Auxiliary sciences of history

 The auxiliary sciences of history are the disciplines that help historians to examine and assess the documents and sources of information they use, to achieve historical knowledge and interpret them.

Much of the “auxiliary sciences of history” are technical disciplines that help external criticism of sources. That is, that its techniques are used to recognize whether the documents or records are authentic and reliable. For example, diplomatic or paleography, among others.

In other cases, there are sciences in their own right that produce usable results in historical research. Thus, they become auxiliary sciences for history.

This may be the case of demography, which studies populations. Demographic data gives historians information about estimates of a civilization’s population and its changes over time, etc.

The concept of “auxiliary sciences” is traditional and is still widely used. Although, strictly speaking, all sciences can be interrelated to carry out investigations. Hence the importance of interdisciplinary studies. Now we will show you 12 important auxiliary sciences for history .

1. Paleography

Paleography teaches the reading techniques necessary to understand the writing of texts from other times. Writing has gone through different phases throughout history. For this reason, the forms of the alphabets have changed according to the region and the moment in which the writings were produced.

In various cases, historians are faced with texts from their own language that cannot be easily read. Paleography helps you understand what the documents say, their abbreviations, and to determine around what dates they were written.

Document written with letter in “beneventana notarial” style, siglo X, kept in the Diocesan Archive of the Cathedral of Bari. Courtesy: Battlelight. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

2. Archeology

Archeology studies and interprets past societies through their monuments or the material remains they left behind. This science allows social scientists to understand the culture of societies without writing, but which left evidence of their existence and way of life in objects made of ceramics, wood, stone, fabrics, etc.

Historians make use of archaeological finds to analyze the material culture of societies. Thus, they can find out what materials they used in their arts, what food they had, what kind of technology they used in their work, among other things that make it possible to reconstruct those past ways of life.

3. Archivistics or Archivology

It is the discipline of information sciences in charge of the technical, theoretical and practical treatment of the documentation kept in archives and how it is catalogued. Archives are essential since the primary sources of historical research are located in them.

4. Diplomatic

Diplomatics, as an auxiliary science of history, is in charge of studying diplomas and other documents from past centuries, to know their origin and their elements. This facilitates the understanding of the characteristics of civil, military, ecclesiastical and private documents from other times.

“Diplomatics” should not be confused with “diplomacy”, since the latter is related to the studies of international relations between countries.

5. Sigilography

Sigilography is the discipline that studies the seals used to authenticate documents and close letters, giving clear identification of the institution or individual who directed the communication. In this sense, sigilography is closely related to diplomatic in its role of validation of public and private documentation of historical interest.

6. Numismatics

This discipline studies coins and medals, especially from antiquity. The numismatics allows to know details of the economic history. In addition, in the coins it is possible to observe symbols and effigies that have meanings related to the political power of their historical context.

See also Numismatics

7. Genealogy

Genealogy carries out family history studies and, thus, contributes to obtaining information on the ancestry or descent of individuals and families.

8. Cartography

Cartography is the discipline that deals with the production of maps and graphic representations of the earth’s surface. Historians rely on maps from other times to understand ancient representations of geographic space.

Heinrich Buntig (1545-1606) World map in the shape of a cloverleaf . Although it is a cartographic document that also has artistic purposes, it shows us how its author conceives the world. The city of Jerusalem is in the center of the map, occupying a leading position. Bunting was a theologian and pastor of the Protestant Church.

9. Philology

It is a discipline of the linguistic sciences that studies written texts, their grammatical structure and their literary and historical meaning. Philology gives rise to the interpretation of cultures through their writings. For that reason, it helps the historian when interpreting the meaning of texts from other periods.

Thanks to philological studies, it has been possible to detect interpolations of paragraphs in ancient texts that tried to adulterate history with false testimonies. For example: the doubtful fragments of the “Flavian testimony”, from the book Jewish Antiquities by the historian Flavio Josefo.

In the Greek version of the book, sentences mentioning the miracles of Jesus in Judea were added. However, the style of writing showed that those fragments were added later by other people.

10. Heraldry

Heraldry studies the coats of arms, that is, the coats of arms of notable families, lordships and kingdoms. The coats of arms are bearers of insignia that help to identify, for example, the estates of the feudal societies of medieval Europe and, therefore, favor the understanding of their history.

11. Codicology

Codicology is responsible for examining and analyzing codices. The codices are generally manuscripts produced before the invention of the printing press. These documents, scrolls, or books were made on paper as well as parchment and papyrus.

Historians and anthropologists read and interpret the symbols in the codices to understand time and the history of other societies, such as Mesoamerican societies before the Spanish conquest.

Folio 18 of the “Boturini Codex”, also called “Pilgrimage Strip”. This codex contains information on the migration of the Aztec-Mexica people from Aztlan and Chicomoztoc, until they reached the Anahuac Valley.

12. Ethnography

Ethnography is a social science that studies and describes communities based on their culture. This science investigates the social practices of human groups and provides concepts that help to understand their belief systems.

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