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Historical Research. Research Methods and Data College of Advancing Studies Brendan Rapple. 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 A Civilization:

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historical research

Historical Research

Research Methods and Data

College of Advancing Studies

Brendan Rapple

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
    • A Civilization:
        • Romans; 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

Topics are often Categorized

  • Intellectual history; Cultural history; Social history; Economic history; Religious history; Educational history

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?
  • 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.
essential to test and evaluate evidence
Essential to Test and Evaluate Evidence
  • Free from bias?
  • Was source capable intellectually to provide a sound interpretation?
  • Is evidence (and the source’s interpretation) supported by evidence from other sources?
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.
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
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 2006 than it did in 1806.
  • 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.
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?
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