Why the Historiography Test Is So Important
Historians can come away from the same research with very different interpretations of why things happened. This variety is one of the reasons why historiography is such an important topic to study.
To be a historian, you must learn to read secondary sources. This requires a keen sense of distinguishing scholarly from non-scholarly work.
Identifying the Source
Historiography is the study of the ways that historians approach and interpret the past. It includes skills like periodization (determining how to divide up a timeline of history), argumentation (developing and supporting a line of thinking on a historical issue) and external consistency (having the historian’s viewpoints backed by qualified outside sources).
Historians use primary and secondary sources. A primary source is a document directly from the time period being studied. This can include journals, letters, autobiographies, art, music and other cultural media. Secondary sources are works written by other historians. Examples include scholarly books and academic journal articles.
When studying a secondary source, it is important to know how to tell the difference between scholarly and non-scholarly work. Historians need to develop a nose for distinguishing between good and bad scholarship, so they can avoid using unreliable sources in their papers. This means avoiding encyclopedias, web sites and other sources that have not been carefully vetted by other historians.
Reading the Source
Historians must understand how to interpret the primary sources (journals, newspaper articles, letters, court case records, novels, artworks or music) that people from a past era left behind. They must determine whether these documents are trustworthy accounts of actual events or if they were created to impose a particular understanding of those events on others.
They must also be able to determine who made the source, and whether they had a bias or point of view that could affect their interpretation. They must also know if the source was written at the time of the events it recounts or many years after.
Historians must be able to use their knowledge of how different historians have interpreted the same events and what arguments each one has used to support their views. Historians also must be able to compare these interpretations and make an educated guess about what the most accurate explanation of a historical event is.
Summarizing the Source
A primary source is a document that comes directly from an event in history, such as a diary entry or an oral interview. These original sources allow students to touch the lives of the people who lived through a particular historical period, making their study more personal. They also expose students to the human emotions of their subjects and their values and attitudes.
Secondary sources are the research and interpretations of other historians based on primary sources. Historians who study the same subject often have different opinions about why events happened, even when they use the same primary and secondary materials!
Historiography studies the way historians present the past. Historians try to be objective, but they must acknowledge that they have agendas and select the facts they choose to include in their writing. Historiography is also the study of how historians’ ideas change over time. For example, the Age of Enlightenment saw a shift from skepticism to the belief that history could be “rationalized” through careful analysis.
Critical thinking is a set of skills you can develop by evaluating information and reasoning independently. It includes the ability to identify and evaluate historical evidence. It also involves the ability to recognize patterns of continuity and change and to analyze historical chronologies.
The historiography test often requires you to analyze and evaluate the arguments of historians, so it is important to learn how to identify the claims, evidence and reasoning that comprise an argument. You can practice this skill by reading a range of sources, including primary and secondary texts.
When analyzing a source, be sure to consider its authorship, vantage point, purpose and audience. It is also important to be able to spot biased information. Biased information may attempt to appeal to emotions rather than logic or present a narrow view of a topic. It’s also helpful to question your own likes and dislikes, preferences and beliefs to identify how they might impact your critical thinking.