I. The Rise of ‘Small History’

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, academic history-writing usually was ‘small history’. Historians were (and are) mostly concerned with the history of the nation-state and had little incentive to examine how national developments related to the world that lay beyond the national boundaries. Macro-scale studies of the past were considered unscientific or only got marginal academic attention.

However, this academic tendency against ‘big history’ has little foundation in the age-old historical culture of humanity, which mostly found expression in stories of a universal scale. The sections under this header, listed below, explore how the academic preference for ‘small history’ came about. These accounts explain the origins of the academic resistance faced by the later advocates of world history.

1. Divine universal histories

2. Concepts of progress and widening horizons

3. Cosmopolitanism and nationalism

4. Prussian reform and Leopold von Ranke

5. The nationalization of history

6. The spread of the Prussian model

7. Alternatives and opposition to the Prussian model

8. The end of general history in the United States