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Western Civilization--European History, Empire: Home

Customized guides to research for specific courses in Western civilization and European history

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose” ~ Zora Neale Hurston

Texts have purpose

How Do Historians Develop Interpretations of Texts?

Texts are “doing something”—that is they are purposeful,
   they are written with intent.

Points of view make a difference in how one interprets

For example:  Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion

   In Bacon’s thinking

   Contemporary perception—that is, by those who were present

   Interpreted through subsequent, outside analysis over time

Interpretation is never free from the reader’s presuppositions

Try to understand the relationships between texts
   (primary sources) and the ‘reality’ they depict.

“Right” and “wrong”— is a naïve and inadequate way to read sources

How do historians work with sources?

Historians think about history differently

They see themselves as detectives, often unsure about what happened, what it means, and often unable to agree amongst themselves. 

Products of scholarship

Product of Scholarship--Journal articles, books

In developing your own interpretation of documents and texts, you must be aware of and evaluate competing interpretations of documents

Challenge is to develop engaged reconstruction of the world/events referred to in a text

Evaluate interpretations of documents and events

Revise and improve your interpretations by repeated reference back to original document(s)

Student historians at work

So, What Are You, As Student Historians Doing?

Scholarship (analysis and interpretation) vs. “Finding Things” and assembling them

As you construct your own interpretation, you must demonstrate through your research that you have engaged primary texts, and the arguments, disagreements and conversations of scholars (in their their attempts to construct meaning of events over time)

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