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Early Modern Historiography



There were at least three major traditions in historical thought: Western, Islamic and Chinese. This seminar is concerned with the Western tradition from the Late Middle Ages onwards. Renaissance humanists developed a historical mindset that marked a departure from medieval thinking about the past. In many ways, humanists made the Reformation possible by developing a sense of anachronism, a critical attitude towards sources and a greater interest in causation. Their evidentiary criticism was, however, often stifled by the religious struggles of the Reformation period. What is more, a providential world view remained pervasive until the forces of chance, natural causation and technological progress were more fully taken into account by some Enlightenment thinkers in the eighteenth century.


Seminar questions


  • How far did ancient models condition historical writing?
  • Did research practice change substantially between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century?
  • What was the role of eloquence in early modern historiography?
  • ‘The past had to be discovered, not just transmitted.’ Discuss.


Preparatory task


Select a few passages from a 16th/17th century historian as well as from a 19th/20th century historian, on any topic that interests you. Compare the ways in which these historians from different time periods conducted their research and presented their topics. Be prepared to share your thoughts in our class discussion.


Core reading



Further reading



Platina, Hystoria de vitis pontificum, Paris 1505 (from the title page)