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Cultural history


Cultural history combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at popular cultural traditions and cultural interpretations of historical experience. It examines the records and narrative descriptions of past matter, encompassing the continuum of events (occurring in succession and leading from the past to the present and even into the future) pertaining to a culture.

Cultural history records and interprets past events involving human beings through the social, cultural, and political milieu of or relating to the arts and manners that a group favors. Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) helped found cultural history as a discipline. Cultural history studies and interprets the record of human societies by denoting the various distinctive ways of living built up by a group of people under consideration. Cultural history involves the aggregate of past cultural activity, such as ceremony, class in practices, and the interaction with locales.

Cultural history overlaps in its approaches with the French movements of histoire des mentalités (Philippe Poirrier, 2004) and the so-called new history, and in the U.S. it is closely associated with the field of American studies. As originally conceived and practiced by 19th Century Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt with regard to the Italian Renaissance, cultural history was oriented to the study of a particular historical period in its entirety, with regard not only for its painting, sculpture and architecture, but for the economic basis underpinning society, and the social institutions of its daily life as well.

Most often the focus is on phenomena shared by non-elite groups in a society, such as: carnival, festival, and public rituals; performance traditions of tale, epic, and other verbal forms; cultural evolutions in human relations (ideas, sciences, arts, techniques); and cultural expressions of social movements such as nationalism. Also examines main historical concepts as power, ideology, class, culture, cultural identity, attitude, race, perception and new historical methods as narration of body. Many studies consider adaptations of traditional culture to mass media (television, radio, newspapers, magazines, posters, etc.), from print to film and, now, to the Internet (culture of capitalism). Its modern approaches come from art history, Annales, Marxist school, microhistory and new cultural history.



  • Arcangeli, Alessandro. (2011) Cultural History: A Concise Introduction (Routledge, 2011)
  • Burke, Peter. (2004). What is Cultural History?. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Cook, James W., et al. The Cultural Turn in U. S. History: Past, Present, and Future (2009) excerpt; 14 topical essays by scholars
  • Ginzburg, Carlo (1989). Clues, Myths and the Historical Method. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN .  Ginzburg "challenges us all to retrieve a cultural and social world that more conventional history does not record." -Back Cover
  • Hérubel, Jean-Pierre V.M. (2010, January). "Observations on an Emergent Specialization: Contemporary French Cultural History. Significance for Scholarship." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 41#2 pp. 216–240.
  • Kelly, Michael. "Le regard de l’étranger: What French cultural studies brings to French cultural history." French Cultural Studies (2014) 25#3-4 pp: 253-261.
  • Kırlı, Cengiz. "From Economic History to Cultural History in Ottoman Studies." International Journal of Middle East Studies (2014) 46#2 pp: 376-378.
  • McCaffery, Peter Gabriel, and Ben Marsden, eds. The Cultural History Reader (Routledge, 2014)
  • Melching, W., & Velema, W. (1994). Main trends in cultural history: ten essays. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  • Morris, I. (1999). Archaeology as Cultural History: Words and Things in Iron Age Greece. Blackwell Publishing.
  • Munslow, Alun (1997). Deconstructing History. Routledge.
  • Poirrier, Philippe (2004), Les Enjeux de l’histoire culturelle, Seuil.
  • Poster, M. (1997). Cultural history and postmodernity: disciplinary readings and challenges. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Ritter, H. (1986). Dictionary of concepts in history. Reference sources for the social sciences and humanities, no. 3. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.
  • Salmi, H. (2011). "Cultural History, the Possible, and the Principle of Plenitude." History and Theory 50 (May 2011), 171-187.
  • Schlereth, T. J. (1990). Cultural history and material culture: everyday life, landscapes, museums. American material culture and folklife. Ann Arbor, Mich: UMI Research Press.
  • Schwarz, Georg, Kulturexperimente im Altertum, Berlin: SI Symposion, 2010.
  • Spang, Rebecca. (2008). "Paradigms and Paranoia: how modern is the French Revolution?" American Historical Review, in JSTOR
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