I have noticed, that posts here do not use in their argumentation the terminology and thoughts of the theories that attempted to make history more scientific, tried to put a base under it. I mean mainly theories of Arthur Toynbee( theory of civilizations) and Lev Gumilev (ethnogenesis), as these I know more or less, but neither have I met a mention of Jaspers, psychohistorians, or somebody else.

Are these theories "outlaws" now? Are out there some people at least interested in the laws of history?

2 Answers 2


Your question deals more with historiography, and philosophy of history, whereas most of the questions on this site are about specific historical events. That is the short answer to your question and my reasoning for that answer is what follows.

My history classes focused mainly on three things: particular geographic areas of the world, particular time periods, and historical analysis. Most history classes offered in the US will be on a particular topic such as "World War I History," or "History of Modern Mexico: from Porfirio Diaz to the present day." Within each of these classes you would study what happened and attempt to discern the cause and effect of the event/events. This consisted of the evaluation of primary and secondary sources to determine their utility in producing a logical explanation of the sequence of events, with more deference being given to primary sources.

History is a highly controversial, and inexact, field of study as it is most commonly written by the victors, and primary sources from the defeated, enslaved, and killed are typically more difficult to come by.

The theories you noted are very interesting, but I did not encounter them in an academic setting at the undergraduate level. Perhaps at the graduate level of history study you would be more likely to encounter such theories. As I said earlier, the theories you mentioned deal more with historiography and philosophy of history, and it seems they provide a lens through which one can try and view history. In that regard the two theories are similar to other historiographical approaches to the study of history such as economic history, and cultural history.

None of what I said is meant to discredit the two approaches you cited. Rather it seems to me that the most common approach to the study of history is by employing the historical method and making sure to explain your assumptions, data, and reasoning.

  • 1
    Thank you for so elaborated answer. I think, it explains the situation - simply these attempts (I think, successful enough) - are practically unknown for the wide public, because professors at universities feel no need to study a new system. Let alone statistical methods, that would demand knowledge of mathematics. It is extremely sad. BTW, according to Gumilev, such fact by itself helps once again to set our contemporary civilization into the ethnogenesis timeline. And our place seems to be very close to the end.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 14, 2012 at 8:18
  • @Gangnus you are welcome. You may find the work "Reason in History" by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel interesting. The other problem with theories of history that I did not mention is the sheer number of inputs that go into shaping historical events. To try and systematize the study when you have thousands of inputs is a rather impossible endeavor. You run into all sorts of normative problems when you try to assign the value of one event over the other. History by analogy is probably the most effective way to approach the problem, but so much of history does not have precedent.
    – ihtkwot
    Feb 14, 2012 at 14:04
  • Thank you. I have had Hegel during my marxistic education - he was considered as a predecessor of M/E, so, he was in program. In comparison to even Toynbee or Jaspers, let alone Gumilev, he is as pre-Newton physisist to a post-Newton one. He is not an author on the historical thinking nowadays, but merely the subject of history. I would advise you to read Toynbee History of civilizations and our contemporary psychohistorians - all of them are English authors, so, no problem in understanding. As for Gumilev - alas - his main book is not translated into English, AFAIK.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 14, 2012 at 14:16
  • My question is not the ask for new theoretical sources. But it is "do you know about the new and terrific branch of science "history" that appeared in 20th century and allows the complex understanding of the historical processes or do you remain in the 19th century, with Hegel and Marx.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 14, 2012 at 14:20
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    You may like this academic article discussing what is history: jstor.org/stable/10.1086/587536
    – ihtkwot
    Feb 23, 2012 at 22:24

After five years I'll add more information to complement @ihtkwot answer.

When you take a social science and try to give it a scientific aproach, your first problem will be the repetition of the phenomena in order to confirm an hypothesis... only after that you can create a law which describes that phenomena.
In a good case, if you have several samples you might use statistics to describe in numbers that phenomena, and if you have a good correlation between the theory and the reality you will be able to say that your hypothesis is actually a law.

In a social science like history you have so few samples to describe each event, that you'll always have problems trying to find a pattern or confirm an hypothesis. That's why Toynbee accepts that limitation and tries to confirm his theory by comparative method, where he tried to find similar events to compare, but he knew that these events are not exactly the same.

Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama and Yuval Noah Harari might be authors who have tried to find laws of history lately.

  • About Fukuyama - he is merely funny. He is not a subject of science but merely an object. According to Gumilev, the declaration of reaching the target of development in any serious area of human activity means only that the ethnicum the author represents is at the end of "civilization stadium", no more, no less. As for me, about the author personally, such work merely means his limitations in thinking. As for two others, I have only read some citations of them and never heard they worked in that direction. I'll look... But sorry, I was asking why people don't mention these authors HERE.
    – Gangnus
    Mar 4, 2017 at 21:04
  • As for science, the proof of being scientific and probable can be the possibility to predict the results of some beforehand unknown experiment. Or excavations, or some document, in the case of history. As for merely scientific form, without the proof by itself, the theory is scientific where you (or better author himself) can propose some tests that can prove that the theory is FALSE. Maths is only a language. It does not prove anything by itself. Maths has only CONDITIONAL sentences. If that is true, than this is true.
    – Gangnus
    Mar 4, 2017 at 21:10

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