Historical research – a systematic process of describing, analyzing, and interpreting the past based on information from selected sources as they relate to the topic under study.

Analytical – uses logical induction

Qualitative – uses primarily qualitative research methods

Variety of foci:





Deals with events in past natural settings (not contrived)

Interpretation – central to the historical research process

Uses documents as primary source–requires researcher to be sensitive to relevant data



Provides basis for understanding the past

Provides perspective for decision making and policy formulation

Provides context for understanding why things are as they are

Provides information to avoid repeating previous mistakes

Assists in identifying past trends and applying these to current and future trends

Essential to understanding and judging current events and trends

Assists in predicting the future

Storehouse of great ideas



Written records: Physical remains:

books objects

newspapers media

periodicals recordings

diaries/journals photographs

letters videotapes

Living witnesses (recent past)


Primary sources – original or first-hand account of events or experiences

Secondary sources – accounts that are at least once removed from the event (such as reports about first-hand sources)


Generally – historical research methodology is neither highly established nor consistent | variety of approaches


overlapping activities/steps



General methodology:

1. Identification of research problem

2. Collection and evaluation of source material

3. Synthesis of source material information

4. Analysis, interpretation, and conclusions (Figure 9.1 on p. 222)

Identification of the Research Problem

Problem Statement – with or without hypotheses/questions

Hypotheses – stated as conjectures (research hypotheses) rather than statistical hypotheses.

based on the assumption of fact

critical to base hypotheses on accurate assumptions

require support for assumptions

Key Terms – critical that term are clearly defined and properly used throughout study

avoid vague terms/clarify all terms that might be vague

operationalize terms carefully

avoid assigning inappropriately past definitions/ connotations to present terms and vice-versa

Collection and Evaluation of Source Material

Collection – more than just compiling documents relevant to the research problem–documentation must be systematic and employ critical evaluation . . .

| use primary sources whenever possible

External criticism – validation of documents through determination that each document is authentic and genuine.

Involves determining the where, when, and by whom produced for each document.


author’s status within the context of the event (i.e. is the author a first-hand observer of the event?

consistency of time and place with what is known about the event

author’s credibility

Internal criticism – validation of documents through establishment of the meaning, accuracy, and trustworthiness of each collected document. Focus on material content rather than on the material itself as a source.

Author – critical in internal criticism of a document

Author’s competence to give accurate report

Author’s predisposition to give accurate report

author’s status

author’s ability to be objective rather than biased

author’s likelihood of including fictitious or exaggerated information

author’s style (could it be misleading?)

author’s use of other existing documents

Cross-referencing – extremely helpful in establishing accuracy and corroborating information of another document

preceding documents more reliable than those following the document under examination

common errors among two/more documents indicate a common erroneous source

contradictory documents indicate that at least one (and possibly both) are in error

the discounting of one document does not establish the validity of the other

Synthesis of Information

Synthesis – Compilation of information from materials collected once all materials have been determined to be authentic and relevant.

consider relative importance of sources (primary > secondary)

chronologically order materials to avoid confusion and observe patterns

determine central themes and ideas

develop continuity among sources

establish consistency among sources

Synthesis – may lead to reformulation of hypotheses/research questions or articulation of new ones (especially if author chose not to formulate these originally).

Analysis, Interpretation, and Formulating Conclusions

Involves decision making regarding the research problem, research questions, and/or hypotheses.

documented information is analyzed logically

collected information is interpreted

conclusions are formulated/alternative conclusions are considered

hypotheses are supported or rejected

research questions are answered

Potential problems:

1. Confusion of correlations and causes–interpreting correlations as cause-and-effect relationships

2. Confusion between actual and apparent behavior of individuals involved in the study–actual behavior often not documented as well as how people appeared to behave

3. Confusion between intent and consequences–our tendency to ascribe consequences to deliberate intentions (actual intervening causes may not be readily apparent)

Conclusion sections–frequently length narratives in which conclusions may be dispersed throughout the narrative. Great variety of specific styles and formats in writing this section.


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