A. HISTORY AND THE HISTORIAN
WHAT IS HISTORY?
One way of approaching this question is to pose the question to the class for individual response or as a topic for group discussion and definition. The range of definitions will indicate the narrowness or breadth of the class's understanding of how people use the word `history'.
A number of quotations relating to history can be used to tease out the different meanings attached to the word. The following list contains examples of the key meanings:
History...is, indeed, little more than the register of thecrimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
We feel in England that we have treated you rather unfairly.It seems history is to blame. Haines to Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce `Ulysses'
Human blunders usually do more to shape history thanhuman wickedness. A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War
The Thames is liquid history. John Burns, British Liberal politician
There has been a recent televised debate in NorthernIreland on the theme that `Irish history will be the death ofus'. If `history' is here used as meaning the past itself, itcan well be argued that the consequences of long-standingbitterness and violence will destroy us. But if `history' isused in its proper sense of a continuing, probing, criticalsearch for truth about the past, my argument would be thatit is not Irish history but Irish mythology that has beenruinous to us...
T.W. Moody - Irish History and Irish Mythology (presidential address to D. U. History Society, 10-5-1977) included in Interpreting Irish History ed. C. Brady 1994 Irish Academic Press
Once the class has developed an understanding of the idea of history as a process of enquiry, their understanding can be enhanced through a preliminary study of the work of the historian. The study is preliminary in that many of the issues raised will be developed more fully in the context of work on the documents-based study and on the research study. The three key concepts to be emphasised here are evidence, research and interpretation.
The following grid identifies the main elements to be discussed in considering the concept of evidence:
|Terminology||Varieties of evidence||Repositories of evidence||Interrogating evidence|
|Primary source||Private records||Museums||When?|
|Secondary source||Newspaper accounts||The web||Where?|
One way of approaching the issues raised here would be to present to the class copies of a number of different sources e.g. somebody's birth certificate, a workhouse diet, a letter written by a soldier at the front in World War I and a newspaper account of the sinking of the Titanic. Using the grid above as a guide, one could pose a series of questions as follows:
- How might this source be used as evidence?
- Is it a primary or a secondary source? Explain.
- Is it from official or private (or other) records?
- Where is such a source likely to be preserved?
- Who produced this source? For what purpose? Whenwas it produced? In what circumstances was itproduced? What evidence can be deduced from it? Howreliable is that evidence likely to be?
In addressing these questions, students should gain an insight into some aspects of the historian's work e.g. the range of sources from which evidence may be drawn and the manner in which sources have to be interrogated if they are to yield up their evidence.
To further their understanding of the work of the historian, students will need to be introduced to the main stages involved in historical research. These may be summarised as follows:
- Defining a problem or issue in which the historian has an interest and which is considered worthy of investigation.
- Locating sources - deciding which sources are likely to be useful and determining where such sources are likely to be found; doing the spade work.
- Interrogating the sources - asking the questions that may enable the sources to be used as evidence.
- Recording data - taking a note of any information that seems relevant and important.
- Collating data - drawing the various strands together in a coherent and logical manner.
- Making judgements - drawing conclusions from the evidence examined in a balanced and coherent manner.
These, essentially, are the stages through which the student will eventually proceed when he/she is preparing a research study. At this preliminary level, a basic understanding may be acquired through an exercise such as the following:
The teacher defines an issue or problem for the class to consider e.g. the extent to which the Great Famine had an impact on this district. The class is asked to consider the following questions:
- What types of sources would help us to answer thisquestion?
- Where would these sources be available?
- What questions would we need to ask to get the relevantinformation from the sources?
The teacher then presents an assortment of data relating to the issue which the class is asked to collate and from which they are asked to draw conclusions to answer the question asked.
Conducting an exercise such as the above also provides an opportunity to introduce issues relating to the interpretation of evidence: issues such as bias, objectivity, balance, and how new evidence or new insights can lead to new interpretations.
The following questions might be posed to the class in the context of the above exercise:
- Is there any bias evident in my selection of sources? Isthere any bias evident in the sources themselves?
- What demands does the principle of objectivity make on ushere? Do we have an adequate range of sources to ensure abalanced account?
- Do we understand why our conclusions cannot be definitivebut only provisional?
The exercise can also be used to illustrate the centrality of change to historical study.
If the exercise has focussed on the Great Famine, questions can be raised about its impact on human life, human institutions and cultural traditions. The need to delve deeper and examine more closely will soon become evident. This will serve as a useful `jumping off' point for moving on to the first of the topics for study.
B. THE DOCUMENTS - BASED STUDY
Broadly speaking, the topic chosen for the documentsbased study should be taught in the same manner as the other subjects. More time, however, should be devoted to the use of primary sources, particularly in the teaching of the case studies. It is for this reason that an increased allocation of time is recommended vis-à-vis the other topics being taught. [See section on Topics for Study.] This section will concentrate on strategies that can be applied in working with sources in the classroom.
The first step for the teacher is to choose the sources to be used with her/his class. Where a textbook is being used, it is likely to contain a selection of sources; other sources may derive from internet websites, CD ROM collections, local newspaper archives etc. In selecting sources for use in the classroom, a number of factors need to be borne in mind by the teacher, e.g.
- Reading level (and/or, in the case of visual sources, level of visual literacy required) If students are to engage with historical sources, the manner and matter of what is presented is of critical importance. Official documents, for example, can present particular difficulties but can be made more `user-friendly' through the provision of a glossary of terms and/or notes to explain the context. Editing of sources may sometimes be necessary, but care should be taken to ensure that there is no distortion of meaning or change of emphasis as a result.
- Suitability The purposes for which a source is to be used need to be clear in the teacher's mind. On one level, sources may be chosen to help to develop students' knowledge and understanding of some aspects of the topic being studied e.g. photographs of the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1932 could be used to illustrate the extent of mass participation and the devout demeanour of participants. On another level, sources play a key role in the development of critical skills.
If the desired learning outcome is that students should be able to `Look at a contentious or controversial issuefrom more than one point of view', then, that has clear implications for the selection of appropriate sources. A case study such as the `Coleraine University controversy' clearly requires that sources be chosen to illustrate a number of perspectives on the issue in question.
- Classroom activities How are the sources to be used in the classroom? Will students work in groups? Will all students be given the same sources? Will sources be used as the basis for role-playing? To what extent will the teacher `play God' at the end of the exercise?
- Assessment What modes of assessment will I be using to determine the extent to which the relevant learning outcomes are being achieved?
As the syllabus makes clear, the `documents' to be used in the terminal examination may be either visual or written, and written' is defined as including transcripts of radio and T.V. interviews and oral testimony. While the set of questions outlined on pages 11-12 above can be applied to any type of historical source, it may be helpful to examine in more detail how different types of sources can be analysed. The approaches outlined in the pages that follow are not just applicable to the documents-based study but are of relevance to all work with sources, including the research study.
1 Permission to draw on the work of Dr. Robert Stradling in his book, Teaching 20th-century European history (Council of Europe Publishing, 2001), is gratefully acknowledged.
AN APPROACH TO THE ANALYSIS OF WRITTEN SOURCES
The approach set out below moves from straightforward description of the source and what it contains to interpretation and critical evaluation and, beyond that, to the wider context of prior knowledge and possible future research. Not all of the questions posed will apply to every source.
|What sort of written source is it?||An eyewitness account? A letter? An official report? Anextract from an autobiography?|
|When was it written?||Is a date given? Was it written at the time of the event(s)described or subsequently?|
|Who wrote it?||Is the writer named? Are we familiar with the name?|
|Why was it written?||Was it a report to government? A newspaper article? A letter to a friend?|
|What are the main points made by the writer?|
Are there people or events mentioned with which you are unfamiliar?
Are there words that you don't understand?
|Comprehension must precede analysis.|
|Is this a primary or a secondary source?||Was the writer an eye-witness? Was the document writtenat the time the event occurred or days, weeks, months or years later?|
|Do we know how the writer got the information contained in the document?||Are there any relevant clues in the document itself?|
|Does the account of what happened seem reliable?||If so (or not), what clues in the text seem to indicate this?|
|Does the writer appear to have any ulterior motive?||e.g. self-justification? To please or annoy the personreceiving the document?|
|Does the writer express a point of view?||Is the writer simply describing something that hashappened or does the document also contain personalopinions or conclusions?|
|Is the writer biased in any way?||Is the writer trying to give an objective and balancedaccount of what happened? Are there any phrases thatindicate a bias for or against any group, individual orviewpoint?|
|WIDER CONTEXT |
|Does the evidence in this document support or contradict prior knowledge acquired from textbook or other sources?||If the evidence conflicts with other evidence, how can thisbe explained?|
|Are there any gaps in the evidence that make it difficult to come to conclusions?||e.g. missing names or dates?|
|What other sources could be used to fill in gaps in the evidence or to counter-check the account and/or the interpretation provided in the document?||An account by an historian who had studied a widerange of primary sources?|
The following source is provided to give teachers the opportunity to apply the approach outlined above to a practical example. The source refers to the presence of Martin Luther at Worms in 1521.
I cannot tell you how much favour he [Luther] enjoys here, and which is of such anature that, on the Emperor's departure and the dissolution of the Diet, I suspect itwill produce some bad effect, most especially against the prelates of Germany. Intruth, had this man been prudent, had he restricted himself to his first propositions,and not entangled himself in manifest errors about the faith, he would have been, I donot say favoured, but adored by the whole of Germany. I was told so at Augsburg bythe Duke of Bavaria and many others, and I see the same by experience.
Luther is a man who will not relinquish his opinion, either through argument fearor entreaty ... He has many powerful partisans who encourage him, and againstwhom no one dares to [proceed] ... His books are sold publicly in Worms, althoughthe Pope and the Emperor, who is on the spot, have prohibited them.
From the dispatches of Gaspar Contarini, the Venetian ambassador, 1521 this version taken from Andrew Johnston (1996), The Reformation in Europe (history atsource), Hodder and Stoughton.
SOME APPROACHES TO THE ANALYSIS OF VISUAL SOURCES
Paintings, cartoons, photographs and other visual sources play a major role in shaping our image of the people and events of the past. From Cranach's portraits of Martin Luther and Holbein's portraits of Henry VIII to modern photographs of Adolf Hitler and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, our impressions of public figures are greatly influenced by the visual image. Certain images are widely used to encapsulate significant episodes in history e.g. the 1557 woodcut of Luther burning the Papal Bull, a photograph of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989. However, we can be easily misled if we fail to subject such sources to the same kind of scrutiny and analysis as other historical sources. Few paintings or photographs of historical significance are `neutral'; the techniques employed (such as the angle or the use of light) will influence our interpretation of what we see. Historical cartoons usually represent a particular viewpoint. Learning how to `read' or interpret such images will enhance a student's historical understanding.
The following are some of the ways in which visual sources may be used in an analytical way in history teaching:
- Use paintings or photographs to study such aspects of society and economy as work practices, family life, recreation, dress and the roles of women.
- Where appropriate, use photographs to trace developments over the timeframe of a topic.
- Take a very detailed painting or photograph with identifying references (such as date and caption) removed. Dividing the picture into sections (e.g. by placing a transparent grid over the picture), ask students to describe in detail what they see in each section of the picture. Then, using their detailed descriptions, set them a series of questions about the picture e.g. What period is it? Where is it? What time of year is it? In each case, they should list the clues they have used and explain their reasoning.
- Cartoons are often best used at the end of work on a topic when students have the knowledge to help them recognise and decipher the clues in the cartoon. The work may focus on the cartoonist's intentions and/or the message he/she is trying to convey.
In the course of their work with visual sources, students should become aware of the nature and distinguishing characteristics of different visual representations of the past e.g.
- Photographs that have been preserved for the historical record are not just `slices of life' but have undergone an intensive process of selection, from the photographer who made decisions about the composition of the image to the archivist who decided it was worth preserving.
- Photographs are easily edited: the well-known example of Trotsky's image being removed from official photographs is a case in point although the manipulation of photographs goes way beyond such blatant, propagandistic censorship.
- Paintings may have been commissioned to present a particular image of the subject.
- The painter's stance towards her/his subject matter will always influence how we see the picture.
- Aesthetic and other artistic (and propagandistic) considerations will frequently have taken precedence over the accuracy of a painting as a social document or record of life `as lived'.
- Cartoonists are not concerned with presenting a balanced view. To present their point of view in a lively, humorous (and, sometimes, polemical) manner, they rely heavily on exaggeration and caricature.
- Cartoonists usually make assumptions about the reader's/viewer's background knowledge. Students need to work out what these assumptions are if they are to grasp the meaning of the more subtle and complicated cartoons.
- To engage effectively with their intended audience, cartoons must follow local and contemporary conventions about what is and what is not acceptable for caricature and satire. However, such conventions change over time and vary from country to country.
The two grids that follow illustrate an approach to the analysis of historical photographs and cartoons. Elements of the two frameworks could be applied to the analysis of historical paintings. As with the analysis of written documents, the approach moves from description to interpretation to the wider context.
In each case, a sample has been provided so that teachers can apply the approach in a concrete and practical way.
|Description|| || |
|Describe what you can see in the photograph.||Describe the people and what they are doingand/or the objects shown.|
|Interpretation||Evidence?||How sure are you?|
|What do you think is happening here?|
Who are/what are the people? (or objects?)
When, or on what occasion, do you think it was taken?
Does it look posed or natural?
| || |
|What other sources would help you to check your conclusions about this photograph?|| || |
|What do you already know about the events surrounding the scene in this photograph?|| || |
|Has the photograph raised any questions to which you would like answers?|| || |
Photo: Imperial War Museum
Note on photograph: This photograph was taken during the Teheran Conference, 1943. The occasion was the celebration of Mr. Winston Churchill's 69th birthday.
|Describe exactly what you see in the cartoon.||Describe the characters portrayed. How are they dressed? What are they doing? Are they realistically drawn or exaggerated? (If exaggerated, in what ways?)|
Describe objects depicted. Describe the background, foreground etc.
|Interpretation||Evidence?||How sure are you?|
|Do you recognise any of the characters? If they are based on real people, name them and their positions at the time the cartoon was drawn|| || |
|Check the year and date of publication. To what event or issue is it referring?|| || |
|What do you know about the event/issue?|| || |
|What does the caption mean? Is it meant to be humorous or ironic? If so, in what ways?|| || |
|Can you identify any symbols or stock figures that the cartoonist is using (e.g. Uncle Sam)?|| || |
|Are the characters drawn in a positive or negative way? Is the cartoonist's depiction flattering or critical?|| || |
|What other historical sources would help you to check your conclusion about this cartoon?|
How effective is this cartoon in achieving its purpose?
Has the cartoon changed your interpretation of the event, issue or persons to which it refers?
| || |
Note on cartoon: A Punch cartoonist's view of Gladstone's 1881 land bill.
AN APPROACH TO THE ANALYSIS OF ORAL EVIDENCE
In the course of their study, it is likely that students will encounter some examples of oral testimony. Indeed, it is highly desirable that they should do so. Current interest in oral testimony springs partly from a growth of interest in `history from below' i.e. the testimony of ordinary people whose perspectives are often missing from the historical record. It can also open up new avenues of investigation where government policy limits the release of archival material. Some museums (such as the Irish Labour History Museum in Dublin and the Imperial War Museum in London) now have archives of oral testimony.
Although it has received renewed emphasis in recent times, the basic technique of oral history is far from new. Thucydides writes at the beginning of his history of the Peloponnesian War: `Either I was present myself at the events I have described or else I heard them from eyewitnesses whose reports I have checked with as much thoroughness as possible.' Like other kinds of historical evidence, oral testimony requires a critical approach. Students need to understand that because somebody was present at an event it does not necessarily follow that her/his version is correct. In the passage quoted above, Thucydides goes on to state: `Not that even so the truth was easy to discover: different eye-witnesses give different accounts of the same events.'
The educational value of working with oral evidence can be considerable:
- oral evidence can give students a sense of the immediacy of experience and help them empathise with people of the past
- oral evidence can give students unique access to the perspectives of ordinary people
- working with oral evidence can provide many opportunities for the development of enquiry skills and communication skills.
The grid that follows illustrates an approach to the analysis of oral evidence. As with the analysis of written and visual evidence, the approach moves from description to interpretation to the wider context.
|What sort of person is speaking?||A participant or eye-witness? A rich or poor person? Awielder of power or an ordinary working person? Maleor female? Adult or child?|
|What kinds of statement is the speaker making? Is the speaker talking about what happened or why it happened?||Straightforward description? Attempted explanation ofevents? Expression of opinions?|
|Is the speaker simply responding to questions or attempting to tell a story?||If the speaker is responding to questions, do we knowwhat questions were asked? If the speaker is attemptingto tell a story, what are the main points of the story?|
|Is the speaker talking about recent events or events earlier in her/his lifetime?||Is the speaker relying on her/his memory or is there anyreference to notes, diaries or other such prompts? Are wemore inclined to doubt the speaker if the events happeneda long time ago?|
|What do we know about the process through which this evidence was created?||What is the interviewer's agenda? An impartial searchfor the truth? A selective trawl to support a premise?|
|Is the speaker trying to answer the interviewer's questions seriously?||Is the speaker being evasive? Is the speaker trying toplease the interviewer or the intended audience?|
|Is the speaker trying to justify her/his actions or the actions of another?||Do the speaker's responses appear to be defensive orself-serving?|
|Can you detect any biases or prejudices?||If so, what words or phrases convey this?|
|What other sources could be used to cross-check the evidence provided by the speaker?||Oral evidence from someone outside the milieu of thespeaker? Government records? Newspaper reports?|
The following extract is taken from the report of the Devon Commission which heard oral evidence from Irish rural dwellers in 1844. In the extract, James Carey, a labourer with six children, answers questions about his family's diet. Many, though not all, of the questions outlined in the above approach may be usefully applied to this important transcript of oral evidence.
Q:How many meals a day have your familygenerally?
Q:Take breakfast what do they have for breakfast?
Carey:Potatoes and milk, unless we chance to buy ahundred of meal, then they have stirabout whenthe potatoes get bad.
Q:Have they stirabout generally for breakfast?
Carey:No, only now and then; at times we get potatoesfor them and a sup of milk.
Q:Do you always have milk?
Carey:No, the cow is sometimes in calf.
Q:What do you do then?
Carey:Eat them dry.
Q:Do the children ever get a herring or anything ofthat kind?
Carey:Yes, when we have a penny to buy it, or a sup ofgruel to take with the potatoes.
Q:Do you ever get any butter?
Q:How often a year do you get meat?
Carey:We never get meat except a bit at Christmas, thatwould last for a week. We may chance to buy ahalf a pound of bacon on market day and dress abit of greens with it and fry it.
Quoted in M.E. Collins, (1972) Ireland Three, EducationalCompany of Ireland.
C. THE RESEARCH STUDY
The allocation of class time to the research study is intended to enhance the role of the teacher as facilitator and initial arbiter of the study and to encourage greater consistency and quality in satisfying the criteria set out in the syllabus. While the bulk of the students' work in researching and reporting will be conducted outside of the classroom, the quality of that work will be partially dependent on their understanding of the criteria presented and discussed in the classroom. While individual students will work on discrete subjects, the same broad criteria and procedures apply to all and are best addressed on a class basis before any individual work is undertaken by students.
The teacher may wish to begin by highlighting some of the obvious merits of the research study process e.g.
- the student is given the opportunity to engage in a measure of self-directed learning, where s/he has considerable freedom in choosing a subject about which she/he is genuinely enthused
- the research skills developed through the study are transferable skills which are likely to be vocationally useful whether or not the student continues with the study of history
- since the research study report is being pre-submitted, the emphasis is on research skills and quality of reporting rather than recall.
Since a large number of students are likely to conduct their research using the facilities of a library, a visit to the local library or class visit by a local librarian is recommended during one of the class periods assigned to the research study. Such a visit can serve a number of useful and instructive purposes, e.g.
- Students who are not in the habit of frequenting a library can be introduced to the layout of a library, the manner in which books are classified and how to search the library catalogue. For many, this will be an `icebreaking' exercise that will act as a fillip to their own efforts at research.
- Students can be introduced to specialised collections such as the local studies collection and be made aware of the potential they provide for studies of the local area.
- Students can be made aware that libraries are not selfcontained units but part of a wider network and that books not available in their own library may be obtained from another library through an inter-library loan.
- Students can be made aware of other services that libraries provide, such as photocopying and on-line sessions.
THE OUTLINE PLAN
The first step in the process for all students is to prepare their outline plan. The plan requires the student to perform a number of specified tasks. Each student is required to:
- define the proposed subject of study
- justify the proposed subject of study
- identify the aims of the study
- identify the intended approach
- identify the sources to be consulted.
In order to help students to complete the above tasks, a check-list of questions such as the following may be useful:
- is the subject I have chosen historically significant?
- is the focus of my proposed study a narrow one or is ittoo broad to allow in-depth investigation?
- is my proposed title clearly defined?
- are my proposed sources primary or specialistsecondary (i.e. not a standard school textbook)?
- have I explained clearly how I intend carrying out myresearch?
- have I given enough information to establish theauthenticity of my sources and/or the evidence drawnfrom them?
Another question will need to be considered by Higher level students:
- Since I am expected to `show understanding of thebroader historical context of research findings', have Itaken this into account in my choice of subject?
As indicated on page 15, the student should not undertake substantive work on the study until the teacher has approved the outline plan
EVALUATION OF THE SOURCES
Once the student's work on the study is underway, the degree of engagement with the sources will be of key importance. In all cases, the sources should be interrogated by the student i.e. the student should prepare a list of questions to which it is hoped the source will provide answers. In this way, the student will be better fitted to fulfil the criteria set down in the syllabus, viz.
- to indicate the relevance of the sources to the subject of the study
- to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the sources.
The approaches set down on pages 26-32 for the interpretation of written and other sources should be applied in determining the strengths and weaknesses of sources.
The extended essay has two very clearly defined functions:
- it sets down the main findings and conclusions arrived at by the student
- it includes a review of the process undertaken and how useful that process was in achieving the aims laid down in the outline plan.
A table such as that below may be of assistance to students in determining the shape and content of their extended essay:
|What are my main findings? What have I found out about the subject of my study in accordance with the aims set out in the outline plan? What new knowledge or new insights do I have?|
|What conclusions have I arrived at as a result of what I have found out? What is the evidence on which I base these conclusions?|| |
|What stages did I go through in trying to achieve the aims of the study? Do I have a clearer idea now of what historical research involves?|| |
|How useful was the research I carried out in helping me to achieve the aims of the study? Do I regard the research carried out as useful and productive? Has the process given me greater confidence to undertake further research in the future?|
Structurally, and to ensure overall coherence, the essay should have
- An introduction
- A line of logical reasoning
- A conclusion
In monitoring the preparation of their students' extended essays, teachers will need to be aware of the appropriate learning outcomes and to encourage their students' ability to
- show understanding of the role of evidence in the writing of history
- display an awareness of objectivity in their own writing by striving to be fair-minded and unbiased
and in the case of Higher level students
- recognise the provisional nature of historical knowledge (where appropriate)
- show understanding of the broader historical context of research findings.