International Relations, History of

Published on Jan 1, 2001
· DOI :10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/02637-1
A.L. Cervo (UnB: University of Brasília)
The term diplomatic history is sometimes used, not altogether correctly, as a synonym for the history of international relations. However, the former is particularly associated with an academic tradition focused on purely descriptive work and limited by constraints of the chancelleries' views, while the latter attempts to understand and to explain complexities of the evolution of international life through a wider angle. International relations were initially isolated as an investigation object of the historical sciences study during the first half of the nineteenth century. The conception of this research area was associated with Leopold von Ranke, considered by many to be the founder of scientific historiography. After Ranke, modern history of international relations has been resumed since the late 1930s and has promoted a methodological revolution with significant results for the present discussion on international life. French historiography introduced the role of multiple causes and the dynamics of state decision as the core of its social history of international relations. British historians invented the concept of international society and promoted a comparative history of international relations with a cultural flavor. Italians deepened the study of the influence of ideas and public opinion upon international relations. North-American historians tied history and theory and stressed the new role of the United States in the world. Latin America has also provided a particular contribution to the understanding of development and possibilities of a positive insertion of the region in an interdependent world. These contributions, among others, have dramatically transformed the old and nationally-oriented diplomatic history—preponderant in the post-Ranke period, from the 1870s to the 1930s—into a new and worldwide pattern of knowledge, more connected to the modernization of social sciences and to the challenges of providing sense to the dynamics of international life. The approach of the historians of international relations brought to the study of world politics the value of the empirical dimension, the importance of multiple causes, and relevance of the singular and the process rather than that of the event. This has allowed a fruitful dialogue with the theory of international relations, particularly with political scientists.
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