What is History?

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History is systematically collected information about the past. When used as the name of a field of study, history refers to the study and interpretation of the record of humans, families, and societies. Knowledge of history is often said to encompass both knowledge of past events and historical thinking skills.

Traditionally, the study of history has been considered a part of the humanities. However, in modern academia, history is increasingly classified as a social science, especially when chronology is the focus.

Traditionally the study of history was limited to the written and spoken word. However with the rise of academic professionalism and the creation of new scientific fields in the 19th and 20th centuries came a flood of new information that challenged this notion -- archaeology, anthropology and other social sciences were providing new information and even theories about human history. Some traditional historians questioned whether these new studies were really history, since they were not limited to the written word.

A new term, prehistory, was coined, to encompass the results of these new fields where they yielded information about times prior to the existence of written records.

In the twentieth century the artificial division between history and prehistory was proving problematic. Historians were looking beyond traditional political history narratives with new approaches such as economic, social and cultural history, all of which relied on various sources of evidence. Additionally, "prehistorians" such as Vere Gordon Childe were using archaeology to explain important events in areas that were traditionally in the field of history. The distinction was also criticized because of its implicit exclusion of certain civilizations, such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian America from the historical record. In recent decades the barriers between history and prehistory have thus largely disappeared.

Today there is no generally accepted definition for...