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The Study of History

How to Think Like A Historian
by

Michael Ungar

on 29 September 2017

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Transcript of The Study of History

Intro to the Study of History
God cannot alter the past, though historians can.  ~Samuel Butler, "Prose Observations"
Assume you are a police officer who has been assigned to locate the nearest relative of Mrs. Jones who passed away of natural causes in her home. You filed a report, but no one claims to have known her. This bothers you so much that you decide to figure out who this woman was. You begin investigating, but find very little in public records. You also search her house for clues. Here's what you've got:
Her name was Luella Jones, she was once married to James Jones, who disappeared 20 years ago.
Luella was 56 at the time of her death.
Her house was quite sterile of anything personal, but you did find a picture of young man in a German military suit on her bedroom mirror. Its hard to date the photo, but it appears somewhat recent.
There is a large jar of pennies and odd coins in the corner of her living room.
She has a large antique radio, but no T.V. nor any other modern appliances beyond the kitchen.
There is a small stack of unpaid bills on her dining table, two of which say "final notice."
The coroner stated that the cause of death was a blood clot in her leg, which moved to her heart causing a fatal heart attack.

What was her story?
Share your stories with your group mates...

Were your stories different? Why?

Does history try to piece things together too? What does this have to do with perception? [Remember, perception,both sensory and conceptual, is shaped by our values and perspectives.]
We tend to miss things we're not looking for.
We accept things are clear that are actually quite fragmented.
We tend to see things in black or white, and thus miss things.
We've a tendency to "fill in" when we don't have everything.
We don't always examine things from other angles.
What are the foundations of historical inquiry and the methodologies used by historians to acquire knowledge?
What are some of the problems associated with the selection and use of historical evidence?
How is History Done?
Sourcing (Before reading a document)
• What is the author’s point of view?
• Why was it written?
• When was it written?
• Is this source believable? Why? Why not?
History is each generation’s reconstruction of the past. If history is a jigsaw puzzle, then not only the missing pieces have to be created, the existing pieces need to be continually reshaped to fit together with the newly created pieces. Then both these new and old pieces have to be reinterpreted in the light of new knowledge and changing values.
~Michael Woolman
History - it's just one
thing after another!!!
Primary Sources
Secondary Sources
Sources developed by someone who was there at the time. An artifact of its time.
Sources developed by someone later, as a second-hand account. Not an eyewitness.
Are Primary Sources Necessarily Better?
Why or why not?
How can the ways of knowing distort
the production of a primary source
(for example, a diary)?
Should all primary sources be considered of equal value? How do we determine?
Are Secondary Sources free of the issues that are attached to primary sources? Why or why not? Do secondary sources have unique strengths?
How do
Historians
create History?

E.H. Carr argued that the task of the historian was significantly different from that of natural scientists in that:

history deals with the unique and science with the general 
history is unable to predict
history teaches no lessons
history is of necessity subjective since people are observing themselves
history, unlike science, involves issues of religion and morality
Recording
Assessment
Reconstructing the Past
Interpreting the Past
The historical method:
Facts are "like fish swimming about in a vast ocean.... what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use - these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. ~E.H. Carr
History isn't just a compilation of facts. The problem breaks down as follows:
What are the facts?
Which facts are important?
What do the facts mean?
So... Essentially, we must rely on the integrity
of historians to judiciously assess evidence.

BUT….is this standard always reliable?
Is history a "myth"?
Myth: A popular belief or story that has become associated with a person, institution, or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal.
Can you think of a
myth in history?









An item in the obscure study Pictures of Early New York on Dark Blue Staffordshire Pottery confirms that the cherry tree story pre-dates Weems’ account by a minimum of 16 years. Its author Richard T. H. Halsey discovered an earthenware mug, made in Germany which showed a young man standing beside a fallen tree along with a large hatchet marked by the date 1776 and the initials “G.W.” An expert on pottery of this sort, he dated it as being made no later than 1790, during George Washington’s presidency.

One other glaring fact may support Parson Weems and his story. He may have had the best, though perhaps anonymous source of all – George Washington himself. In a brief diary entry, the Father of our Country recorded the presence of an overnight guest at Mount Vernon on March 3, 1787, suggesting the potential of several solid hours together.

The guest? Parson Weems.





Washington and the Cherry Tree - Myth or Fact?
Washington & the Cherry Tree -
Myth or Fact?
“Of its factual truth there is no evidence whatever…” Woodrow Wilson
Weems also went down to interview locals in Fredericksburg, Virginia and to visit George Washington’s childhood home, “Ferry Farm,” where the cherry tree story would have taken place. Augustine Washington (George's father) signed the deed for the property on November 2, 1738 and listed himself as a new resident of King George County by December 2. Whether or not Weems had actually located the deed to read for himself and verify this date, his account that George Washington was “about six” is within a likely range of time.
SOURCING II

• Identify author's position on the historical event
• Identify and evaluate author's purpose in
producing document
• Predict what author will say BEFORE
reading document
• Evaluate source's believability/trustworthiness by considering genre, audience, and author's purpose.

Contextualization

• What else was going on at the time this was written?
• What was it like to be alive at this time?
• What things were different back then? What things were the same?

Contextualization II

• Use context/background information to
draw more meaning from document
• Infer historical context from document(s)
• Recognize that document reflects one
moment in changing past
• Understand that words must be understood in a larger context

"I already know that ____ is happening at this time..."
"From this document I would guess that people at this time were feeling..."
"This document might not give me the whole picture because ... "
Close Reading
• What claims does the author make?
• What evidence does the author use to support those claims?
• How is this document make me feel?
• What words or phrases does the
author use to convince me that
he/she is right?
• What information does the author leave out?
Close Reading II
• Identify author’s claims about event
• Evaluate evidence/reasoning author uses to support claims
• Evaluate author’s word choice; understand that language is used deliberate/purposeful.
Corroboration
• What do other pieces of evidence
say?
• Am I finding different versions of the
story? Why or why not?
• What pieces of evidence are most
believable?
Corroboration II

• Establish what is true by comparing
documents to each other
• Recognize disparities between two
accounts

"This author agrees/ disagrees with...
"This document was written earlier/later than the other, so. . . "
All we do is memorize dates . . . .
Who cares about a bunch
of dead white guys in wigs?
They don't appreciate
that they get a holiday from school because of me! I'm always frowning because my teeth
are made of wood
Yeah, I well I gave them
the idea that all men are
equal . . . except for my
slaves!
Hey, my wife is so cool,
there's a whole line of
pastries named
after her!
Let's Break this Down . . . . .
What evidence is offered in support of the conclusion?
What do you believe?
Were you persuaded by the video segment?
The cherry tree story was first published in a biography of Washington written by an itinerant minister and bookseller named Mason Locke Weems.
Parson Weems
Weems lived in the northern Virginia area near George Washington and his extended family, and he did preach at the Pohick Church (where Washington attended and was a vestryman) shortly after the former President’s 1799 death.
According to the explanation offered by the website of Mount Vernon historical center
Let's see if I can change your mind . . . .
Rate this evidence on a scale of 1 to 5:

1= not worth considering
2= mildly plausible, but not convincing
3= begins to tip the balance in favor of idea presented
4= very persuasive, but not without some doubt
5= irrefutable
The story wasn’t challenged by any of GW’s relatives, notably his (GW's) nephew who was married to his wife’s (Martha's) granddaughter, Nelly Custis. Apart from his wife, nobody was closer to G.W. than Nelly whom he raised as his own daughter. If GW shared stories of his childhood with anyone, it would have been Nelly. Until her death in 1852, she carried Washington’s legacy, verifying or denying the many stories told about him. She sometimes attended the Pohick Church when Weems preached there, she never suggested he told a lie.
Rate this evidence 1 to 5
Rate this evidence on the 1 to 5 scale . . . .
Sources:
Weems specifically attributed his source as an “aged lady” who identified herself as the “cousin” of George Washington. In 1806 he wrote that she’d told the story to him about 20 years earlier - about 1786. While he printed the story as a verbatim quotation may make the exact wording of it less plausible, but not necessarily the truth of it.

What do you think? Rate this observation on the 1 to 5 scale.
George Washington had no maternal first cousins since his mother was an only child. Through his paternal uncle and aunt, however, he had seven female first cousins. All of them were born before him and the death dates of Frances Gregory Thornton in 1790 and Elizabeth Gregory Thornton in 1796 (both sisters married brothers) show that these two lived well within the range of 1786 when Weems claimed to have been told the story.
Go on Smithers,
er, Ungar . . .
What do you think? Rate this observation on the 1 to 5 scale.
Why do you like this evidence or why do you reject it?
Why do you like it or reject it?
An item in the obscure study Pictures of Early New York on Dark Blue Staffordshire Pottery confirms that the cherry tree story pre-dates Weems’ account by a minimum of 16 years.

The author Richard T. H. Halsey discovered an earthenware mug, made in Germany which showed a young man standing beside a fallen tree along with a large hatchet marked by the date 1776 and the initials “G.W.” An expert on pottery of this sort, he dated it as being made no later than 1790, during George Washington’s presidency.
One other glaring fact may support Parson Weems and his story. In a brief diary entry, the George Washington recorded the presence of an overnight guest at Mount Vernon on March 3, 1787, suggesting the potential of several solid hours together.
Rate this evidence - 1 to 5. Convincing or Conniving?
The guest? Parson Weems.
The Life of George Washington appeared in 1800, a year after Washington's death. (dates: February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799).
As Weems explained to a publisher in January 1800, “Washington you know is gone! Millions are gaping to read something about him…My plan! I give his history, sufficiently minute…I then go on to show that his unparalleled rise and elevation were due to his Great Virtues.”
However the cherry tree episode did not appear until the book’s fifth edition was published in 1806.

A Federalist admirer of order and self-discipline, Weems wanted to present Washington as the perfect role model, especially for young Americans.
Mr. Ungar's assumptions about the study of history:

1. All groups of peoples are the same - large groups of people have the same proportion intelligence, talent, drive, and desires.

2. All peoples have the same basic needs and values - food, shelter, clothing, comfort, care of family and community.

3. History is an argument about the cause and effect of change over time upon human
relationships.

3. "Change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things. . . And they rarely know what they are doing"
(from Ian Morris, Why the West Rules - for Now).
Why Do We Care About the Study of History?


Is it to avoid the danger of the single story?
18:00
Why I Hate History -
A Guided Tour
* sponsored by your favorite cell phone provider
That's it! When
he turns his back,
you can send that
text - he'll never
know !!!
We All Did!
*
Hey Jasmine!

I scored a "C-"
Aww, I got
a "D"!!
How is learning about the Treaty of Versailles
going to help me in life?"
The textbook is sooooo boring!!!!!
I agree . . . .
And sometimes the is teacher is too . . . .
But it could be YOU!!!
http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/world-war-ii-101/n10251?snl=1
9:38
8:12
Full transcript