People say that no one can have a future without the past. Contemporary society will leave lots of facts to analyze for future generations. The abundance of information which is a characteristic feature of the beginning of the twenty-first century will help historians of the future. However, modern historians often have to face lots of difficulties as many epochs left few traces. It may seem a real miracle that historians manage to recreate a variety of events that took place centuries ago. Researchers employ various methods to recreate events. It is possible to state that specific methodology helps historians to reveal secrets of the past. This methodology includes focusing on a specific period of time, posing the right questions, using a variety of sources, and conducting qualitative as well as quantitative analysis.
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One of the most important factors for a historian to take into account is the focus on a particular epoch. Historians focus on quite specific periods and, in this way, they create a larger scope of knowledge (Hepp 7). Each research contributes to the development of people’s knowledge about their past. There are many significant periods and epochs. However, world history is often divided into three major segments, i.e. “the traditional world, the modern world and world today (or the recent past)” (Hepp 19). These three stages of human development help historians to plunge into a certain atmosphere to better understand events.
Apart from the specific epoch, historians focus on a specific period of time. They specialize in certain periods, and this makes them guru of this time. Historians study all peculiarities of a certain period and recreate the world of that time. To illustrate such segmentation, it is possible to focus on such a period as the Mongol invasion (1206-the 1360s) which shaped the map of Eurasia (Fernandez-Armesto 413). This period of time is characterized by bloodsheds as Mongols were cruel invaders. However, the period is also seen as the necessary premises for development as Mongols’ hegemony resulted in a rapid transfer of knowledge from the East to the West and vice versa (Fernandez-Armesto 434). Mongol invasion contributed to the development of trade between the two parts of the continent, which was a great step towards further development. Therefore, historians analyze events of a specific period to remain focused and precise.
Apart from the focus on a comparatively short period, historians also tend to pose the right questions to be able to recreate the events of the past and analyze them. Thus, a poet claimed that “history is, strictly speaking, the study of questions” (qt. in Rael 23). Admittedly, the right question always gets the right answer. Therefore, historians tend to be careful while putting their questions as this affects the success of their research. Furthermore, the right questions help historians remain focused. For instance, Hepp puts a specific question and tries to explore the way women and men “claim to be employing science to remake their world” in the 19th and early 20th centuries (7). This is a very specific question that makes the historian focused.
Furthermore, historians need to use a variety of sources to find answers to their questions. Notably, the types of sources used often depend on the questions put. For instance, Hepp is interested in people’s perception of the world around them (7). The choice of resources is quite obvious. Thus, the historian uses diaries, letters, memoirs, photographs, and “oral histories” (Hepp 8). When a historian is focused on some political changes in different countries, he/she may also use memoirs and letters, diaries and notes of key figures to the changes. At the same time, the historian will also use official documents, photographs, maps, treaties and official speeches, newspaper articles of those times. Historians often resort to other researchers’ works. These references to other historians’ works help create a specific discourse on the matter.
Another important segment of historians’ methodology is the way they analyze data obtained. Admittedly, it is not enough to gather some data as historians do not simply provide a number of facts. Historians analyze events and facts and provide a synthesized view of a specific period. Recreation of past events requires something more than pure facts as historians must be able to trace the ties between different events.
One of the methods of analysis exploited by historians is quantitative. Historians need to obtain as many facts as possible to get a picture of some period. The more facts a historian can get the more detailed picture he/she can create. Besides, numerous facts and resources help historians avoid any bias or ambiguity. Therefore, historians pay a lot of attention to numbers and percentages. When giving a really brief overview of the Second World War, Hepp still mentions the number of people who died (i.e. around 50 million worldwide) in that war (22). Even this number gives a historian a clear understanding of the global scale of the war. To implement quantitative research, historians employ a variety of statistical tools. They use official documents, such as population censuses, results of anthropological studies, and surveys conducted in previous years.
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However, quantitative analysis is not enough as qualitative analysis provides insights into people’s perception of events and may help historians reveal the ties and connections between different events. It is not enough to know that 50 million died in the Second World War. It is also important to understand what people in different countries thought about the consequences of the war. Germans, French people, Russians, and Americans had quite different viewpoints and this affected the development of the countries in the post-war era. The war changed the global political landscape which can be understood with the help of qualitative analysis. Official speeches, letters, memoirs can be analyzed to reveal the trends that existed during those periods. Admittedly, people make history so people’s viewpoints are of paramount importance for historians.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that historians employ a specific methodology that includes a concentration on a particular period, making precise questions, and answering them with the help of qualitative and quantitative analysis of a variety of resources. This methodology helps historians recreate epochs. Historians concentrate on specific periods which make them more focused and precise. Historians reveal facts that were hidden for many years or even centuries as these scholars pay attention to any detail. This precision helps people know more about their history, which, in its turn, is crucial as people should know their past to have the future. Admittedly, those who do not know about the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. On the contrary, those who understand the importance of history as a field of study will be able to avoid many mistakes or will have the necessary tools to come up with solutions to issues that are yet to come.
Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. World: A Brief History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2008. Print.
Hepp, John H. “History 101: Historical Foundations of the Modern World: Lectures.” Wilkes. 2012.
Rael, Patrick. “What Happened and Why? Helping Students Read and Write like Historians.” The History Teacher 39.1 (2005): 23-32. Print.