There are famous historians who have stood out above the rest for their knowledge and for their important contributions to history. Its importance is greater than what we usually give it. They have a fundamental role on the information of past events.
Whether they work for a government agency and do research, or work independently or for a university, historians tell us when, and how, what happened at different momentous times for the world.
But they are not limited to narrating events and ordering events. To understand the past, they must also answer the why and give a historical framework to the concrete events. A contextual explanation of past situations that affect the present.
Historians sometimes narrate events as they happen, as if they were journalists. Other times, they must investigate and spend hours and hours reviewing documents and records to confirm a fact.
They use other historians’ books, court records, personal diaries, and letters to find pertinent information. Getting to the right facts is essential for good analysis and subsequent disclosure.
But the work does not end there. Historians must then analyze the basic facts surrounding a historical event. By putting together individual pieces that relate to a theme, a historian can begin by analyzing the causes and effects of the event.
Of course, here we are already entering a somewhat subjective field, and precisely the role of the historian is to discern which facts are important and which are not, from the most objective view possible for the purpose of the investigation.
Finally, a historian must interpret the facts, a task that is not easy and perhaps the main one. When a good historian interprets events like never before, then we feel that history, that our history, lights up differently.
But a historian is also a storyteller, someone who tells us a story based on scientific facts.
As we can see, being a historian is not easy and his role is fundamental for civilizations. Therefore, in this article we will see some of the most important and relevant historians of all time.
Top 19 most important historians
Herodotus was a Greek historian who was born in the 5th century BC in what is now Turkey and then the Persian Empire. Such is the importance of Herodotus that he is called “the father of History”, for being one of the first to dedicate himself to this task.
He was the first to use research methods to address historical issues and then narrate them in an orderly way.
His only known book is called The Stories and it deals with the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars. Despite its importance, little is known about Herodotus’ personal life.
2- Sima Qian
This historian is considered the father of Chinese history for his works in the Jizhuanti style, a way of telling historical events through biographies.
Sima Qian covered more than two thousand years of history and his work had an enormous influence not only in China, but also in other Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam.
He was a great and influential Persian historian who wrote all his works in Arabic. He also ventured into other fields such as poetry, lexicography, grammar, ethics, mathematics and medicine.
His most important works are the Tafsir al-Tabari and his historical chronicle Tarikh al-Rusul al-Muluk (translated as History of the Prophets and Kings), often called Tarikh al-Tabari.
4- François Mignet
He was a French historian who dedicated himself to researching the French Revolution, although his most famous works are dedicated to all of modern history.
For many years, he researched and analyzed the history of the Reformation. In her Histoire de Marie Stuart she made use of unpublished documents from the Simancas archives. She also dedicated several volumes to the history of Spain.
5- Gustave Glotz
Glotz was a French historian who primarily researched ancient Greece. He was a supporter of the theory that history never follows a simple and logical course.
Furthermore, he held that the first human beings to arrive in Greece were semi-nomadic shepherds from the Balkans, and that their society was based on a patriarchal clan, whose members were all descendants of the same ancestor and worshiped the same deity. Unions between various clans gave rise to “fraternités”, or armed groups.
When faced with major compromises, these groups would be grouped into a small number of tribes, totally independent in terms of religious, political and militaristic views, but all recognized a supreme king, their chief.
6- Karl Marx
The famous philosopher, sociologist and economist was also a prominent historian. Its influence is so enormous that it is impossible to calculate.
In fact, there is a before and an after of Marx in history due to his novel analyzes and his disruptive theories. His work forever changed the notions about Modernity that existed until then.
7- Oswald Spengler
He was a German historian and philosopher of history known for his book The Decline of the West ( Der Untergang des Abendlandes ), published between 1918 and 1922, which covers nothing less than the entire history of the world.
According to Spengler, any civilization is a superorganism with a limited and predictable life expectancy.
8- Manuel Moreno Fraginals
This historian, essayist, writer, and teacher is the most famous Cuban historian in the world. His recognition is mainly due to El Ingenio , a 1964 work where he studies the slave economies of Cuba in detail.
9- Paul Veyne
Veyne is a French historian specializing in the history of ancient Rome. He was a former student of the École Normale Supérieure and is a member of the École française de Rome. He is currently an honorary professor at the Collège de France.
10- Fritz Stern
He was a German historian who lived in the United States and devoted himself to studying German history, Jewish history, and historiography in general.
In addition, he was a university professor emeritus at Columbia University in New York, United States. His fundamental work focused on the relations between the Germans and the Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. He also investigated the depth of the birth of Nazism in Germany.
11- Joan Wallach Scott
Of course, not all historians are men. Scott is a leading American historian in gender history and intellectual history.
He currently teaches at the School of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
His best known work is Genre: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis , published in 1986 in the American Historical Review , central to the formation of a field of gender history within the Anglo-American historical profession.
12- Francis Paul Prucha
Prucha was a Jesuit who lived in the United States and is a professor emeritus of history. His work The Great Father is considered a classic among professional historians of all time.
13- Edmund Morgan
He was an American historian, an eminent authority specializing in early American history. He was Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University, where he taught from 1955 to 1986.
He specialized in American colonial history, with some attention to English history. It covered many topics, including Puritanism, political ideas, the American Revolution, slavery, historiography, family life, and the lives of several notable people, such as Benjamin Franklin.
14- John Whitney Hall
This Tokyo-born son of Japanese missionaries was a pioneer in the field of Japanese studies and one of the most respected historians in his country. His work was even recognized by the Japanese government.
Hall became an authority on pre-modern Japan and helped transform the way Western scholars view the period immediately preceding the modernization of Japan. Besides being historians, he was an experienced climber and climbed several times in the Japanese alps.
15- Robert Conquest
Conquest was an English-American historian and poet famous for his influential work on Soviet history, including the bloody Stalin purges of the 1930s.
He was a longtime researcher at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He wrote more than a dozen books on the Soviet Union.
16- Elizabeth Eisenstein
She was an American historian specializing in the French Revolution and in France in the early 19th century.
She is well known for her work on the history of printing, writing about the transition in the media between the era of ‘handwritten culture’ and that of ‘printing culture’, as well as the role of the printing press in effect a broad cultural shift in Western civilization.
17- Andrey Korotayev
Korotayev is a Russian anthropologist and historian who has made important contributions to world systems theory, intercultural studies, Near Eastern history, Big History, and mathematical modeling of social and economic macrodynamics.
He is currently Head of the Laboratory for Monitoring the Risks of Sociopolitical destabilization of the Higher School of Economics of the National Research University and Senior Research Professor of the Center for Great Histories and Forecasting of the System of the Institute of Oriental Studies, as well as in the Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
In addition, he is Senior Research Professor at the International Laboratory of Political Demography and Social Macrodynamics (PDSM) of the Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration of Russia, and Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Global Studies at Moscow State University.
He was a Roman historian who wrote Ab Urbe Condita Libri , a monumental work on Rome and the Roman people that covers the period of the first legends of Rome before the traditional foundation in 753 BC through the reign of Augustus, which happened in the own Livio time.
19- Eric Hobsbawm
He was a British Marxist historian who investigated the rise of industrial capitalism, socialism, and nationalism.
His best known works are the trilogy on what he called the “long nineteenth century” (The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848, The Age of Capital: 1848-1875 and The Age of Empire: 1875-1914), The age Of Extremes in the short twentieth century, and an edited volume that introduced the influential idea of ”invented traditions.”
This great historian was born in Egypt, but spent his childhood mainly in Vienna and Berlin. After the death of his parents and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, Hobsbawm moved to London with his adoptive family.
He then earned his doctorate in history at Cambridge University before serving in World War II. In 1998 he was appointed to the Order of Companions of Honor.
He was president of the University of London from 2002 until his death in 2012. In 2003 he received the Balzan Prize “for his brilliant analysis of the turbulent history of 20th century Europe and for his ability to combine historical research with great literary talent.” .