History is a term used to describe information about the past. When used as the name of a field of study, history refers to the study and interpretation of the record of human societies.

The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica remarked that, "history in the wider sense is all that has happened, not merely all the phenomena of human life, but those of the natural world as well. It includes everything that undergoes change; and as modern science has shown that there is nothing absolutely static, therefore the whole universe, and every part of it, has its history." Knowledge of history is often said to encompass both knowledge of past events and historical thinking skills.

In modern academia, history is increasingly classified as a social science, especially when chronology and the investigation of such is applied.


Historians obtain information about the past from different kinds of sources, including written or printed records, interviews (oral history), and archaeology. Different approaches may be more common in some periods than others, and the study of history has its fads and fashions. The events that occurred prior to human records are known as prehistory.

It should be noted that the term 'History' is not used to represent the entire history of humankind, but events that have occurred since the agricultural revolution and the appearance of civilizations (eg., the past 10,000 years or so). Events that occur before this time are lumped together under the term prehistory (which covers more than 99% of our species' time on this planet), despite no change in the genetic make up of pre and post-historic humans.


The term history entered English in 1390 in the sense "relation of incidents, story "via Old French historie", Latin historia "narrative, account", from Ancient Greek historia "a learning or knowing by inquiry, history, record, narrative," from the verb historein "to inquire," in turn derived from histor "wise man", "witness" or "judge". Early attestations of are from the Homeric Hymns, Heraclitus, the Athenian ephebes' oath, and from Boiotic inscriptions (in a legal sense, either "judge" or "witness", or similar). The spirant is problematic, and not present in cognate Greek eidomai "to appear" etc.

It is ultimately from PIE *wid-tor-, from the root *weid- "to know, to see", also present in wit, Latin vision, video, Sanskrit Veda, Welsh Gwynn, Slavic videti etc. Historia is an Ionic derivation of the word, which with Ionic science and philosophy were spread first in Classical Greece and ultimately over all of Hellenism.

In Middle English, the meaning was "story" in general. The restriction to the meaning "record of past events" in the sense of Herodotus arises in the late 15th century. A sense of "systematic account" without a reference to time in particular was current in the 16th century, but is now obsolete. The adjective historical is attested form 1561 and historic from 1669. Historian in the sense of a "researcher of history" in a higher sense than that of an annalist or chronicler, who merely record events as they occur, is attested from 1531


A very large amount of historical information is available, and several different ways of classifying it are given at the main article.

A criticism of history as a field has been that it has too narrowly focused on political events or on individuals. Deeper and more significant changes in terms of ideas, technology, family life and culture have received too little attention. Recent developments in history have sought to redress this.

By ideological classification:

Although there is arguably some intrinsic bias in history studies (with national bias perhaps being the most significant), history can also be studied from narrow ideological perspectives, which practitioners feel are often ignored, such as:

Marxist historiography:

A form of historical speculation known commonly as virtual history, or "counterfactual history", has also been adopted by some historians as a means of assessing and exploring the possible outcomes if certain events had not occurred or had occurred in a different way. This is somewhat similar to the alternative history genre in fiction.

Development of Historical Method:

The methods employed by professional (and amateur) historians have evolved as has the purpose and motivation of the study of history. Historians of note who have advanced the profession of History include Leopold Ranke, Namier, Geoffrey Elton, Trevelyn and AJP Taylor. In recent years, post-modernists have challenged the validity and need for the study of history on the basis that all history is based on the personal interpretation of sources, however in his book In Defence of History, Richard J. Evans, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, sucessfully defended his profession's worth.


It is said that the difference between novel and history lie in the fact that while the characters in the former are fictitious, the events are real and in the latter the characters are real but the events are fictitious!