Since its inception in the 1990s, choosing Social History as a broad interpretive field meant moving away from a merely descriptive history, on one hand, or an essayist history, on the other. The idea was to overcome the kinds of knowledge production that had been prevalent in Brazilian historiography in previous decades, which had an emphasis on factual history or, its nemesis, structural, systemic analysis, often tinted with excessive quantitative data. In line with the changes historical knowledge experienced in the 1980's and 90's, the choice for Social History approach envisioned an emphasis on the social dynamics of groups and individuals, their mutual relationships and choices in specific contexts, as well as to incorporate themes of social and cultural life, encompassing the formation of identities, the struggles of native peoples and of the enslaved and free workers. Over the decades, the PPGH-UFBA has sought to incorporate relevant historiographical debates, such as the use of new sources and archives for historical inquiry, the identities and collective behavior of social groups, the reduction of the scale of analysis through a micro-historical approach (including biographies), and the deployment of oral history methodology. The program has also sought to explore themes such as trading practices (including the slave trade), demography, family, childhood, festivities, religiosities, revolts, strikes, workers' organizations, gender and political culture, among others. The research themes and interpretive perspectives lead to conversations with other disciplines, such as Anthropology, Sociology, Literary Theory, and Cultural and Gender Studies, among other.
Generally speaking, all research seminars are oriented towards solid research in local, national and international archives, in a close dialogue with current, first-rate historiographic interventions. They thus incorporate debates on the intersection of class, race and gender, for instance, the dynamics of conflict and power relations, symbolic representations and dimensions of social life, biographies or individual trajectories, migration and connections between the local and the global, as well as corporeality, gender and sexualities, racism and various other forms of oppression and resistance to them.
Although most research at the PPGH focus on Brazilian society, there are groups of professors who conduct research on other regional areas, such as Portugal and its empire in the modern era, and countries and regions in Africa and the Americas. It is worth noting the prominence given to the so-called Atlantic World in these research projects, although some of them also explore connections with Asia. Thus, the Americas, Africa and Europe appear as the most important spaces of investigation, with a timeframe ranging from the medieval period to the present day. Social groups are studied from perspectives that cross class, race and gender, taking into account the issues of power and political administration in disputes and conflicts over time. Among the topics of interest most frequently researched in the program are slavery and post-emancipation, labor, religiosity, festivals, the history of medicine and the healing arts, the history of women and gender studies in general, indigenous history, the history of African and Afro-descendants, written and literary culture, art, material culture, orality and memory formation.