History Extension - What is History?
Note-making on key historians/’schools’ of History
Historian: Herodotus of Halicarnassus ‘School’ of historiography: Classical
Key text/s: The Histories Main focus or subject matter: The Persian Wars
Who is the historian? (brief details on personal, social and political
Circa 484 - c430 BCE, Known as the ’Father of History’.
Home within the borders of the Persian Empire but Herodotus identified as a Greek
(shared language, customs, religion).
Typical Greek political unit was the city-state (polis), which could be governed by a
form of democracy (Athens), by kings and/or oligarchies (Sparta) or tyrants (which
meant an illegal ruler). Two most powerful were Athens and Sparta. After their
combined victories over the Persian Empire (Darius and Xerxes) between 490 and
479 BCE, Athens became the predominant power over the Greek world, but Sparta
challenged this hegemony. The result was the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE)
which was eventually won by Sparta.
However, Curthoys and Docker emphasise Herodotus’s cosmopolitan outlook - he is
not, they argue, a Greek ’nationalist’ historian. He records stories from around the
ancient world, includes women in his narrative and is critical of Greek states.
What does s/he see as being the aims and purposes of history?
History (a system of rational inquiry) has as its purpose a desire to preserve the
memory of past events and the actions of great and ordinary people, as well as their
astonishing achievements. For Herodotus, his also designed to show how the Greeks
and Persians came into conflict - he is interested in causation as well as enquiring into
and preserving the past.
How has s/he constructed and recorded the history throughout his/her
career? NB: use specific examples and/or quotations
Sources - what, how used, are they adequately acknowledged? Oral sources, with
some competing versions or unlikely stories included to allow the reader/listener to
make up his or her mind (Herodotus’s work was designed to be read aloud, just like
Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey). Herodotus verifies the origin of his
sources where these are known. He also uses other viewpoints to corroborate his
sources, but the question remains whether or not he ’invented’ some of his witnesses.
Many of his sources are amongst the Greek elites’; however Curthoys and Docker
emphasise the breadth of sources he used. Herodotus also used legend and myth,
presenting these as possible explanations but being clear when the reader/listener has
to make up their own mind as to their veracity. Therefore events can have both human
and divine causes. Reflects context - the intervention of the Greek gods in human
affairs was an accepted part of the Greek world view, even if their was a measure of
religious scepticism involved. Warren uses this to point out that it is important to
avoid being anachronistic when analysing historians and their work - that each must
be ’judged’ in line with their context.
Structure - largely linear but with many digressions into other accounts or anecdotes.
Style - almost conversational, due to his aim to create a story that would both inform
and entertain. Warren argues that the audience and perspective are that of “fifth
century BCE Greek elites”.
Form/media (eg: documentary, movie, book) - book, but see point above about his
drawing upon epic poetry.
How can this historian’s approach to their subject be compared to that of
NB: use specific examples and/or quotations
Their impact on historiography - the ‘father’ of history as an academic subject and
as a form of factual narrative, with part of its aim to entertain and to educate about
different people and places (Curthoys and Docker emphasise this aspect of Herodotus,
his worldly view and comfort in using competing versions of events, including those
of women, which would have been extremely rare in the ancient world). Thucydides,
Cicero, Hartog and Fehling have all acknowledged this aspect of Herodotus’s work,
even while some of them have also made some criticisms in terms of his use of myth
and legend alongside verifiable ‘facts’ (see Warren’s point above about anachronism).
The similarities and differences between this historian/school of history and
Curthoys and Docker use Herodotus’s work to contrast with Thucydides and with von
Ranke, positioning him as a forerunner of the ‘multiple voiced’ histories favoured by
feminist and post-modernist historians today.