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Reading like a historian

Historians read in many different ways, of course. There is, however, a specific approach to strategically reading large volumes of material that I associate with training and research in (certain kinds of) history, and that I would like you to develop as a major skill in this course.

We are used to the idea that different kinds of texts require different approaches to reading, informed by our knowledge of the text and the goals and purposes we bring to reading it. You do not read a poem the same way you read a novel or a maths textbook or a dictionary. Historical research often involves a large volume of texts where you know something about the contexts and something about what you are looking for, and you have to use your experience and active thinking skills to make sense of what is in front of you without reading every word from start to finish.

Getting Started

You do not have to start at the first word and look at every subsequent word until you reach the end! Read strategically. Skip around. Think actively about what you want to find out from the text and figure out how to find it.

You do not have to read everything you pick up. If a text isn't speaking to you, try something else. It might just not be the right time. You will learn the most from writing that you are motivated to read.

Effective reading involves effective writing. Start a reading journal to keep track of what you have read and how it connects to the course. Often, taking notes after you have taken a first look at the big picture of the source will let you be more focused and effective in note-taking.

Questions to ask while reading

Pay attention to the source:

  • What is the source meant to convey?
  • What information do you need from it?
  • What are the audience, genre?
  • How is the source structured? Where are you likely to find the information you need?

Identify the most important information

  • What are the main claims?
  • What evidence supports them?
  • What are the key illustrations of the argument?
  • Why was this included in the Resource List?
intro/how-to-read.txt · Last modified: 2023/01/19 20:25 by mjb