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Historical Writing

 

 

I.  The Past is not the same as History

  1. History requires evidence.
  2. History is not everything that happened in the past, just the important things.
  3. History is not merely a description of what happened in the past, but also an attempt to understand it.

II. Understanding requires Interpretation

An interpretation is a way of making sense or understanding of a particular event.  The historian must develop an interpretation because:

  1. The evidence cannot speak for itself.
  2. Some things we can learn only indirectly by drawing inferences from the evidence.
  3. Understanding an event requires using many different types and pieces of evidence.
  4. There are no formulas or equations into which we can plug historical evidence to give us an understanding.
  5. Evidence of the past is often ambiguous.
  6. Different people at different times and places make different judgments about what is and what isn't important.
  7. There are many different ways to make an event understandable.  One can understand an event as:
    • the product of economic laws.
    • the manifestation of divine action.
    • the result of changes in climate.
    • the expression of psychological disorder.
    • the interplay of political parties.
Therefore, the historian must:
  •  Gather evidence
  • Draw inferences from the evidence
  • Decide what evidence is important
  • Develop an interpretation or way of making sense of the evidence.
  • Find an appropriate way of presenting that interpretation.

III. Three Forms of Historical Writing

    Generally speaking, historical interpretations can be presented in three different forms that correspond to the basic forms of historical writing: 

1. Argument: An argumentative essay presents the interpretation in the form of a thesis and reasons for that thesis.

2. Narrative A narrative essay presents the interpretation in the form of a narrative or story. 

3. Description: Descriptive essay gives a portrayal of a person, place or object at a particular moment in time.

 

Depending on the point to be made, a particular author might make use of only of these forms or might use different ones at different points in the work.

 

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