AN00 (Auxiliary Notes Unit 00)_The Study of History.
FQ (Focus Question): Why and How do we study History?
Main Idea: The study of history benefits American society as well as the individual. It creates a path toward progress by revealing the decisions and repercussions of the past.
Despite the common notion, particularly among today’s youth, that the study of history is centered on the memorization of names, places, dates, and events, History has and continues to be a discipline best mastered by ‘thinkers.’ To study humans and understand why certain things happened in the past, the historian must consider various types of data and the condition under which that data is created or presented. Analyzing data, formulating hypotheses, and later testing the hypotheses is much more important than memorization. To acquire ‘understanding’ is the true goal of historical study.
I. History = Facts + Interpretation
Historia: (Greek) Knowledge via investigation and inquiry.
The history we read or acquire by spoken language consists of facts that have been uncovered. However, those facts are rarely ever presented without first being subjected to interpretation. Many would agree that raw facts are best presented to the public after an expert has reconfigured them into a form that the audience can digest. But, giving the expert this power places a great deal of professional responsibility on the expert to present historical data in a manner that doesn’t alter the facts. The student (all of us) must be careful about accepting a bit of historical data as being definitive and ‘Gospel Truth’. Herein lies the need for accurate research and verifiable data.
II. The Purpose for Historical Study in a Democratic Society
A. Thomas Jefferson: For those participating in self government, learning history will “…enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.”
President Jefferson’s remarks were shared by the other Founding Fathers. The constitutional mandate that an Electoral College be established, to ultimately select the succeeding president, is a continual reminder that the framers of our government did not trust an uneducated population to make vitally important decisions [nearly all citizens in the late 18th Century were not educated beyond the primary grades].
B. Abraham Lincoln: “Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the Scriptures, and other works both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves. For my part, I desire to see the time when education – and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise, and industry – shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate that happy period.” (1)
III. Areas of Concern
A. Accuracy of Data: Oral & Literary Transmission
1. Outdated/ Erroneous Textbooks
2. Memory & Interpretation in the Oral Traditions.
B. “If you say it often enough, it’ll be true”- for you!
IV. Historical Methodology
A. Make an Observation
B. Ask a Question
C. Research: Begin looking for the answer by turning toward sources of information.
D. Analysis: Examine the information provided by the sources. Also, the following should be considered…
1. Context: The condition or circumstances surrounding the facts (including Time & Place). The interpretation of historical data could be altered by a change in context.
2. Interpretation: Who is presenting the data? Is the presenter’s ‘context’ a reason to further verify the accuracy of the data being presented?
3. Evidence: Is found in different forms and with varying degrees of authority.
a. Physical Evidence: In the form of an object/ thing. It’s the most authoritative form of evidence and vital for strong arguments.
b. Oral/ Literary Tradition: Oral tradition may be defined as being a testimony transmitted verbally from one generation to another. Not as authoritative as physical evidence, but crucial in providing greater understanding of a particular group or period. (2)
– Primary Sources: Carry greater authority than secondary sources when researching a particular historical event/ figure.
– Secondary Sources: The absence of primary sources in various fields of study places greater importance on secondary sources of historical records.
d. Chronology: The passage of time can become an obstacle to the historian, especially if the event/ figure being researched is from a distant point in time. Large segments of time can be classified into smaller, more manageable categories or units. These units help historians organize time to better understand how human events were impacted by this and other elements of context. Indiscriminately mixing these units can lead to serious context errors.
– Dating by Material Culture: A method of determining the age of artifacts by the materials used to create the artifact and other man-made objects in close proximity to the artifact.
– Dating Organic & Inorganic Artifacts: A method of determining the age of organic and inorganic artifacts by measuring the level of residual elements (Carbon-14 for organic/ Potassium Argon Gas for inorganics, like rock).
E. Incorporating Data into Your Argument: Extract data from the sources that is relevant to your question. Organize that data to address the question. The resulting argument is your explanation why your answer (based on the data) should be accepted as accurate.
V. Why It Matters Now.
– Slide Presentation (https://www.icloud.com/keynote/0XXFXn_VRL88NeAlXXoGCfuDg#Pr00%5FTheStudyOfHistory)
– Historical Methodology Flow Chart
(1) Taken from http://www.abrahamlincoln.org/ on 5 Oct. ’03 by Mr. V for classroom use.
(2) Ki-Zerbo, Joseph: “Methodology and African Prehistory”, 1990, UNESCO International Scientific Committee for the Drafting of a General History of Africa; James Currey Publishers, ISBN 0-85255-091-X, 9780852550915; see Ch. 7; “Oral tradition and its methodology”, pages 54-61; quote is from page 54. ()
-Internet History Sourcebook. The Study of History: [http://legacy.fordham.edu/Halsall/mod/modsbook01.asp]
– Pros and Cons on learning new languages (accessed 2 May 09) <http://www.gadling.com/2009/05/01/rosetta-stone-s-adams-world-travelers-should-learn-spanish-chi/>.