What is Historical Change?

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What is Historical Change?

Historical change, on the surface, seems to be a concept that everyone intuitively understands – after all, we all know that things in the past were different than they are now, and that over time, things tend to evolve and transform. However, as with many things, the devil is in the details; what, exactly, does it mean to say that something has changed historically, and how do we understand the process by which these changes take place? In this post, we’ll explore the nature of historical change, and some of the key theories and concepts involved in understanding its complexity.

What is Historical Change?

At its core, historical change refers to the ways in which societies, cultures, and individuals transform over time. These changes can take a wide variety of forms, from shifts in political and economic structures, to changes in cultural norms, to advances in scientific knowledge and technology. However, regardless of the specific form that these changes take, they all share a few key characteristics:

  • They occur over time: Historical change is a process, not a single event. It happens gradually and incrementally, as small shifts and adjustments accumulate over time.
  • They are driven by a variety of factors: Historical change is the result of a complex interplay of social, economic, political, and cultural forces. These forces can be internal to a society, or they can be the result of interactions with other societies and cultures.
  • They are deeply contingent: Historical change is never predetermined or inevitable. It is the result of a unique set of circumstances and events, and could have gone differently if different choices had been made.

Theories of Historical Change

While historical change is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, scholars throughout history have attempted to develop theories and frameworks to better understand how and why it occurs. Here are a few of the most influential theories in the field:

Marxist Theory of Historical Change

According to Marxist theory, historical change is fundamentally driven by the struggle between classes in society. In capitalist societies, this struggle is between the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production) and the proletariat (the working class). Over time, this struggle drives a series of historical stages, as different systems of economic and political organization are created and then overcome by the working class as they struggle for power and control.

Structural Functionalism

Structural functionalism is a sociological theory that posits that societies are organized into interdependent parts, and that each part has a specific function to perform. Historical change, according to this theory, occurs when the needs of society change, and these changes require different structures and functions to be put in place.


Postmodernism is a broad term used to describe a number of theories and approaches that reject the idea that there is a single, objective truth about history or society. Instead, postmodern theorists argue that knowledge is always contingent and subjective, shaped by the power dynamics of the society in which it is produced.


Historical change is a complex and endlessly fascinating field of study. Whether we are looking at the rise and fall of ancient empires, the development of modern democracies, or the evolution of cultural norms and values, understanding the process of historical change is essential to making sense of the world around us. By exploring the various theories and concepts that underlie historical change, we can better understand the factors that shape our societies and ourselves, and appreciate the incredible variety of human experience that exists both past and present.

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