oa Historia - Demokratisering in die geskiedwetenskap : van 'n elitegeskiedenis van bo tot 'n alledaagse geskiedenis van onderaf

Volume 32, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0018-229X



Democratization in historical science. In contemporary European historiography there has been a move away from the old Rankean concept of an 'elite' history from above to a new perspective of history from below, dealing with the lives or ordinary people at the base of the social pyramid. Whereas Ranke, the founder of historical science in 19th Century Germany, based his model on themes like the state, politics and great men to be studied by the hermeneutical individualizing method, Braudel, his French counterpart in the 20th Century, broadened the field of history by studying processes and structures (socio-economic, demographic and anthropological) in accordance with the analytical method of the systematic social sciences. However, in the fifties of the 20th Century, British Marxist historians like Hill, Hobsbawm and Thompson protested against the new kind of history from below and presented the history of peasants and workers from ""the bottom up"". It constituted an ideologized and politicized approach with a view to activating ordinary people to fight for a better deal. The British Marxist historians laid the foundations of the American Radical Historians Association which also used their History Workshop method in a process of democratization of history, activating the lower classes and using history as a political weapon against an affluent society. British, American and French influence can be detected in the ""new school"" of South African radical historiography which offers an ""alternative history from below"". It resonates with the lives of ordinary people instead of reflecting the deliberations of the ruling classes or the theoretical concerns of structuralist abstractionism. Thus historical study ""democratisized"" in History Workshops to produce a ""people's history"" dealing with the ""common man"" of the South African working class. Ordinary people partake in the Workshops bringing forth ""experienced"" history based on oral evidence, which amounts to ""pop"" history. Historical democratization also entered West German historiography in the form of History Workshops, and can be seen as a reaction to the dehumanizing aspect of abstract structural history. In the past 15 years there has been a call for a ""daily life"" history of ordinary people from below, also depicting life experience based on oral tradition. It is an attempt to bridge the gap between professional history and the common reader, using ""thick descriptionption"" in a narrative form. Because the new 'daily life' history as practised by laymen in History Workshops is sometimes devoid of theory and a rational scientific approach, it could end up in a cul de sac, leading to nowhere.

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