World History at




Students' Papers : History of Regions



I.) Statement : Modern historiography began in the Era of Romanticism. Romanticist historians, by and large, identified regions with detested feudalism and wrote national history instead. Centuries have passed, but history still is written and taught largely in the lines of national history, and regional history is under-covered.

II.) Definition : What, exactly, is the region we talk about ?
Case A : you watched a movie version of Ivanhoe which displays an England divided in two rival camps, Saxons and Normans. Several English counties are named after the Saxons : Essex (East-Saxon Land), Wessex, Sussex, Middlesex. Yet the Saxons invaded England in the 5th century; they came from northwestern Germany, a country today known as Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony). Today, the names of 3 (out of 16) German states refer to Saxon heritage : Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony (or Upper Saxony), while three more claim at least partial Saxon heritage : Northrhine-Westphalia, Thuringia and Schleswig-Holstein. So, when writing the history of the land of the Saxons, what land shall we write about ?
Geographical names can have been, over a long period of history, been used with different definitions at different times. Historians who wrote about the history of such a region may have followed the name and thus have written about an object which expanded, shrunk, shifted the center etc., or they may have stuck to a clearly defined area and disregarded territorial loss or gain. When reading sources, you have to be aware of such changes.
Case B : you are asked to describe a region which only recently had been created, f.ex. the Kingdom of Westphalia Napoleon created for his brother. It lasted from 1807 to 1813..
Westphalia is here just a name, the larger part of the kingdom, including its capital Kassel, lay outside of the region of Westphalia. For the time prior to 1807, the student writing about this entity would have to write about the various parts which in 1807 were combined to form Westphalia.
Case C : you have picked a region which does not even exist as an administrative entity, f.ex. the Humber valley region in England.
Well, you then have the right, and duty to define your region, according to reasonable criteria. Pick a map showing the administrative regions of England (Counties), mark those adjacent to the Humber and its tributaries - and you defined your region.

III.) Sources : In this day and age, everybody will start with the Wikipedia. You may find an article there, on your topic, of decent depth and detail. Do not stop there.
keywords : do not use just the keyword you have picked, but also use as keywords (a) alternative names which in history have been used for the same region, (b) names for sub-regions / districts, (c) names for cities, institutions in the region of major importance.
google : when you type "Sutherland" (historic region in Scotland) into google, you will find 19,900,000 entries; at least that is what I found. Of course, by far the most entries are irrelevant as they are not on history, perhaps related to the actors with that name or pertaining to places in Canada, the U.S., Australia etc. named by emigrants from Sutherland/Scotland after their ancestral region. If you click "History of Sutherland", google throws out only 728,000 entries - you may think you saved a lot of work.
If you scroll down through the latter list, to the bottom (which I did in the case of a number of regions; google does not display the 728,000 entries, but ends usually at around 1000 or earlier), do not fool yourself that you found all relevant information on the web. Google is good, but not that good.
WHKMLA : Click here for a sample region, Table of Contents, on WHKMLA : http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/italy/xsolothurn.html
This page is to help students of the history of Solothurn find sources on the web and beyond.
Many sources linked here offer data on all, or at least many countries (and regions) in the world, for instance World Statesmen (B. Cahoon), Population Statistics (J. Lahmeyer), Structurae. Companies such as KJA offer historic picture postcards not only on Solothurn, but on many other places / regions of Europe. Historic Encyclopedias (Britannica 1911 edition, Catholic Encyclopedia 1907-1912, Jewish Encyclopedia 1901-1906, all in English, Meyers Konversationslexikon 1885-1892, Brockhaus Konversationslexikon 1894-1896, in German) are online, and cover most places, in more or less detail. Companies such as Discus Media provide historical city maps and regional maps of many places in Europe. You can find links to all of these on the Solothurn page or similar pages on WHKMLA, and click your way through their pages.
Statoids : try http://www.statoids.com/

IV.) Languages : As you may observe on the Solothurn page - the canton is known by two names, Solothurn (German) and Soleure (French). As the population is majority German-speaking, the German name should be used; but when searching for sources, you should also try Soleure (which I did not).
Of course, the vast majority of sources I linked to the page is posted in German language, and some in French. Local history is written for a local readership, in the vernacular. Texts for foreigners are usually much more concise. Compare the length of the article for Solothurn in the German language version of the Wikipedia with that of the English language version. Conclusion : if you go into the vernacular language version of the Wikipedia for the region of your choice, you may find considerably more detailed information than in the English language version. As encyclopedic information is usually well-organized intio chapters and paragraphs, you may be able to isolate an individual sentence or paragraph the contents of which you need to know. Then, with dictionary or translation engine (which you have to use with care) you may be able to figure out the meaning.

V.) National and Regional History : you can not afford to disregard national history, as regional history happens within the context of national history. Some significant information for regional history may be accessed through accounts of national history. If universal adult manhood suffrage was introduced in France in 1848, it was implemented in all the Departements.

VI.) Contested Regions : f.ex. Alsace-Lorraine; part of the Holy Roman Empire, gradually annexed by France 1648-1789, ceded to Germany 1871, annexed by France 1918, by Germany 1940, by France 1945. To study this region, one needs to read about the history Alsace-Lorraine, about French and about German history.

VII.) Periodization : The object of this exercise is to establish a periodization for the region you chose / defined. Try do place sufficient emphasis on the various periods in question, as far as the sources permit.


         Jan. 2nd 2008          Alexander Ganse