Losses, Gains and Opportunities: Social History Today

By Kocka, Juergen | Journal of Social History, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Losses, Gains and Opportunities: Social History Today


Kocka, Juergen, Journal of Social History


The impression is widely spread that this is not a good moment to be a social historian. It has become common-place that our present situation differs strongly from the situation around 1970 when Eric Hobsbawm made his famous proclamation of optimism. Social history seems to have gone through a long period of decline which started in the early 1980s and may not have reached its rock-bottom yet. Mounting challenges to social historical views from outside, increasing internal doubt about

basic principles of social-historical thought, fragmentation and loss of identity, declining popularity among researchers, students and in the public at large have been characteristic for the last 20-25 years, or so it seems. Certainly in Germany nobody would nowadays characterize social history the way it was characterized by Hans Rosenberg in 1969. With irony and sympathy he remarked that social history has become a nebulous code for everything deemed to be desirable and progressive in West German historiography. (1) But the news from other countries is not much better: For decades, a "Social History Seminar" had been offered in Cambridge University. A while ago it was renamed into "Themes in Modern History", and students talked about "the seminar formerly known as social".

While there is overwhelming evidence which supports the skeptical notion of a long-term decline of social history, the characterization is only half true. First, there were not only losses, but gains as well. Depending on the criteria used, the latter may be seen as more important than the former. Second, a new turn seems to be imminent which may lead to a renaissance of social history though in a deeply restructured form.

The following remarks will not tell the story of social history as it developed from the 1960s to the present day, for the story is familiar. (2) Rather I shall comment first on some losses and secondly on some gains which social history seems to have experienced since the time when Rosenberg and Hobsbawm wrote. Thirdly, I shall comment on some challenges and opportunities which are visible today. These will be general remarks, but with some concentration on the German case. My field is modern history.

I have two meanings of social history in mind: (1) social history as a specialized sub-discipline concentrating on social structures, processes, and actions in a specific sense (inequality, mobility, classes, strata, ethnicity, gender relations, urbanization, work and life of different types of people, not just elites), in contrast to other sub-disciplines like economic history, constitutional history or the history of ideas; (2) social history as a specific approach to or way of looking on general history, by stressing broad structures and processes as well as those dimensions of historical reality emphasized by social history in sense (1). (3)

History as a discipline is tremendously rich, varied and heterogeneous. For every generalizing remark on the recent and present state of the profession it is easy to find evidence to the contrary and a host of exceptions, particularly in a short comment like the following. If its shortcuts can be excused at all, it is by referring to the larger discussion toward which it is directed.

Social-scientific history in decline

Besides economic history and historical demography social history belonged to those sub-disciplines which have offered most opportunities for the application of analytical methods. It was in the history of social inequality, mobility, migration and protests as well as voting and some other areas that mass-data could be systematically collected and analyzed, by using advanced statistical methods, sharply defined concepts, sophisticated models and rigid procedures for testing them. Impulses from the neighbouring social sciences played a major role. Social-scientific history in this sense was always only a small part of social history. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Losses, Gains and Opportunities: Social History Today
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.