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All died before 1800. David Hume wrote a History of England, Voltaire best known history was The Age of Louis XIV, but also wrote The Age of Louis XV, The Chronicles of the Empire from Charlemagne to Ferdinand II in two volumes, a two volume history of Russia under Peter the Great, etc. The American historian of the enlightenment Peter Gay had high praise for Voltaire as a historian, as did my French History Professor. Gay from wiki:
Yale professor Peter Gay says Voltaire wrote "very good history," citing his "scrupulous concern for truths," "careful sifting of evidence," "intelligent selection of what is important," "keen sense of drama," and "grasp of the fact that a whole civilization is a unit of study."

Just previous in the same wiki article there is this:
Voltaire had an enormous influence on the development of historiography through his demonstration of fresh new ways to look at the past. His best-known histories are The Age of Louis XIV (1751), and "Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations" (1756). He broke from the tradition of narrating diplomatic and military events, and emphasized customs, social history and achievements in the arts and sciences. The "Essay on Customs" traced the progress of world civilization in a universal context, thereby rejecting both nationalism and the traditional Christian frame of reference. Influenced by Bossuet's Discourse on the Universal History (1682), he was the first scholar to make a serious attempt to write the history of the world, eliminating theological frameworks, and emphasizing economics, culture and political history. He treated Europe as a whole, rather than a collection of nations. He was the first to emphasize the debt of medieval culture to Arab civilization, but otherwise was weak on the Middle Ages. Although he repeatedly warned against political bias on the part of the historian, he did not miss many opportunities to expose the intolerance and frauds of the church over the ages. Voltaire advised scholars that anything contradicting the normal course of nature was not to be believed. Although he found evil in the historical record, he fervently believed reason and educating the illiterate masses would lead to progress.

....

Voltaire's histories imposed the values of the Enlightenment on the past, but he helped free historiography from antiquarianism, Eurocentrism, religious intolerance and a concentration on great men, diplomacy, and warfare


In many ways  Leopold von Ranke narrow focus on politics and diplomacy was a big step backwards from Voltaire, as was the rise of nationalist 'national histories' in the 19th Century. Voltaire was likely by far the best historian working prior to 1800.

But I agree with your point as to the change in the nature of writing history, the number of historians, etc. that characterized the 19th Century, as I noted in an earlier comment.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu May 16th, 2013 at 08:23:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Voltaire was likely by far the best historian working prior to 1800."

That was Vico.

But of course Vico was instantly forgotten and rediscovered

- in the 19th century(!), by Michelet.

by IM on Fri May 17th, 2013 at 03:10:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Michelet had an enormous advantage over his contemporaries - he had  access to the records of the French monarchy, going back who knows how far, before they were lost in a fire.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri May 17th, 2013 at 11:27:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You see, the paradigma for historians in the 19th century was quite different.
by IM on Fri May 17th, 2013 at 12:58:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But Vico was not widely read, even by 18th Centrry standards, as you note. Perhaps Voltaire read him. And Vico wrote much more about how to write history than actually writing history. Wiki only lists four works: "On Humanistic Education,"  "On the Study Methods of Our Time," "Universal right" and "The New Science", the latter of which was probably his most widely read work.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri May 17th, 2013 at 11:41:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But Vico was not widely read, even by 18th Centrry standards, as you note.

Exactly! Can you say the same of the 19th history historians? Totally different ballgame. Or paradigma.

And you said best historian pre 1800, bot best popular historian.

by IM on Fri May 17th, 2013 at 12:56:26 PM EST
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I would still go with Voltaire. He and Vico are roughly comparable on the subject of critical historiography but Voltaire produced a healthy shelf of actual histories which were, by 18th century standards, widely read. His were the best works available at the time on the history of the Holy Roman Empire, Russia under Peter I and contemporary French History. Vico, though important, (he was discussed in some of my university courses), did not produce a comparable body of works of history. Of course in those days most educated people were more generalists in nature, but of all of Voltaire's literary accomplishments, wiki lists his histories first, and not without reason.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri May 17th, 2013 at 03:21:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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