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SHELDON COLLEGE HISTORY

GUIDE TO HISTORY AND HISTORIOGRAPHY 2010

WHAT IS HISTORY?
History is the investigation and account of the past. The word itself comes from the Greek word historia, which could mean investigation or story. Our word history contains both these ideas. Hence the work of historians can be divided up into two main elements: the investigation and analysis of what happened in the past (historical research); and the reconstruction of that past into a story (historical writing). For some people, the work of historians is rather morbid. We study dead people. Yet while there is a strict historical methodology which historians must follow if they wish their work to be respected, we as historians should never forget that we are studying people who believed themselves to be just as real as we do. When we study the great events of history we must also remember that these great events and movements were made up of many ordinary people trying to make their way in the world, just like us. Whether its a young Chinese peasant girl daydreaming about her future husband while she carries water from the river during the Ming Dynasty, or an old man smoking his pipe beside the fireplace on a wintery evening in Austria while Napoleons army prepared for the Battle of Austerlitz, we must never forget that history is made up of people very similar and also very different to ourselves. This focus on studying history through the everyday people of the past has become very popular in recent years and is usually called social history.

WHAT IS HISTORIOGRAPHY?
Historiography is the name usually given to the technical study of history through sources. While history can be done by anyone, historiography is undertaken by people who have been trained. It is the principles, theories, or methodology of scholarly historical research and presentation. It is what historians do. It also refers to what historians think history is. Like history, there are two main elements to historiography: the techniques, theories, and principles of historical research and investigation; and the reconstruction of the past into a narrative. The first aspect of historiography is focussed on using sources to investigate history. The second is the presentation of the version of the past that the historian has found most likely to be true. This version of the past is always up for re-evaluation; indeed historians probably spend more time fighting each other about what happened in the past than in actually finding out new things. Its relatively harmless though as most of them fight like sissies. The beliefs that historians have on the nature of history itself will influence how they research and present what occurred in the past. Some background on how understandings of history have changed over time will be useful in helping you develop your own beliefs about the nature of history. This is important should you wish to do historical research well.

CHANGES IN BELIEFS ABOUT THE NATURE OF HISTORY


The beginnings of history In the West, history is traditionally thought to have begun with Herodotus aka the Father of History. He was a Greek bloke who in the 5th Century BC decided to travel around the known world and write about his travels. It was basically the first Lonely Planet guide. Like most Greek writers he simply described what he saw; and some of it, he made up. He talked about far-flung places where people slept in their own ears. Yet most of it was reliable and some of what he wrote is now considered very valuable for the information it provides us. The other major Greek historian is an Athenian named Thucydides. He was the first known writer to mention his sources; in the beginning of his great work The History of the Peloponnesian War he writes, And with reference to the narrative of events, far from permitting myself to derive it from the first source that came to hand, I did not even trust my own impressions, but it rests partly on what I saw myself, partly on what others saw for me, the accuracy of the report being always tried by the most severe and detailed tests possible. Thucydides (c.410 BC) in Crawley R. (tr.) (2004) History of the Peloponnesian War I Dover: New York This was significant and unusual. It was the first example of someone mentioning a historical methodology. Despite this, however, most historical writing remained descriptive and focussed on the big events and the big men of history. This continued until a German dude named Leopold von Ranke came along. The development of modern historiography The nineteenth century was a time of great development and innovation and the field of history was no exception. The most important innovator was the German Leopold von Ranke; along with a few of his German mates he came up with foundations of modern historiography. It was he who first developed the system of primary and secondary sources and ways to evaluate them consistently. He pioneered a method of history where the historians would not just rely on official versions of events; he used letters, diaries, random documents and even artefacts. He argued that history should not be just a random collection of facts; it should be understood and analysed. He applied the newly-developed principles of empirical science to the study of history. It was a significant breakthrough, and the study of history was changed forever by it. Even though, after von Ranke, historians began using much more diverse sources of evidence and studying them more carefully, they still mainly focussed on political history. History remained the study of the big men. Also, historians believed that because they applied scientific principles to the study of history that what they wrote was completely factual. This was to be challenged by a new generation of philosophers who came along in the postwar generation and especially in the 1970s. Postmodernism and the Crisis of History In the 1970s this belief in the scientific nature of history and its focus on great individuals (usually men) and political events came under attack from people who argued that no historical source could be said to contain the truth. These postmodernists argued that there was no such thing as truth; that because sources are incomplete, biased and use languages whose meanings are not fixed, the past will always remain unknowable. These postmodernists argued that there is no point investigating the past as it cannot be known; the only thing

worth doing for academics was to deconstruct these texts to find evidence of subconscious prejudice within them. By doing this postmodernists believed society could become more socially just as the unconscious discourses that create prejudice would be eradicated. The purpose therefore of studying history was not to know the past; it was instead to seek to make people now more sensitive to injustice and prejudice. This war over the nature of history itself raged through the 1980s and 1990s. Again, it wasnt very dangerous because academics arent very tough. A lot of egos were hurt, though. In Australia there were the History Wars; a running battle over ways to look at indigenous history. On one side were historians and academics who wished to portray Australian history as one vast tragedy (the black armband mob) and on the other side were historians and politicians who emphasised only the triumphant aspect of Australian history (the white cheerleader bunch). The net result of all this conflict was social division and a lot of dodgy history. In recent years, the postmodern view has given way to a more balanced approach. While many historians are still interested in minority history (black history, womens history, etc.) the basic belief in the knowability of the past has been reasserted. While most historians would agree that for our understandings of the past to make sense we need the complete picture, including those who were overlooked in the past, we shouldnt focus only on those who were silenced or marginalised. We need to look at the whole picture. This approach, of looking at the big picture of history and trying to understand what life was like for people in the past and understand how and why it occurred, is probably best referred to as social history. Its the general approach I will emphasise with you, and is probably the approach that youll find the most meaningful as you study the dead.

YOUR GUIDE TO THE RESEARCH PROCESS


1. Start reading early You should start reading on the topic during the holidays before we start that unit. Look for general introductory books that can give you some background information on the topic. This will make your research much easier and more efficient. You use your historical knowledge when youre analysing and evaluating sources. Youll find it difficult to evaluate sources well if you dont have a thorough knowledge of the topic. 2. Make sure you understand the task Before you begin your research, you need to understand exactly what the task is. Read through the task sheet slowly and carefully a few times, using your highlighter on important terms or words you think you should look up. Once you understand the task sheet completely and have internalised the information, look through the topics to see which one you would like to get started on. Choose carefully; selecting the one that looks easiest can actually be harder because there is more competition for sources. Picking something interesting will make your research feel much easier. Once youve chosen your topic you can begin your research process. Your research journal will be composed of five sections: Definitions (which contains a glossary of the key historical terms youve encountered and your initial thinking on the topic. This initial thinking will lead you to your key question); Sources (biographical information on the authors of the sources you are using which will help you with your evaluations); Backgrounds, Changes and Continuities: Motives and Causes (this is the first of the research sections of your journal and must be driven by focus questions from the syllabus); Effects, Interests and Arguments (similar to section 3, however with different focus questions); and Reflections and Responses (containing your thinking on the topic now that you have completed your research, culminating in your final hypothesis). 3. Locate your sources Begin with sources that can give you a wide view of the historical events or key information about particular people or events or historical terms or images. The best sources for this will usually be tertiary sources. As your research progresses, you should generally find that you move from tertiary sources to secondary sources and then finally primary sources. If you dont then dont panic, however make sure that you are focussing the lens of your perspective as you go: start by getting general information to answer your first set of focus questions and sub-questions however beware! Some people are getting bogged down answering their first set of focus questions and not having enough time for the second set. The second set of questions is more useful for your assignment, so make sure you quickly get through your first set of focus questions and sub-questions and give yourself enough time for section 4. As you go youll refine the lens youre looking through more and more, so that by the end youre really looking for quite specific information on particular questions. Thats where primary sources are most useful. Remember that: in year 11 you should have at least eight sources and in year 12 ten; at least half of your sources must have been published by a reputable publisher; for Ancient History students at least half your sources should be from the historical age youre investigating (ancient or medieval) and for Modern History students at least half your sources must be primary; that images do not count toward your sources count, although they can be useful for bulking out your journal and getting more interesting information; you must ALWAYS look

for high-quality sources to use for your research source quality and quality of your analysis and evaluation are the keys to good results. Dont just use the first sources you come across. Any websites you use MUST have been bookmarked to Diigo. I strongly advise that you organise your online resources early; dont leave them to the last minute. Before you go to a search engine you MUST have looked thoroughly through what has been saved to our Diigo group. Only then can you go to a search engine. Remember too that even if you find a source yourself through a search engine you also MUST bookmark it to our Diigo group. When looking through the group bookmarks use the tag search function; I have carefully added tags to each website that I have saved so that if you look for keywords involving the region and time period you will get good results. The net is particularly useful for primary sources; search for primary sources within our group bookmarks and the region or time period and you will find there are many sites that you can use. Once you have a source on your browser, use Ctrl+F to search for keywords in the document. This can make your research much faster, easier and more effective. 4. Formulate your key question, focus questions and sub-questions You must begin your note-taking with some general knowledge on the topic, whether from your classwork, study from Scoodle or background reading. Youll have begun your Definitions and Sources sections, and have some knowledge of the key terms and concepts of the topic. With these in mind you put down your initial thinking on the topic. You might like to brainstorm the keywords in the topic. This information will not be specific and is not referenced, as its knowledge you already have in your head. Do not research for this section; its just meant to show what you think before you start researching. As a result of this you develop one key question. This is obviously one question which will drive your research. Check that answering your key question will fulfil the topic. If not, its not a good key question. Make sure that you keep your key question in mind throughout your research journal. It is advisable that every once in a while in your analysis and evaluations you show how this source has helped to answer your key question. Youre now ready to begin section 3, Backgrounds Changes and Continuities: Motive and Causes. This is where your research begins. At the start of this section you develop your focus questions; these MUST be based upon the ones from the syllabus. Under each focus question formulate a few sub-questions. These are in your own words and are where you can alter the direction and focus more on what youre interested in for your key question. You then answer these focus questions and sub-questions through your research into your sources. Make sure you keep track of time and how large your research journal is becoming its easy to get caught spending too much time on section 3 and then not have enough time later on. Once you have answered your questions from section 3 satisfactorily then youre ready to start section 4. The procedure for this section of your research journal is the same as section 3. 5. Take clear, relevant notes Make sure you balance your time well between reading and taking notes. Its a danger when researching that you can start reading through a book then look up an hour later and youve got nothing to show for your time. Make sure you are taking notes as you go and that they are helping you answer your focus questions; every source should contribute to your research, either by giving you answers to your focus questions or challenging you to change the direction of your research. This is where it helps if youve been careful and taken the time to choose quality sources and plan ahead. As you read and take notes make sure you are asking yourself how this information fits with what youve learned before; dont just mindlessly copy down information then write down your source analysis. Keep in mind what youve

already learned on the topic; what new conclusions or observations can you make in light of what youre reading? This will give you important things to say in your source evaluations. 6. Analyse and evaluate your sources There are three criteria upon which you are assessed in history in Queensland. The first one has to do with your research process, thats how well your structure your research, follow the Aspects of Inquiry (the 5 sections) and use high-quality sources. Most students, with a little effort, do well in that. The third criterion is about how you communicate your historical knowledge; you will improve in this criterion through your background reading, your participation in class and your study through Scoodle and revision at home. The second criterion is probably the one that is the most difficult to do well in at a high school level. It requires a complex application of your knowledge, a good memory, a sharp eye for detail and common sense. This takes time to develop. The more knowledge you have developed though the better youll be able to notice important details when youre evaluating. If you often look at a source and cant think of anything to say in your evaluation, it means you dont know enough about the topic, the context the source was created in and the background of the author. No matter what, make sure you use the questions in this guide to help with your evaluations and BACK YOUR JUDGEMENTS UP WITH EVIDENCE FROM THE SOURCE. You need to always remember that historical investigation in based upon three things: evidence, evidence and EVIDENCE. Following is an outline of what you need to look for when doing source evaluations and some questions you can refer back to if you get stuck. Refer back to this throughout the year to help you as you do your research. Make sure you have this guide open next to you as you do your research journal. 7. Put it all together into your final hypothesis A historical hypothesis must take account of the historical events; that means it should be a full or comprehensive explanation of what happened. It must be the result of careful thought, not a basic rewording of the topic. It also must be an answer to your key question. If you come to this section and cant develop a hypothesis which does both these things, this usually means you havent investigated correctly. This will also mean you wont have enough material for your assignment. Just like in your Definitions section where you showed how your thinking led to your key question, in section 5 you show how the knowledge you have developed leads you to your final hypothesis. This is the hypothesis that you will use for your assignment. QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN EVALUATING YOUR RESEARCH PROCESS (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) Have I used a diversity of high-quality primary, secondary and tertiary sources in my investigation? Have I analysed and evaluated all the historical information I have found in my research? Have I responded to new evidence by thinking about how it affects what Ive already learned? Have I supported my judgements with evidence and argued the case for my decisions? Have I identified the perspective of the author(s), their time period and their values and motives for producing the source and used these insights in my analyses? Have I taken account of the context within which the source was produced?

HISTORICAL THINKING
Before you begin evaluating sources there are several factors to learn to consider, which some people call historical thinking. Its really just common sense applied in a particularly careful way to the study of history. You need to use your knowledge of the historical period the source was produced in (the context) to see if you can identify any hidden motives or meanings in the source. This will also help you make intelligent observations on the source in your evaluation. You will need to identify the perspective of the author or creator and how this has affected the source; you do this by using the biographical information from your Sources section and showing how their perspective shows up in the source, or not. If your source is a historical account what can you identify about the quality of the historical methodology used by the author? You will also need to consider the audience the source was created for; by keeping all these things in mind you will find yourself able to make intelligent observations about the source. This is what your assessors (me) want to see you being smart. It lights up our lives. Make sure you are careful and specific when analysing and evaluating your sources. It is not enough to make vague and general statements; you must show your evidence and provide examples to prove what you are saying to your assessor. A good source evaluation is detailed and contains original observations; sometimes merely noticing why the author or creator has presented the historical information is enough. A good source evaluation also follows the same basic structure as a paragraph it begins with a point, explains that point, backs it up with SPECIFIC HISTORICAL EVIDENCE, and then winds up with a concluding sentence. Its the stuff history teachers dreams are made of.

QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN EVALUATING SOURCES


Make sure you are careful and specific when analysing and evaluating your sources. It is not enough to make vague and general statements; you must show your evidence and provide examples to prove what you are saying to your assessor. The following are some questions you can use when analysing your sources to help you; refer to them when working on your research journal. They are meant to be used as a guide. 1. What is the perspective of the author? (i) Who created this source? When and where did they live? How has that context affected the information in the source? (ii) Why did they create this source? Who was their audience? How does that influence the information in the source? (Remember you must ALWAYS provide evidence and examples to support your judgements). (iii) What was happening when they created this source? What observations can you make about the events occurring at the time have affected the account? (iv) What sources did they use? What might have been left out or distorted or wrong as a result? Remember to be specific. 2. Does this source corroborate or contradict what Ive learned before? (i) How does the information in this source fit with what Ive already learned? Keep an eye out as you go along; youll do this best if you do it as you go and take notes, rather than try to sit back when youve finished taking notes and do it afterwards. (ii) If this source goes against what Ive learned before, why might that be the case? Which source is more reliable about what, or is one source more reliable about everything? If you cant find out, then look for more sources to help you decide. (iii) What new findings or conclusions come to you as a result of the information in this source? Make sure you are thinking actively as you go; this will become easier the more you learn. Knowledge is power. 3. What values can you identify in this source? (Values are what people think are good or bad). (i) How does the background, education, motive, cultural and historical context of the author affect the information? 4. How reliable, relevant, representative and accurate is this source? (i) What information in this source is probably correct, which is probably wrong, and what are you unsure about? Justify your decisions with evidence and examples. Convince your assessor that your judgements are correct. (ii) How careful was the historical methodology of the author? How do you know? (iii) Which focus questions does this source help you to answer? Show exactly what information in this source helps to advance your investigation, and make sure you look for sources later which help fill in the gaps. (iv) How complete, entire or perfect is the information in this source? Why? Provide examples and evidence to support your judgements. 5. How has this source helped you to answer your key question? Where are you up to with your key question as a result? Referring back to your key question periodically will help keep your research on track and will ensure you can develop a good hypothesis.