Loading...

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

Unit 3: Research Challenges   Historical research can be challenging.  Sources may be difficult to understand or may appear contradictory.  Projects involving large amounts of quantitative data can be hard to organize and present to others.  Historical research in the real world often involves long hours of searching records for small pieces of data.  Occasionally, researchers may run across information that they do not understand or that takes their project in a completely different direction.  In this unit, we will address some of the everyday challenges that historical researchers face and look at how experienced researchers deal with these issues.  We will also address how overcoming these challenges can lead to research breakthroughs and unexpected discoveries.

Unit 3 Time Advisory
Completing this unit should take you approximately 12 hours.

☐    Subunit 3.1: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 3.2: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 3.3: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 3.4: 4 hours

Unit3 Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - Develop historical research topics, identify primary and secondary sources, and conduct research using these sources.

3.1 Qualitative Versus Quantitative Approach to Historical Analysis   3.1.1 Differences between Research Approaches   - Reading: St. Mary’s University of Minnesota’s “Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research” Link: St. Mary’s University of Minnesota’s “Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research” (HTML or PDF)
 
Instructions: Read the article on the webpage.
 
This webpage offers a brief comparison between qualitative and quantitative research methods.  While the article focuses on the social sciences, the same principles can be applied to the field of history.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.1.2 Qualitative Analysis Approach (Traditional History)   - Reading: Oklahoma State University: Dr. James P. Key’s “Module R11: Historical Research” Methods Outline Link: Oklahoma State University: Dr. James P. Key’s “Module R11: Historical Research” (HTML) Methods Outline
 
Instructions: Review the outline on the webpage.
 
Dr. James P. Key’s outline offers an overview of qualitative historical research practices.  Dr. Key highlights the advantages and disadvantages of this research methodology.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.1.3 Quantitative Analysis Approach (Cleometrics)   - Reading: American Social History Productions, Inc.’s and Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Making Sense of Numbers”: “Reading and Organizing Quantitative Evidence,” “What Is Quantitative History?,” and “Why Historians Started Counting” Links: American Social History Productions, Inc.’s and Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Making Sense of Numbers”:
Reading and Organizing Quantitative Evidence,” (HTML)
What Is Quantitative History?” (HTML) and
Why Historians Started Counting” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the first three subsections on the website.
 
The “Making Sense of Numbers” section on the “History Matters” website presents an introduction to the study of quantitative history, sometimes referred to as Cleometrics.  The first three subsections discuss why and how historians began to conduct historical research using qualitative data beginning in the mid-20thcentury.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.1.4 Locating and Using Quantitative Historical Data   - Reading: American Social History Productions, Inc.’s and Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Making Sense of Numbers:” “How Do I Locate Quantitative Data and Assess Reliability?,” “How Do I Link Records?,” “Sampling: Do I Have To Count Everything?,” “How Do I Locate Patterns?: Totals and Rates,” “How Do I Locate Patterns?: Averages,” “How Do I Organize Data into Categories,” and “How Are Data Pat Link: American Social History Productions, Inc.’s and Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Making Sense of Numbers”:
"How Do I Locate Quantitative Data and Assess Reliability?" (HTML)
"How Do I Link Records?" (HTML)
"Sampling: Do I Have To Count Everything?" (HTML)
"How Do I Locate Patterns?: Totals and Rates" (HTML)
"How Do I Locate Patterns?: Averages," (HTML)
"How Do I Organize Data Into Categories," (HTML) and
"How Are Data Patterns Related?" (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the introductions from the identified subsections linked here from the “History Matters” website.  Complete the assessment exercises for each subsection.
 
These subsections of the “Questions to Ask” section of the “History Matters” website provide specific information about how to conduct quantitative analyses on various historical subjects such as population growth and tax rates.
 
The assessment exercises on each page will help you determine whether you understand how to use quantitative data to perform various types of historical analyses.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.1.5 Advantages and Disadvantages of Qualitative and Quantitative Research Approaches   - Lecture: MIT: Professor Anne McCants’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian” Lecture Link: MIT: Professor Anne McCants’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian” Lecture (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
iTunes U
 
Instructions: Watch the section of the video from minutes 02:03-11:39.
 
In this section of the video lecture, Professor Anne McCants and her students discuss the differences between qualitative and quantitative historical research and writing.  They ask whether using quantitative historical data can lead to more objective historical analysis and discuss the challenges historians face when using potentially biased sources in their research.
 
Terms of Use: Anne McCants, Seminar in Historical Methods, Spring 2004. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare) http://ocw.mit.edu The content is under a Creative Commons-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

3.2 Historical Research in the Real World   3.2.1 Interpreting Sources   - Lecture: MIT: Professor Anne McCants’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian” Lecture Link: MIT: Professor Anne McCants’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian” Lecture" (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
 
iTunes U
 
Instructions: Watch the section of the video from minutes 11:40-24:34.
 
In this section of the video lecture, Professor Anne McCants and her students discuss the challenges of interpreting historical sources and evaluating their veracity and representative character.  They talk about the importance of accurately representing the content of primary sources and not skewing these sources to fit the research agenda of the historian.
 
Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.

3.2.2 Evaluating Accuracy and Veracity of Sources   - Reading: The National Archives: “Document Analysis Worksheets:” “Written Document,” “Photograph,” and “Artifact” Link: The National Archives: “Document Analysis Worksheets:” “Written Document,” “Photograph,” and “Artifact” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Review the “Written Document,” “Photograph,” and “Artifact” worksheets. 

 <span>These worksheets offer guidance for analyzing different types
of primary sources in history.  </span>  
    
 <span>Terms of Use: This material is part of the public
domain. </span>
  • Reading: New York University Libraries: “Guidelines for Evaluating Primary Sources” Link: New York University Libraries: “Guidelines for Evaluating Primary Sources” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Review the webpage.
     
    This text offers tips for analyzing primary resources, including information that may be found on the Internet.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.3 Dealing with Contradiction, Confusion, and Bias in Historical Sources   3.3.1 Investigating Sources   - Lecture: MIT: Professor Anne McCants’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian” Lecture Link: MIT: Professor Anne McCants’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian” Lecture" (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
 
iTunes U
 
Instructions: Watch the section of the video from minutes 24:35-40:59.
 
In this section of the video lecture, Professor Anne McCants and her students discuss the challenge of working with confusing or seemingly contradictory historical sources.  They talk about the importance of investigating sources and learning about the political, economic, social, and cultural setting in which the sources were written.  Contradictions in sources may provide valuable insights into the thoughts and motivations of the sources’ creators.  The class also discusses the place of statistical data in historical research and the challenges of determining the accuracy and historical relevance of such data.
 
Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.

3.3.2 Identifying Bias   - Reading: Durham University’s “What is History?”: “Bias: Introduction,” “Bias in Secondary Sources,” and “Bias in Primary Sources” Links: Durham University’s “What is History?”:
Bias: Introduction,” (HTML)
Bias in Secondary Sources,” (HTML) and
Bias in Primary Sources” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Review the webpage and follow the links to the sections on bias in secondary and primary historical sources.  Review the thought and analysis questions in each section.
 
This text uses real examples of primary and secondary sources to conduct a mini-investigation on detecting bias in a source.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.3.3 Historical “Memory” Versus Historical Evidence   - Reading: The University of California Santa Barbara History Department’s version of Elliot J. Gorn’s “Professing History: Distinguishing between Memory and the Past” from *The Chronicle of Higher Education* Link: The University of California Santa Barbara History Department’s version of Elliott J. Gorn’s “Professing History: Distinguishing between Memory and the Past” (HTML) from The Chronicle of Higher Education
 
Instructions: Read the article, April 28, 2000, on the webpage.
 
The author of the article, Elliott J. Gorn, is currently a U.S. History professor at Brown University.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.4 Knowing What You Don’t Know as a Researcher   3.4.1 Knowledge Gaps   - Lecture: MIT: Professor Anne McCants’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian” Lecture Link: MIT: Professor Anne McCants’s “Seminar in Historical Methods: Historical Inquiry and the Practice of Being a Historian” Lecture" (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
iTunes U
 
Instructions: Watch the section of the video from minutes 49:45-01:04:45.
 
In the section of the video lecture, Professor Anne McCants and her students discuss the problems that historians face when their research leads them to topics or primary sources that are outside their areas of expertise.  They talk about how to learn about unfamiliar subjects and apply basic research skills to new areas of knowledge.
 
Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.

3.4.2 Balancing Breadth and Depth of Historical Knowledge   - Reading: Astudentsfriend.com: Michael G. Maxwell’s “How to Teach: Toward a Philosophy of Meaning” Link: Astudentsfriend.com: Michael G. Maxwell’s “How to Teach: Toward a Philosophy of Meaning” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the article.
 
While the article focuses on teaching history, the author’s general comments about “focus” and “meaning” may be applied to research and writing about historical subjects.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.4.3 Learning to Ask Questions and Locate Answers   - Reading: Williamcronon.net: William Cronon’s “Learning Historical Reasearch”: Po-Yi Hung and Abigail Popp’s “How to Frame a Researchable Question” Link: Williamcronon.net: William Cronon’s “Learning Historical Research”: Po-Yi Hung and Abigail Popp’s “How to Frame a Researchable Question” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the article on the webpage with a special focus on the second part of the article, which discusses how to pose and explore research questions.
 
Dr. William Cronon is a professor of history, geography, and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Both authors of the text, Hung and Popps, were members of the History/Geography 932 Seminar in Fall 2008 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Assessment: American Social History Productions, Inc.’s and Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Scholars in Action:” “Analyze an 1804 Inventory” Link: American Social History Productions, Inc.’s and Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Scholars in Action:” Analyze an 1804 Inventory” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Complete the exercise on the first page and follow the link to the second page to evaluate your answers.  Use the thought questions on the first page to guide your analysis of the 1804 property inventory.  Follow the link to the second page and compare your analysis with that of professional historian Barbara Clark Smith.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Assessment: American Social History Productions, Inc.’s and Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Scholars in Action:” “Analyze a Colonial Newspaper” Link: American Social History Productions, Inc.’s and Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Scholars in Action:” Analyze a Colonial Newspaper” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Complete the exercise on the first page and follow the link to the second page to evaluate your answers.  Use the thought questions on the first page to guide your analysis of the colonial newspaper.  Follow the link to the second page and compare your analysis with that of professional historian Barbara Clark Smith.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Assessment: American Social History Productions, Inc.’s and the Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Scholars in Action:” “Analyze a Daguerreotype” Link: American Social History Project and the Visible Knowledge Project’s “History Matters: Scholars in Action:” “Analyze a Daguerreotype” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Complete the exercise on the first page and follow the link to the second page to evaluate your answers.  Use the thought questions on the first page to guide your analysis of the daguerreotype image of Niagara Falls.  Follow the link to the second page and compare your analysis with that of professional historian Frank Goodyear.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

End of Unit Assessment   - Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “HIST104: Unit 3 Quiz” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “HIST104: Unit 3 Quiz” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Complete the linked quiz above.  When you are done, check your work against The Saylor Foundation’s “HIST104: Unit 3 Quiz Answer Key.” (PDF)