Dictionary of Concepts in History

Dictionary of Concepts in History

Details of the Dictionary of Concepts in History (Contributions in Legal Studies)

Hardcover: 514 pages
Publisher: Greenwood; annotated edition edition (23 Sept. 1986)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0313227004
ISBN-13: 978-0313227004

About the Author

These are other books authored by the author:

  • Washington’s History: The People, Land, and Events of the Far Northwest (Westwinds Press Pocket Guides) by Harry Ritter (1 Jun 2003)
  • Alaska’s History: The People, Land, and Events of (Alaska Pocket Guide) by Harry Ritter (1993)

Reviews of the Dictionary of Concepts in History (Contributions in Legal Studies)

From Lester D. STEPHENS. “Dictionary of Concepts in History by Harry Ritter”, in The American Historical Review, vol. XCIII, nº 2, abril de 1988, p. 390:

“Harry Ritter’s Dictionary of Concepts in History should serve as a very useful reference work for historians and philosophers of history, and it should be helpful to social scientists interested in historical analysis. As Ritter observes in the preface to this volume, since historians have tended to eschew the notion of a special language for history, they have been reluctant to identify concepts peculiar to their discipline. Ritter contends, however, that certain concepts are inextricably associated with the discipline of history. Historians, he maintains, not only have helped develop “many general concepts of modern social analysis” but also use some terms in such “uncommon ways” that they are really employing concepts. Moreover, he adds, historians depend, even if implicitly, on “theoretical presuppositions” that are based on concepts. Thus, Ritter argues, historians need to give some attention to the concepts that play a significant role in their inquiries and in their explanations. In this book, then, Ritter identifies more than eighty concepts in history, and, in general, he offers clear and informative explanations of them. For each entry the author includes a definition (or varying definitions) of the concept, a synopsis of the usage of the concept, and a discussion of debates about the idea. Ritter concludes each entry with a bibliography of principal works that deal with the concept and a brief essay on additional sources. He also provides superb annotations for many of the bibliographic citations.

On the whole he indicates a wide-ranging grasp of a multitude of sources, and he presents concise and lucid synopses of the varying usages of the concepts and the arguments over their meaning. Historians will be amply rewarded by reading the entries for such concepts as capitalism, culture, determinism, objectivity, progress, and value judgments. Ritter’s treatment of objectivity, for example, includes comments on the historiographical development of the concept, discussion of the argument between the “relativists” and the “objectivists” during the interwar period, and a thoughtful view on the status of the concept at present. Ritter has exercised keen judgment in selecting the most pertinent sources and in discussing very succinctly and clearly the points central to explicating the concept of objectivity. Most of the other entries are equally well done, and only in a few instances (such as covering laws, metahistory, positivism, and psychological history and psychohistory) do they fail to provide fully sufficient information. Naturally, some readers may quarrel with the author over his selection of terms and his plan of organization. Why, for example, did he choose to place the concept of presentism under the rubric of anachronism, since the former appears to be the word more commonly used in the literature? Why did he decide to separate certain concepts (such as covering laws, laws, and scientific history), since this organization forces the reader to consult more than one entry in order to deal with closely related ideas? But one can make a case for such distinctions, and, after all, one must deal with overlapping ideas in some manageable way.

These are not flaws; they are simply matters of judgment. In any case, by providing good cross references and a thorough index, Ritter has made it quite easy to move from one concept to another that is closely related. The concepts included in this work may be categorized as dealing with social and economic ideas (for example, capitalism, class, culture, and nationality), historiography or the philosophy of history (for example, evidence, fact, and past), special historical terms (for example, crisis, enlightenment, and feudalism), or approaches to historical inquiry (for example, comparative history, counterfactual analysis, and social history). Obviously, a large number of the concepts fall within the purview of what historians usually consider to be the philosophy of history, but it would be a mistake for practicing historians to assume therefore that the volume is intended only for philosophers of history. Every historian may profit from reading all, or at least pertinent parts, of the book. In this work the author has made a significant contribution to our understanding of concepts specially related to the discipline of history.”

From Choice:

“Behind this book lies the assumption that, in spite of protestations to the contrary, historians have created their own specialized vocabulary or unique ways of defining familiar words. As a result, Ritter’s dictionary will serve as a quick means to the definition and background of more than 80 concepts commonly used or misused by historians. Each entry includes a brief definition of the concept, a historical essay of its development with appropriate cross-references to related entries, an annotated list of the works cited in the essay, and suggestions for further reading. A generous index of persons and subjects allows for more comprehensive linking of material in the individual entries that can be accomplished by simply using the cross-references. Ritter’s choice of historical concepts includes basic terms, such as crisis, ‘event, ‘and fact’; various isms such as historicism, ‘idealism,’ and positivism’; and types of history–comparative, intellectual, social or universal. Although the concepts often possess multiple and conflicting definitions, Ritter’s entries skillfully guide the reader to an overall historical and philosophical understanding of the various usages. The selection of concepts is generally thorough…. Undergraduate and graduate collections.”