What is History: concept and study as a science –

Although history is present in our lives almost from birth with stories that pass from generation to generation, folk tales, songs, we even take care of writing our own but… who can clearly define What is History: concept and study as a science?

what is history

History, a huge word very difficult to define, history is the conjunction of events carried out by man in the past. The first historians we know of are the Greek historians, they were in charge of arousing curiosity to know what had happened in earlier dates, historians like Herodotus, with his nine books Historiae or The nine books of history, is the first description that we It has arrived on the ancient world in prose, where it recounts the great actions carried out by the Greeks so that it would last over time.

We must distinguish two ways of treating history, one as an object of study and the other as a science that studies the past, but as we have defined before, it is not just about studying the past, since this would take us back to studying the origin of the planet, rather, it is about studying history in which man is the main protagonist.

The word “History» has many uses, and we use it every day when we speak. But when we refer to its study -at school, for example-, we are going to concentrate on the meaning of History as «science that studies the past of human societies«.

In this way we can say that the history seeks to know and study the actions (individual and collective) that mens and societies, they performed in the past. When we talk about the past, we refer to all the time that has elapsed up to the present (the present). Studying the past human societieswe can go back very far (many millions of years ago) to the origin of the man, the beginning of life on earth either the origin of the universe.

This feature of history extend into a past so deep, that it is difficult for us to take dimension of it, often makes it difficult to study and learn.

Read our post about Cosmic Year and you will understand better about time:

The Construction of History

One of the most important aspects to take into account when we reflect on what history is is, like all scientific knowledge, a construction. What do we mean by this? That we cannot know the past exactly as it happened.
That is to say, basically recognizing that when we read a text about history we are not facing the «reality» of that «past». But it is a reconstruction elaborated from the present.

Reconstruction carried out based on certain information that has come to us from that past (always incomplete and partial, to a greater or lesser extent), which is selected, interpreted, related and pondered by a historian or a team of historians.

History as a science tries to find a logical explanation according to the study of the data we know about the past or a specific event that occurred in the past, one of the biggest problems that science encounters is the objectivity of the stories that have told us. arrived. It is evident that many of the historical accounts are exaggerated, or are not very faithful to the reality of what happened.

Concepts and tools to understand history

Methodology in any science is fundamental, in the case of history it is also. There are different methods to be able to study history, either as the ancient Greek historians did, collecting data, doing research and writing down everything they were told, to the most modern methods based on new technologies, which have managed to clear up many historical doubts.

Although many times we do not consider it, studying and understanding history correctly has many complexities. Something that seems as simple as repeating dates, names and texts is not really understanding history. That is why theorists of history work with categories or concepts that give meaning to these data from the past, allow us to see the relationships between different events, and have a more complete vision of the past of a society.


When we talk about methods for the study and knowledge of history, we have to talk about historiography, since this has as its objective the way of interpreting the events of the past.

Learn about the historical period of the Enlightenment:

Before the Enlightenment

Before the nineteenth century, history was treated with moralizing and exemplary purposes, where the most important thing was that the great events endure in the memory, the great characters, important historical events, legendary battles. It was about memorizing and not understanding, lacking in intellectual rigor.

After the Enlightenment

It is after what is known as the Age of Enlightenment, when history begins to be understood as a discipline, appear new research methods thanks to archaeology, philosophy, the study of Egypt, etc. The new scientific and literary works such as The Encyclopedia, where scientists of the time reflected the new advances in terms of knowledge.

When history crossed the doors of the universities, it automatically became a science, more specifically Sciences of History, thus abandoning the literary character it had had until now, becoming a science that as such requires scientific rigor. .


positivism is a current of thought who advocated studying history free of prejudice, objectively, trying a real reconstruction of the events. What positivism really achieved was collecting historical data but without any interpretation.

Auxiliary sciences of history

History for many centuries was helped by a series of complementary or auxiliary studies that allowed it to create a chronology in relation to an event that gradually shaped history. These sciences can be divided into social, autonomous and specific sciences, we are going to know each of them below.

History and social sciences

To be able to investigate and learn history often requires the collaboration of other sciences such as archaeology, botany, paleontology, etc.

These sciences are known as auxiliary sciences, despite the fact that they are autonomous sciences with different methods of study. Most of these misnamed auxiliary sciences were born in the shadow of history, serving as support, but today they are completely independent sciences.

History and Autonomous Sciences

They are the sciences that, despite having their own autonomy, as we have already mentioned, maintain a close relationship working side by side with history. Sciences such as sociology, botany, paleontology, zoology, biology, economics, anthropology, psychology, etc.

They all provide different data with their conclusions so that historians can place their research historically and in the exact context. Being able to know, for example, thanks to anthropology, data about human beings of the past, such as how they related, what they ate, even making sociological comparisons between forms of life that have already disappeared and others with similar characteristics that still exist.

History and Specific Sciences

It is about those sciences that are born from the data that historians can provide, such is the case of the study of coins or numismatics, or the study of books or bibliography, paleography or the study of ancient scriptures, etc.

Who has not been curious to know how far he is able to go in his family tree. It is an exhaustive and rigorous study, genealogy is in charge of all this. heraldry as a study of family coats of arms, etc.

periods of history

If we talk about human history, the division between two great periods of history is generally accepted. On one side would be the prehistorywhich would refer to history from the appearance of man to the Stone Age, and on the other hand we would have the history, from the development of writing. Obviously, prehistory could go back in time to the very moment of the creation of the Earth, but it was not until around 3 million years ago that evolution gave rise to the first men.

So on the one hand we have the Prehistory, which is also usually divided into three major periods. The paleolithic (“carved stone”) would be the first of them. It covers from 2.5 – 3 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago. The Paleolithic is the era of human prehistory that includes the most years, with a great difference over the rest.

The second period of prehistory would be the Neolithic (“polished stone”), spanning from 12,000 years ago to 7,000 years ago. It is at these times that human development becomes much more accelerated.
Lastly would be the Age of metals, spanning from 7,000 to 5,000 years ago. During this time the instruments are diversified and perfected. This time leads to the birth of history.
The History Strictly speaking, it only covers 0.5% of the history of humanity, and we can divide it as follows:

  • Prehistory. It is considered that the origin of man begins (4 million years), until the appearance of writing (4,000 before Christ)
  • Old age. It is considered that it begins with the appearance of writing (5,000/4,000 BC), until the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD – S. V).
  • Middle Ages. It is considered to begin with the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD – S. V), until the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire (1453 AD – S. XV).
  • Modern age. It is considered that it begins with the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire (1453 AD – S. XV), until the French Revolution (1789 AD – S. XVIII).
  • Contemporary age. It is considered that it begins with the French Revolution (1789 AD – S. XVIII), until today.

History itself is born in the light of writing. As you can see, the periods of history last less and less time, that is, we evolve faster and faster.

history as science

In the typical division that is usually made between sciences and letters or humanities, history is usually included within the humanities or social sciences, which are studies of letters. However, throughout history and, above all, from the second half of the 20th century, many historians reject this condition of social science of history and criticize the reductionist perspective that this conception makes of history.

Many historians are in favor of considering history as a fully scientific discipline, which does not mean that a consensus has been reached on the rules that should lead history to scientific rigor. In fact, most of these historians always made their hypotheses by uniting history with some other type of discipline,…