Historical Sociology is an interdisciplinary field of research that combines sociological and historical perspectives/ methods to understand the past, how societies have developed over time, and the impact this has on the present. Emphasising the need for a mutual line of inquiry of the past and present to understand how discrete historical events fit into wider societal progress and ongoing dilemmas through complementary comparative analysis.
Looking at how social structures are changed and reproduced, historical sociology strives to understand the visible mechanisms and hidden structures that hinder certain parts of human development, whilst allowing other parts to thrive. Throughout this, it challenges the ahistoricism of modern sociology as a discipline, of the limited enagement with the past in studying social structures, whilst simultanously critiquing the disengagement of historical study with the differences between societies and the broader social patterns between historical events.
This interdisciplinary field operates within a spectrum between history and sociology with a 'sociology of history' residing at one end and a 'history of society' residing at another. A diverse range of people can be found throughout this spectrum that explore history through a sociological lens compared to others that dissect society through its historical events. Although valid lines of research, they are based on singular disciplinary approaches and are reductionist in nature. In the middle of this spectrum historical sociology can be found that works to intertwine these mono-discipline efforts into an interdisciplinary approach.
As time has passed, history and sociology have developed into two different specific academic disciplines. Historical data was used and is used today in mainly these three ways. The first one is: Examining a theory through a Parallel investigation. To correspond with the natural-science conceptions of laws, and to look at, or apply various historical material where you gather your resources in order to prove the theory that is applied. Or on the other hand sociologists for the parallel investigation theory could apply the theory to certain cases of investigation but in a different modalities of a more widely used process. The second theory that sociologists mainly use: applying and contrasting certain events or policies. Analysed by their specific, or what makes them in unique quality of a composition, certain events used by the sociologist for comparative data can be contrasted and compared. For interpretive sociologists it is very common for them to use the 'Verstehen' tradition. And lastly, the third way sociologists typically relate is by taking a look at the causalities from a macro point of view. This is Mill's method: " a) principle of difference: a case with effect and cause present is contrasted with a case with effect and cause absent; and b) principle of agreement: cases with same effects are compared in terms of their (ideally identical) causes. There is an important debate on the usefulness of Mill's method for sociological research, which relates to the fact that historical research is often based on only few cases and that many sociological theories are probabilistic, not deterministic. Today, historical sociology is measured by a conjunction of questions that are rich in detail.
A shared theme of sociology and history is accounting for the paradox of human agency. "The problem of agency is the problem of finding a way to account for human experience which recognises simultaneously and in equal measure that history and society are made by constant and more or less purposeful individual action and that individual action, however purposeful, is made by history and society".
This theme is presented across authors from Marx to Spencer where a symbiotic relation enables action to create structure, whilst that structure defines action. Here, historical sociology outlines that the key to understanding our human agency is to track its development over time. Better enabling us to see the changes and continuations of actions and structures that shape human agency throughout our societies.
(See International Relations)
Historical sociology has become an increasingly used approach in international relations to draw upon the reflective usefullness of historical sociology in exploring the past and present together, challenging unhistorical viewpoints in the field that stem from realist and neoliberalism paradigms that often see the wider structural makeup of the world as static.
(See Political Economy)
The work of political economy aims to reconcile the development of political and economic systems for insight into policy. Historical sociology critiques political economy for (1) viewing the present as a natural structure, (2) focus on history as a path dependent outcome, and (3) shaping their insights around prominant figures with limited engagement of wider processes and "regular" people.