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HIST104: Historical Methodology - The Art and Craft of the Historian

Unit 1: Why Study the Past?   Why should we care about the past?  What can we learn from the past?  How should we study the past?  These three questions form the basis for modern historical inquiry.  The concept of history can be a challenge to define and explain.  European historian Eugen Weber once offered a succinct assessment:  “History is what historians do.”  Regardless of how we chose to define history, we recognize that learning about the past can help us better understand the present.  In this unit, we will examine the different meanings of history and identify some of the reasons why the study of the past is so important to modern-day researchers.  We will also look at the resources that historians use to study the past and discuss the fundamental role that primary-source evidence plays in historical inquiry.

Unit 1 Time Advisory
Completing this unit should take you approximately 9 hours.

     Introduction: 1 hour

     Subunit 1.1: 3 hours

     Subunit 1.2: 3 hours

     Subunit 1.3: 2 hours

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
- Identify and define the terms “history,” “historical context,” and “historical method.”
 

  • Reading: The Saylor Foundation's "The Proper Attitude," "Studying History," and "Writing History"  Link: The Saylor Foundation's "The Proper Attitude" (PDF), "Studying History" (PDF), and "Writing History" (PDF).

    Instructions: Read "The Proper Attitude," "Studying History," and "Writing History."

    Note: These readings offer a philosophical and a practical justification for studying and writing about the past. As you read, consider the examples used to support the arguments about the study of history. How can one’s perspective on the past change over time or be affected by one’s reading of historical sources?

1.1 What Is History?   1.1.1 Information That Sheds Light on the Past   - Reading: Oracle Education Foundation: Think Quest’s The Science of History: Perceiving History and Time: “Introduction: What Is History?” and “The Perception of History as a Science” Link: Oracle Education Foundation: Think Quest’s The Science of History: Perceiving History and Time: “What Is History?” and “The Perception of History a Science” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Click on the links to each of the titles, and read “Introduction: What Is History?” and “The Perception of History as a Science.” This website discusses the importance of time as a historical and scientific concept and links the study of time to the study of history.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.1.2 The Act of Presenting Conclusions Informed by Research on the Past   - Reading: Institute of Historical Research at the University of London’s “Reviews in History:” Professor Arthur Marwick’s “The Fundamentals of History”  Link: Institute of Historical Research at the University of London’s “Reviews in History:” Professor Arthur Marwick’s “The Fundamentals of History” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read Arthur Marwick’s article “The Fundamentals of History.” In this article, Professor Arthur Marwick offers a comprehensive overview of how and why people study the past.  As you read the article, consider the various intellectual and organizational tools that historians must employ when they conduct research on the past and present interpretations of historical events.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Lecture: Massachussetts Institute of Technology: Professor Anne McCant’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian” Link: Massachussetts Institute of Technology: Professor Anne McCant’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian”

    Instructions: Watch the section of the video from the 66:26 to 101:10 minute mark.

    In this section of the lecture, Professor Anne McCants and her students discuss the process of studying history and the challenges of arriving at general conclusions based on specific cases, as many historians do in their research. She and her students struggle with the question of whether historical study is relevant and how one can understand the past based on the context of the present.

    Watching this section of the lecture and pausing to take notes should take approximately 45 minutes.
     
    This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons ByAttibution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License 3.0. It is attibuted to Anne McCants and the Massachussett Institute of Technology, and the original version can be found here.

1.2 Why Do We Study History?   1.2.1 Common Themes and Conceptual Frameworks   - Reading: Studentsfriend.com: Michael G. Maxwell’s “What to Teach: Conceptual Frameworks”  Link: Studentsfriend.com: Michael G. Maxwell’s “What to Teach: Conceptual Frameworks”(HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the webpage and focus on the section that addresses common themes in human history. This website shares a historical and geographical narrative, providing information and activities on world history for both teachers and students.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.2 A Search for Context and Meaning   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Historical Context”  Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Historical Context” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read the article. Consider how the ideas behind establishing historical context for an event might be applied to an example from American history?

  • Reading: The Institute of Historical Research’s version of Professor Penelope J. Corfield’s “All People are Living Histories—Which is Why History Matters”  Link: The Institute of Historical Research’s version of Professor Penelope J. Corfield’s “All People are Living Histories—Which is Why History Matters” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read the article on the webpage.
     
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.3 What Resources Can We Use to Study the Past?   1.3.1 Secondary Sources   - Reading: Dr. Steven Kreis’s The History Guide: A Student’s Guide to the Study of History: “Section 2.1: How to Read a History Assignment”  Link: Dr. Steven Kreis’sThe History Guide: A Student’s Guide to the Study of History:Section 2.1: How to Read a History Assignment” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read Section 2.1 of the webpage. In this chapter entitled “How to Read a History Assignment,” Dr. Steven Kreis discusses how to read secondary sources in history, such as textbooks and monographs.  As you read the chapter, consider how these secondary sources can be used to gain a better understanding of the past.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.3.2 Primary Sources   - Reading: Fordham University’s Internet Medieval Sourcebook: Professor Paul Halsall’s “Why Study History through Primary Sources”  Link: Fordham University’s Internet Medieval Sourcebook: Professor Paul Halsall’s “Why Study History through Primary Sources” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read Professor Paul Halsall’s article “Why Study History through Primary Sources.” On this webpage (adapted from Historian James Harvey Robinson’s 1904 essay “The Historical Point of View”), author Paul Halsall discusses the importance of primary, or firsthand, sources for the study of history.  Halsall argues that secondary, or secondhand, sources such as history books, encyclopedias, and historical chronicles may contain research errors or misrepresent past events for various reasons.  The only way a researcher can derive an accurate interpretation of past events is by looking at primary source evidence that relates to those events.  Primary sources are the foundation of historical inquiry and the starting point for original research on the past.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

Unit 1 Assessment   - Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 1 Quiz”  Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 1 Quiz” (PDF) and “Unit 1 Quiz Answer Key.” (PDF)

 Instructions: Complete the "Unit 1 Quiz". When you are done, check
your work against the “Unit 1 Quiz Answer Key.”