Heritage and Challenge: The History and Theory of History

By Paul K. Conkin; Roland N. Stromberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

HISTORY IN OUR OWN TIME:
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

New Views of History

Historical writing has always been susceptible to the influence of general ideas in the surrounding culture. Historians reflect pervasive interests and concerns when they select and group their empirically discovered facts. They readily take on the coloration of their times. In a romantic epoch they wrote romantic history; in a nationalistic one, nationalistic history. They were often stimulated by the theories of a Marx or a Comte, but when disenchantment set in, historians could, with Burckhardt, withdraw to the ivory tower.

The flexibility of historical inquiry—its tendency to reflect the climate of opinion of an age—has undoubtedly been one of the leading discoveries of modern historical thought. It gives rise to a tendency to talk not about history but about historians, and to be aware of the influences coming from outside the historical profession itself. By way of entry into the rich profusion of this century, so violent, so disturbed, and so brilliant, we may observe that at the turn of the century historians found themselves stimulated by a striking group of social theorists and sociologists, including Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Vilfredo Pareto, and Thorstein Veblen. It was the great age of sociology. This group considerably refined the crude generalizations of Marx, Comte, and Spencer while retaining large powers of generalization. They were learned as well as analytical. To the sociologists would soon be added the new depth or clinical psychologists, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, who have so deeply influenced modern people's vision of themselves and their society. A new kind of political science, influenced by psychology and sociology, appeared in such works as Graham Wallas's Human Nature in Politics, in Weber's writings on the modes of political domination, in M. I. Ostrogorski's and Robert Michels's realistic studies of political parties, and in Veblen's analysis of class social psychology. These were

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