Outline of Procedure
History is difficult; no question about it. The current attack on History exaggerates the difficulties as impossibilities. We may safely ignore the exaggeration, but we should take the difficulties into account. As it turns out, people have always taken them into account, and by and large, the ways of dealing with them are standard knowledge. So there may be a crisis of confidence in history, and it seems that there is, but there is no real crisis of method. Some elements of method are here brought together as an aid to the will and the understanding of those who may be new to the field: a sort of toolkit for the beginner.
Conservatories usefully distinguish between music appreciation (what to like; the internalization of current standards of taste) and music history (what happened; the acquisition of skill in investigation). Much of what the humanities do is "appreciation;" it is designed to habituate the young to their own culture. So also with history: "appreciation" is the process of acquiring membership in a culture, including its myths of itself; "history" is finding out what really happened. We here ignore the social utility of the past, and concentrate on the methods of finding out about the past. The question before us, then, is not whether a particular account of the past inspires patriotism in the young, but how the past, as such, can be known.
We emphasize the continuity of historical method with scientific method in general. It is in the sciences that the art of finding out is most valued, and the experience of the sciences is thus a rich resource for the humanist. Some of that potential has been tapped here, to demonstrate that all systematic modes of inquiry are ultimately the same.
- Approaching History
- Seeing History
- Understanding History
- Crossing Boundaries
- Presenting History
- The Mainstream
- Theophrastus (The Gossip)
- Mencius (The Tiger Catcher)
- Ranke (Pope Paul IV)
- The Design of the Shr Ji
- Writing It Up
- Last Things
- Langlois et Seignobos. Introduction to the Study of History. 1894; Holt 1898
- Reprinted with a new preface, Editions Kimé 1992
- John Martin Vincent. Historical Research. Holt 1911
- Reprinted in facsimile, Ben Franklin 1974
- Julien Benda. La Trahison des Clercs. Grasset 1927
- Alain Finkielkraut. La Défaite de la Pensée. Gallimard 1988; compare previous
- Marc Bloch. Apologie Pour l'Histoire, ou Métier d'Historien (The Historian's Craft, Knopf 1953)
- New edition by Bloch's son Étienne, Armand Colin 1993
- W I B Beveridge. The Art of Scientific Investigation. Norton 1950
- 2ed Norton 1957; later reprints
We are grateful to Carol Thomas for thinking, years ago, that it might be helpful to collect these methodological notions. We were flabbergasted, more recently, to find that several people around the world actually found them helpful. We thank all who have contributed criticisms and suggestions, and invite further criticisms and suggestions. They may be made via the link at the bottom of each of these pages.
6 Feb 2006 / Contact The Project / Exit to Methodology Page