Recorded history or written history is a historical narrative based on a written record or other documented communication. It contrasts with other narratives of the past, such as mythological, oral or archeological traditions. For broader world history, recorded history begins with the accounts of the ancient world around the 4th millennium BC, and coincides with the invention of writing. For some geographic regions or cultures, written history is limited to a relatively recent period in human history because of the limited use of written records. Moreover, human cultures do not always record all of the information relevant to later historians, such as the full impact of natural disasters or the names of individuals. Recorded history for particular types of information is therefore limited based on the types of records kept. Because of this, recorded history in different contexts may refer to different periods of time depending on the topic.
The interpretation of recorded history often relies on historical method, or the set of techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write accounts of the past. The question of the nature, and even the possibility of an effective method for interpreting recorded history is raised in the philosophy of history as a question of epistemology. The study of different historical methods is known as historiography, which focuses on examining how different interpreters of recorded history create different interpretations of historical evidence.
Prehistory traditionally refers to the span of time before recorded history, ending with the invention of writing systems. Prehistory refers to the past in an area where no written records exist, or where the writing of a culture is not understood.
Protohistory refers to the transition period between prehistory and history, after the advent of literacy in a society but before the writings of the first historians. Protohistory may also refer to the period during which a culture or civilization has not yet developed writing, but other cultures have noted its existence in their own writings.
More complete writing systems were preceded by proto-writing. Early examples are the Jiahu symbols (c. 6600 BCE), Vinča signs (c. 5300 BCE), early Indus script (c. 3500 BCE) and Nsibidi script (c. before 500 CE). There is disagreement concerning exactly when prehistory becomes history, and when proto-writing became "true writing". However, invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary with the beginning of the Bronze Age in the late Neolithic of the late 4th millennium BCE. The Sumerian archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered the earliest writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400–3200 BCE with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BCE.
The earliest chronologies date back to the earliest civilizations of Early Dynastic Period Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Sumerians, which emerged independently of each other from roughly 3500 B.C. Earliest recorded history, which varies greatly in quality and reliability, deals with Pharaohs and their reigns, as preserved by ancient Egyptians. Much of the earliest recorded history was re-discovered relatively recently due to archaeological dig sites findings. A number of different traditions have developed in different parts of the world as to how to interpret these ancient accounts.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus knew of seven predecessors of Herodotus, including Hellanicus of Lesbos, Xanthus of Lydia and Hecataeus of Miletus. He described their works as simple, unadorned accounts of their own and other cities and people, Greek or foreign, including popular legends.
Herodotus (484 B.C. – c. 425 B.C. ) has generally been acclaimed as the "father of history" composing his The Histories from the 450s to the 420s B.C. However, his contemporary Thucydides (c. 460 B.C. – c. 400 B.C.) is credited[by whom?] with having first approached history with a well-developed historical method in his work the History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides, unlike Herodotus, regarded history as being the product of the choices and actions of human beings, and looked at cause and effect, rather than as the result of divine intervention. History developed as a popular form of literature in later Greek and Roman societies in the works of Polybius, Tacitus and others.
Saint Augustine was influential in Christian and Western thought at the beginning of the medieval period. Through the Medieval and Renaissance periods, history was often studied through a sacred or religious perspective. Around 1800, German philosopher and historian Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel brought philosophy and a more secular approach into historical study.