In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Historiography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Volumes
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • The 19th and 20th Centuries

Islamic Studies Historiography
Andrew Marsham
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0033


Historiography literally means “the writing of history.” It has two main, related, meanings: (1) the actual process of writing about the past, and (2) the study of the theory and philosophy of writing history. This entry is concerned with history writing and historical thought in the Islamic world from the origins of Islam in the early 7th century CE to the present, with a particular focus on the central Islamic lands in the early, medieval, and early modern periods (c. 600–1800). That is, the entry discusses writing about the past that might be described by the Arabic word taʾrikh (“history,” or “chronology”), whence the Persian tarikh and the Turkish tarih. It does not address writing about the past for a more specialist legal or religious purpose (e.g., jurisprudence or Qurʾanic exegesis).

General Overviews

There is no single study of all Islamic historiography. Most monographs have focused on the early and medieval periods (c. 600–1500), often referred to as the “formative” and “classical” periods. The best introduction to early and medieval Arabic Islamic historiography is now Robinson 2003, which has a good bibliography. Other important studies include Khalidi 1994 and Rosenthal 1968; the latter is a survey that includes historical writing in Persian. Meisami 1999 is the best modern introduction devoted exclusively to medieval Persian historiography. A useful “state of the field” bibliographic guide to primary and secondary literature on Islamic history and historiography in the early and medieval periods is Humphreys 1991.

  • Humphreys, R. Stephen. Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry. Rev. ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

    A bibliographic survey of the state of the field of historical studies in early and medieval Islam; devotes considerable space to questions of historiography. Chapters 2, 3, 5 and 6 are particularly relevant.

  • Khalidi, Tarif. Arabic Historical Thought in the Classical Period. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

    A wide-ranging and erudite analysis of the history of Muslims' ideas about the past down to around 1500, arranged under the rubrics of four main “epistemic canopies or modes” (p. xii). Khalidi argues that these modes describe the predominant currents in Islamic culture at different stages of history.

  • Meisami, Julie S. Persian Historiography to the End of the Twelfth Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

    The only monograph in English on the history of history writing in Persian in medieval times, and the first survey since Storey 1927. Meisami examines the subject under the three dynastic rubrics: the Samanid period, the Ghaznavid period, and the Seljuk period.

  • Radtke, Bernd. Weltgeschichte und Weltbeschreibung im mittelalterlichen Islam. Beirut: F. Steiner, 1992.

    The only monograph on the “universal history” and “world chronicle” in medieval Islamic historiography.

  • Robinson, Chase F. Islamic Historiography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    The best introduction to Islamic historiography in Arabic in the formative and medieval periods (to c. 1500), focusing on the social contexts in which history writing was produced. Includes suggested further reading and an extensive and up-to-date bibliography.

  • Rosenthal, Franz. A History of Muslim Historiography. 2d rev. ed. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1968.

    Rosenthal's magisterial work, originally published in 1952, was the first survey in English of Islamic historiography. It is still a useful overview, covering the period down to c. 1500.

  • Sauvaget, Jean, and Claude Cahen. Introduction to the History of the Muslim East: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965.

    A classic bibliographic survey of primary and secondary literature for the history of the central Islamic lands to c. 1900. Reprinted by Greenwood Press in 1982. This is an English translation of the 1961 revised French edition of the first (1943) French edition.

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