When we talk of change and progress in history, do we mean change and progress in historiography? How can we have change or progress in history as in history the phenomena have already taken place and can not be altered?

  • Without change or progress in history, there will be no history. No relation with historiography. What's the history of Methuselah after his death? Right: nothing. Because nothing about him has changed/progressed since then.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 17:11

4 Answers 4


1. When we talk of change and progress in history, do we mean change and progress in historiography?

The term history is ambiguous. It refers to (a) what happened in the past (the res gestae) and (b) an account of or inquiry into what (is taken to have) happened in the past (the historia rerum gestarum).

There are different methods or approaches to such accounts and inquiries as (b), and historiography is in one important sense a history - sense (b) - of those different methods and approaches. A historiographer might note, for instance, how in the late-19th to 20th centuries there was a shift of interest from diplomatic and political to social and economic history. In a narrower sense 'historiography' refers, with respect to a particular subject or topic, say the French Revolution, to a study of the different methods or approaches that have been taken towards understanding or interpreting this event and its consequences in the last nearly 250 years - from (say) the Marxist to the postmodernist.

There probably has been progress in historiography - a refinement in how we study the different methods and approaches.

'Progress in history', however, usually refers to history in sense (a). Has there been a general amelioration in human affairs and will this continue? The question normally carries extra freight, however. A belief in progress is usually based on the assumption of laws of social development which operate in such a way as to create an irreversible pattern of change and in one direction only - towards a general improvement from less desirable to more desirable states of affairs.

It's possible to believe in general amelioration or improvement as merely a contingent development but in the history of ideas there has generally been, behind a belief in progress, an assumption of social laws at work or at least of some non-accidental mechanism (such as social darwinians postulate) or of some force such as, in Hegel, the necesssary unfolding of Reason in history.

2. How can we have change or progress in history as in history the phenomena have already taken place and can not be altered?

We can't. There is no question of past events progresssing - they are fixed. The only question is whether they exhibit progress. I offer no views.


S. Pollard, 'The Idea of Progress*, Oxford: Alden & Mowbray, 1968.

J. McCarney, Hegel on History, London: Routledge, 2000.


Historiography, is the study of the study of History, that is to say, how do Historians study History in terms of methods and approaches. It is one thing to study The American Revolution as a historical event, though it is quite another thing to study the study of The American Revolution in terms of how to best inform, educate and teach students about The American Revolution.

In recent years, American Historiography-(I cannot necessarily comment on other Contemporary Western Historiographies in places, such as Canada and Europe), has been moving in a highly politicized direction. Of course the politicization of Historical Knowledge is nothing new, though the Contemporary version of politicized Historiography has become hyper-leftist....an interesting combination of Marxist and Post-Modern Historiographies.

Contemporary Marxist Historical Discourse is still preoccupied with the age old elimination of class hierarchies, while the Post-Modern approach, is preoccupied with the elimination of intellectual hierarchies....such as, Truth and Objectivity. For mainstream History and particularly mainstream Historiography, the Marxist and particularly, the Post-Modern approach, has reversed the "progress" of Historical interpretation whereby the careful assembling of facts and steadfast adherence to a type of scientific method, is now considered, archaic and useless. History and Historiography now focus their intellectual and academic attention on promoting topics, such as the fulfillment of social justice, racial equity, as well as the rhetorical smashing of Western Civilization-(treating it like a proverbial pinata)....or the banning of Western Civilization altogether.

Sadly, this is the current state of American Historical Education and Historiography and I would hardly call this recent form of anti-intellectualism....."progress".


It can mean either. Also, how come you think that there cannot be progress or change in something that already happened? Do you think you live in the same way as during the Black Death?


Both and more.

Hegel suggested in his Lectures in the Philosophy of History which were originally lectures he gave between 1820-30 that there are three modes of history:

  1. Original history
  2. Reflective history
  3. Philosophical history

Original history is close to what most people think of history. This is the kimd of history done by historians. Say in ancient times by Herodotus, Thucydides or Ibn Khaldun. Now historians to do history in an objective manner must have a method and reflections on that method is historiography.

But it is one thing to record what happens and its another to reflect upon what has happened and to pick up themes. This is what Hegel called reflective history and requires a historian to step back and to be at some distance from the events he is recording. A good example of such a historian is Toynbee and in fact he also thought of himself as a philosophical historian. His notion of a civilisation is quite similar to Hegel's notion of a nations geist which he described as the protagonists of philosophical history.

In this third category, Hegel insisted that a historian free himself of the prejudices of his time and attempt to find the true nature and driving ideas behind the events he witnesses or reflects on. According to Hegel:

World history ... represents the development of the spirit's consciousness of its own freedom and of the consequent realisation of that freedom

He saw it as the working (or dialectic) out of the absolute spirit on the mere brute matter of the world and in this sense, he is a Platonist. Marx was Hegel's most famous disciple and inverted Hegel's philosophy to develop his own philosophy of history - but not by him - as Marxism. For him, it was matter that worked upon spirit, the matter of capital on the spirit of man and his vision of freedom, his end, was his emancipation from capital. He called this final stage, communism.

History in both Hegel's and Marx's hand was progressive, it had an end and a telos (purpose).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .