Reliving the Past: The Worlds of Social History

Reliving the Past: The Worlds of Social History

Reliving the Past: The Worlds of Social History

Reliving the Past: The Worlds of Social History

Synopsis

Five historians uncover the ties between people's daily routines and the all-encompassing framework of their lives. They trace the processes of social construction in Western Europe, the United States, Latin America, Africa, and China, discussing both the historical similarities and the ways in which individual history has shaped each area's development. They stress the need for a social history that connects individuals to major ideological, political, and economic transformations.

Excerpt

The emergence of social history in the 1960s and 1970s as an innovative intellectual movement profoundly affected historical consciousness by broadening both the subject matter and methods of history. The new praxis had a liberating quality. Pointing to the records of ordinary lives as a source of evidence, social historians called into question the merit of using the acts of elites as a measure of the past and challenged historians in general to reexamine their assumptions, regardless of their ideological commitments. This infusion of new evidence and technique inspired reappraisal of theory as well as detailed evocation of a new past. But social historians have embraced so many problems and have engaged in so many inquiries that the field now needs reordering. The reflections by five historians offered in the following chapters are meant as part of this reassessment. Our interest is in the future of social history and in the integration of varied studies in large syntheses. We are not concerned specifically with the history of ordinary people--inasmuch as significant proportions of this history have now been written--but with the ways specialists of different regions of the world choose to see the connections between major transformations--ideological, political, economic, and social--and the form and character of lives shaped in different environments.

The factors that contributed to the pivotal role of social history during the last thirty years are well known. First, its growth paralleled the demographic surge of historians. The new field benefited from an unprecedented number of able young intellectuals who shared in the excitement of enlarging the vision of history. Second, the methods of social history were enriched by the post-World War II discourse between scientists and humanists at universities and research institutes. In particular, social historians drew methods from all of . . .

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