(the process by which historians attempt to understand and interpret the past)



Begin with a question


1)      Gather evidence – written, oral, material;


2)      Authenticate it;


3)      Evaluate it;


4)      Organize it in a meaningful way:


a.       Mythopoetism – the use of stories (myths) to explain the past. Evolves from oral traditions of prehistoric peoples, e.g., Epic of Gilgamesh, Iliad

b.      Determinism – the belief that some force external to humans controls the course of people’s lives

                                                               i.      Theological (unfolding of Divine Providence), e.g., Ancient Hebrews, Early Christians, Puritans

                                                             ii.      Environmental (climate or terrain determined culture and character of individual peoples), e.g., Ancient Egypt, U.S. Republic

c.       Individualism: “Great Man” Theory – the belief that individuals and individual actions are important to historical developments

                                                               i.      Sidney Hook, The Hero in History

1.      Eventful man – happens to be at the right place at the right time

2.      Event-making man – able to control developments by force of personality

                                                             ii.      Theories based on human conflict

1.      Hegel – ideas determine the nature of society; historical change occurs as a consequence of conflict between opposing ideas (thesis v. antithesis)

2.      Marx – economics determine the nature of society; historical change occurs through class struggle between exploiters and exploited

3.      Freud – conflict is internal; individuals torn between conflicting demands of id and superego – “The price of civilization is neurosis.”


N.B. The Gregorian calendar currently in use in the United States reflects the Christian heritage of Western Civilization. Year 1 AD (Anno Domini or “in the year of the Lord”) marks the year of Christ’s birth (although Biblical historians now believe this is probably off by five years). There is no year 0; the year before Christ’s birth is 1 aCn (Ante Christum Natum or “before the birth of Christ) or in English BC or “before Christ.”  The abbreviations CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before the Common Era) are also used for AD and BC respectively. In the Gregorian calendar, the new year begins on January 1st.


The Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar in 1582 in most of the Roman Catholic world, in 1752 in Great Britain and her colonies, and in 1918 in Russia. In the Julian calendar the new year began on March 25th.


Areas of the world that have other religious traditions use other dating systems. Israel uses the traditional Hebrew calendar which dates from Creation (as figured from the Bible). August 23, 2005 in the Gregorian calendar is 18 Av 5765 in the Hebrew calendar.  The Jewish New Year on 4 October will be 5766 A.M. (Anno mundi or “year of the world”). In the Islamic World Anno Hegirae or “in the year of the hijra” (marking Mohammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina), year 1 dates from 622 CE. 


Throughout much of ancient and medieval history dates reflected important political developments or the reigns of rulers. The Roman system, for instance, dated events from the founding of Rome (753 BCE).  England used regnal years concurrently with the Julian calendar. The regnal year began the day of the ruler’s accession to the throne. 1 Elizabeth I would run from 17 November 1558 to 16 November 1559; 2 Elizabeth from 17 November 1559 to 16 November 1560, etc. Thus, an event dated 12 December 10 Elizabeth I would have occurred on 12 December 1567.