Central research questions

When most people think of history, they think of a story.  They think of time passing, people acting, events happening, and the record of such things. Certainly, that is part of what history is–the narrative.  And certainly you can write this sort of history, filling in gaps in the timeline, discussing new archival materials, and broadening scope. But, to be perfectly honest, I usually find this kind of history rather boring.  Unless I’m already keenly interested in a time period or a person, reading a basic narrative doesn’t hold my attention.  And it definitely won’t win my attention if the subject is new to me. For that, I have to see that the author is answering a unique question, trying a new method of analysis, or issuing a challenge.  Whether or not it’s narrative doesn’t really matter to me–I like a collection of stories or unexpected asides as much as I can dig on a strong central story. And so,

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Uncoverage as a model for doing history: a personal testimonial

One of the major debates in the teaching of history right now is whether you should cover or uncover history. The first model, coverage, is likely the model you’ve experienced in your high school history classroom.  The teacher presents scads of information to you, chronologically or thematically ordered, and you read until your brain explodes, taking copious notes and memorizing lists, dates, names, all without much connection from one topic to the next. Sometimes you luck out with a brilliant lecturer, but more often than not, this model ends up as boring and alienating.  It’s the reason people tell me they hate history. When you uncover history, though, as proposed by Lendol Calder in “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey” you start with method–research approaches, question formation–and then you go and find the answers to your questions.  This model is beneficial for a number of major reasons. First, when you formulate your own research questions, rather than

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