History is a science in and of itself and like most if not all scientific fields, History is divided into many more sub-categories, each specifically studying a period of Human history or a specific region of the world.

If you are studying for a History degree or you are already an undergraduate aiming for a bachelor, you will most likely study many though not all, aspects of History.

With the rise of civilisations, not in one unique location on the planet but everywhere man had settled, many different cultures emerged across the globe. Each of these cultures possesses their own history, often written down by local historians but frequently passed from a generation to the other through oral tradition.

Not only history is divided chronologically and geographically, but some fields of history also study specific subjects of Human culture, such as:

  • Political history, which studies the story of government, political leaders, elections, policies and the interaction between the different branches of government
  • Diplomatic history, which studies the relations between countries, ambassadors, and ideas of diplomacy
  • Social history, which studies the ways and customs of a people, of families and children, education, as well as demography, and social institutions such as churches.
  • Cultural history, which studies languages and their uses, the arts including literature, sports and  other entertainments and the way they participate in constructing cultural identities
  • Economic history, which studies how a whole system of production and consumption (or of any of its parts) works, of businesses, industry, banks, and working classes at all levels of the system
  • Intellectual history, which studies ideology and epistemology and works to analyze how ideas affect human lives and how the material world influences human ideas.

There is much more than that still. There is even a field of History called Historiography, which is the history of history. Instead of subjecting actual events - say, the conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy - to historical analysis, the object of historiography is the history of the history of the event: how it has been written, the often conflicting bias pursued by those writing about it through time, and the way in which such circumstances shape our understanding of the actual event in question, and of the nature of history itself.

Questions of historiography include the following:

  • who writes history, what was their agenda, and towards what goal?
  • how reliable can a historian ever aspire to be, interpreting past events from the point of view of the historian's present?
  • what about the sources a historian choose to include in their work or purposefully exclude?

To keep it simple we will only look at the main groups of history, Ancient, Postclassical and Modern as well as Art History.

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Ancient History

The History of humanity starts when the first civilisation emerged and historians defined everything that came before as Pre-History.

Commonly, Ancient history is accepted to begin around 3000BCE with the apparition of early writing system in Mesopotamia. It extends up until the 6th century CE when the Western Roman Empire collapsed following a succession of invasion and the death of the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus.

Archaeology has been at the centre of any research regarding Ancient History. It has played a huge part in our knowledge of early civilizations, from the excavation of the Terracotta Army of the First Qin Emperor in ancient China to the exploration of the Mayan Pyramids in South America.

Even though, most of our current knowledge of Ancient time events relies on the writings and accounts of antiquity historians (HerodotusThucydidesArrianPlutarchPolybiusSima QianSallustLivyJosephusSuetonius, and Tacitus), those records were often produced decades if not centuries after the events they described occurred and they are always to take with some precautions.

The Egyptians depended on the Nile as it was the only source of water in order to grow vegetation.
Egypt, as the birth place of one of the earliest civilisation on the planet, is full of historical sites that have fascinated historians for hundreds of years. (by Retlaw Snellac Photography)

Medieval History

Whereas Ancient History stop in 500CE, Modern History only starts around 1500, depending on the geographic region you are studying. So what happened during those roughly 1000 years?

Those ten centuries of history is what Historians refer to as the Middles Ages or Medieval times. In Western and Central Europe this era started when the Roman Empire collapsed but it is not exactly the same for all parts of the world.

For Scandinavia including current Denmark, Finland and Norway, the Medieval times is often assimilated to the Age of the Vikings, beginning in 793 with the first ever recorded Viking invasion in England and lasted until the failed invasion attempted by the Norwegian king Harald III (Haraldr Harðráði), who was defeated by Saxon King Harold Godwinson in 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge; in Ireland. The same year, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, and descendant of Vikings himself defeated Harold Godwinson and became King of England.

In the East, Japan's medieval period is commonly accepted to start with the Nara period (when Empress Genmei established the capital of Heijō-kyō) in 709 and ended with the last battle of Sekighahara in 1600 when Tokugawa and his allies defeated the Toyotomi regime and unified the country.

At the same time on the continent, China's different historical periods did not follow the same pattern and the Imperial Era of China began in 221 with the Qin dynasty and only ended with the Qing Emperor in 1911.

In the Middle East and North Africa as well as the Iberian Peninsula, Medieval times were marked by the ascent of Islam and the creation of powerful Empires.

As studying and following history courses requires a lot of critical thinking skills as well as research skills, many university alumni who graduated from a scholar institution with a degree level in History turn to the law after completing their undergraduate tuition and become lawyers.

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The Vikings profoundly changed the English language
The Vikings left far more than just a few casks in England (by Arthur_ASCII)

Modern History

The Middles Ages slowly faded in Europe as Renaissance was making its way to a full-blown social, religious and economic change. Even though the Renaissance movement started in Italy around the 13th century, with the rediscovery of Antic philosopher and the contact with the scientific knowledge of the Middle East, Medieval History only ended around the year 1500 following a few major events:

  • The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1439
  • The discovery of the Americas by Christopher Colombus in 1492.
  • The globalisation of the world and the acceleration of the exchange of ideas, goods and money through Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Academics commonly split Modern History into two periods, Early Modern History and Late Modern History. For students who have successfully past the admission stage in their undergraduate degree, Modern History will probably be studied over more than one semester along with other humanities discipline, some elective and some mandatory.

Early Modern History includes:

  • The Renaissance, marked by a new school of thought, Humanism, and the rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy
  • The Reformation (the split in Western Christianity launched by Martin Luther and sustained by Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and other Protestant Reformers in 16th-century Europe)
  • The Counter-Reformation, was the Catholic resurgence launched in response to the Protestant Reformation, starting with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and ending at the end of the Thirty Years' War (1648). It was initiated to protect the power, influence and wealth held by the Catholic Church.
  • The Age of Discovery, spanning from the 15th century until the end of the 18th century and was marked by extensive overseas exploration which led to a profound change in European diplomacy and was the inception of globalization.
  • The Rise of capitalism, based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.
  • The Golden Age of Piracy, which spans from the 1650s to the late 1720s and includes three separate upheavals of piracy:
    • The buccaneering period of approximately 1650 to 1680, characterized by French and English sailors based in Tortuga and Jamaica and targeting Spanish ships and colonies throughout the Caribbeans
    • The Pirate Round of the 1690s, marked by long-distance cross sea voyages from the Americas to rob Muslim and East India Company possessions in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea
    • The post-Spanish Succession, from 1716 to 1726, when English and American seamen and privateers, turned to piracy after the end of the Spanish Succession war and roamed in the Caribbean, the North American Eastern Coasts, the West African seaboard, and the Indian Ocean.

History is such a vast and interesting subject that most universities and school institutions offer the possibility to pursue a History degree or to study history in an interdisciplinary bachelor of arts degree for example. You could even look past your graduation and continue on getting a doctoral degree in History.

Commonly accepted to start at the end of the 18th century and was marked by major events such as:

  • The American Revolution, which ended the dominion of the British Crown over its American colonies.
  • The French Revolution, which ended with the abolition of monarchy and initiated a democratic government system.
  • The Colonization of Australia, driven by the need to address overpopulation in the British prison system, and the fact that the British Crown had lost the Thirteen Colonies of America in the American Revolution.
  • The Revolutions of 1848, which were a series of political upheavals across Europe in 1848 (France, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland and Ireland were all affected). It continues to be the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history.
  • The Russian Revolution, which was not one but two revolutions in Russia in 1917 which struck down the Tsarist absolutism and led to the rise of the Soviet Union. The Russian Empire fell with the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II.
  • The First World War and the Second World War, from 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945 involved all the main powers of the time and almost all countries on the planet. Those two conflicts resulted in the death of tens of millions of soldiers and civilians and changed the world order forever.

If you study civilization and societies, time spent in the classroom will mainly focus on historical research and analytical and critical thinking, all research skills being the requirement for journalism or a career in sociology.

This greek statue was the subject of the first Art History writing.
Laocoon and his Sons' was one of the first piece of art to be describe by an Historian, Pliny the Elder (by Kartlyn Earth & ArtKN)

Art History

One of the sub-categories of History is the History of Art. While the main focus of Historians has mostly been to study and analyse historical, religious, social and political events through different periods, Art History has been focused on something different.

Art Historians have been studying the visual, aural and oral expression of humanity. Scholars scrutinising Art History have been trying to interpret visual art, music and fictional writings through a thorough investigation using different approaches and methodologies.

One of the earliest Art Historians that we know of is one of the most Antiquity Historian, namely Pliny the Elder. During his time he was considered to be one of the most famous Roman author, naturalist and natural philosopher and even served as a naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire.

If you are studying liberal arts, it is very likely that your coursework and curriculum will include some Art History before the completion of your degree programs.

There are many more fields of History that one can spend their life to study, from Western civilization to Latin American History, African History, anthropology, American History or even African American History. The different history degrees that you can earn are many if not endless.

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