How to Start Studying History

History refers to all the events which have ever taken place. Figuring out how to study history can be a complicated task but it does not have to be. I wrote this article to provide a general framework which can be used by people who are knew to studying history.

I think steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 all go hand-in-hand, meaning they need to be studied simultaneously. This is because methodology sets the pace for efficiency, sources are the backbone for the history, and knowing how to deal with landmines will allow you to identify strong and weak sources. However, you will have to start at step one before diving into the other three steps.

The concise list:

Step 1: Choose A Topic

Step 2: Study The Methods

Step 3: Study The Sources & Evidence

Step 4: Study Logical Fallacies & Cognitive Biases

Step 5: Study The Landmines

Step 1: Choose A Topic

The events of the past are innumerable and continually sink deeper and deeper into the sands of time. This makes studying all the events of history impossible, which is why step one of studying history is choosing a topic to study. Choosing a topic allows you to hone in on a specific historical area to learn about.

You can choose any topic you can think of to be a starting point for studying history. Some of the most popular historical topics are American history, Ancient history, and the History of Science. The best place to start (in my opinion) is somewhere that really fascinates you.

A big part of step 1 is identifying why you want to study a specific area. Do you want to study it because it interests you? Do you want to solve an issue? Clear up confusion? There are many reasons for wanting to study history. Some reasons are honorable and others are purely sinister. I encourage you to foster honorable intentions and to discourage fostering sinister intentions.

“Only when a perplexing question has been identified and correctly stated does profitable study of history begin.”
Carter V. Good (1942)[1, p.141]

Step 2: Study The Methods

After you’ve chosen a topic, you’ll benefit from studying the methods which are relevant to your area. Relevant methods will vary from subject to subject. For example, someone who wants to learn more about the history of the ancient world will benefit from studying philology, paleography, and archeology (among others). For someone who wants to learn more about contemporary history, they would benefit from studying interviewing techniques for collecting stories directly from people as well as studying methods of collecting information from the internet, from libraries, and other sources of information.

Click here to learn more about historical method.

Step 3: Study The Sources & Evidence

The sources and evidence are at the core of historical study. These are the places from where all relevant information is taken. It is of the utmost importance to comprehend your sources, to represent them as accurately as possibly, and to cite them clearly so other people know where your information originated.

Step 4: Study Logical Fallacies & Cognitive Biases

Logical fallacies are internally inconsistent lines of reasoning. Cognitive biases are similar but not inherently inconsistent. Your personal biases are largely responsible for how you view the world.

The long list of logical fallacies doubles as a long list of the many ways in which the laws of logic have been violated. When studying and writing about history, it is best to avoid these violations.

Step 5: Study The Landmines

I define landmines here as “things purposefully created to deceive”. Where step 4 gets you familiar with how you can deceive yourself, step 5 gets you familiar with how other people can deceive you. Fakery and shenanigans have been around since time immemorial. Being familiar with how things have been faked in the past can help you identify fakery in the present. It can also help you avoid falling prey to a fake. The past becomes obscured when fakes are treated as genuine relics of the past. Alternatively, the past becomes obscured when genuine artifacts are treated as fakes.

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References:

[1] – Good, Carter V. “Some Problems of Historical Criticism and Historical Writing.” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 11, no. 2, 1942, pp. 135–149. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/2292396. Accessed 28 July 2020.

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