How can we study history

CHC 2D1/2P1 – Grade 10 Canadian History
How Can we Study History?
All historians are like detectives, collecting
evidence and trying to make sense of it. Sometimes
there is very little material to serve as a guide – a few
ancient scrolls in an unknown tongue, some tomb
inscriptions, half remembered traditions. For more
recent times, the evidence multiplies; historians have
access to mountains of books, newspapers, letters,
photographs, films, recordings, and videotapes. Yet
even now there is much historians would like to know
but never will. What was said behind the closed door or
on the telephone? What was so-and-so really thinking?
How is it possible to make sense of the vast array of
fact, opinion, fiction, and contradiction that the past
The best approach to the past is to start with a question or a series of questions.
What happened, and why? Who settled the region? Did they succeed or fail? Chances
are that someone has already written about the topic. Books and articles written after
the event are known as secondary sources. Some secondary sources are better than
others. Sometimes authors have relied on a quick glance or on hearsay; others have
dug out all the evidence they could find.
Some writers tell you how they did their
research, in the form of footnotes or endnotes.
These direct you to other books or articles, or to
primary sources, the records, letters, diaries,
interviews, and other material produced by people
who saw or participated in historical events. This
is the real stuff of history. But keep in mind that
you are acting as a detective, and that some of
the most obvious clues may be misleading. Not
all the witnesses tell the truth, whether
intentionally or unintentionally. For example,
King George IV convinced himself that he led a
cavalry charge at the Battle of Waterloo. His
courtiers never contradicted him, but they knew
the king never even visited Waterloo until 1817,
two years after the battle.
Like careful detectives, therefore, historians keep checking. They root out
generalizations and track down fresh evidence. More and more, they recognize that the
“big names” in history are not the only ones that matter. And they know that truth in
history is complex and never complete. That is the big difference between history and a
detective story. If you read a history book with every detail tied up neatly at the end,
including the villain, you are, in fact reading fiction.
How Can We Study History? - Comprehension Questions from Article
1. How are Historians like detectives?
2. Give examples of some ancient and modern pieces of evidence that Historians
3. Do Historians ever know everything occurred at an event? Explain by providing
an example.
4. What are Secondary Sources? Give examples:
5. What are Primary Sources? Give examples:
6. a) Why do Historians have to be VERY CAREFUL detectives?
b) What do they have to do?