Throughout history, historians have played a crucial role in shaping our understanding of the past. They have explored the events and people that have shaped civilizations, documenting their findings for future generations to learn from.
Some of these historians have become household names, known for their groundbreaking research and influential works.
From ancient Greek historians to modern-day scholars, the following list highlights some of the most famous historians of all time, who have left a lasting impact on the study of history.
1. Charles Francis Horne
Charles Francis Horne (1870-1942) was an American author, editor, and publisher, best known for his work in the field of reference and educational publishing. He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, and graduated from Columbia University in 1893.
Horne began his career as an editor at the publishing house of Macmillan & Co. in New York City, where he worked on a number of reference works and textbooks. He later became an editor at the American Book Company and then at Funk & Wagnalls, where he edited their Standard Dictionary and other works.
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In addition to his work as an editor, Horne was also a prolific author, writing over 100 books on a wide range of subjects, including history, literature, and religion. He was a co-author of the popular multi-volume set “The Great Events by Famous Historians” and was also the editor of the “World’s Greatest Literature” series.
Horne was a founding member of the American Writers Association and was active in a number of other literary and publishing organizations. He was also a member of the American Geographical Society and the American Historical Association.
Charles Francis Horne died in 1942, but his legacy in the field of reference and educational publishing continues to this day.
2. Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) was a German historian often referred to as the “father of modern historical scholarship.” Born in Wiehe, Saxony-Anhalt, Ranke studied theology and philosophy at the University of Leipzig before turning his attention to history.
Ranke believed that the role of the historian was to interpret the past as it actually happened, free from personal biases or interpretations. He stressed the importance of primary sources, and his approach to history emphasized the use of archival research and the critical analysis of sources.
Ranke’s most famous work is “The History of the Popes,” which was published in the mid-19th century. This groundbreaking work traced the history of the papacy from its origins to the 16th century and was based on a meticulous study of primary sources.
Ranke’s impact on the field of history was immense. He helped to establish history as an academic discipline, emphasizing the importance of empirical research and objectivity. He also emphasized the importance of writing history as a narrative, and his work helped to shape the way history is written and taught to this day.
Today, Ranke is remembered as one of the most influential historians of the 19th century and as a pioneer in the development of modern historical scholarship.
3. John Waiko
John Dademo Waiko (born 15 February 1943) is a Papua New Guinean historian, author, and politician. He was born in Kikori, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea.
Waiko is best known for his work as a historian, focusing on the history of Papua New Guinea and the Pacific region. He has written several books on these subjects, including “A Short History of Papua New Guinea,” which is considered a classic work on the history of the country.
In addition to his work as a historian, Waiko has also been involved in politics. He served as the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Papua New Guinea government from 1994 to 1999 and was later elected to the National Parliament, where he served as a member of the opposition.
Waiko has received numerous honors and awards for his work as a historian and his contributions to Papua New Guinea. In 2002, he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, and in 2003, he was awarded the Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu, Papua New Guinea’s highest civilian honor.
Today, Waiko continues to be an important figure in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific region, both as a historian and as a political leader.
Herodotus (c. 484-425 BCE) was an ancient Greek historian, often referred to as the “father of history.” He was born in Halicarnassus, which is now modern-day Bodrum in Turkey, and lived during the fifth century BCE.
Herodotus is best known for his work “The Histories,” which is considered one of the earliest and most important works of history in Western literature.
“The Histories” is a chronicle of the Greco-Persian Wars, covering the period from the Ionian Revolt to the Battle of Mycale. It also includes a detailed description of the cultures, customs, and geography of the various peoples and regions he encountered during his travels.
One of Herodotus’s key contributions to the study of history was his emphasis on the importance of eyewitness accounts and primary sources. He conducted extensive research for his work, traveling throughout the Mediterranean and collecting information from a wide range of sources. Herodotus also emphasized the role of cultural and environmental factors in shaping the course of historical events.
Today, Herodotus is remembered as one of the most influential historians of all time, and “The Histories” is still widely read and studied by scholars and students of history. His work helped to establish the discipline of history as a systematic and critical study of past events, and his emphasis on the importance of primary sources continues to be a guiding principle in historical research.
5. Vahakn Dadrian
Vahakn N. Dadrian (1926-2019) was an Armenian-American historian and sociologist who specialized in the study of genocide. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Dadrian survived the Armenian Genocide as a child and later immigrated to the United States.
Dadrian was one of the leading scholars of the Armenian Genocide, and his work was instrumental in documenting and analyzing the events of 1915-1918. He authored several books on the subject, including “The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus” and “Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict.”
Dadrian’s work on the Armenian Genocide focused on the political and social factors that led to the genocide, as well as the specific methods and strategies employed by the Ottoman government in carrying out the mass killings. He also contributed to the development of the field of genocide studies, emphasizing the importance of understanding the dynamics of genocide in order to prevent future atrocities.
In addition to his work as a historian, Dadrian was also a sociologist and taught at a number of universities in the United States, including the University of Michigan and the University of Connecticut. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors for his work, including the Raphael Lemkin Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Study of Genocide.
Today, Dadrian is remembered as a pioneering scholar in the field of genocide studies, and his work on the Armenian Genocide remains an important contribution to our understanding of this tragic event in world history.
6. Alfred Vagts
Alfred Vagts (1892-1986) was a German-American military historian and political scientist, known for his work on the history of warfare and international relations. He was born in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, and served in the German Army during World War I.
After the war, Vagts studied political science and history at the University of Berlin and later at Harvard University. He emigrated to the United States in 1933, where he taught at a number of universities, including Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley.
Vagts’s work focused on the relationship between warfare and society, and he emphasized the importance of understanding the social and cultural contexts in which military conflicts occur. He authored several influential books, including “A History of Militarism: Civilian and Military” and “The United States Army and Total War: Historical, Psychological, and Institutional Aspects of Mobilization.”
Vagts was also a key figure in the development of the field of international relations, and his work helped to shape the way in which scholars and policymakers approached the study of international conflict. He was a founding member of the American Political Science Association and served as president of the International Studies Association.
Today, Vagts is remembered as a pioneering scholar in the fields of military history and international relations, and his work continues to be studied and cited by scholars around the world.
7. William of Malmesbury
William of Malmesbury (c. 1095-1143) was an English historian and monk who is widely regarded as one of the greatest chroniclers of medieval England. He was born in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England, and spent most of his life at the monastery there.
William’s most famous work is the “Gesta Regum Anglorum” (Deeds of the Kings of England), which covers the history of England from the time of the Anglo-Saxon kings to the reign of King Stephen in the 12th century. The work is notable for its vivid descriptions of important historical events and its emphasis on the importance of accurate sources and eyewitness accounts.
In addition to the “Gesta Regum Anglorum,” William also wrote a number of other historical works, including a history of the English church and a chronicle of the saints of England. His works were known for their elegant Latin style and their attention to detail, and they helped to establish a tradition of historical writing in England that would continue for centuries.
Today, William of Malmesbury is remembered as one of the most important chroniclers of medieval England, and his works continue to be studied and admired by scholars of history and literature. His contributions to the study of English history helped to establish the importance of accurate and impartial sources, and his elegant prose style set a standard for historical writing that would influence generations of writers to come.
8. Thomas Babington Macaulay
Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) was a British historian, essayist, and politician. He was born in Leicestershire, England, and was a member of the Whig Party.
Macaulay is best known for his influential work “The History of England from the Accession of James II,” which was published in the mid-19th century. This multi-volume work covers the period from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century and is notable for its vivid prose style and its emphasis on social and cultural history.
In addition to his work as a historian, Macaulay was also a prolific essayist, writing on a wide range of subjects including literature, politics, and culture. His essays were noted for their clarity and forceful argumentation, and they helped to establish him as one of the leading intellectuals of his time.
Macaulay was also an important political figure in 19th-century Britain, serving as a member of parliament and holding several high-level government positions, including Secretary of War and Paymaster-General.
Today, Macaulay is remembered as one of the most important historians and essayists of the 19th century. His work on English history helped to establish the importance of social and cultural factors in the study of the past, and his elegant prose style set a standard for historical writing that continues to be admired and emulated to this day.
9. Joseph Needham
Joseph Needham (1900-1995) was a British biochemist and historian of science who is best known for his monumental work, “Science and Civilisation in China.” This multi-volume work, which was published over several decades, provides a comprehensive overview of the history of science, technology, and medicine in China, from ancient times to the present day.
Needham was born in London, England, and studied at the University of Cambridge, where he became interested in the history of science. During World War II, he worked on scientific research for the British government, and after the war, he began his work on “Science and Civilisation in China.”
The work was a groundbreaking achievement, providing detailed accounts of scientific and technological developments in China, many of which were little known in the West. Needham’s work challenged Eurocentric views of the history of science and helped to establish the importance of non-Western contributions to scientific knowledge.
In addition to his work on Chinese science and technology, Needham also made important contributions to the field of biochemistry, including his discovery of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. He was a fellow of the Royal Society and was awarded numerous honors and awards for his work, including the Lomonosov Gold Medal from the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
Today, Needham is remembered as one of the most important historians of science of the 20th century, and his work on Chinese science and technology continues to be studied and admired by scholars around the world.
Thucydides (c. 460-400 BCE) was an ancient Greek historian and general who is best known for his work “The History of the Peloponnesian War.” This work is an account of the conflict between Athens and Sparta that lasted from 431 to 404 BCE.
Thucydides was born in Athens and served as a general in the Peloponnesian War before he was exiled for his failure to prevent a Spartan victory. During his exile, he began work on his history of the war, which he hoped would be a “possession for all time.”
Thucydides’s work is notable for its detailed and factual account of the war, as well as its emphasis on the political, economic, and social factors that contributed to the conflict. Thucydides also introduced the concept of “international relations” and explored the dynamics of power politics and diplomacy in the ancient world.
Thucydides’s influence on the study of history has been immense. His work is regarded as one of the earliest and most important examples of the critical and scientific study of history. His emphasis on the importance of accurate sources, objective analysis, and empirical evidence continues to be a guiding principle in historical research.
Today, Thucydides is remembered as one of the greatest historians of the ancient world, and his work on the Peloponnesian War remains a classic and enduring example of historical writing. His influence can be seen in the work of historians and political scientists to this day, and his ideas about power politics and international relations continue to be debated and analyzed in the modern world.
11. Hippolyte Taine
Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893) was a French historian, literary critic, and philosopher who is best known for his work on the history of art and literature. He was born in Vouziers, France, and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.
Taine’s approach to history was influenced by the scientific method, and he emphasized the importance of empirical observation, systematic analysis, and causal explanation in the study of culture and society. He believed that the arts, literature, and other forms of culture were shaped by the social, economic, and political conditions of their time, and he sought to understand these conditions in order to provide a comprehensive analysis of cultural production.
Taine’s most famous work is “The History of English Literature,” which was published in the late 19th century. This work is notable for its emphasis on the social and historical context of literature, and its use of scientific methods to analyze literary movements and styles.
In addition to his work on literature, Taine also wrote extensively on the visual arts, and his work helped to establish the field of art history as a scientific discipline. He was also a prominent figure in French intellectual life and was a member of the prestigious Académie française.
Today, Taine is remembered as one of the most influential historians and literary critics of the 19th century. His emphasis on the importance of social and historical context in the study of culture continues to be a guiding principle in the humanities, and his work on literature and art remains an important contribution to our understanding of these fields.
12. Henry Hallam
Henry Hallam (1777-1859) was a British historian and literary critic who is best known for his work on the history of Europe during the Middle Ages. He was born in London, England, and studied at Christ Church, Oxford.
Hallam’s most famous work is “The View of the State of Europe During the Middle Ages,” which was published in the early 19th century. This multi-volume work provides a comprehensive history of Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire to the 15th century, and is notable for its use of primary sources and its detailed analysis of political and social developments during this period.
Hallam was also an influential literary critic and wrote extensively on the history of English literature. His work helped to establish the study of English literature as an academic discipline and helped to shape the way in which literary criticism is practiced today.
In addition to his work as a historian and literary critic, Hallam was also a prominent public figure in 19th-century Britain. He served as a member of parliament and held several high-level government positions, including that of Commissioner of Lunacy.
Today, Hallam is remembered as one of the most important historians and literary critics of the 19th century. His work on the Middle Ages helped to establish the importance of primary sources and empirical research in the study of history, while his work on literature helped to shape the way in which we understand and appreciate the works of the great writers of the English language.
Polybius (c. 200-118 BCE) was an ancient Greek historian who is best known for his work “The Histories.” This multi-volume work covers the period from the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE) to the defeat of the Achaean League by the Roman Republic in 146 BCE.
Polybius was born in Arcadia, Greece, and was a member of the Achaean League, a confederation of Greek city-states. He was taken as a hostage to Rome after the Achaean League was defeated, and during his time there he became friends with several prominent Roman officials.
Polybius’s work is notable for its emphasis on the importance of understanding the causes of historical events. He believed that historical events were the result of a complex interplay of factors, including geography, economics, and politics, and he sought to provide a comprehensive analysis of these factors in his writing.
Polybius’s work on the Roman Republic was particularly influential, as it provided a detailed and nuanced analysis of the Roman political system and military organization. His work helped to establish the importance of the study of history in the ancient world, and his ideas about the causes of historical events continue to be debated and analyzed to this day.
Today, Polybius is remembered as one of the greatest historians of the ancient world, and his work continues to be studied and admired by scholars of history and political science.
14. Džon Emerih Dalberg Akton
John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902), better known as Lord Acton, was a British historian, politician, and writer who is best known for his statement that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Acton was born in Naples, Italy, and was educated at the University of Munich and the University of Oxford. He was a prominent member of the Liberal Party and served in several government positions, including as a member of parliament and as a Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria.
Acton’s most famous work is “The History of Freedom and Other Essays,” which was published in the late 19th century. This collection of essays covers a wide range of topics related to politics, history, and culture, and is notable for its emphasis on the importance of individual freedom and the dangers of tyranny.
Acton’s famous statement about power reflects his belief in the importance of checks and balances in political systems, and his work on the history of freedom helped to establish the importance of democratic values in modern society.
Today, Acton is remembered as one of the most important historians and political thinkers of the 19th century. His ideas about freedom, democracy, and the dangers of concentrated power continue to be relevant and influential, and his work remains an important contribution to our understanding of political and social history.
15. Walter Ullmann
Walter Ullmann (1910-1983) was a British historian and scholar of medieval law who is best known for his work on the history of the papacy and canon law. He was born in Vienna, Austria, and later emigrated to England, where he became a naturalized British citizen.
Ullmann’s work on the history of the papacy and canon law was particularly influential. He argued that the medieval papacy was a complex institution that played a central role in the development of European law and politics. His work emphasized the importance of understanding the legal and institutional framework of the papacy in order to understand its political and cultural influence.
Ullmann’s most famous book is “The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages,” which was published in the mid-20th century. This work provides a detailed and nuanced analysis of the evolution of papal power and authority during the medieval period, and is notable for its use of primary sources and its emphasis on the legal and institutional context of the papacy.
Ullmann’s work helped to establish the importance of the study of medieval law and the papacy, and his ideas continue to influence scholars of history and law to this day. He was a fellow of the British Academy and was awarded numerous honors and awards for his contributions to historical scholarship.