23e jaargang 1997, nummer 2


Peter Scholiers Major turns in European social historiography 129

Jürgen Kocka Social history in Germany 137

Patricia van den Eeckhout and Peter Scholliers Social history in Belgium: old habits and new perspectives 147

Keith Nield A British debate. Under the sign of the social: bringing politics back in? 182

Jean-Louis Robert The social group: three approaches to social history in France 197

Marcel van der Linden en Jan Lucassen Social history in the Netherlands 209

John R. Gillis A view from the outside and a vision of global social history 223


Peter Scholliers, 'Major turns in the social historiography on the 19th and 20th centuries in Western Europe: the Brussels workshop'

The author touches upon several new directions in European social history writing of the past ten years, detecting radical new approaches with regard to methodology, narrative, central focus, subjects, frame, and outcome. Innovations lead to debate, controversy and crisis, but also to an experimental phase and the redefinition of lines of thinking. These findings are used to situate the papers presented at the Brussels workshop of March 1996, emphasizing possible conciliation between the 'new' and the 'newer' historiography.

Jürgen Kocka, 'Social history in Germany'

In Germany, 'social history' became a central concept of historiographical revisionism, in the sixties and seventies. It attracted the imaginations of a young generation of historians. This papers discusses the different meanings of classical 'social history'. In the seventies, eighties and nineties, social history had to face several challenges, by women and gender historians, by the proponents of the history of everyday life, and by the 'new cultural history'. By dealing with them in a productive way social history has deeply changed, and it continues changing. Now it seems necessary to bring the economy back in and to deal with the challenge of 'globalization'.

Patricia van den Eeckhout and Peter Scholliers, 'Social history in Belgium: old habits and new perspectives'

The authors welcome discussions on epistemological and methodological issues in (social) history writing, and they lend a sympathetic ear to some of the relativist arguments. They tackle the way historians constitute their narratives, and devote much attention to the idea that the knowledge of the present and the past passes through language. To them, this opens up new possibilities since language mirrors the mental structures that govern the way one makes sense of the world. The authors plead for a re-reading of source material: instead of trying to unveil the 'truth' despite the source, historians might be more attentive to how the 'truth' is organised in the source. These views are then used as a basis to survey the Belgian social history writing of the past decade, which includes various topics such as social stratification, gender, migration, welfare policy, identities, youth, crime, labour, class relations, standard of living, daily life.

Keith Nield, 'A British debate. Under the sign of the social: bringing politics back in?'

Post-structuralism and post-modernism are only now beginning to have an impact upon the practice of social history in the United Kingdom. This article seeks to take a position on the debates which have begun around the conceptualization of the social in general and on the critique of social history since the 1960s. A particular anxiety which this article identifies, concerns the exclusionary quality of some postmodernist arguments: that is, its wholesale rejection of a previous social historical practice especially where this was grounded in the 'grand narratives' of 'class' or of Marxism. The principal object of the piece is to invite an exchange of ideas, a negotiation, around the conceptual fault-lines of structural and post-structural interpretations of the social past.

Jean-Louis Robert, 'The social group: three approaches to social history in France'

This article proposes a typology of research in social history writing in France by focusing on the question of the social group, which is at the heart of social history. It discusses and illustrates three possible approaches, which are not distinct from each other and which show overlaps and borrowings. First, the social group may be conceptualised within the context of labour which links this to economic history in a classic structuralist form. Second, the social group may be conceptualised through its system of representation which shows interest in a type of social history that deals with the thoughts and imagination of individuals. And finally, the social group may be conceptualised by means of its particular culture which shows recognition of a type of socio-cultural history that is dominant at present, but which is highly fragmented.

Marcel van der Linden and Jan Lucassen, 'Social history in the Netherlands'

Social history concerning the Netherlands during the last two centuries has been thriving since the 1970s. All philosophical (metanarratives, rationalism, postmodernism, critical pluralism), stylistic and methodological approaches are represented, although the level of theoretical awareness is generally not too high. Maybe therefore, no major shifts have taken place from the qualitative to the quantitative or from statistical series to microhistory. Pluralism and eclecticism seem to be the rule, as it certainly is in the wide variety of topics. One-sidedness, however, can be observed in the periods studied, where (especially the second half of) the twentieth century is neglected. Social history and the social sciences are gradually converging. The authors hope that this will also be the case between social historians of the modern period and their early-modern and non-European colleagues.

John Gillis, 'A view from the outside and a vision of global social history'

This article argues that from the 1960s onwards Americans doing Europeans social history have seen themselves as being involved in a transatlantic project, through always to some extent as 'outsiders'. Their contributions have been substantial, but they, like their European colleagues, worked within prescribed national boundaries, researching from the bottom up and the inside out. This approach has now reached a point of diminishing returns. Once a powerfully innovative movement, social history has fragmented into a number of self-regarding subfields, turned in on itself, and moving away from an engagement with large-scale social change. However, the massive globalisation that has been reshaping both Europe and America in the 1980s and 1990s is causing many to rethink the existing categories, asking whether social history might be rethought in terms of borderlands, diasporas, and transnational and multicultural movements. This article reviews some of these new approaches and suggests how social history, reframed in global terms, might revitalise itself and facilitate renewed cooperation between American and European historians

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