Recorded history

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Linear A etched on tablets found in Akrotiri, Santorini.

Recorded history or written history is a historical narrative based on a written record or other documented communication. Recorded history can be contrasted with other narratives of the past such as mythological or oral traditions.

For world history, recorded history begins with the accounts of the ancient world around the 4th millennium BC, and coincides with the invention of writing. For some regions of the world, written history is limited to a relatively recent period in human history. Moreover, human cultures do not always record all information relevant to later historians, such as natural disasters or the names of individuals; thus, recorded history for particular types of information is limited based on the types of records kept. Because of these limits, recorded history in different contexts may refer to different periods of time depending on the historical topic.

The interpretation of recorded history often relies on historical method, or the set of techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write accounts of the past. The question of the nature, and even the possibility, of a sound historical method is raised in the philosophy of history as a question of epistemology. The study of historical method and writing is known as historiography.


Sumerian inscription in monumental archaic style, c. 26th century BCE
Further information: History of writing

Prehistory traditionally refers to the span of time before recorded history, ending with the invention of writing systems.[1] Prehistory refers to the past in an area where no written records exist, or where the writing of a culture is not understood. Since the 20th century, the study of prehistory is considered essential to implicit exclusion of certain preliterate civilizations, such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa, pre-Columbian America, Australian Aboriginals and New Zealand Māori.[further explanation needed]

Protohistory refers to the transition period between prehistory and history, after the advent of literacy in a society but before the writings of the first historians. Protohistory may also refer to the period during which a culture or civilization has not yet developed writing, but other cultures have noted its existence in their own writings.

More complete writing systems were preceded by proto-writing. Early examples are the Jiahu symbols (ca. 6600 BCE), Vinča signs (ca. 5300 BCE), early Indus script (ca. 3500 BCE) and Nsibidi script (ca. before 500 CE). There is disagreement concerning exactly when prehistory becomes history, and when proto-writing became "true writing"[2] However, invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary with the beginning of the Bronze Age in the late Neolithic of the late 4th millennium BCE. The Sumerian archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered the earliest writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400–3200 BCE with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BCE.

Historical accounts[edit]

Oracle bone of the Shang dynasty, ancient China

The earliest chronologies date back to the two earliest civilizations: the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia and the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt[3] which emerged independently of each other from roughly 3500 B.C.[4] Earliest recorded history, which varies greatly in quality and reliability, deals with Pharaohs and their reigns, made by ancient Egyptians.[5] Much of the earliest recorded history was re-discovered relatively recently due to archaeological dig sites findings.[6] Since these initial accounts, a number of different traditions have developed in different parts of the world in how to handle the writing and production of historical accounts.

East Asia[edit]

The groundwork for professional historiography in East Asia was established by the Han Dynasty court historian known as Sima Qian (145–90 B.C.), author of the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian). For the quality of his written work, Sima Qian is posthumously known as the Father of Chinese Historiography. Zuo Qiuming is traditionally identified as the author of the historical text Zuo Zhuan.[7]


Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BCE – ca.425 BCE)[8] has generally been acclaimed as the "father of history" composing his The Histories written from 450s to the 420s BCE. However, his contemporary Thucydides (ca. 460 BCE – ca. 400 BCE) is credited with having first approached history with a well-developed historical method in his work the History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides, unlike Herodotus, regarded history as being the product of the choices and actions of human beings, and looked at cause and effect, rather than as the result of divine intervention.[8]

Saint Augustine was influential in Christian and Western thought at the beginning of the medieval period. Through the Medieval and Renaissance periods, history was often studied through a sacred or religious perspective. Around 1800, German philosopher and historian Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel brought philosophy and a more secular approach in historical study.[9]

According to John Tosh, "From the High Middle Ages (c.1000–1300) onwards, the written word survives in greater abundance than any other source for Western history."[10] Western historians developed methods comparable to modern historiographic research in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France and Germany, where they began investigating these source materials to write histories of their past. Many of these histories, had strong ideological and political ties to their historical narratives. In the 20th century, academic historians began focusing less on epic nationalistic narratives, which often tended to glorify the nation or great men, to more objective and complex analyses of social and intellectual forces. A major trend of historical methodology in the 20th century was a tendency to treat history more as a social science rather than as an art, which traditionally had been the case. French historians associated with the Annales School introduced quantitative history, using raw data to track the lives of typical individuals, and were prominent in the establishment of cultural history.

Middle East[edit]

In the preface to his book, the Muqaddimah (1377), the Arab historian and early sociologist, Ibn Khaldun, warned of seven mistakes that he thought that historians regularly committed. In this criticism, he approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. Ibn Khaldun often criticized "idle superstition and uncritical acceptance of historical data." As a result, he introduced a scientific method to the study of history, and he often referred to it as his "new science".[11] His historical method also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history,[12] and he is thus considered to be the "father of historiography"[13][14] or the "father of the philosophy of history".[15]

Methods of recording history[edit]

While recorded history begins with the invention of writing, over time new ways of recording history have come along with the advancement of technology. History can now be recorded through photography, audio recordings, and video recordings. More recently, internet archives have been saving copies of webpages, documenting the history of the internet. Other methods of collecting historical information have also accompanied the change in technologies; for example, since at least the 20th century, attempts have been made to preserve oral history by recording it. Until the 1990s this was done using analogue recording methods such as cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes. With the onset of new technologies, there are now digital recordings, which may be recorded to CDs.[16] Nevertheless, historical record and interpretation often relies heavily on written records, partially because it dominates the extant historical materials, and partially because historians are used to communicating and researching in that medium.[17]

Historical method[edit]

The historical method comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write history. Primary sources are firsthand evidence of history (usually written, but sometimes captured in other mediums) made at the time of an event by a present person. Historians think of those sources as the closest to the origin of the information or idea under study.[18][19] These types of sources can provide researchers with, as Dalton and Charnigo put it, "direct, unmediated information about the object of study."[20]

Historians use other types of sources to understand history as well. Secondary sources are written accounts of history based upon the evidence from primary sources. These are sources which, usually, are accounts, works, or research that analyze, assimilate, evaluate, interpret, and/or synthesize primary sources. Tertiary sources are compilations based upon primary and secondary sources and often tell a more generalized account built on the more specific research found in the first two types of sources.[18][21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shotwell, James Thomson. An Introduction to the History of History. Records of civilization, sources and studies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1922.
  2. ^ Smail, Daniel Lord. On Deep History and the Brain. An Ahmanson foundation book in the humanities. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
  3. ^ "The Cuneiform Writing System in Ancient Mesopotamia: Emergence and Evolution". EDSITEment. Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  4. ^ Kott, Ruth E. "The origins of writing". The University of Chicago Magazine. Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Adès, Harry (2007). A Traveller's History of Egypt. Interlink Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-1566566544. 
  6. ^ Greer, Thomas H. (2004). A Brief History of the Western World. Cengage Learning. p. 16. ISBN 978-0534642365. 
  7. ^ Xing Lu (1998). Rhetoric in ancient China, fifth to third century, B.C.E.: a comparison with classical Greek rhetoric. University of South Carolina Press. p. 107. ISBN 1-57003-216-5. 
  8. ^ a b Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. & Jeremy A. Sabloff (1979). Ancient Civilizations: The Near East and Mesoamerica. Benjamin-Cummings Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 0-88133-834-6. 
  9. ^ Graham, Gordon (1997). "Chapter 1". The Shape of the Past. Oxford University. 
  10. ^ Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 90.
  11. ^ Ibn Khaldun, Franz Rosenthal, N. J. Dawood (1967), The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, p. x, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-01754-9.
  12. ^ H. Mowlana (2001). "Information in the Arab World", Cooperation South Journal 1.
  13. ^ Salahuddin Ahmed (1999). A Dictionary of Muslim Names. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. ISBN 1-85065-356-9.
  14. ^ Enan, Muhammed Abdullah (2007). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Works. The Other Press. p. v. ISBN 983-9541-53-6. 
  15. ^ Dr. S. W. Akhtar (1997). "The Islamic Concept of Knowledge", Al-Tawhid: A Quarterly Journal of Islamic Thought & Culture 12 (3).
  16. ^ Colin Webb; Kevin Bradley (1997). "Preserving Oral History Recordings". National Library of Australia. Archived from the original on 20 June 2008. Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  17. ^ Tosh, The Pursuit of History 58-59
  18. ^ a b User Education Services. "Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources". University of Maryland Libraries. Retrieved 10 Jul 2013. 
  19. ^ "Library Guides: Primary, secondary and tertiary sources"
  20. ^ Dalton, Margaret Steig; Charnigo, Laurie (2004). "Historians and Their Information Sources" (PDF). College & Research Libraries. September: 400–25, at 416 n.3 , citing U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2003), Occupational Outlook Handbook; Lorenz, C. (2001). "History: Theories and Methods". In Smelser, Neil J.; Bates. International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavior Sciences 10. Amsterdam: Elsevier. p. 6871  |first2= missing |last2= in Editors list (help)
  21. ^ "Glossary, Using Information Resources".  ("Tertiary Source" is defined as "reference material that synthesizes work already reported in primary or secondary sources")
  22. ^ "Library Guides: Primary, secondary and tertiary sources". 

Works cited[edit]

  • Tosh, John (2006). The Pursuit of HIstory (4th ed.). Pearson Longamn. ISBN 9781405823517. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]