Selected Fields 2019

PAST - Macro History

Past 2019.web

Macro History is a form of scholarship devoted to long stretches of time and often space. Macrohistorians trace the nature, development, and impact of humans’ activity on the Earth and on one another—their movements, settlements, social organizations, cultures, economies, political systems, religions, and natural and built environments beginning far back in time. For some, historical time opens not in ancient Mesopotamia or China, as historians have long supposed, but in a distant epoch when hominids first affected the Earth’s ecosystems and atmosphere. Such a “deep history” of the human species favors what traditional historians have termed “pre-history” and locates the customary province of “history,” the era of written records, near the end of a timeline vastly longer than the one that has generally represented “the past.”

Because Macrohistorians commonly work on periods long before written records were kept, their work tends to be multidisciplinary. Macrohistorians use the insights, theories, findings, and approaches of anthropology, archaeology, geography, geology, sociology, and political science—among other disciplines—in addition to history. Certain natural sciences such as neuroscience, geology, botany, and biology can also figure in.

In the 20th century, the most prominent group of scholars working on what can be termed Macro History was France’s Annales School, whose early leaders devoted considerable attention to the longue durée, or long stretches of time. Within that longue durée, Annales scholars focused on large, slowly changing structures such as geographical formations, climate, agricultural practices, social organization, and peasant mentalities.

Influenced in part by the Annales School, historians outside of France turned to a different form of Macro History, which they termed “world history.” This approach to the past turned above all to global phenomena such as the large-scale movement of people, patterns of international trade, slave systems and the slave trade, the interaction of different legal systems, and comparative economic development, especially between Europe and Asia. Certain historical sociologists can also be considered Macrohistorians, since they study the development of particular social and political phenomena over many centuries and in different parts of the world.

The 2019 Dan David Prize in the Past Time Dimension will be awarded to an outstanding individual or organization whose ongoing, groundbreaking research is making a significant contribution to the field of Macro History.