What Is Leftist about Social History Today?

By Kocka, Juergen | Journal of Social History, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

What Is Leftist about Social History Today?


Kocka, Juergen, Journal of Social History


What is leftist about social history? Why should conservatives be smore critical of social history than, for example, intellectual, political or economic history? Which consequences should social historians draw from being identified with and criticized for leftist inclinations? Answers may differ with the concept of social history one subscribes to, and with the historiographical tradition from which one comes.

By social history I mean, on the one hand, a sub-field of historical studies which mainly deals with social structures, processes and experiences, for example, with classes and strata, ethnic and religious groups, migrations and families, business structures and entrepreneurship, mobility, gender relations, urbanization, or patterns of rural life. Usually the borderlines vis a vis cultural, economic and political history are not clearly drawn. On the other hand, social history means an approach to general history from a socio-historical point of view. Social history in this sense deals with all domains of historical reality, by relating them to social structures, processes and experiences in different ways. The following remarks are aimed at social history in general, but they come from a European perspective. I teach in a German university and have done most of my work in the field of modern European, particularly Central and West European history.

If there is an affinity between social history and the political Left, it is neither clear cut nor ubiquitous. Modern social history emerged from very different intellectual sources. Certainly, there were strong traditions of social criticism, marxist and otherwise, which influenced social historical thought, most important in the study of workers' and labor history. But social scientists like Durkheim and Max Weber influenced historical sociology and social history as well, in a strictly nonmarxist and nonsocialist way; due to them, theories of modernization and social differentiation became important in the field from the 1950s to the 1980s, and in spite of much criticism directed against them, they continue to play a role still today. In addition, social history had conservative sources. Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, a nineteenth-century German ethnologist with much sympathy for the time-honored customs of peasants, deep respect for the monarchy and distrust of urban liberalism informed an important tradition of Central European conservative social history. In the 1930s and 1940s it took a nationalist turn. Werner Conze, one of the great pioneers of modern German social history, was deeply influenced by this tradition. One of his programmatic articles served as the opening piece of The Journal of Social History in 1967. Probably the conservative critics of social history are not aware of the rather complicated history of the field which contradicts widely held cliches.

It can be argued that topics dear to the Left have been dominant in social history: poverty and discrimination, workers and labor, social protests and social movements, inequality along gender lines, ethnic minorities and their usually difficult relations to the majority. But social historians have dealt with other topics as well. Elite groups have been favorite objects of social historical research, the rich and the powerful, the nobility, business communities and entrepreneurs. In fact the history of entrepreneurship has been one of the testing fields in which the cooperation between social historians and social scientists was tried out, very early, for instance at the Harvard Center for Entrepreneurial History. During the last decade working-class history has lost much of its attraction to social historians. In Central Europe at least, the history of the middle classes or rather of the bourgeoisie has taken its place as a fashionable field of concentration, combining social and cultural approaches in innovative ways. Most social historical topics carry neither leftist or rightist connotations - the social history of the family or of work provides obvious examples. …

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

What Is Leftist about 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.