According to Hegel, reflective history—the method of history written at a remove from the events the historian is describing—is divided into four sub-methods: universal history, pragmatic history, critical history, and specialized history.
Universal history is the first form of reflective history that Hegel describes. It seeks to provide an account of the whole history of a people, or even of the world. Unlike original history, the spirit in which a universal history is written is not the spirit of the times written about. Since the extremely broad scope of universal history necessitates the intense compression of complex events into simple statements, the primary factor in such histories is the "thought" of the historian as they work to give a coherent, universal account.
Hegel disparages the second and third forms of reflective history he describes—pragmatic history and critical history. Pragmatic history involves an ideology or interpretive method on the part of the historian, who uses historical events to back up a pointed argument. Critical history seeks to reinterpret existing historical accounts and is a kind of history of history that tests the accuracy of given accounts and sometimes poses alternative accounts.
Hegel points out that pragmatic historians seek to provide "moral lessons” and he says are pointless since leaders never learn anything from history and that these lessons are quickly lost in the press of current events. In his critique of critical history, Hegel says it "extorts" new things to say from existing accounts. He points out that this is a cheaper way to achieve "reality" in history, because it puts subjective notions in place of facts and then calls these notions reality.
Hegel describes his fourth and final form of reflective history, specialized history, as one that focuses on a specific thread in history: such as "the history of art,” “the history of law,” or “the history of religion." This sub-form of reflective history represents a transitional stage to philosophic history because it takes a "universal viewpoint." The very focus taken (e.g., the history of law) represents a choice on the part of the historian to make a universal concept the guiding rationale for their specific history. Hegel says that if the specialized history is good, the author will give an accurate account of the fundamental "idea" (the "inner guiding soul") that guided the events and actions discussed.