandings about the nature of memory and remembering and looks at key developments in the analysis and interpretation of oral histories and oral traditions. There are three subsets of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory. What is particularly important for oral historians is the long-term memory. Increasingly oral historians began to look at the role of imagination and myth in story-telling. The chapter presents an example in which Canadian anthropologist Julie Cruikshank explored the ways in which myth continued to play a critical role in oral tradition. Development in oral history interpretive theory draws upon the ideas of poststructuralism. The chapter also presents an article, by Alistair Thomson, which explores the links between private and public memory for one Australia New Zealand Army Corps soldier.
The preoccupation with Martin Luther King in early studies on the post-war Civil Rights Movement can be explained by a number of factors. When eschewing a biographical approach, early historians of the Civil Rights Movement typically sought to achieve insights into their subject through traditional political and institutional studies. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s raised difficult ethical issues for religious leaders of all faiths, but the moral challenge was perhaps most painful of all for southern Jewish communities. The relationship between black civil rights and US foreign policy was another little-explored area that attracted the attention of scholars in the 1990s. Members of a long persecuted minority it was easy for Jews in the region to empathize with the experiences of African Americans. At the same time active support for the civil rights campaign carried the risk of provoking anti-Semitic violence and retaliation by segregationist groups.
This chapter looks at the work and perspectives of historians in the field of postcolonial history. Colonialism sanctioned the spread of Europeans throughout the world on both economic and cultural grounds. Postcolonial perspectives extend far beyond the white settler states to include the histories of cultures and societies that have experienced European colonial domination in other parts of the world. The chapter provides a discussion on the influential 'subaltern studies' historians, Ranajit Guha, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Vinay Lal of India. It presents an essay by Henrietta Whiteman, whose research has examined the 'forced assimilation' of the Cheyenne-Arapaho through the system of education. In the essay Whiteman included both an emic and etic perspective in her historical interpretation. She concluded that the 'Cheyenne sense of history is one of power, majesty, mystery, and awe'.
One of the most controversial areas of historiography has been the use of psychoanalysis for understanding historical personalities, groups, or trends. This chapter focuses on the use of psychoanalysis in history. Psychoanalytic theory was developed by Sigmund Freud in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Freud's theory has sometimes been seen as deterministic, in that he saw an adult as a product of a small group of people, the family, who interpreted the nature of society for her or him. Erik Erikson's theory of ego psychology, developed in the United States, suggested fruitful amalgamations of history and psychoanalysis. According to Peter Loewenberg, ego psychology and character analysis are particularly important and welcome to historians because they are based on the evidence of adult behaviour. Psychoanalytic approaches can explain more than the irrational in history. Many historians are committed to explanations based on individual or group self-interest.
This chapter explores the contemporary uses of history in the public sphere. It focuses on collective relationships with the past. The chapter briefly outlines what is included under the rubric of public history and heritage. It also explores how the concepts of 'imagined community', 'collective memory', 'historical consciousness' and 'performativity' help us understand popular engagement with the past. Public history is important because it fulfils the responsibility of historians to engage society in understanding the past. The chapter presents two case studies to demonstrate the connections in public history between imagined national communities, the processes of collective memory, and historical consciousness. The first case study is Yael Zerubavel's exploration of Israeli 'collective memory', described by Sander Gilman as 'the story of an "imagined community" writ large. The second case study is Annie Coombes' comparison of two museums in South Africa: Robben Island Museum and the District Six Museum in Capetown.
The term 'quantitative history' covers a range of methodologies and theoretical bases, linked by their reliance on numerical data. Almost all historical writing involves quantification, however, whether implicit or explicit. Less methodologically controversial than the new economic history is the use of data to produce historical series, that is, serial history. The French Annales historians in particular used serial history to throw light on cultural as well as economic and demographic phenomena. This chapter discusses historical demography which gives access to a much greater proportion of historical societies than does the analysis of most historical documents. From a structuralist point of view, demography has been linked with social structures and political stability in primarily agrarian societies to consider medium term secular cycles. Simultaneously, historians are considering the theoretical and methodological impacts of the digital age on history research and writing.
Narrative is central to the explanation of change over time, one of the most important dimensions of historical research and writing, and is also the principal means by which historians seek to achieve empirical 'coherence' or logical consistency. This chapter identifies the key questions posed by historians and philosophers of history concerning the narrativization of the past, with a particular focus upon a critical intervention made by Hayden White that continues to resonate in scholarly debates. There have been many criticisms of the narrative form as a means of representing the past. First of all narratives focus upon human action and conduct and may overplay human agency. Secondly, because events happen in sequence does not necessarily indicate cause and effect. The chapter presents an essay by Hayden White for readers to consider the extent to which he suggested that 'the discourse of the historian' and fictional writing share common features.
Although Martin Luther King had been martyred in 1968, he had at least claimed to have a vision of a future promised land. The advances achieved in desegregation and black voting rights since the 1950s suggested that this was a destination that King's children, and African Americans as a whole, would ultimately reach. Booker T. Washington's autobiographies had a fascination for his fellow citizens of all races, in that American social values at the turn of the century tended to lay undue emphasis on individual achievement at the expense of group experience. The painstaking quality of Louis Harlan's research, combined with his prolific scholarly output, established him as unquestionably the leading modern authority on Washington by the 1980s. Although careful to present a balanced picture of his subject, it was also clear that Harlan himself was generally unsympathetic to the Tuskegeean's accommodationist philosophy.