The relationship between history and sociology is closely intertwined. Both inquiries were taken from Philosophy mother of all sciences from which emerged sociology (Philosophy of History) history and other social sciences (Bierstedt, 1970:4). “Sociology is the science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects” (Weber,1920:201). While” History is the fact that society is located in a broad stream of events and historians tries to understand the past from within” (CW Mills: 1959).

Both disciplines are regarded as different however there are similarities between them. The paper intends to focus on some of the fundamental questions i.e., methodology and epistemology, therefore, arriving at the relationship between the two disciplines.



The subject matter of History is concerned with the record of the past. It is concrete and tells an accurate description of events, which relates to one another in a time sequence and not only explains how it has been, but how it came to been. It is concerned with unique, particular and individual, differences in similar events. (Bierstedt 1970:8) Historians stressed that they were interested in reconstructing past reality by relating it to the cultural needs of the present, in an interpretative and hermeneutic way insisting on study phenomena, even the most complex ones like nation or culture, as individualities or parts of diachronic and synchronic contexts.(Mudimbe 1966:26)

 Sociology is characterized by two specific aims-

  1. Sociology lays claim to objective and scientific knowledge.

2. What we call as society or social phenomena. (Aron,1965:14)

Sociology is a categorical discipline and doesn’t confines itself to what is ought to be or should be. It is an abstract science, regular, recurrent, universal and tries to find similarities in different events. Eg- Revolution in general as a social phenomena . Sociologist is interested in patterns eg-  Phenomenon of leadership as it appears in almost all social group. Sociology is general like the social fact is common to all human interaction. Therefore, it is generalizing, analytical, regular and recurrent. (Bierstedt,1970:10)


Sociology comes from Greek and Latin word meaning socios and logos also called Ethnology of history. Sociology emerged out of welfare reforms and developed in 19th century.(Bierstedt 1970:5) Sociology preferred “systematically produced evidence and controlled observations and believed in strict scientific method to analyse human reality and to perceive general phenomena through general law thus insisting on emergent social terrain”. Sociology as a science is a disciplined inquiry, uses a scientific method and belong to humane letters. There are two approaches to scientific knowledge –

  1. Rational – Reason and theories resulting from logical interference, e.g., Descartes. eg- Descartes.

2. Empirical – The emphasis is on experience and facts that result from observation and experimentation. Eg- Hobbes, Lockey, Hume.

Sociology is nomothetic. It is a liberating discipline that helps to consider society as natural phenomena. Thus, it gives an objective view of society.

History emerged as Geschicte (what happened) earlier known as hagiography justifying monarchs and become the true story of the past, explaining the present, offering choice for future. History (based on empirical archival search) rejected speculation and deduction (Philosophy). It, later on, tried to justify their own national history. It looked into the stories of people, empirically different from others, thus looked upon with hostility upon the attempts of the social science to generalize and establish universal law of society (Idiographic) in-depth contextual knowledge of the culture (particularistic and anti-theorizing stance). (Mudimbe 1966 15-26)


Another branch of knowledge is called historical sociology where we are looking at society from a historical point of view. In sociology, we are using the Historiographic study and Historical approach of research used by Marx and Max Weber.

Peter Burke has mentioned differences and issues within the inter-disciplinary approach. He believes that both disciplines are threatened by dangerous narrowing of perspective. (Burke1989:5) However, the similarity between the two disciplines are as follows-

1)Historian frequently provides the material which sociologist use. Eg- Historical sociology which requires data that only historian can supply.

2)Historian uses sociology. Mostly evident where economic and social history are International Review of social history, means history of estates, classes or Historical sociology. (T B Bottomore 1971:74).

 Sociology is the study of human interaction and interrelation, their condition and consequence. There is a co-operation between social theory and social history eg – Weber regarded historical and sociological. History and sociology appear in same position vis a vis social philosophy. The knowledge of universal and knowledge of particular are inextricably linked. (Burke1989: 9-10) History does not comprise only of individual and unrepeatable events as some claim. Moreover, sociologist cannot confine themselves to the study of societies in general or to the study of societies in detail. (Morris Ginsberg 1932) Because of this, the view that sociology and history seek different kinds of knowledge is not well supported.

Also, Read; What is Interdisciplinary Approach?


Some examples are from Lévi Strauss, in ‘Myth and Meaning’ he discusses some universal features of human mythology and he discovers that the opposition between mythology and history is clear and that there is an intermediary level. “History is an open system whereas mythology is a closed system. He believes that history has replaced mythology and serves the same purpose. In our minds, there is a gap between mythology and history, which can probably be bridged by studying histories that are conceived of as not at all distinct from, but rather a continuation of mythology.”  (Strauss 2001:15-18) .

Levi Strauss writes in “Race and History” that “the situation of the various cultures has achieved the most cumulative forms of history.” Such history is never produced by isolated cultures, but by cultures that, voluntarily or involuntarily, have combined their play and formed such coalitions through a variety of modes (migration, borrowing, trade, and warfare) as illustrated in our example. The absurdity of claiming that one culture is superior to another is very clear. No single culture stands alone; it is always part of a coalition including other cultures, to build up cumulative series. ‘Cumulative history is the type of history characteristic of grouped societies while stationary history would be the distinguishing feature of an inferior form of social life, the isolated society’. “The diversity of cultures is a fact, that has been observed through history, geography, and ethnology”. He addresses the notion of Primitive and Civilized, those societies that are “underdeveloped” are not that way through their own doing, and it would be incorrect to view them as exterior to Western development. Those societies contributed directly or indirectly to the development of the Western world. They complement one another. Therefore, the West should not be proud of its historic success. “The order and harmony of the West depend on eliminating the prodigious amount of maleficent by-products that pollute the earth today (Strauss 1952, 24-30).

Also Read: Relationship between Sociology and Other Social Sciences

Kuhn in his “Introduction to the role of History” describes history as purely descriptive discipline. “History, viewed as more than anecdotes or chronologies has the potential to produce a decisive change in the image of science that we associate with science today”. By analysing historical data exclusively to answer questions raised by unhistorical stereotypes based on science texts, new concepts will not emerge from history. Therefore, the history of science becomes a discipline that traces both these successive increments and the obstacles that prevented their accumulation. Concerned with the advancement of science, the historian has two main responsibilities. By determining what man and when each contemporary scientific fact, law, and theory was discovered or invented, he must also describe and explain the congeries of error, myth, and superstition that have inhibited the more rapid accumulation of the scientific knowledge of the constituents of the modern science text. The distinction between what historians call “scientific” and “superstitious” components of past observation and belief is becoming increasingly difficult.  If these obsolete beliefs are to be considered myths, then they can be produced by the same processes and held for the same kinds of reasons that today lead to scientific knowledge. Then science has included bodies of belief quite incompatible with the ones we hold today (Kuhn 1970:2).

According to Carr, not everything that happens in the past is part of history. “”Compiling facts have nothing to do with historical memory; its sources are elsewhere, whether in a neurosis of nostalgia, a fascination with the gradual disappearance of the past.”. Rankes famous dictum, “the task of the historian is to find out what really happened”. The historian’s attitude to the past is similar to the attitude of mathematician. Both are looking for understanding. History consists of facts and is a creation. Collingwood dismissed ’the scissors-and-paste’ method of historian. The idea of history is that we can actually learn more about the past, than the past knew about itself. Thus, creating the past in the present, with the tools available and by the motivations which provoke our curiosity.  Carr rejects the idea of objectivity in history and suggests that each generation of historians assimilates the insights of previous generations, not replacing them, but incorporating them into a larger whole.  Facts and theory are intertwined and are understood from previous understanding.  He criticized the division between history and science and believes there are no laws to be found in history. Carr elaborate that in history there are always many causes which interact and reinforce each other, and among the causes we need to make a selection of causes thus avoids deterministic view. History involves numbers and events involving a large number of people. Carr claims that society makes it possible for individuals to express themselves. Thus, history should be more sociological and sociology should be more historical. “History is not a spectacle it is connected with past. History is needed in forming our identities, individual as well as collective. We need the past to inform the present”. History is learned through reading, involving a huge number of facts and dates, and producing some historical writing on our own. (Carr 2009)

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History and Sociology both are concerned with human activities and events. There are similarities between them but they also diverge in other areas. According to Burke, historian’s orientation to the past is contrasted to the present-oriented perspective of sociology. In history parochialism of place is differentiated from Sociology’s parochialism of time. Marx said while historians focus on men making history, sociologists focus on circumstances that are not of their own choosing. Thus, differences between individuals and society. He also considers the difference between Nomothetic and idiographic. Lévi Strauss explained the distinction between myth and history and history as concerned with the past and helps us to understand one’s culture while Carr describes History as past connected with present and Kuhn gives us different aspects by discussing the role of history in building scientific knowledge thus concluding that we can find an interdisciplinary approach that tries to bridge the gap between them.


1) (Robert Bierstedt 1970), The Social Order.

2) (V Y Mudimbe 1966) Open the Social Sciences Report of the Gulbenkian Commission on the restructuring of social sciences.

3) (Raymond Aron 1965) Main Currents in Sociological Thought.

4) (Thomas Kuhn 1970) The structure of scientific revolution.

5) ( T.B Bottomore 1971) Sociology: A guide to problems and Literature.

6) (Peter Burke 1980) Sociology and History.

7) (Morris Ginsberg 1932) History and Sociology.

8) (Claude Lévi – Strauss 1952) Race and History.

9) (Claude Lévi -Strauss 2001) Myth and Meaning.

10) (E H Carr 2009) What is History.

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Ritu Sinha is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. She has always been motivated to contribute towards ameliorating the existing social problems. She seeks to learn and understand how society influences and shape individual future and vice versa. Her interest lies in writing and reading related to various social issues. She wants to pursue a career in academia. She envisions herself playing an essential role in creating an inclusive society by promoting empowerment and equity for all.