Register Now


Lost Password

Lost your password? Please enter your email address. You will receive a link and will create a new password via email.


Register Now

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.Morbi adipiscing gravdio, sit amet suscipit risus ultrices eu.Fusce viverra neque at purus laoreet consequa.Vivamus vulputate posuere nisl quis consequat.

What was historical past class like earlier than the fashionable period?

It is a very broad query however primarily if an individual had the means to study historical past what would they study? Did Romans of the first century find out about Alexander? Did the Byzantines of the eleventh century find out about Caesar? Had been there historical past nerds that have been fascinated of historic Egypt or historic Rome? What did “historical past class” appear to be within the civilizations of Asia?

I do know that is broad however any small truth could be appreciated.

I posted this to r/askhistorians and obtained upvotes however nobody posted a response, so I deliver it to you on your insights.

Comments ( 25 )

  1. Myths, ethnographies, travelogues, writers like Herodotos, stories handed down, royal and imperial archives.

  2. Well, since only the very wealthy were able to be educated, people like Alexander for example were tutored by famous historians/philosophers/mathematicians.

    Everyone who wasn’t the richest kid around would most likely have been tutored by students of these famous philosophers. (Pretty much anyone inclined in the scientific arts was a philosopher, as in the ancient eras all sciences were rooted in philosophy)

  3. Classical studies during the Age of Enlightenment and Victorian era.

  4. So yes for sure, those examples you give are accurate, much of history for a very long time was what we would now call Great Man History. Education was a luxury of the rich and powerful and they mostly saw history as a study concerning the great leaders of the past as a way to learn to emulate them.

    Now what exactly these people were learning from is unclear to me, I suppose reading texts directly or listening to a lecture by someone who did read a text but the sourcing of this material or how exactly it was being taught or studied is unclear to me

  5. History was not always taught in classes. For example, many Indigenous nations transmitted histories through oral stories.

  6. In Rome few would have studied history directly.

    History would mainly have been learned as a means to study other things, like politics, military arts, as a way of learning *pietas* (the roman concept of duty and loyalty towards the family and Rome). For example the life and campaigns of Alexander would have been a core part of pietas and military training (and Ceasar was noted as being a huge Alexander fanboy).

    But if you wanted to study history then there would have been numerous chronicles written and available at libraries and private collections, most of which are lost today and only known second hand through historians like Polybius, Diodorus and Arrian (who had an almost unrestricted access to the writings of the hellenic and pre-hellenic world).

  7. Herodotus is frequently cited as the world’s first historian. In ancient times, the study of history wasn’t so much a subject as the study of philosophy with Historical events as examples in philosophical discussions. In earlier times…people had their oral histories until people such as Home collected these and assembled them into the Iliad and/or his Odyssey. Of course the earlier books of the Old Testament are codified oral histories as well. The ancient Egyptian told stories in their hieroglyphs. Someone focused on the story of history would almost always originate from the upper classes as they were the only ones with the wherewithal to expend time and energy on such things without the need for finding food.

  8. I know that when Harvard University was founded back in the 1600s it had a traditional curriculum, and that did not include history. There was a huge emphasis on classics though, however, which would’ve included Greek and Latin, and probably also some discussion of Greek and Roman history – they would’ve read Caesar and Livy so talking about that –and understanding Plato and the philosophers.

    A lot of historical discussion would probably also occur in different religion classes or religious settings. Christian theologians, for example, would be expected to have some knowledge of the reformation and Luther, while Catholic seminarians were taught about the history of the church, Reformation and Counterreformation etc.

  9. One important thing to know is that history as a subject or discipline in its own right was not really a thing before modern times.

    History was not part of the “septem artes” of the medieval age, and in ancient Rome education in general was a rather deregulated, private affair by private teachers or tutors, who sometimes were slaves.

    Higher education in Rome was also all about rhetorics and practical skills you would need for a career in politics, and even that was reserved for very high class people. Of course, some knowledge about the history of the realm would have been vital for the aspiring high class citizens, but mostly just to further their political “value” and not for its own sake.

    In the middle ages, you had the first universities in Europe, the first one being in Bologna somewhere around 1080, but again, this early universities had no “history institutes” before the 18th century for the most part.

    To put things into perspective, ordinary folk in this age would not even know what exactly their by far most important text did say, since the bible was not available in anything other than Latin, ancient greek and hebraic (or however you call that one in english…).

    Some researchers in the middle age, mostly from a church background, would work with the texts of the classical philosophers of antiquity, but even that was a very exotic field of research.

    Another point, of course the lense through which history is viewed was very different “back then”, both in classic age and in early christian and muslim societies. Their was always a focus on the “success stories” of your own society and your own faith of course

  10. The Bible was for a long time regarded as the most relevant historical text. Also if you go really far back, it was also common for myth to be treated as the source of historical knowledge.

  11. “These are the people you hate now. Commit them to memory for the test.”

  12. History before it was history was just current events.

  13. Historiography is the study of the study of history. Congratulations on making it to this level of nerd 😆.

    It’s technically the history of *writing* about history, so oral histories would be a different thing. But to learn about the way people in the past interpreted and spread their own history, that’s the term you should Google.

    One weird thing that I learned at some point and has stuck in my brain is that people in the Middle Ages in Europe, while they obviously knew biblical history and Greco-Roman history, they only knew it in broad strokes and didn’t really concern themselves with the daily life of people in long ago history. So, they would imagine King David as living like a contemporary European king in a castle and dressing in the type of clothes they themselves wore. But maybe that was only the laymen of the time?

  14. Some have touched on school in the ancient world so, I’ll go to the Medieval West, starting in around the 8th/9th century and beyond for a bit…

    School was most often run by the church or church adjacent institutions [like a monastery or, a group of monks/priests in the employ of a King, say] and as such would require study or religious texts, as well as the “seven liberal arts” – the Trivium and the Quadrivium, if you’ve heard of those.

    The trivium was grammar, logic, and rhetoric. In studying this, most fledgling monks or lay people would probably be reading a lot of Aristotle and perhaps a smattering of Cicero or other Latin writers. Meanwhile, the quadrivium included arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music. Here again, classical authors would have been read and preserved, along with some late antique and medieval writers as well.

    Starting in around the 11th/12th centuries, monastic schools started to develop into larger institutions, which eventually gave rise to the earliest universities [oversimplifying some]. The seven liberal arts still made up the core of one’s education which could lead to a bachelor’s degree. A Master’s degree might focus more on the quadrivium, or an area within that, and after attaining an MA, one could study theology, medicine, or law at higher levels.

    So as you can sort of see – you wouldn’t see people studying history as its own field. History would come up when studying theology, when reading for rhetoric and grammar, and in other ways tangentially, but it was not a focus.

  15. History until fairly recently can be described as the great deeds of great men. As such, if you were of the elite, you’d learn about the deeds of your family and how they related to where you lived. Books/manuscripts were rare and expensive. It would be rare to read/possess them. For the man on the street, probably the old way would be via plays. This changes with the printing press.

    As for asia/south america. No idea

  16. The Egyptians were around for so long, there are texts from them where they are telling the history/doing archeology about centuries old Egyptians.

  17. As many have already said, only the privileged classes would go out of their way to learn historic things (perhaps monks and nuns might have access to written histories, or someone wealthy enough to be literate might read something like Herodotus). But most people told histories through myths, legends, rhymes, and ghost stories, often for entertainment.

    Aboriginal people in Australia pass(ed) history down as oral tradition, and my shallow understanding is that their histories are incredibly detailed and lengthy, and the teaching is extremely rigorous and rigid, so they are passed on exactly as before; they apparently map well to natural history going back an astonishing amount of time.

    A farmer in what is now rural England may perhaps have passed on legends about local history, or may have learned about it in song. Medieveal Europeans often memorialized notable local royalty through song and legend, such as “Good King Wenceslas” or the story of Lady Godiva. Traveling entertainers or troupes might tell fun stories, alongside actual historic recountings, in verse. That’s partly why so many poets in centuries past wrote their epic stories in rhyme: there was a tradition of people, likely illiterate, memorizing and reciting the entire thing for audiences. The practice of history through song was something people took up again during the labor movements of the early 20th Century in the US; as the stories and histories were suppressed officially, people wrote folk songs about coal town battles, union leaders, awful bosses, and what life was like for workers. And, of course, a lot of history that people learned was religious.

    In Tibet people have been passing histories of monks and monasteries down for a long time but I’m not sure how far it goes back. Because of the tradition of locating the reincarnation of a specific monk or teacher in every generation, naturally the history of that person through the centuries would be relevant. So, the stories of monks and monasteries was one possible subject of history.

    A look through Shakespeare’s oeuvre shows that in the late 1500s people in London were watching plays about famous ancient Romans and famous English Kings. In the late 1300s Chaucer was also writing Classical histories (mixed with mythology) and histories of notable nobles and church officials (not always complimentary) in verse. His audience would have been noble men and women, as well as the rising upper middle class people and merchants.

  18. If you read philosophy they tend to talk about historical figures who came before them. But as someone else stated, this probably was exclusively the wealthy who had the means to learn about this

  19. I think everyone else hit the nail on the head as far as the wealthy being educated. History as an educational subject in school is relatively modern. I’ve seen my grandparent’s history textbooks from the 30s and 40s since they kept them. They focused primarily in European and American history, but they aren’t nearly as detailed as the stuff I learned in my APUSH and AP Euro classes 10-12 years ago. Modern communication has helped piece together primary and secondary sources to tell a more complete narrative of what has happened. I have a friend with a PhD in archaeology, and she says what we know about history is constantly changing with the more we uncover. She is a mummy doctor, so you gotta believe her after all.

  20. History isn’t a specific class. It is part of the education of the elites or those who want to join the elites. Researching the education system of each civilization would give more insight. There are lots of primary sources on the Roman, Greek, and Chinese education system from the ancient world.

  21. I was also wondering what people study in history now compared to, say, 15 or 20 years ago. When I was studying history in school in 2007, the syllabus went up to the end of the Cold War. I think the previous syllabus (introduced in 2002) also touched on the Cold War, which was amazingly current given that 1991 was just a decade or so ago.

    Yet, when I look up the current syallabus today, the coverage is still up until the end of the Cold War (30 years ago). Sure, the topics covered have changed (now they learn about Dutch colonialism and French Indochina instead of the Russian and Chinese revolutions) but it seems that no one is willing to touch events in the 21st century just yet.

  22. You might have some fun looking into historiography, which looks at how historians developed the academic study of history. It was part of my historical research methods class when I got my undergrad in history.

  23. One of my favourite university classes was run by the heads of the History and the Classics departments. The course was called Ancient Greek Historical and Philosophical Thought. And it was exactly what was written on the tin: a dive into how the ancients thought about the world. It was super fascinating! Would heartily recommend anyone interested seek out a similar experience.

  24. History was what we consider Classics today: Herodotus, Homer, Thucydides, Livy, Plutarch. Up until well into the 20th century, the works of Plutarch were probably the most read history in the West. They’re essentially mini-bios of famous leaders and generals of antiquity, with an emphasis on their moral character.

    These bios were instructive to Western elites, who were encouraged to champion the values demonstrated by Plutarch’s nobler subjects – courage, loyalty, civic-mindedness. If you were an educated man in the 19th and early 20th century, you were expected to be able to talk about Pericles, Alcibiades, Caesar, etc.

  25. Prior to modern era there were few classes or formal schooling. Literate elites of Rome were aware of Greek and Roman history. Mostly educated by private tutors they read histories, mythologies and philosophies. Many educated Romans read Greek. Many educated medieval elites read and spoke Latin. Caesar knew Alexanders story well and once burst into tears that he had achieved so little himself at Alexanders age. Nearly all literate elites in Europe for the last 2,000 years have known the story of Caesar.

Leave a reply