A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past, and his
regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the
continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as
relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in
time. If the individual is concerned with events preceding written
history, the individual is a historian of prehistory. Although
"historian" can be used to describe amateur and professional
historians alike, it is reserved more recently for those who have
acquired graduate degrees in the discipline. Some historians, though,
are recognized by publications or training and experience.
"Historian" became a professional occupation in the late nineteenth
century as research universities were emerging in Germany and
3.3 19th century
3.4 Professionalization in Germany
3.5 20th century
4 Education and profession
5 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
During the Irving v Penguin Books and Lipstadt trial, it became
evident that the court needed to identify what was an "objective
historian" in the same vein as the reasonable person, and reminiscent
of the standard traditionally used in English law of "the man on the
Clapham omnibus". This was necessary so that there would be a legal
bench mark to compare and contrast the scholarship of an objective
historian against the methods employed by David Irving, as before the
Irving v Penguin Books and Lipstadt trial, there was no legal
precedent for what constituted an objective historian.
Justice Gray leant heavily on the research of one of the expert
witnesses, Richard J. Evans, who compared illegitimate distortion of
the historical record practice by holocaust deniers with established
In summarising Gray's judgement, in an article published in the Yale
Law Journal, Wendie E. Schneider distils these seven points for what
he meant by an objective historian:
The historian must treat sources with appropriate reservations;
The historian must not dismiss counterevidence without scholarly
The historian must be even-handed in treatment of evidence and eschew
The historian must clearly indicate any speculation;
The historian must not mistranslate documents or mislead by omitting
parts of documents;
The historian must weigh the authenticity of all accounts, not merely
those that contradict a favored view; and
The historian must take the motives of historical actors into
Schneider uses the concept of the "objective historian" to suggest
that this could be an aid in assessing what makes an historian
suitable as an expert witnesses under the
Daubert standard in the
United States. Schneider proposed this, because, in her opinion,
Irving could have passed the standard Daubert tests unless a court was
given "a great deal of assistance from historians".
Schneider proposes that by testing an historian against the criteria
of the "objective historian" then, even if an historian holds specific
political views (and she gives an example of a well-qualified
historian's testimony that was disregarded by a United States court
because he was a member of a feminist group), providing the historian
uses the "objective historian" standards, he or she is a
"conscientious historian". It was Irving's failure as an "objective
historian" not his right wing views that caused him to lose his libel
case, as a "conscientious historian" would not have "deliberately
misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence" to support his
Main article: Historical method
The process of historical analysis involves investigation and analysis
of competing ideas, facts, and purported facts to create coherent
narratives that explain "what happened" and "why or how it happened".
Modern historical analysis usually draws upon other social sciences,
including economics, sociology, politics, psychology, anthropology,
philosophy, and linguistics. While ancient writers do not normally
share modern historical practices, their work remains valuable for its
insights within the cultural context of the times. An important part
of the contribution of many modern historians is the verification or
dismissal of earlier historical accounts through reviewing newly
discovered sources and recent scholarship or through parallel
disciplines like archaeology.
Main article: Historiography
Reproduction of part of a tenth-century copy of Thucydides's History
of the Peloponnesian War.
Understanding the past appears to be a universal human need, and the
telling of history has emerged independently in civilizations around
the world. What constitutes history is a philosophical question (see
philosophy of history). The earliest chronologies date back to
Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, though no historical writers in these
early civilizations were known by name.
Systematic historical thought emerged in ancient Greece, a development
that became an important influence on the writing of history elsewhere
around the Mediterranean region. The earliest known critical
historical works were The Histories, composed by
Halicarnassus (484 – c. 425 BCE) who later became known as
the "father of history" (Cicero).
Herodotus attempted to distinguish
between more and less reliable accounts, and personally conducted
research by travelling extensively, giving written accounts of various
Mediterranean cultures. Although Herodotus' overall emphasis lay on
the actions and characters of men, he also attributed an important
role to divinity in the determination of historical events. Thucydides
largely eliminated divine causality in his account of the war between
Athens and Sparta, establishing a rationalistic element that set a
precedent for subsequent Western historical writings. He was also the
first to distinguish between cause and immediate origins of an event,
while his successor
Xenophon (c. 431 – 355 BCE) introduced
autobiographical elements and character studies in his Anabasis.
Leonardo Bruni (c.1370–1444), the historian who first divided
history into the three eras of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and Modern
The Romans adopted the Greek tradition. While early Roman works were
still written in Greek, the Origines, composed by the Roman statesman
Cato the Elder
Cato the Elder (234–149 BCE), was written in Latin, in a
conscious effort to counteract Greek cultural influence. Strabo
(63 BCE – c. 24 CE) was an important exponent of the
Greco-Roman tradition of combining geography with history, presenting
a descriptive history of peoples and places known to his era. Livy
(59 BCE – 17 CE) records the rise of Rome from city-state
to empire. His speculation about what would have happened if Alexander
the Great had marched against Rome represents the first known instance
of alternate history.
In Chinese historiography, the
Classic of History
Classic of History is one of the Five
Chinese classic texts and one of the earliest narratives
of China. The Spring and Autumn Annals, the official chronicle of the
State of Lu covering the period from 722 to 481 BCE, is among the
earliest surviving Chinese historical texts arranged on annalistic
Sima Qian (around 100 BCE) was the first in China to
lay the groundwork for professional historical writing. His written
work was the
Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), a monumental
lifelong achievement in literature. Its scope extends as far back as
the 16th century BCE, and it includes many treatises on specific
subjects and individual biographies of prominent people, and also
explores the lives and deeds of commoners, both contemporary and those
of previous eras.
A page of Bede's Ecclesiastical
History of the English People
Christian historiography began early, perhaps as early as Luke-Acts,
which is the primary source for the Apostolic Age. Writing history was
popular among Christian monks and clergy in the Middle Ages. They
wrote about the history of Jesus Christ, that of the Church and that
of their patrons, the dynastic history of the local rulers. In the
Middle Ages historical writing often took the form of annals or
chronicles recording events year by year, but this style tended to
hamper the analysis of events and causes. An example of this type
of writing is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which were the work of
several different writers: it was started during the reign of Alfred
the Great in the late 9th century, but one copy was still being
updated in 1154.
Muslim historical writings first began to develop in the 7th century,
with the reconstruction of the Prophet Muhammad's life in the
centuries following his death. With numerous conflicting narratives
Muhammad and his companions from various sources, scholars
had to verify which sources were more reliable. To evaluate these
sources, they developed various methodologies, such as the science of
biography, science of hadith and
Isnad (chain of transmission). They
later applied these methodologies to other historical figures in the
Islamic civilization. Famous historians in this tradition include
Urwah (d. 712),
Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 728), Ibn Ishaq
(d. 761), al-Waqidi (745–822),
Ibn Hisham (d. 834),
Muhammad al-Bukhari (810–870) and Ibn Hajar (1372–1449).
During the Age of Enlightenment, the modern development of
historiography through the application of scrupulous methods began.
Voltaire's works of history are an excellent example of Enlightenment
era history writing. Painting by Pierre Charles Baquoy.
Voltaire (1694–1778) had an enormous influence on
the art of history writing. His best-known histories are The Age of
Louis XIV (1751), and Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the
Nations (1756). "My chief object," he wrote in 1739, "is not political
or military history, it is the history of the arts, of commerce, of
civilization – in a word, – of the human mind." He broke from
the tradition of narrating diplomatic and military events, and
emphasized customs, social history, and achievements in the arts and
sciences. He was the first scholar to make a serious attempt to write
the history of the world, eliminating theological frameworks, and
emphasizing economics, culture, and political history.
Edward Gibbon's Decline of the
Roman Empire (1776) was a masterpiece
of late 18th-century history writing.
At the same time, philosopher
David Hume was having a similar impact
on history in Great Britain. In 1754, he published the
England, a six-volume work that extended from the Invasion of Julius
Caesar to the Revolution in 1688. Hume adopted a similar scope to
Voltaire in his history; as well as the history of Kings, Parliaments,
and armies, he examined the history of culture, including literature
and science, as well. William Robertson, a Scottish historian, and
the Historiographer Royal published the
History of Scotland 1542 -
1603, in 1759 and his most famous work, The history of the reign of
Charles V in 1769. His scholarship was painstaking for the time
and he was able to access a large number of documentary sources that
had previously been unstudied. He was also one of the first historians
who understood the importance of general and universally applicable
ideas in the shaping of historical events.
The apex of Enlightenment history was reached with Edward Gibbon's,
monumental six-volume work, The
History of the Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire, published on 17 February 1776. Because of its relative
objectivity and heavy use of primary sources, at the time its
methodology became a model for later historians. This has led to
Gibbon being called the first "modern historian". The book sold
impressively, earning its author a total of about £9000. Biographer
Leslie Stephen wrote that thereafter, "His fame was as rapid as it has
The tumultuous events surrounding the
French Revolution inspired much
of the historiography and analysis of the early 19th century. Interest
in the 1688
Glorious Revolution was also rekindled by the Great Reform
Act of 1832 in England.
Thomas Carlyle published his magnum opus, the three-volume The French
History in 1837. The resulting work had a
passion new to historical writing.
Thomas Macaulay produced his most
famous work of history, The
England from the Accession of
James the Second, in 1848. His writings are famous for their
ringing prose and for their confident, sometimes dogmatic, emphasis on
a progressive model of British history, according to which the country
threw off superstition, autocracy and confusion to create a balanced
constitution and a forward-looking culture combined with freedom of
belief and expression. This model of human progress has been called
the Whig interpretation of history.
Jules Michelet, later in his career.
In his main work Histoire de France, French historian Jules Michelet
coined the term
Renaissance (meaning "Re-birth" in French language),
as a period in Europe's cultural history that represented a break from
the Middle Ages, creating a modern understanding of humanity and its
place in the world. The nineteen volume work covered French
Charlemagne to the outbreak of the Revolution. Michelet
was one of the first historians to shift the emphasis of history to
the common people, rather than the leaders and institutions of the
country. Another important French historian of the period was
Hippolyte Taine. He was the chief theoretical influence of French
naturalism, a major proponent of sociological positivism and one of
the first practitioners of historicist criticism. Literary historicism
as a critical movement has been said to originate with him.
One of the major progenitors of the history of culture and art, was
the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt Burckhardt's best-known work
is The Civilization of the
Renaissance in Italy (1860). According to
John Lukacs, he was the first master of cultural history, which seeks
to describe the spirit and the forms of expression of a particular
age, a particular people, or a particular place. By the mid-19th
century, scholars were beginning to analyse the history of
institutional change, particularly the development of constitutional
government. William Stubbs's Constitutional
vols., 1874–78) was an important influence on this developing field.
The work traced the development of the English constitution from the
Teutonic invasions of Britain until 1485, and marked a distinct step
in the advance of English historical learning.
Karl Marx introduced the concept of historical materialism into the
study of world historical development. In his conception, the economic
conditions and dominant modes of production determined the structure
of society at that point. Previous historians had focused on cyclical
events of the rise and decline of rulers and nations. Process of
nationalization of history, as part of national revivals in the 19th
century, resulted with separation of "one's own" history from common
universal history by such way of perceiving, understanding and
treating the past that constructed history as history of a nation.
A new discipline, sociology, emerged in the late 19th century and
analyzed and compared these perspectives on a larger scale.
Professionalization in Germany
Ranke established history as a professional academic discipline in
The modern academic study of history and methods of historiography
were pioneered in 19th-century German universities. Leopold von Ranke
was a pivotal influence in this regard, and is considered as the
founder of modern source-based history.
Specifically, he implemented the seminar teaching method in his
classroom, and focused on archival research and analysis of historical
documents. Beginning with his first book in 1824, the
History of the
Latin and Teutonic Peoples from 1494 to 1514, Ranke used an unusually
wide variety of sources for an historian of the age, including
"memoirs, diaries, personal and formal missives, government documents,
diplomatic dispatches and first-hand accounts of eye-witnesses". Over
a career that spanned much of the century, Ranke set the standards for
much of later historical writing, introducing such ideas as reliance
on primary sources (empiricism), an emphasis on narrative history and
especially international politics (aussenpolitik). Sources had to
be hard, not speculations and rationalizations. His credo was to write
history the way it was. He insisted on primary sources with proven
Whig history was coined by
Herbert Butterfield in his short
book The Whig Interpretation of
History in 1931, (a reference to the
British Whigs, advocates of the power of Parliament) to refer to the
approach to historiography that presents the past as an inevitable
progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment,
culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional
monarchy. In general, Whig historians emphasized the rise of
constitutional government, personal freedoms, and scientific progress.
The term has been also applied widely in historical disciplines
British history (the history of science, for example) to
criticize any teleological (or goal-directed), hero-based, and
transhistorical narrative. Butterfield's antidote to Whig history
was "...to evoke a certain sensibility towards the past, the
sensibility which studies the past 'for the sake of the past', which
delights in the concrete and the complex, which 'goes out to meet the
past', which searches for 'unlikenesses between past and
present'." Butterfield's formulation received much attention, and
the kind of historical writing he argued against in generalised terms
is no longer academically respectable.
The 20th century saw the creation of a huge variety of
historiographical approaches. Marc Bloch's focus on social history
rather than traditional political history was of tremendous influence.
Annales School radically changed the focus of historical
research in France during the 20th century by stressing long-term
social history, rather than political or diplomatic themes. The school
emphasized the use of quantification and the paying of special
attention to geography. An eminent member of this school,
Georges Duby, described his approach to history as one that
relegated the sensational to the sidelines and was reluctant to give a
simple accounting of events, but strived on the contrary to pose and
solve problems and, neglecting surface disturbances, to observe the
long and medium-term evolution of economy, society, and civilisation.
Marxist historiography developed as a school of historiography
influenced by the chief tenets of Marxism, including the centrality of
social class and economic constraints in determining historical
Friedrich Engels wrote The Condition of the Working Class in
England in 1844, which was salient in creating the socialist impetus
in British politics from then on, e.g. the Fabian Society. R. H.
Tawney's The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century (1912) and
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), reflected his ethical
concerns and preoccupations in economic history. A circle of
historians inside the Communist Party of
Great Britain (CPGB) formed
in 1946 and became a highly influential cluster of British Marxist
historians, who contributed to history from below and class structure
in early capitalist society. Members included Christopher Hill, Eric
Hobsbawm and E. P. Thompson.
World history, as a distinct field of historical study, emerged as an
independent academic field in the 1980s. It focused on the examination
of history from a global perspective and looked for common patterns
that emerged across all cultures. Arnold J. Toynbee's ten-volume A
Study of History, written between 1933 and 1954, was an important
influence on this developing field. He took a comparative topical
approach to independent civilizations and demonstrated that they
displayed striking parallels in their origin, growth, and decay.
William H. McNeill wrote The Rise of the West (1965) to improve upon
Toynbee by showing how the separate civilizations of Eurasia
interacted from the very beginning of their history, borrowing
critical skills from one another, and thus precipitating still further
change as adjustment between traditional old and borrowed new
knowledge and practice became necessary.
Education and profession
Further information: List of historians
Peter R.L Brown, a professional historian of
Late Antiquity and the
An undergraduate history degree is often used as a stepping stone to
graduate studies in business or law. Many historians are employed at
universities and other facilities for post-secondary education. In
addition, it is normal for colleges and universities to require the
PhD degree for new full-time hires, and a master's degree for
part-timers. Publication is increasingly required by smaller schools,
so graduate papers become journal articles and PhD dissertations
become published monographs. The graduate student experience is
difficult—those who finish their doctorate in the United States take
on average 8 or more years; funding is scarce except at a few very
rich universities. Being a teaching assistant in a course is required
in some programs; in others it is a paid opportunity awarded a
fraction of the students. Until the 1980s it was rare for graduate
programs to teach how to teach; the assumption was that teaching was
easy and that learning how to do research was the main
Professional historians typically work in colleges and universities,
archival centers, government agencies, museums, and as freelance
writers and consultants. The job market for new PhDs in history is
poor and getting worse, with many relegated to part-time "adjunct"
teaching jobs with low pay and no benefits.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Historians.
List of historians
Auxiliary sciences of history
Historical revisionism (negationism)
^ "Historian". Wordnetweb.princeton.edu. Retrieved June 27,
^ Herman, A. M. (1998). Occupational outlook handbook: 1998-99
edition. Indianapolis: JIST Works. Page 525.
^ a b Schneider 2001, p. 1531.
^ Schneider 2001, p. 1534.
^ Schneider 2001, pp. 1534, 1535.
^ Schneider 2001, pp. 1534, 1538.
^ Schneider 2001, p. 1539.
^ "deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence"
Justice Charles Gray (Schneider 2001, p. 1533)
History of Rome: Book 9". Mcadams.posc.mu.edu. Retrieved
^ Jörn Rüsen (2007). Time and History: The Variety of Cultures.
Berghahn Books. pp. 54–55. ISBN 978-1-84545-349-7.
^ Warren, John (1998). The past and its presenters: an introduction to
issues in historiography, Hodder & Stoughton,
ISBN 0-340-67934-4, pp. 78–79.
^ E. Sreedharan (2004). A Textbook of Historiography: 500 BC to AD
2000. Orient Blackswan. p. 115.
^ Wertz, S. K. (1993). "Hume and the
Historiography of Science".
Journal of the
History of Ideas. 54 (3): 411–436.
doi:10.2307/2710021. JSTOR 2710021.
^ The Poker Club
^ Sher, R. B., Church and Society in the Scottish Enlightenment: The
Moderate Literati of Edinburgh, Princeton, 1985.
^ "William Robertson: An 18th Century Anthropologist-Historian" (PDF).
^ Deborah Parsons (2007). Theorists of the Modernist Novel: James
Joyce, Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf. Routledge.
^ "Carlyle – The Sage Of Chelsea". English Literature For Boys And
Girls. Farlex Free Library. Retrieved 2009-09-19. chapter=
^ Lundin, Leigh (2009-09-20). "Thomas Carlyle". Professional Works.
Criminal Brief. Retrieved 2009-09-20.
^ Macaulay, Thomas Babington,
History of England. Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1878. Vol. V, title page and
prefatory "Memoir of Lord Macaulay".
^ J. R. Western, Monarchy and Revolution. The English State in the
1680s (London: Blandford Press, 1972), p. 403.
^ Brotton, Jerry (2002). The
Renaissance Bazaar. Oxford University
Press. pp. 21–22.
^ Kelly, R. Gordon, "Literature and the Historian", American
Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1974), 143.
^ Jakob Burckhardt
Renaissance Cultural History
^ John Lukacs, Remembered Past:
John Lukacs on History, Historians,
and Historical Knowledge, ed. Mark G Malvasi and Jeffrey O. Nelson,
Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2004, 215.
^ s:A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Stubbs,
^ Georgiy Kasianov, Philipp Terr (2010-04-07). A Laboratory of
History Ukraine and recent Ukrainian historiography.
p. 7. ISBN 978-1-84545-621-4. Retrieved October 18, 2010.
This essay deals with, what I call, "nationalized history", meaning a
way of perceiving, understanding and treating the past that requires
separation of "one's own" history from "common" history and its
construction as history of a nation.
^ Frederick C. Beiser (2011) The German Historicist Tradition, p.254
^ Janelle G. Reinelt, Joseph Roach (2007), Critical Theory and
Performance, p. 193
^ Stern (ed.), The Varieties of History, p. 54: "Leopold von Ranke
(1795–1886) is the father as well as the master of modern historical
^ Green and Troup (eds.), The Houses of History, p. 2: "Leopold von
Ranke was instrumental in establishing professional standards for
historical training at the University of Berlin between 1824 and
^ E. Sreedharan, A textbook of historiography, 500 BC to
AD 2000 (2004) p 185
^ Andreas Boldt, "Ranke: objectivity and history." Rethinking History
18.4 (2014): 457-474.
^ Ernst Mayr, "When Is
Historiography Whiggish?" Journal of the
History of Ideas, April 1990, Vol. 51 Issue 2, pp 301–309 in JSTOR
^ Adrian Wilson and T. G. Ashplant, "Whig
History and Present-Centred
History," The Historical Journal, 31 (1988): 1–16, at p. 10.
^ G. M. Trevelyan (1992), p. 208.
^ Lucien Febvre, La Terre et l'évolution humaine (1922), translated
as A Geographical Introduction to
History (London, 1932).
William Rose Benét (1988) p. 961
^ William H. McNeill,
Arnold J. Toynbee
Arnold J. Toynbee a Life (1989)
^ McNeill, William H. (1995). "The Changing Shape of World History".
History and Theory. 34 (2): 8–26. doi:10.2307/2505432.
^ Bls.gov : Social Scientists, Other Archived August 30, 2009, at
the Wayback Machine.
^ Michael Kammen, "Some Reminiscences and Reflections on Graduate
Education in History, Reviews in American
History Volume 36, Number 3,
Sept 2008 pp. 468-484 doi:10.1353/rah.0.0027
^ Walter Nugent, "Reflections: "Where Have All the Flowers Gone . . .
When Will They Ever Learn?", Reviews in American
History Volume 39,
Number 1, March 2011, pp. 205-211 doi:10.1353/rah.2011.0055
^ Anthony Grafton and Robert B. Townsend, "The Parlous Paths of the
Profession" Perspectives on
History (Sept. 2008) online
^ Robert B. Townsend and Julia Brookins, "The Troubled Academic Job
Market for History." Perspectives on
History (2016) 54#2 pp 157-182
echoes Robert B. Townsend, "Troubling News on Job Market for History
PhDs," AHA Today Jan. 4, 2010 online
Schneider, Wendie Ellen (June 2001). "Past Imperfect: Irving v.
Penguin Books Ltd., No. 1996-I-1113, 2000 WL 362478 (Q. B. Apr. 11),
appeal denied (Dec. 18, 2000)" (PDF). The Yale Law Journal. Published
Yale Law Journal Company. 110 (8): 1531–1545.
doi:10.2307/797584. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 November
Vidor, Gian Marco (2015). "Emotions and writing the history of death.
An interview with Michel Vovelle, Régis Bertrand and Anne Carol".
Mortality. Routledge. 20 (1). doi:10.1080/13576275.2014.984485.
The American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature
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1995) 2064 pages; annotated guide to 27,000 of the most important
English language history books in all fields and topics vol 1 online,
vol 2 online
Allison, William Henry. A guide to historical literature (1931)
comprehensive bibliography for scholarship to 1930. online edition
Barnes, Harry ElmerA history of historical writing (1962)
Barraclough, Geoffrey. History: Main Trends of Research in the Social
and Human Sciences, (1978)
Bentley, Michael. ed., Companion to Historiography, Routledge, 1997,
ISBN 0415030846 pp; 39 chapters by experts
Bender, Thomas, et al. The Education of Historians for Twenty-first
Century (2003) report by the Committee on Graduate Education of the
American Historical Association
Breisach, Ernst. Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern, 3rd
edition, 2007, ISBN 0-226-07278-9
Boia, Lucian et al., eds. Great Historians of the Modern Age: An
International Dictionary (1991)
Cannon, John, et al., eds. The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians.
Blackwell Publishers, 1988 ISBN 0-631-14708-X.
Gilderhus, Mark T.
History an Historiographical Introduction, 2002,
Iggers, Georg G.
Historiography in the 20th Century: From Scientific
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Kelly, Boyd, ed. Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing.
(1999). Fitzroy Dearborn ISBN 1-884964-33-8
Kramer, Lloyd, and Sarah Maza, eds. A Companion to Western Historical
Thought Blackwell 2006. 520pp; ISBN 978-1-4051-4961-7.
Todd, Richard B. ed. Dictionary of British Classicists, 1500–1960,
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Historians.
Look up historian in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Selected texts by the most known historians