Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Historians' Fallacies

For the next few weeks, we will be working through Historians' Fallacies. Fischer talks about the use of good logic in historical reasoning. What are some of the examples he gives of fallacious historical reasoning? Can you make any connections between what Fischer argues and Carr's comments on the nature of history? Post your chapter summaries and responses to this week's discussion questions by clicking on the comment button. You will also be able to reply to the various postings by the teams here too.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Causes of History

What is History?
by E.H. Carr
Chapter Four: Causation in History
In chapter four of What is History?, E.H. Carr postulates the causes of history, stating that "the study of history is a study of causes." In essence, the cause of history is the why question that historians must ask when dealing with the historic fabric. In the classical tradition, many early historians rejected the necessity of causation, feeling that the event itself was essential enough to be studied. In the modern thread, Montesquieu, writing in the 18th century, commented that the causes of history are responsible for the movements in history (the rise and fall of civilizations, in the general sense). In the late 19th and 20th centuries, many historians have rejected the why in favor of a systematic narrative that approaches how history happened rather than why history happened. In response to this new tradition, Carr emphasizes three characteristics of causation that historians should follow: 1.) Assign several causes to the event (do not be limiting) 2.) Prioritize the causes (major-minor) and 3.) work through simplifications to provide a clean narrative.
The second part of chapter four deals with the determinist school of thought and the chance school of thought. The determinist school of thought states that all events are inevitable and beyond human control. The chance school states that history is a string of accidents and "might have beens.
What school should the historian follow? Is history preordained by events? Is history more accidental? A more appropriate question might be Does man make his times or do the times make the man?
I think that the why is the most important part of the historians craft. The why makes the history worth investigating, it tells us the importance of knowing about the past.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

What is History?

Is history an art or a science? Consider where history appears in various college catalogs -- as a social science or a humanities discipline. What are the implications of grouping history with the social sciences? the humanities? What are the differences in methodolgy between these areas? Do they have other differences in terms of disciplinary assumptions about the world?

If history is a science, what would this imply about the world and about "historic fact"? If an art, how would this change our understanding of fact?

E.H. Carr's text What is History? raises a number of important points about the historian and interpretation. In your comments, please find at least two issues that stand out for you in the text and explain what implications these issues have for the study of history. Did reading this text change your view of the nature of history and of the historian's task?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Course Description

HIST 6001 is a study of historical interpretations and the
techniques of historical research and preparation for
publication. This course focuses on developing your
understanding of the nature of history as a discipline. What
exactly do historians do and how do they do it? How does an
inquiry using the historical method differ from a literary
investigation or a scientific experiment? What exactly counts as
a “fact”? What issues arise when interpreting one’s evidence and
what kinds of evidence is there? History is a truly vibrant and
exciting discipline. During our initial sessions, we will
discover that the nature of history as a discipline has evolved,
and we will trace out various types of historical inquiry
beginning in antiquity and continuing through the modern era. We
will expose ourselves to various methodologies and attempt to
explore various archives, tools, and other resources for
researching historical topics. Among the topics to be covered
* Analytical techniques
* Use of Internet sources and other primary and secondary sources
* Researching social history
* Oral History techniques
* Biographical strategies
* Researching census records
* Writing Fundamentals

Does anyone have any questions after our first week about the course, our use of iPods, and BLOGS?