Two main trends of history writing emerged in the ancient period. One was documentation of the history of royal dynasties and the other was the history of war, customs and traditions.
Herodotus (d. 425BC), known as the ‘Father of History’, wrote in his book that the main motive behind writing history was to preserve the past for future generations.
Discussing the war between the Persians and the Greeks, he referred to it as a conflict between democracy and despotism. His successor Thucydides (d. 395BC ), inherited the craft of history writing. His book on the Peloponnesian war deals with human nature which according to him remains unchanged and always responds in the same way to situations like war, famine and political chaos.
During the Roman period, history writing became imperial, described the conflict between the Romans and the Barbarians and widened its scope to include other nations in its narratives.
The prominent historians of this period were Livy, Tacitus, Polybius and Plutarch who enriched historiography of the Roman Empire.
The secular approach of history changed during the middle ages under the influence of the church. Now the purpose of history was to unfold the divine plan, attributing all action to God. In this concept, history had a beginning and an end. St. Augustine categorised historical accounts into six periods on the basis of Biblical history.
Muslim historiography was also influenced by this trend and historians began writing general history with the advent of Adam, followed by narrating lives of prophets and kings. The History of the Prophets and Kings or Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, popularly known Tarikh al-Tabari is a historical chronicle written in Arabic by Persian author and historian Ibn Jarir al-Tabari.
In Europe, history writing radically changed during the Renaissance period, when the humanists challenged its religious approach. Petrarch (d. 1374), known as the ‘Father of Humanism’ rejected St. Augustine’s periodisation and introduced the concept of the ancient, the middle and modern ages. This new approach linked history to the Greek and Roman periods. Once again, secularisation of history liberated it from religious stronghold, and historical narratives became a battlefield of ideas and different theories.
During Reformation, both Catholics and Protestants used history for ideological defense.
With the French Revolution, a new angle to historiography emerged. While rejecting the pre-revolutionary period along with its institutions and traditions, it claimed to inaugurate a new era. This approach created two groups, the conservative and progressive.
In his book Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Edmund Burke argued that the French Revolution disrupted the continuity of history and traditions that had evolved after a prolonged period of time. The break created a void causing anarchy and disorder. He was staunch believer of continuity of traditions and resisted radical change. Soon his book became a holy text for the conservatives who wanted status quo and abhorred change in the established order.
On the other hand, the progressives were in favour of eliminating outdated and absolute traditions and wanted to transform the society based on new ideas. The French Revolution became the focal point for this discussion in writing new history.
In the 1820s, Hegal delivered a series of lectures on the philosophy of history to demonstrate that history follows reason. Hegel attributed the natural progress of history to an absolute spirit and that in acknowledging this spirit, as well as the evil in history; reason can clearly be seen also, reconciling the two. According to him, history proceeds as a result of constant conflict. Every event whether great or insignificant has a role in history. To the Germans, history became an important source for understanding all aspects of human life.
Hegel was followed by Karl Marx (d.1883) whose materialistic concept of history provided a new methodology in understanding the process of history.
After the First World War, Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre established a Annales school of historiography which opened new avenues for history writing by emphasising on social and cultural aspects. As new theories and ideas such as feminism, constructionism and postmodernism etc. broadened the scope of history, it became a discipline required to comprehend social, political, and economic aspects of society which gradually reshaped and transformed historical narratives.