The beginning of the 20th century, in retrospect, has come to represent a consistent reformulation of the ways by which historians engage in their craft. By briefly looking at this historiography, we can appreciate the academic ferment within which the subaltern scholars were firmly rooted. Traditional history was one that privileged the "German Model," that is to say a kind of history that was taught and originated to a large extent in German universities. Such a history was scientific in outlook and focused on political and economic issues of the past while keeping individuals, usually "great" leaders as their focus.
Up to the turn of the century, developing trends in academia both reinforced this tendency of privileging the world of the elites but also undermined the hereto ascendant nature of politics and economics in history. There was a trend of increasing professionalizing within academia whereby History and other disciplines sought to be as scientific as possible; this created artificial borders between each discpline effectively discouraging any cross-hybridization of knowledge.
While this development and others further entrenched a traditional outlook of the Academe, it also inspired a backlash against such rigidization of the production of knowledge. New historians demanded a broadening of historical imagination, in terms of methodology and content, while continuing their firm belief in the enlightenment ideals of progress and scientific rigour. What began during this period was an idea that would be at the heart of all subsequent more formal schools of history to follow: the commitment to find new and better ways of doing history.