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Historical Research AD700 College of Advancing Studies Brendan Rapple 6 October, 2004 History is a Representation of the Past But representations may be hindered by lack of ability of historian lack of evidence historian’s biases historian’s interpretation

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historical research

Historical Research

AD700 College of Advancing Studies

Brendan Rapple

6 October, 2004

history is a representation of the past
History is a Representation of the Past

But representations may be hindered by

  • lack of ability of historian
  • lack of evidence
  • historian’s biases
  • historian’s interpretation
  • sheer desire to present a false picture
types of history
Types of History
  • History in terms of nations very common
  • Sometimes regional history is studied
    • e.g.
        • Latin America
        • Eastern Europe
        • Middle East
        • South East Asia
it s more fundamental sometimes
It’s More Fundamental Sometimes
  • A Civilization:
      • Romans
      • Europeans during the Middle Ages,
      • Moslem Civilization of North Africa,
      • Native American Civilization of South America.
  • Sometimes it’s Periods:
        • Renaissance
        • Reformation
        • 30 Years War
        • The Enlightenment
        • The Dark Ages
more specific topics
More Specific Topics
  • Columbus discovering or rediscovering America
  • The Vietnam Conflict
  • Watergate
  • Salem Witch Trials
  • Battle of Leningrad
  • Battle of Agincourt
topics are often categorized
Topics are often Categorized
  • Intellectual history
  • Cultural history
  • Social history
  • Economic history
  • Religious history
  • Educational history
    • or, indeed, the history of any discipline

Many of these can be Subdivided:

  • The HISTORY OF WOMEN as a category of cultural or social history
  • Historical analysis may be directed toward an individual, an idea, a movement, or an institution.
sometimes questions can be very broad
Sometimes Questions can be very Broad
  • What caused societal revolutions in China, France, Russia?
  • How have major social institutions, like medicine, developed and changed over two centuries?
  • How have basic social relationships, like feelings about the value of children, changed over the centuries?
  • Is race declining in significance compared to social class as a major division in the U.S.?
  • Why did South Africa develop a system of greater racial separation as the U.S. moved toward greater racial integration?
  • What caused fall of Roman Empire?
how sure can we be of facts or evidence
How Sure Can we Be of "Facts“ or “Evidence”?
  • Historians who challenge generally accepted historical facts are often termed:
        • revisionist
        • or radical
        • or leftist
        • or new historians.
  • Battle of Waterloo was a fact
  • Made up of many smaller facts, i.e. facts as
      • Events

charges and retreats

heads smashed by cannon balls

orders shouted by officers

      • Objects

field guns

Food depots


Also by IDEAS and VALUES held by each of the combatants.
  • And each of these facts as event, object, idea can be further subdivided.
  • We may be reasonably sure of
          • his place of birth
          • his date of birth
          • the physical scene at Waterloo
But what of
        • the morale at the battle?
        • the frustration leading to death of ex-emperor?
        • the depth of his love for Josephine?
        • why he wanted to be emperor?
  • Historians rely on records of events that were made by others, e.g.
        • journalist
        • court reporter
        • diarist
        • photographer
  • These recordings involve interpretive acts.
  • They involve certain biases, values, and interests of those who recorded them, i.e. they attended to some details and omitted others.
  • Thus, interpretation exists even before historian enters the picture.
historian adds still another layer of interpretation
Historian adds still another layer of interpretation
  • She stresses or ignores certain data.
  • She organizes data into categories/patterns.
very different treatments
Very Different Treatments
  • Teaching of History in
          • Palestinian Schools
          • Israeli Jewish Schools
          • Zulu Schools
          • Afrikaner Boer Schools
history often very specialized
History often very Specialized
  • Today historians often have a methodological specialization:
      • Historians who study the Depression of the 1930s need to have quite a sophisticated knowledge of economics.
      • Historians who study social mobility in the U.S. should be trained in aspects of social science.
      • Historians who study farming in Central America must have a strong knowledge of agricultural techniques.
      • Cultural historians must have strong backgrounds in such subjects as literary theory, anthropology, art history, or musicology.
recent developments in historical writing
Recent Developments in Historical Writing
  • Change from political to social history, from the public life of the nation to the private life of citizens
  • Many studies of
          • lives of women and children
          • slaves
          • ethnic groups
          • factory workers
          • the family, etc.
  • Thus, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality have supplanted traditional political, diplomatic and intellectual history.
  • There are now no more “people without a history” (Wolf, 1982).
“In reality, for the most part, these earlier historians were concerned overwhelmingly with a decided minority of the population in terms of class, ethnicity, region, and gender, and tended to confuse the history of one group with the history of the nation” (Lawrence W. Levine, Amer. Hist. Rev. June, 1989)
change to more democratic history was resisted
Change to More “Democratic” History was Resisted
  • “Today we must face the discouraging prospect that we all, teachers and pupils alike, have lost much of what this earlier generation possessed, the priceless asset of a shared culture. Today imaginations have become starved or stunted . . . Furthermore, many of the younger practitioners of our craft, and those who are still apprentices, are products of lower middle-class or foreign origins, and their emotions not infrequently get in the way of historical reconstructions. They find themselves in a very real sense outsiders on our past and feel themselves shut out. This is certainly not their fault, but it is true. They have no experience to assist them, and the chasm between them and the Remote Past widens every hour . . . What I fear is that the changes observant in the background and training of the present generation will make it impossible for them to communicate and to reconstruct the past for future generations.” (Carl Bridenbaugh, Amer. Hist. Rev. Jan., 1963 – Bridenbaugh was President of the Amer. Hist. Soc.)
among some new approaches
Among Some New Approaches

Cultural History:

  • Many dimensions.

Quantitative History:

        • Statistical methods
        • Voting records
        • Population analyses
        • Literacy counts, etc.

Feminist History:

  • Feminist historians frequently question male-dominated assumptions and data on women in other cultures.

Biological & Environmental History:

  • Studies in nutrition, disease, such elements of the environment as plants, animals, land, and the atmosphere
  • Usually limited and indirect.
  • Historian is limited to what sources survive -- usually most evidence has been destroyed.
  • A surviving building looks different in 1997 than it did in 1790.
  • For example, today it's in the "old style"; back then it may have been very new.
primary sources
Primary Sources
  • Manuscripts/Documents:

Charters, Laws, Archives of official minutes or records, Letters, Memoirs, Official publications, Wills, Newspapers and magazines, Maps, Catalogues, Inscriptions, Graduation records, Bills, lists, deeds, contracts, etc., etc.

  • Objects:

Relics, Coins, Stamps, Skeleton, Fossils, Weapons, Tools, Utensils, Pictures, Furniture, Clothing, Coins, Food, Books, Scrolls

  • Also Art Objects:

Sculptures, Paintings, Pottery

Also Films, Photographs, Buildings

  • Oral Testimony also important as primary sources
  • Thus, “evidence” or “sources” includes many categories beyond written texts.
secondary sources
Secondary Sources
  • Not ORIGINAL sources
  • No direct physical connection to event studied
      • Examples include:
          • history books
          • articles in encyclopedias
          • prints of paintings or replicas of art objects
          • reviews of research
secondary sources sometimes categorized as
Secondary Sources Sometimes Categorized As
  • Intentional Documents
        • e.g. biographies, memoirs and yearbooks composed deliberately to present record of past
  • Unpremeditated Documents
        • e.g. novels, paintings, everyday objects, letters not intentionally created to be utilized for historical evidence at a later date.
external criticism
External Criticism
  • Check if the evidence is authentic/genuine.
  • Researcher must discover frauds, forgeries, hoaxes, inventions.
  • Chemical analysis of paint, ink, paper, parchment, cloth.
  • Carbon dating of artifacts.
  • Ask Such Questions As
      • Was the knowledge the source aims to transmit available at the time?
      • Is it consistent with what is already known about author/period?
      • What about beautiful Greek coin just discovered and bearing the date 499 B.C.?
internal criticism
Internal Criticism
  • Evidence is genuine, but can we trust what it tells us?
  • Does document present a faithful/true report?
  • Was document's author a competent observer?
  • Was she too sympathetic or too adversely critical?
  • Was she pressured to twist or exclude facts?
  • Was documentary record made long after events described?
  • Does her story agree with that of other witnesses?
scholarly societies
Scholarly Societies
  • American Antiquarian Society


  • American Historical Association


  • History of Science Society


  • For a comprehensive list of Societies/Associations see


history e journals
History E-Journals
  • Examples of e-format only e-journals:
    • African Studies Quarterly: the online journal of African studies




    • History of Intellectual Culture


For a more complete list see Directory of Open Access Journals


locating primary material online
Locating Primary Material Online
  • ArchivesUSA(subscription database)

This is a database providing access to holdings and contact information of more than 5,480 libraries. One may limit one's search to a particular collection name or to a specific repository name (in the latter case one may limit to a particular city).

  • Archival Resources(subscription database)

This database provides researchers with access to brief, high-level information for nearly three quarters of a million collections of manuscripts and archives in repositories around the world as well as over 36,000 collection guides or finding aids.

RLG Union Catalog - RLIN(subscription database)With records for over 45 million titles, this database provides unparalleled coverage across subjects and material types in almost 400 languages. The Advanced Search mode permits one to limit one's search to archival material.(New)
  • WorldCat(subscription database)

This online union catalog has well over 50 million bibliographic records. In the Advanced search mode one may limit one's search to archival materials.

library of congress
Library of Congress
  • The LOChttp://catalog.loc.gov/is extremely useful to historians. Much material is available online.
bibliographies and guides
Bibliographies and Guides

Harvard Guide to American History (Belknap Press; Revised edition (July 1, 1974)

An excellent place to start for books and articles on a particular topic or period. 1348 pages in length, it is selective, and limited to books and articles published before 1972. Volume One has information on doing research and includes books and articles arranged by topic, and Volume Two has books and articles arranged by chronological period and a name and subject index.

bibliographies and guides33
Bibliographies and Guides

Handbook for Research in American History: A Guide to Bibliographies and Other Reference Works. 2nd. ed.

(University of Nebraska Press, 1987).

An excellent guide to more specialized bibliographies and reference materials in many different areas of United States history organized by type of reference.

bibliographies and guides34
Bibliographies and Guides

Guide to the History of Massachusetts (Greenwood Press, 1987) 325 pages.

Part One is a survey of the historical literature on

Massachusetts, and Part Two is a listing of the archives and sources for Massachusetts history with their contents.

bibliographies and guides35
Bibliographies and Guides

Reader's Guide to American History (Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997)

Essays and substantial bibliographies on some 600 topics "to offer some help to those who wish to explore the riches of American historical writing in all its diversity."


American National Biography(print and Online)


Very extensive. Short biographical articles, many with pictures, on deceased notable Americans. Online version includes more recent articles, in quarterly updates, than the print version.


Most newspapers have print indexes of their past issues -- some of these indexes are now online.

However, most online indexes are not free and print indexes may not be readily available

  • African-American Newspapers: The 19th Century(1827-1862)

This database provides the complete word-for-word texts of major 19th century African-American newspapers. Newspapers in this database are made available in chronological orders, with the addition of a minimum of ten million new words each year. Currently the file contains Parts 1, 2, and 3 and covers the following newspapers: Freedom’s Journal 1827-1830 (New York, NY); Colored American 1837-1841 (New York, NY); The North Star 1847-1851 (Rochester, NY); Frederick Douglass Paper 1851-1859, completed through December 1852 (Rochester, NY); National Era 1847-1860, completed through December 1853 (Washington, D.C.); Provincial Freeman 1854-1857 (Toronto, Canada); The Christian Recorder 1861-1902, completed through April 1862 (Philadelphia, PA).

  • Times Digital Archive 1785-1985

(subscription database)

The full text of the Times of London, includes news articles, editorials, obituaries, and advertising. It is is fully searchable and results are displayed as facsimile images of the article or page. Every word and image of 200 years of the newspaper is included.

  • New York Times 1857-1999 - ProQuest Historical Newspapers

(subscription database)

Full text access to historical content of the New York Times, including advertisements. Searching can be done for words in the entire text or in the citation and abstract (headline and first paragraph). Search options include simple keyword searching, natural language searching, or advanced searching (which includes searching by article type, for example death notices or editorials). Display is a pdf image of the citation article, including its extension to other pages.


Boston Globe

(Subscription Database)

Full text of the Boston Globe newspaper, from 1980 to yesterday's edition.


LexisNexis Academic

(Subscription Database)

Extensive full-text database of legal and business information including newspapers.

Coverage of some newspapers goes back well into the 19th cent.

documents databases
Documents Databases

AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History.


Links to selected documents from the fifteenth century to

contemporary times.

documents databases44
Documents Databases

Avalon Project at Yale University


Documents by century; also major collections, subjects,

authors, and titles, and, importantly, a search engine for the

entire project or its parts (there are a large number of


documents databases45
Documents Databases

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774-1873


Part of the American Memory site at the Library of Congress

documents databases46
Documents Databases

National Security Archive


This site at George Washington University collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Includes documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Iran Contra controversy.

documents databases47
Documents Databases

Documenting the American South


Sources on Southern history, literature and culture from the colonial period through the first decades of the twentieth century. Indexes first person narratives, a library of Southern literature, slave narratives, the Civil War home front 1861-1865, and the African American Church.

archives and manuscripts
Archives and Manuscripts

American Memory Project at the Library of Congress


A wealth of documents, oral histories, photographs, maps, motion pictures, recordings-- and all with an efficient search engine which can search topics across collections.

archives and manuscripts49
Archives and Manuscripts

National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections


Known as "NUCMC," the printed source consists of annual volumes with index volumes indexing names, places, subjects, and form and genre, and containing a list of repositories. This is the place to look to see where historical figures' papers and letters are located in the United States.

archives and manuscripts50
Archives and Manuscripts

National Archives and Records Administration


The National Archives of the United States.

archives and manuscripts51
Archives and Manuscripts

Repositories of Primary Sources


A useful list of over 3,700 archival web sites with links by world region and for the United States by state. Kept at the University of Idaho, this is one of the most complete lists of archives.

other electronic indexes
Other Electronic Indexes

America History and Life. 1964-

(Subscription Database)

U.S. and Canadian history in some 2,000 history periodicals covering prehistory to the present. The best place to go for recent academic history article citations.

other electronic indexes53
Other Electronic Indexes
  • Historical Abstracts(1954-present)

(Subscription Database)

Covers articles, books and dissertations in the field of world history from approximately 1450, including political, diplomatic, military, economic, social, cultural, religious and intellectual history.

other electronic indexes54
Other Electronic Indexes

Hispanic American Periodicals Index. 1970-

(Subscription Database)

Indexes articles on U.S. Hispanic and Latin American topics in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish from more than 400 scholarly journals worldwide. Produced by the Latin American Center at UCLA.

other electronic indexes55
Other Electronic Indexes

PAIS International (Public Affairs Information Service)1956-

(Subscription Database)

Public affairs in a variety of journals (including news magazines) and monographs; includes such areas as environment and health.

other electronic indexes56
Other Electronic Indexes
  • Nineteenth Century Masterfile(1800 --)

(Subscription Database)

"The Digital Index of the Nineteenth Century" includes an electronic version of Poole's Index to Periodical Literature and a number of other indexes. A valuable index to nineteenth and early twentieth century magazines and newspapers.

other electronic indexes57
Other Electronic Indexes
  • AccuNet/AP Multimedia Archive (Subscription Database)

AccuNet/AP Multimedia Archive is an electronic library containing more than 700,000 photographs from the Associated Press' current year's photo reports and a selection of photos from their 50 million image print and negative library. An average of 500 photos a day are added. Searchable by date, location, and subject.

other electronic indexes58
Other Electronic Indexes
  • International Medieval Bibliography(1967-present)

(Subscription Database)

Comprehensive and current bibliography of the European Middle Ages (c.450-1500) including articles in journals and miscellaneous volumes of conference proceedings, essay collections and Festschriften.

other electronic indexes59
Other Electronic Indexes
  • Iter Gateway to the Middle Ages and Renaissance(1859-present) (Subscription Database)

Iter contains a Journals and a Books database. The Journals database is an electronic bibliography of interdisciplinary journal literature pertaining to the Middle Ages and Renaissance (400-1700). Citations for articles; bibliographies; catalogues; editions; abstracts; and discographies are included. To date, the full runs of more than 400 scholarly journal titles, published since 1859, have been indexed. A complete list of titles is available for review. The Books database (under construction) is a bibliography of approximately 46,000 records encompassing monographs, material published in monographs, and collected essays pertaining to the Middle Ages and Renaissance (400-1700).

other electronic indexes60
Other Electronic Indexes
  • American Civil War Letters and Diaries(1855-1875)

(Subscription Database)

Indexes full texts of first person accounts of events in the U.S. Civil War from hundreds of sources of diaries, letters and memoirs of people both famous and obscure.

other electronic indexes61
Other Electronic Indexes
  • Declassified Documents Reference System(1945-1970's)

(Subscription Database)

Selected US government documents declassified under the Freedom of Information Act and which were originally organized under the Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS). The online documents selected deal with post World War II documents in international relations and domestic documents involving the military and White House which span the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

other electronic indexes62
Other Electronic Indexes
  • Early Encounters in North America

(Subscription Database)

Early Encounters in North America, subtitled "Peoples, Cultures and the Environment," will include, when completed, more than 100,000 pages of letters, diaries, memoirs and accounts of early encounters. It includes descriptions of North America, either in its natural features or interactions among various cultural groups in the years between 1534 and 1860. Special indexing leads to the who, what, when and where of the encounters.

other electronic indexes63
Other Electronic Indexes
  • American Humanities Index(1975 onwards).

(Subscription Database)

This is an index to over 500 creative, critical and scholarly English language literary journals and magazines (primarily American and Canadian). Most are either not indexed elsewhere or are indexed only partially in other indexing services. All publications are indexed in their entirety - including fiction and poems.

other electronic indexes64
Other Electronic Indexes
  • Bibliography of Asian Studies(1971-present)

(Subscription Database)

Contains more than 410,000 records on all subjects (especially humanities and social sciences) pertaining to East, Southeast, and South Asia published worldwide from 1971 to the present.

ACLS History E-Book Project

(subscription database)

  • A project to publish high quality electronic books across a broad range of fields in history, sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies. The project includes hundreds of previously published titles and new publications which take advantage of electronic publishing capabilities. New titles in both categories are added annually.

Historical Maps of the United States (Perry Castaneda Library Map Collection, UT Austin)


A wealth of online maps dealing with Early Inhabitants, Exploration and Settlement, U.S. Territorial Growth, and a section on Later Historical Maps (including 146 maps of U.S. cities) with links to U.S. historical maps at other web sites


Rare Map Collection at the Hargrett Library The University of Georgia Libraries


Includes rare maps of the New World, Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Revolutionary Georgia, Union and Expansion, Civil War, Frontier to New South, Savannah and the Coast, and Transportation.