Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Varieties of History

Political history is one of the oldest genres of history and obviously has many subdivisions, such as local (village or city or riding), territorial, provincial, and national.

Sometimes regional histories will transcend the political boundaries of provinces or states, such as the western or Prairie Provinces, or in the United States, the West or the South. There are numerous historical studies of parties, elections, governments, and popular movements.

Administrative history, which considers the development of various branches of government and how they function, is related to political history.

Diplomatic history or international relations concerns relations between and among states, including alliances and alignments, the origins of wars, peace negotiations, and treaties.

Associated with this vast field is the history of international law, of the laws of war, of international arbitration, and of international organizations.

Military history considers the financing, organization and training, arming and employment in peace or war of the various forms of the military, and militarism. This field encompasses grand strategy as well as battlefield tactics, and can include the social, economic and intellectual effects of wars.

Economic history studies the various forms of economic endeavour over time, and was triggered in part by the development of economics as a separate discipline, but also by the transformation of life in the modern world due to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. But forms of cultivation and production of goods through the ages have been the subjects of innumerable historical investigations. Histories of prices and wages, of housing and labour (workers, guilds, and unions), of companies and businesses, just to name a few, are subdisciplines of economic history. The history of technology is both autonomous and wedded to economic history.

Intellectual history or the history of ideas analyses the evolution of ideas and their expression in texts in relation to the cultural environment of their era. Cultural history extends from customs and conventions, ordinary artefacts, and popular culture to the pinnacles of human achievement in literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, and the decorative arts. Religious history examines the importance of the spiritual dimensions of life, and evaluates the contributions of religious organizations, churches and popular movements to the political and cultural experience of each age.

The histories of science and medicine, which examine how scientific knowledge evolves and influences society, have developed to the point that many large history departments now include scholars in one or the other, perhaps both subjects. That there are now historians of the environment reflects current concerns about the global ecology and the future of the planet.

Social history has been investigated in remarkably innovative ways and with rich results in the last half-century, revealing humankind's changing views and treatment of the stages of life - birth, childhood, youth, adulthood and old age - in the past. Studies of the family, of the poor and the rich, of various classes and orders (serfs, peasants, labourers, middle class, and aristocracy) have proliferated. Historical demography has reconstituted populations from parish registers, identified their forms of employment, established the extent of their wealth, counted their children, gauged their life expectancies, and measured the incidence of plague, warfare, fire and storm upon them. Family history explores attitudes toward marriage, contraception, abortion, childhood, child rearing, widowhood, and patterns of inheritance. Family sizes and child rearing practices have varied in ways that may characterize an era more fundamentally than events which give the era its name. The history of everyday life illuminates the most mundane but fundamental sides of existence in previous centuries, the changing diets, clothing, housing, and heating of humankind. These details often derive from an economic history of the consumer whose purchasing power eventually constituted a mass market with far reaching effects.

In recent decades historians have developed several new forms of history.

Psychohistory, which is found almost entirely in biography, took its impulse from the work of Sigmund Freud, his successors, and some dissenters from his canon. The study of popular mentalities delineates the outlook of large numbers of previously unheard but not entirely inarticulate people in earlier societies as evidenced in their actions.

In North America important strides have been made in last quarter century to recover and develop the history of minorities, a trend closely associated with political movements for civil rights and economic and social equality. In unveiling historic patterns of race relations, this field of study has enhanced the pride and helped articulate the goals of African Americans in particular. Much the same can be said of the growing interest in the history of native peoples, Hispanics, and North America's other ethnic minorities.

Other historians have studied with new intensity and insight the half of humanity constituted by women, which resulted in women's history. The investigation of the history of women extends into social, economic, political and legal history, and, like the history of ethnic minorities, it can be correlated with vigorous political and social movements. Women's history has in turn stimulated interest the history of the masculine experience: men's history. Another related field is gender history, which treats sexuality and the social organization of relations between the sexes, and the way gender, female and male, is constructed in different historical contexts.