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This guide is an introduction to selected resources available for historical research.  It covers both primary sources (such as diaries, letters, newspaper articles, photographs, government documents and first-hand accounts) and secondary materials (such as books and articles written by historians and devoted to the analysis and interpretation of historical events and evidence).

"Research in history involves developing an understanding of the past through the examination and interpretation of evidence. Evidence may exist in the form of texts, physical remains of historic sites, recorded data, pictures, maps, artifacts, and so on. The historian’s job is to find evidence, analyze its content and biases, corroborate it with further evidence, and use that evidence to develop an interpretation of past events that holds some significance for the present.

Historians use libraries to

  • locate primary sources (first-hand information such as diaries, letters, and original documents) for evidence
  • find secondary sources (historians’ interpretations and analyses of historical evidence)
  • verify factual material as inconsistencies arise"

( Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age, Fifth Edition, by Diana Hacker and Barbara Fister, Bedford/St. Martin, 2010)

This guide is meant to help you work through these steps.

Other helpful guides

This is a list of other historical research guides you may find helpful:

  • Learning Historical Research Learning to Do Historical Research: A Primer for Environmental Historians and Others by William Cronon and his students, University of Wisconsin A website designed as a basic introduction to historical research for anyone and everyone who is interested in exploring the past.
  • Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students by Patrick Rael, Bowdoin College Guide to all aspects of historical scholarship—from reading a history book to doing primary source research to writing a history paper.
  • Writing Historical Essays: A Guide for Undergraduates Rutgers History Department guide to writing historical essays
  • History Study Guides History study guides created by the Carleton College History Department

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  • URL: https://researchguides.library.wisc.edu/introhist
A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing Historical Research [without getting hysterical!] In addition to being a scholarly investigation, research is a social activity intended to create new knowledge. Historical research is your informed response to the questions that you ask while examining the record of human experience. These questions may concern such elements as looking at an event or topic, examining events that lead to the event in question, social influences, key players, and other contextual information. This step-by-step guide progresses from an introduction to historical resources to information about how to identify a topic, craft a thesis and develop a research paper. Table of contents: The Range and Richness of Historical Sources Secondary Sources Primary Sources Historical Analysis What is it? Who, When, Where, What and Why: The Five "W"s Topic, Thesis, Sources Definition of Terms Choose a Topic Craft a Thesis Evaluate Thesis and Sources A Variety of Information Sources Take Efficient Notes Note Cards Thinking, Organizing, Researching Parenthetical Documentation Prepare a Works Cited Page Drafting, Revising, Rewriting, Rethinking For Further Reading: Works Cited Additional Links So you want to study history?! Tons of help and links Slatta Home Page Use the Writing and other links on the lefhand menu I. The Range and Richness of Historical Sources Back to Top Every period leaves traces, what historians call "sources" or evidence. Some are more credible or carry more weight than others; judging the differences is a vital skill developed by good historians. Sources vary in perspective, so knowing who created the information you are examining is vital. Anonymous doesn't make for a very compelling source. For example, an FBI report on the antiwar movement, prepared for U.S. President Richard Nixon, probably contained secrets that at the time were thought to have affected national security. It would not be usual, however, for a journalist's article about a campus riot, featured in a local newspaper, to leak top secret information. Which source would you read? It depends on your research topic. If you're studying how government officials portrayed student activists, you'll want to read the FBI report and many more documents from other government agencies such as the CIA and the National Security Council. If you're investigating contemporary opinion of pro-war and anti-war activists, local newspaper accounts provide a rich resource. You'd want to read a variety of newspapers to ensure you're covering a wide range of opinions (rural/urban, left/right, North/South, Soldier/Draft-dodger, etc). Historians classify sources into two major categories: primary and secondary sources. Secondary Sources Back to Top Definition: Secondary sources are created by someone who was either not present when the event occurred or removed from it in time. We use secondary sources for overview information, to familiarize ourselves with a topic, and compare that topic with other events in history. In refining a research topic, we often begin with secondary sources. This helps us identify gaps or conflicts in the existing scholarly literature that might prove promsing topics. Types: History books, encyclopedias, historical dictionaries, and academic (scholarly) articles are secondary sources. To help you determine the status of a given secondary source, see How to identify and nagivate scholarly literature . Examples: Historian Marilyn Young's (NYU) book about the Vietnam War is a secondary source. She did not participate in the war. Her study is not based on her personal experience but on the evidence she culled from a variety of sources she found in the United States and Vietnam. Primary Sources Back to Top Definition: Primary sources emanate from individuals or groups who participated in or witnessed an event and recorded that event during or immediately after the event. They include speeches, memoirs, diaries, letters, telegrams, emails, proclamations, government documents, and much more. Examples: A student activist during the war writing about protest activities has created a memoir. This would be a primary source because the information is based on her own involvement in the events she describes. Similarly, an antiwar speech is a primary source. So is the arrest record of student protesters. A newspaper editorial or article, reporting on a student demonstration is also a primary source. II. Historical Analysis What is it? Back to Top No matter what you read, whether it's a primary source or a secondary source, you want to know who authored the source (a trusted scholar? A controversial historian? A propagandist? A famous person? An ordinary individual?). "Author" refers to anyone who created information in any medium (film, sound, or text). You also need to know when it was written and the kind of audience the author intend to reach. You should also consider what you bring to the evidence that you examine. Are you inductively following a path of evidence, developing your interpretation based on the sources? Do you have an ax to grind? Did you begin your research deductively, with your mind made up before even seeing the evidence. Historians need to avoid the latter and emulate the former. To read more about the distinction, examine the difference between Intellectual Inquirers and Partisan Ideologues . In the study of history, perspective is everything. A letter written by a twenty- year old Vietnam War protestor will differ greatly from a letter written by a scholar of protest movements. Although the sentiment might be the same, the perspective and influences of these two authors will be worlds apart. Practicing the " 5 Ws " will avoid the confusion of the authority trap. Who, When, Where, What and Why: The Five "W"s Back to Top Historians accumulate evidence (information, including facts, stories, interpretations, opinions, statements, reports, etc.) from a variety of sources (primary and secondary). They must also verify that certain key pieces of information are corroborated by a number of people and sources ("the predonderance of evidence"). The historian poses the " 5 Ws " to every piece of information he examines: Who is the historical actor? When did the event take place? Where did it occur? What did it entail and why did it happen the way it did? The " 5 Ws " can also be used to evaluate a primary source. Who authored the work? When was it created? Where was it created, published, and disseminated? Why was it written (the intended audience), and what is the document about (what points is the author making)? If you know the answers to these five questions, you can analyze any document, and any primary source. The historian doesn't look for the truth, since this presumes there is only one true story. The historian tries to understand a number of competing viewpoints to form his or her own interpretation-- what constitutes the best explanation of what happened and why. By using as wide a range of primary source documents and secondary sources as possible, you will add depth and richness to your historical analysis. The more exposure you, the researcher, have to a number of different sources and differing view points, the more you have a balanced and complete view about a topic in history. This view will spark more questions and ultimately lead you into the quest to unravel more clues about your topic. You are ready to start assembling information for your research paper. III. Topic, Thesis, Sources Definition of Terms Back to Top Because your purpose is to create new knowledge while recognizing those scholars whose existing work has helped you in this pursuit, you are honor bound never to commit the following academic sins: Plagiarism: Literally "kidnapping," involving the use of someone else's words as if they were your own (Gibaldi 6). To avoid plagiarism you must document direct quotations, paraphrases, and original ideas not your own. Recycling: Rehashing material you already know thoroughly or, without your professor's permission, submitting a paper that you have completed for another course. Premature cognitive commitment: Academic jargon for deciding on a thesis too soon and then seeking information to serve that thesis rather than embarking on a genuine search for new knowledge. Choose a Topic Back to Top "Do not hunt for subjects, let them choose you, not you them." --Samuel Butler Choosing a topic is the first step in the pursuit of a thesis. Below is a logical progression from topic to thesis: Close reading of the primary text, aided by secondary sources Growing awareness of interesting qualities within the primary text Choosing a topic for research Asking productive questions that help explore and evaluate a topic Creating a research hypothesis Revising and refining a hypothesis to form a working thesis First, and most important, identify what qualities in the primary or secondary source pique your imagination and curiosity and send you on a search for answers. Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive levels provides a description of productive questions asked by critical thinkers. While the lower levels (knowledge, comprehension) are necessary to a good history essay, aspire to the upper three levels (analysis, synthesis, evaluation). Skimming reference works such as encyclopedias, books, critical essays and periodical articles can help you choose a topic that evolves into a hypothesis, which in turn may lead to a thesis. One approach to skimming involves reading the first paragraph of a secondary source to locate and evaluate the author's thesis. Then for a general idea of the work's organization and major ideas read the first and last sentence of each paragraph. Read the conclusion carefully, as it usually presents a summary (Barnet and Bedau 19). Craft a Thesis Back to Top Very often a chosen topic is too broad for focused research. You must revise it until you have a working hypothesis, that is, a statement of an idea or an approach with respect to the source that could form the basis for your thesis. Remember to not commit too soon to any one hypothesis. Use it as a divining rod or a first step that will take you to new information that may inspire you to revise your hypothesis. Be flexible. Give yourself time to explore possibilities. The hypothesis you create will mature and shift as you write and rewrite your paper. New questions will send you back to old and on to new material. Remember, this is the nature of research--it is more a spiraling or iterative activity than a linear one. Test your working hypothesis to be sure it is: broad enough to promise a variety of resources. narrow enough for you to research in depth. original enough to interest you and your readers. worthwhile enough to offer information and insights of substance "do-able"--sources are available to complete the research. Now it is time to craft your thesis, your revised and refined hypothesis. A thesis is a declarative sentence that: focuses on one well-defined idea makes an arguable assertion; it is capable of being supported prepares your readers for the body of your paper and foreshadows the conclusion. Evaluate Thesis and Sources Back to Top Like your hypothesis, your thesis is not carved in stone. You are in charge. If necessary, revise it during the research process. As you research, continue to evaluate both your thesis for practicality, originality, and promise as a search tool, and secondary sources for relevance and scholarliness. The following are questions to ask during the research process: Are there many journal articles and entire books devoted to the thesis, suggesting that the subject has been covered so thoroughly that there may be nothing new to say? Does the thesis lead to stimulating, new insights? Are appropriate sources available? Is there a variety of sources available so that the bibliography or works cited page will reflect different kinds of sources? Which sources are too broad for my thesis? Which resources are too narrow? Who is the author of the secondary source? Does the critic's background suggest that he/she is qualified? After crafting a thesis, consider one of the following two approaches to writing a research paper: Excited about your thesis and eager to begin? Return to the primary or secondary source to find support for your thesis. Organize ideas and begin writing your first draft. After writing the first draft, have it reviewed by your peers and your instructor. Ponder their suggestions and return to the sources to answer still-open questions. Document facts and opinions from secondary sources. Remember, secondary sources can never substitute for primary sources. Confused about where to start? Use your thesis to guide you to primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources can help you clarify your position and find a direction for your paper. Keep a working bibliography. You may not use all the sources you record, but you cannot be sure which ones you will eventually discard. Create a working outline as you research. This outline will, of course, change as you delve more deeply into your subject. A Variety of Information Sources Back to Top "A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension." --Oliver Wendell Holmes Your thesis and your working outline are the primary compasses that will help you navigate the variety of sources available. In "Introduction to the Library" (5-6) the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers suggests you become familiar with the library you will be using by: taking a tour or enrolling for a brief introductory lecture referring to the library's publications describing its resources introducing yourself and your project to the reference librarian The MLA Handbook also lists guides for the use of libraries (5), including: Jean Key Gates, Guide to the Use of Libraries and Information Sources (7th ed., New York: McGraw, 1994). Thomas Mann, A Guide to Library Research Methods (New York: Oxford UP, 1987). Online Central Catalog Most libraries have their holdings listed on a computer. The online catalog may offer Internet sites, Web pages and databases that relate to the university's curriculum. It may also include academic journals and online reference books. Below are three search techniques commonly used online: Index Search: Although online catalogs may differ slightly from library to library, the most common listings are by: Subject Search: Enter the author's name for books and article written about the author. Author Search: Enter an author's name for works written by the author, including collections of essays the author may have written about his/her own works. Title Search: Enter a title for the screen to list all the books the library carries with that title. Key Word Search/Full-text Search: A one-word search, e.g., 'Kennedy,' will produce an overwhelming number of sources, as it will call up any entry that includes the name 'Kennedy.' To focus more narrowly on your subject, add one or more key words, e.g., "John Kennedy, Peace Corps." Use precise key words. Boolean Search: Boolean Search techniques use words such as "and," "or," and "not," which clarify the relationship between key words, thus narrowing the search. Take Efficient Notes Back to Top Keeping complete and accurate bibliography and note cards during the research process is a time (and sanity) saving practice. If you have ever needed a book or pages within a book, only to discover that an earlier researcher has failed to return it or torn pages from your source, you understand the need to take good notes. Every researcher has a favorite method for taking notes. Here are some suggestions-- customize one of them for your own use. Bibliography cards There may be far more books and articles listed than you have time to read, so be selective when choosing a reference. Take information from works that clearly relate to your thesis, remembering that you may not use them all. Use a smaller or a different color card from the one used for taking notes. Write a bibliography card for every source. Number the bibliography cards. On the note cards, use the number rather than the author's name and the title. It's faster. Another method for recording a working bibliography, of course, is to create your own database. Adding, removing, and alphabetizing titles is a simple process. Be sure to save often and to create a back-up file. A bibliography card should include all the information a reader needs to locate that particular source for further study. Most of the information required for a book entry (Gibaldi 112): Author's name Title of a part of the book [preface, chapter titles, etc.] Title of the book Name of the editor, translator, or compiler Edition used Number(s) of the volume(s) used Name of the series Place of publication, name of the publisher, and date of publication Page numbers Supplementary bibliographic information and annotations Most of the information required for an article in a periodical (Gibaldi 141): Author's name Title of the article Name of the periodical Series number or name (if relevant) Volume number (for a scholarly journal) Issue number (if needed) Date of publication Page numbers Supplementary information For information on how to cite other sources refer to your So you want to study history page . Note Cards Back to Top Take notes in ink on either uniform note cards (3x5, 4x6, etc.) or uniform slips of paper. Devote each note card to a single topic identified at the top. Write only on one side. Later, you may want to use the back to add notes or personal observations. Include a topical heading for each card. Include the number of the page(s) where you found the information. You will want the page number(s) later for documentation, and you may also want page number(s)to verify your notes. Most novice researchers write down too much. Condense. Abbreviate. You are striving for substance, not quantity. Quote directly from primary sources--but the "meat," not everything. Suggestions for condensing information: Summary: A summary is intended to provide the gist of an essay. Do not weave in the author's choice phrases. Read the information first and then condense the main points in your own words. This practice will help you avoid the copying that leads to plagiarism. Summarizing also helps you both analyze the text you are reading and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses (Barnet and Bedau 13). Outline: Use to identify a series of points. Paraphrase, except for key primary source quotations. Never quote directly from a secondary source, unless the precise wording is essential to your argument. Simplify the language and list the ideas in the same order. A paraphrase is as long as the original. Paraphrasing is helpful when you are struggling with a particularly difficult passage. Be sure to jot down your own insights or flashes of brilliance. Ralph Waldo Emerson warns you to "Look sharply after your thoughts. They come unlooked for, like a new bird seen on your trees, and, if you turn to your usual task, disappear...." To differentiate these insights from those of the source you are reading, initial them as your own. (When the following examples of note cards include the researcher's insights, they will be followed by the initials N. R.) When you have finished researching your thesis and you are ready to write your paper, organize your cards according to topic. Notecards make it easy to shuffle and organize your source information on a table-- or across the floor. Maintain your working outline that includes the note card headings and explores a logical order for presenting them in your paper. IV. Begin Thinking, Researching, Organizing Back to Top Don't be too sequential. Researching, writing, revising is a complex interactive process. Start writing as soon as possible! "The best antidote to writer's block is--to write." (Klauser 15). However, you still feel overwhelmed and are staring at a blank page, you are not alone. Many students find writing the first sentence to be the most daunting part of the entire research process. Be creative. Cluster (Rico 28-49). Clustering is a form of brainstorming. Sometimes called a web, the cluster forms a design that may suggest a natural organization for a paper. Here's a graphical depiction of brainstorming . Like a sun, the generating idea or topic lies at the center of the web. From it radiate words, phrases, sentences and images that in turn attract other words, phrases, sentences and images. Put another way--stay focused. Start with your outline. If clustering is not a technique that works for you, turn to the working outline you created during the research process. Use the outline view of your word processor. If you have not already done so, group your note cards according to topic headings. Compare them to your outline's major points. If necessary, change the outline to correspond with the headings on the note cards. If any area seems weak because of a scarcity of facts or opinions, return to your primary and/or secondary sources for more information or consider deleting that heading. Use your outline to provide balance in your essay. Each major topic should have approximately the same amount of information. Once you have written a working outline, consider two different methods for organizing it. Deduction: A process of development that moves from the general to the specific. You may use this approach to present your findings. However, as noted above, your research and interpretive process should be inductive. Deduction is the most commonly used form of organization for a research paper. The thesis statement is the generalization that leads to the specific support provided by primary and secondary sources. The thesis is stated early in the paper. The body of the paper then proceeds to provide the facts, examples, and analogies that flow logically from that thesis. The thesis contains key words that are reflected in the outline. These key words become a unifying element throughout the paper, as they reappear in the detailed paragraphs that support and develop the thesis. The conclusion of the paper circles back to the thesis, which is now far more meaningful because of the deductive development that supports it. Chronological order A process that follows a traditional time line or sequence of events. A chronological organization is useful for a paper that explores cause and effect. Parenthetical Documentation Back to Top The Works Cited page, a list of primary and secondary sources, is not sufficient documentation to acknowledge the ideas, facts, and opinions you have included within your text. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers describes an efficient parenthetical style of documentation to be used within the body of your paper. Guidelines for parenthetical documentation: "References to the text must clearly point to specific sources in the list of works cited" (Gibaldi 184). Try to use parenthetical documentation as little as possible. For example, when you cite an entire work, it is preferable to include the author's name in the text. The author's last name followed by the page number is usually enough for an accurate identification of the source in the works cited list. These examples illustrate the most common kinds of documentation. Documenting a quotation: Ex. "The separation from the personal mother is a particularly intense process for a daughter because she has to separate from the one who is the same as herself" (Murdock 17). She may feel abandoned and angry. Note: The author of The Heroine's Journey is listed under Works Cited by the author's name, reversed--Murdock, Maureen. Quoted material is found on page 17 of that book. Parenthetical documentation is after the quotation mark and before the period. Documenting a paraphrase: Ex. In fairy tales a woman who holds the princess captive or who abandons her often needs to be killed (18). Note: The second paraphrase is also from Murdock's book The Heroine's Journey. It is not, however, necessary to repeat the author's name if no other documentation interrupts the two. If the works cited page lists more than one work by the same author, include within the parentheses an abbreviated form of the appropriate title. You may, of course, include the title in your sentence, making it unnecessary to add an abbreviated title in the citation. > Prepare a Works Cited Page Back to Top There are a variety of titles for the page that lists primary and secondary sources (Gibaldi 106-107). A Works Cited page lists those works you have cited within the body of your paper. The reader need only refer to it for the necessary information required for further independent research. Bibliography means literally a description of books. Because your research may involve the use of periodicals, films, art works, photographs, etc. "Works Cited" is a more precise descriptive term than bibliography. An Annotated Bibliography or Annotated Works Cited page offers brief critiques and descriptions of the works listed. A Works Consulted page lists those works you have used but not cited. Avoid using this format. As with other elements of a research paper there are specific guidelines for the placement and the appearance of the Works Cited page. The following guidelines comply with MLA style: The Work Cited page is placed at the end of your paper and numbered consecutively with the body of your paper. Center the title and place it one inch from the top of your page. Do not quote or underline the title. Double space the entire page, both within and between entries. The entries are arranged alphabetically by the author's last name or by the title of the article or book being cited. If the title begins with an article (a, an, the) alphabetize by the next word. If you cite two or more works by the same author, list the titles in alphabetical order. Begin every entry after the first with three hyphens followed by a period. All entries begin at the left margin but subsequent lines are indented five spaces. Be sure that each entry cited on the Works Cited page corresponds to a specific citation within your paper. Refer to the the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (104- 182) for detailed descriptions of Work Cited entries. Citing sources from online databases is a relatively new phenomenon. Make sure to ask your professor about citing these sources and which style to use. V. Draft, Revise, Rewrite, Rethink Back to Top "There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed." --John Kenneth Galbraith Try freewriting your first draft. Freewriting is a discovery process during which the writer freely explores a topic. Let your creative juices flow. In Writing without Teachers , Peter Elbow asserts that "[a]lmost everybody interposes a massive and complicated series of editings between the time words start to be born into consciousness and when they finally come off the end of the pencil or typewriter [or word processor] onto the page" (5). Do not let your internal judge interfere with this first draft. Creating and revising are two very different functions. Don't confuse them! If you stop to check spelling, punctuation, or grammar, you disrupt the flow of creative energy. Create; then fix it later. When material you have researched comes easily to mind, include it. Add a quick citation, one you can come back to later to check for form, and get on with your discovery. In subsequent drafts, focus on creating an essay that flows smoothly, supports fully, and speaks clearly and interestingly. Add style to substance. Create a smooth flow of words, ideas and paragraphs. Rearrange paragraphs for a logical progression of information. Transition is essential if you want your reader to follow you smoothly from introduction to conclusion. Transitional words and phrases stitch your ideas together; they provide coherence within the essay. External transition: Words and phrases that are added to a sentence as overt signs of transition are obvious and effective, but should not be overused, as they may draw attention to themselves and away from ideas. Examples of external transition are "however," "then," "next," "therefore." "first," "moreover," and "on the other hand." Internal transition is more subtle. Key words in the introduction become golden threads when they appear in the paper's body and conclusion. When the writer hears a key word repeated too often, however, she/he replaces it with a synonym or a pronoun. Below are examples of internal transition. Transitional sentences create a logical flow from paragraph to paragraph. Iclude individual words, phrases, or clauses that refer to previous ideas and that point ahead to new ones. They are usually placed at the end or at the beginning of a paragraph. A transitional paragraph conducts your reader from one part of the paper to another. It may be only a few sentences long. Each paragraph of the body of the paper should contain adequate support for its one governing idea. Speak/write clearly, in your own voice. Tone: The paper's tone, whether formal, ironic, or humorous, should be appropriate for the audience and the subject. Voice: Keep you language honest. Your paper should sound like you. Understand, paraphrase, absorb, and express in your own words the information you have researched. Avoid phony language. Sentence formation: When you polish your sentences, read them aloud for word choice and word placement. Be concise. Strunk and White in The Elements of Style advise the writer to "omit needless words" (23). First, however, you must recognize them. Keep yourself and your reader interested. In fact, Strunk's 1918 writing advice is still well worth pondering. First, deliver on your promises. Be sure the body of your paper fulfills the promise of the introduction. Avoid the obvious. Offer new insights. Reveal the unexpected. Have you crafted your conclusion as carefully as you have your introduction? Conclusions are not merely the repetition of your thesis. The conclusion of a research paper is a synthesis of the information presented in the body. Your research has led you to conclusions and opinions that have helped you understand your thesis more deeply and more clearly. Lift your reader to the full level of understanding that you have achieved. Revision means "to look again." Find a peer reader to read your paper with you present. Or, visit your college or university's writing lab. Guide your reader's responses by asking specific questions. Are you unsure of the logical order of your paragraphs? Do you want to know whether you have supported all opinions adequately? Are you concerned about punctuation or grammar? Ask that these issues be addressed. You are in charge. Here are some techniques that may prove helpful when you are revising alone or with a reader. When you edit for spelling errors read the sentences backwards. This procedure will help you look closely at individual words. Always read your paper aloud. Hearing your own words puts them in a new light. Listen to the flow of ideas and of language. Decide whether or not the voice sounds honest and the tone is appropriate to the purpose of the paper and to your audience. Listen for awkward or lumpy wording. Find the one right word, Eliminate needless words. Combine sentences. Kill the passive voice. Eliminate was/were/is/are constructions. They're lame and anti-historical. Be ruthless. If an idea doesn't serve your thesis, banish it, even if it's one of your favorite bits of prose. In the margins, write the major topic of each paragraph. By outlining after you have written the paper, you are once again evaluating your paper's organization. OK, you've got the process down. Now execute! And enjoy! It's not everyday that you get to make history. VI. For Further Reading: Works Cited Back to Top Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Bedau. Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing: A Brief Guide to Argument. Boston: Bedford, 1993. Brent, Doug. Reading as Rhetorical Invention: Knowledge,Persuasion and the Teaching of Research-Based Writing. Urbana: NCTE, 1992. Elbow, Peter. Writing without Teachers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Gibladi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 4th ed. New York: Modern Language Association, 1995. Horvitz, Deborah. "Nameless Ghosts: Possession and Dispossession in Beloved." Studies in American Fiction , Vol. 17, No. 2, Autum, 1989, pp. 157-167. Republished in the Literature Research Center. Gale Group. (1 January 1999). Klauser, Henriette Anne. Writing on Both Sides of the Brain: Breakthrough Techniques for People Who Write. Philadelphia: Harper, 1986. Rico, Gabriele Lusser. Writing the Natural Way: Using Right Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers. Los Angeles: Houghton, 1983. Sorenson, Sharon. The Research Paper: A Contemporary Approach. New York: AMSCO, 1994. Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 3rd ed. New York: MacMillan, 1979. Back to Top This guide adapted from materials published by Thomson Gale, publishers. For free resources, including a generic guide to writing term papers, see the Gale.com website , which also includes product information for schools.

Historical Research Method: Home

What is historical research.

Historical research  or historiography , "attempts to systematically recapture the complex nuances, the people,meanings,events,and even ideas of the past that have influenced and shaped the present". (Berg & Lure, 2012, p. 305 )

Historical research relies on a wide variety of sources, both primary & secondary including unpublished material. 

Primary Sources

  • Eyewitness accounts of events
  • Can be oral or written testimony
  • Found in public records & legal documents, minutes of meetings, corporate records, recordings, letters, diaries, journals, drawings.
  • Located in university archives, libraries or privately run collections such as local historical society.

Secondary Sources

  • Can be oral or written
  • Secondhand accounts of events
  • Found in textbooks, encyclopedias, journal articles, newspapers, biographies and other media such as films or tape recordings.

Steps in Historical Research

Historical research involves the following steps:

  • Identify an idea, topic or research question
  • Conduct a background literature review
  • Refine the research idea and questions
  • Determine that historical methods will be the method used
  • Identify and locate primary and secondary data sources
  • Evaluate the authenticity and accuracy of source materials
  • Analyze the date and develop a narrative exposition of the findings.

(Berg & Lune, 2012, p.311)

Locating Information: Libraries

In addition to raw data and unpublished manuscripts, libraries also hold back copies of journals and newspapers.

  • Western Australia
  • ECU Library
  • Curtin University
  • Murdoch University
  • Notre Dame University
  • State Library of W.A.
  • Trove Books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives and more
  • WorldCat Can limit to archival and downloadable

Locating information - Archives

  • National Archives of Australia
  • UK Government Web Archive
  • National Archives (U.S.)
  • Nursing History: Historical Methodology Produced by the AAHN

Key Sources

  • Pandora PANDORA, Australia's Web Archive was established by the National Library in 1996 and is a collection of historic online publications relating to Australia and Australians. Online publications and web sites are selected for inclusion in the collection with the purpose of providing long-term and persistent access to them.
  • Directory of Archives in Australia
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Quantitative Methods in Historical Research

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examples of historical research studies

  • Jerzy Topolski  

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When the historians came to realize that “they had to count”— which occurred on a visible scale only during the last 50 years — quantitative analyses became a legitimate element of historical narratives. Such analyses were needed very badly, for we know the astounding errors in texts written by earlier historians, who were not accustomed to handling figures and did not realize what precision was required on that point. They would send to battles armies which were so enormous that the entire adult population of a given state would not suffice to man them; they would make towns be inhabited by immense masses, and would send thousands to death when describing effects of plagues. Lelewel alleged that 193,000 people died in Cracow in 1652 as a result of an epidemic, 1 which was at least 10 times more than the whole population of that city could amount to at that time. He assumed that in the boom period from two to five million tons of grain used to be exported from Poland through Gdańsk. 2 To realize how far he overshot his mark note that in Poland in 1961–3 the total annual four grain crops averaged 14.5 million tons; at the time referred to by Lelewel they could average 1.4 million tons, 3 not more than 10 per cent of which would be exported. These data visualize the scale of the methodological upheaval in historical research over the last few decades. Those who are willing to use the term revolution might call that upheaval the quantitative revolution in historical research.

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J. Lelewel, “Uwagi nad dziejami Polski i ludu jej”(Comments on the History of Poland and Her People) (1854), in: Polska, dzieje i rzeczy jej (Polish History and Things Polish), vol. III, Poznań 1855, p. 327.

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J. Lelewel, “Historia Polski az do konca panowania Stefana Batorego” (History of Poland to the End of the Reign of Stefan Batory) (1813), op. cit ., vol. XIII, Poznań 1863, p. 579.

A. Wyczański, “Próba oszacowania obrotu żytem w Polsce w XVI w.”(A Tentative Estimate of the Rye Trade in 16th Century Poland), in: Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej , No. 1/1961, p. 70.

A. Soboul, “Opis i miara w historii spolecznej”(Descriptions and Measures in Social History), quoted after the Polish-language version in: Kwartalnik Historyczny , No. 2/1966, pp. 282–3.

K. T. Inama-Sternegg, “Geschichte und Statistik”, Statistische Monatschrift , VIII, 1882.

Z. Daszyńska-Golińska, “Metoda statystyki historycznej i jej dotychczasowe zdobycze”(Methods in Historical Statistics and the Achievements of That Discipline To Date), in: Ekonomista Polski , vol. XI, 1892.

This pioneer work is often underestimated when the applications of quantitative methods in the study of social structures are discussed.

Some French historians exaggerate greatly when assessing the role which F. Simiand had played in giving precision to methods of historical research. Even P. Vilar wrote (in connection with his otherwise correct criticism of R. Aron, who fails to notice modern historical research) that Simiand, by laying foundations for historical econometrics, “avait fair passer l’histoire du stade de la description au stade de la mesure”(P. Vilar, “Marxisme et histoire dans te développement des sciences humaines”, Studi storici , vol. I, No. 5/1959-60, p. 1016).

A. Soboul, op. cit ., p. 280

Cf. J. Marczewski, “Histoire quantitative — Buts et méthodes”, Cahiers de l’Institut de Science Economique Appliquée , No. 115, Series AF 1, Paris 1962.

Here are some major items concerned with general and historical statistics: S. Szulc, Metody statystyczne (Statistical Methods), vol. I, Warszawa 1952, vol. II, Warszawa 1954; A. Piatier, Statistique et observation économique , vol. I, Paris 1961; E. P. Heckscher, “Quantitative Measurement in Economic History”, Quarterly Journal of Economics , vol. LIII, 1939; W. Kula, “Statystyka histo-ryczna”(Historical Statistics), in: Problemy i metody historii gospodarczej (Problems and Methods in Economic History), ed. cit ., pp. 343-406; S. Kuznetz, “Statistics and Economic History”, Journal of Economic History , vol. I, 1941; J. Rutkowski, “Metoda statystyczna”(The Statistical Method) in: Historia gos-podarcza Polski (An Economic History of Poland), vol. I, ed. cit ., pp. 8-11; J. Topolski, “Uwagi o metodach statystyki historycznej”(Comments on the Methods Used in Historical Statistics), in: Studia z metodologii historii (Studies in the Methodology of History), ed. cit ., pp. 79-113; A. P. Usher, “The Application of the Quantitative Method to Economic History”, Journal of Political Economy , vol. XL, 1932; R. Mols, Introduction à la démographie historique des villes d’Europe du XIV e au XVIII e siècle , vols. I & II, Louvain 1955; S. Bo-rowski, “Charakter i klasyfikacja źródeł statystycznych”(The Nature and Classification of Statistical Sources), Studia Źródloznawcze , vol. IX, Poznan 1964, and the same author’s “Charakter i krytyka oceny źródeł statystycznych”(The Nature of Statistical Sources and a Criticism of Their Evaluation), Studia Źródloznawcze , vol. X, Poznan 1965. In the present chapter we are concerned only with the most general and elementary applications of statistics in historial research, especially that concerned with economic history. See also note 53.

“Identity”is, of course, a limiting concept, or what is termed an idealization; in mathematics, it is an abstract concept; in practice we have to do with identity as restricted to a certain object under consideration, that is, with in-distinguishability.

The present writer accepts that classification, even though W. Kula’s terminology lacks precision. First of all, it is difficult to notice any difference between mass phenomena and individual phenomena which occur on a mass scale. Do mass phenomena not consist of individual ones? The difference is to be sought in the origin of those two kinds of sources.

See J. Czekanowski’s works. An example is provided by W. Kočka, “Obli-czanie pojemności naczyń metodą. korelacji”(Computing the Capacity of Vessels by the Correlation Method), Slavia Antiqua , vol. I, pp. 239–46. Note also E. Vielrose, “Zmiany w odzywianiu się rybaków gdańskich w wieku XII i XIII. Próba oceny statystycznej”(Changes in the Diet of Gdańsk Fishermen in the 12th and 13th centuries. A Tentative Statistical Appraisal), Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej , No. 2/1956; Vielrose analyses remnants of food found on excavation sites to establish changes in the proportions of the various kinds of food.

J. Rutkowski, Historia gospodarcza Polski (An Economic History of Poland), vol. I, ed. cit ., p. 10.

J. P. Guilford, Fundamental Statistics in Psychology and Education , London 1942 (quoted after the Polish-language 1964 edition).

On the grouping of data in historical statistics see W. Kula, Problemy i me-tody historii gospodarczej (Problems and Methods in Economic History), ed. cit ., pp. 369-73, and J. Meuvret’s essay in: L’histoire et ses méthodes, ed. cit ., pp. 914-24. W. Kula singles out institutional grouping (referring to a specified institution), such as the classification of peasants according to their relation to the manorial farm, conventional grouping (e.g., classification of farms by size: 0 to 2 hectares, 2 to 5 hectares, 5 to 10 hectares, etc.), and analytical (theoretical) grouping, i.e., one made by the historian from the point of view of the requirements of his investigations. He also assumes that theoretical grouping must be verified by the dispersion method, which takes into account the clusters of data and draws the classificational boundaries through areas of Tarification).

W. Kula, op. cit ., p. 589. This statement comes from his excellent analysis of problems of historical metrology (Chap. XIII of his book).

A. Pawinski, Polska XVI w. pod względem geograficzno-statystycznym (16th Century Poland. Geography and Statistics), vols. 1 & 2-Greater Poland, Warszawa 1883; vols. 3 & 4-Lesser Poland, Warszawa 1886; vol. 5-Masovia, Warszawa 1895; A. Jablonowski’s contribution covers vol. 6-Podlasie, Warszawa 1908-10; vol. 7-Red Ruthenia, Warszawa 1902-3; vol. 8-the Volhynia and the Podolia, Warszawa 1889; vols. 9 to 11-the Ukraine, Warszawa 1894-7.

T. Ladenberger, Zaludnienie Polski na poczqtku panowania Kazimierza Wielkiego (The Population of Poland at the Beginning of the Reign of Casimir the Great), Lwów 1930; see also T. Ladogórski, Studio, nod zaludnieniem Polski XIV wieku (Studies in the Population of Poland in the 14th Century), Wroclaw 1955.

J. Rutkowski, Statystyka zawodowa ludności wiejskiej w Polsce w drugiej polowie XVI wieku (The Occupational Statistics of the Rural Population in Poland in the Second Half of the 16th Century), Krakow 1918, pp. 29–30.

S. Hoszowski, “Dynamika rozwoju zaludnienia Polski w epoce feudalnej (X-XVIII w.)”(The Growth of Poland’s Population in the Feudal Period, 10th Time When the Congress Kingdom of Poland was Being Organized), Kraków to 18th Centuries), Roczniki Dziejów Spolecznych i Gospodarczych , vol. XIII,. p. 173.

Z. Kirkor-Kiedroniowa, Wloscianie i ich s prow a w dobie organizacyjnej i konstytucyjnej Królestwa Polskiego (The Peasants and Their Cause at the 1912.

H. Grossman, “Struktura społeczna i gospodarcza Księstwa Warszawskiego na podstawie spisów ludności 1808–1810”(The Social and Economic Structure of the Duchy of Warsaw as Reflected in the Censuses, 1808-10), Kwartalnik Statystyczny , No. 2/1928.

Generalne tabele statystyczne Śląska 1787 roku (General Statistical Tables of Silesia for 1787); edited and introduced by T. Ładogórski, Wroclaw 1954.

J. Fierich, “Kultury rolnicze, zmianowania i zbiory w Katastrze Jozefin-skim 1785–1787”(Cultures, Rotation of Crops, and Volume of Crops as Shown by the Josephine Cadaster, 1785-7), Roczniki Dziejów Spolecznych i Gospodarczych , vol. XII, Poznań 1950.

This suggestion was first made at the 8th Congress of Polish Historians, held in Kraków in 1958 (see Historia Gospodarcza Polski (Economic History of Poland), Proceedings of the 8th Congress of Polish Historians, Warszawa 1960, p. 19.), and came to be criticized by W. Kula ( ibid ., p. 54, and also in Problemy i metody historii gospodarczej (Problems and Methods in Economic History), p. 362). The present writer’s approach won the support of a statistician (see S. Borowski, “Charakter i kryteria oceny źródeŁ statystycznych”(The Nature of Statistical Sources and the Criteria of Their Appraisal), Studia Źródło-znawcze , vol. IX, pp. 1-14). See also J. Topolski’s comments on W. Kula’s book quoted in this footnote in Ekonomista , No. 4/1964, p. 831.

Cf. S. Szulc, Metody statystyczne (Statistical Methods), vol. II, ed. cit ., p. 173.

We are not concerned here with the mathematical foundations of the representation method, since that would require extensive comments and explanations; the reader is referred to text-books of statistics, such as Part V of vol. II of S. Szulc’s book quoted in footnote 28 . The issues of probability as related to statistical methods are discussed by J. P. Guilford (see footnote 16 above). See also H. Kryński, Matematyka dla ekonomistów (Mathematics for Economists), Warszawa 1964, pp. 354-67.

In random sampling we can use tables of random numbers.

Cf. K. J. Arrow, “Mathematical Models in the Social Sciences”in: The Policy Sciences , (eds.) D. Lerner & H. D. Lasswell, Stanford 1957.

J. P. Guilford, op. cit ., p. 226.

The chi-square test was used by E. Vielrose in his paper quoted in footnote 14 above. The present writer is obliged to Prof. Vielrose for his extensive explanations in a personal letter.

The example is drawn from O. Lange and A. Banasinski, Teoria statystyki (Statistical Theory), Warszawa 1968, p. 123.

L. Zytkowicz, “Uwagi o gospodarstwie chlopskim w dobrach kościelnych w XVI wieku”(Comments on Peasant Holdings on Church-owned Lands in the 16th Century) in: Studia z dziejów gospodarstwa wiejskiego (Studies in the History of Peasant Holdings), vol. I, Wroclaw 1957.

J. Wiśniewski, Rozklad dochodow wedlug wysokości w rolqu 1929 (Income Distribution by Size in 1929), Warszawa 1934.

S. Borowski, “Rozwój mechanizacji pracy w rolnictwie Wielkopolski w la-tach 1890–1918”(Growing Mechanization of Agriculture in Greater Poland, 1890–1918), in: Roczniki Dziejów Społecznych i Gospodarczych , vol. XIX, Poznań 1958.

A. Jezierski, “Próba analizy statystycznej rozwarstwienia wsi na początku XX wieku”(A Tentative Statistical Analysis of the Stratification of the Rural Population in the Early 20th Century), in: Roczniki Dziejów Spolecznych i Gospodarczych , vol. XVIII, Poznań 1957.

Cf. O. Lange & A. Banasinski, Teoria statystyki (Statistical Theory), ed. cit ., pp. 172–3.

S. Borowski, see footnote 37 .

Among theoretical studies concerned with such fluctuations see G. Imbert, Des mouvements de longue durée Kondratieff , Aix-en-Provence 1956.

The advantages of chain idicators are stressed by W. Kula in Problemyi metody historii gospodarczej (Problems and Methods in Economic History), ed. cit ., pp. 378-80.

The example is drawn from O. Lange & A. Banasinski, Teoria statystyki (Statistical Theory), ed. cit ., pp. 201–2.

These data are drawn from A. Sauvy, Histoire économique de la France entre les deux guerres (1918–1931), Paris 1965, p. 462.

For considerations of space we do not give examples of the computation of trends; the reader is referred to works on econometrics, e.g., O. Lange, Introduction to Econometrics , Oxford—Warszawa 1962.

Cf. S. H. Coontz, Population Theories and Their Economic Interpretation , London 1957.

S. Kurowski, Historyczny procès wzrostu gospodarczego (The Historical Process of Economic Growth), Warszawa 1963.

On apparent relationships see S. Nowak, Studio z metodologii nauk spo-lecznych (Studies in the Methodology of the Social Sciences), ed. cit ., pp. 81 ff.

W. Kula, Teoria ekonomiczna ustroju feudalnego (The Economic Theory of the Feudal System), Warszawa 1962, p. 105. See also I. Rychlikowa, “Nie-ktore zagadnienia metodyczne w badaniach cen i rynku w drugiej polowie XVIII wieku”(Some Methodological Issues in the Study of Prices and Markets in the Second Half of the 18th Century), Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Material-nej , No. 3/1964, pp. 375-405.

J. Purš, “Model závilosti rústu stávkového hunti na rozvoji továrni výdoby v obdobě předmonopolniho kapitalismu”(A Model of the Effect of Growing Strikes on Development of Industrial Production Under Premonopolistic Capitalism), Československy Časopis Historicky , vol. XI, 1963, pp. 34–45.

S. Ossowski, O. osobliwościach nauk spolecznych (On the Peculiarities of the Social Sciences), ed. cit ., pp. 253–4.

The applications (mostly associated with the name of J. Czekanowski) of correlation co-efficients to studies in the history of culture were discussed by S. Klimek, “Metoda ilościowa w badaniach nad historią kultury”(The Quantitative Method in the Study of the History of Culture), Roczniki Dziejów Spolecznych i Gospodarczych , vol. III, Poznan 1934, pp.57-76.

Books and papers on the applications of information theory and computers to historical research are too many to be quoted here. We shall mention here only those guides for using computers in historical research which we consider the most useful for historians: Ch. M. Dollar, R. J. Jensen, Historian’s Guide to Statistics. Quantitative Analysis and Historical Research , New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, Montreal, Toronto, London, Sidney 1971; E. Shorter, The Historian and the Computer. A Practical Guide , Englewood Cliffs, N.Y. 1971. See also the elementary introduction to statistics for historians: R. Floud, An Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Historians , Princeton 1973. Literature of the subject is given in the book by Dollar and Jensen

For information’s sake we give here binary system equivalents of the first numerals in the decimal system: 0-0, 1-1, 2-10, 3-11, 4-100, 5-101, 6-110, 7-111, 8-1000, 9-1001, 10-1010, 11-1011, etc. For instance, 2 in the decimal system is rewritten in the binary system thus: 2 = l.21 + 0.20, i.e., as a sequence of powers of 2 multiplied, as the case may be, by 1.

J. C. Gardin and M. P. Garelli used an IBM computer to process mathematically the data provided by the numerous cuneiform tablets dating from the 19th century B.C. and excavated in Mesopotamia; they contain data about commercial transactions concluded among some 2000 merchants over a period of about 50 years. The study was intended to establish the merchants’ places of origin, the commodities they specialized in, etc. (Cf. “Étude sur les etablissements assyriens en Cappadoce”, Annales ESC , vol. 16, No. 5/1961, pp. 837–76.J. de Launuy also used an IBM computer to study opinions to be found in historical literature on many issues of contemporary history (cf. Les grandes controverses de l’histoire contemporaine , Lausanne 1964). The progress in the applications of computers in historical research up to 1970 was largely discussed at the 13th International Congress of Historical Sciences in Moscow. Special mention is due to the following papers: D. V. Deopik, G. M. Dobrov, J. J. Kahk, I. D. Kovalchenko, H. E. Palli, V. A. Ustinov, Quantitative and Machine Methods of Processing Historical Information , Moscow 1970; J. Schneider, La machine et l’histoire. De l’emploi des moyens mécaniques et électroniques dans la recherche historique , Moscou 1970; C. G. Andrae, Sven Lundkvist, The Use of Historical Mass Data. Experiences from a Project on Swedish Popular Movements , Moscow 1970. For general comments see J. H. Hexter, History, the Social Sciences and Quantification , Moscow 1970. Current advances in modern quantitative methods are discussed by Historical Methods Newsletter , published by The University Center for International Studies and The Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh.

That such research has a fairly long tradition is shown by W. W. Grey, The Calculus of Variant. An Essay on Textual Criticism , Oxford 1927. See also Poetyka i matematyka (Poetics and Mathematics), M. R. Mayenowa (ed.), Warszawa 1965 (reviewed in Poland by J. Kmita in Studia Metodologiczne , No. 3)

An example is provided by the study of the authorship of St. Paul’s epistles. See B. Jewsiewicki, “Uwagi o zastosowaniu maszyn cyfrowych w ba-daniach historycznych”(Comments on the Applications of Digital Computers in Historical Research), Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej , No. 4/1965, p. 734.

An example is provided by an analysis of the Koran. See K. Wyczańska, “Prace nad mechanizacją. informacji w naukach spolecznych”(Mechanization of Information in the Social Sciences), Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej , No. 4/1965, p. 741.

E. Rostworowski, Legendy i fakty XVIII w . (Legends and Facts of the 18th Century), Warszawa 1963, pp. 68–144

Ibid ., p. 124.

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Topolski, J. (1976). Quantitative Methods in Historical Research. In: Methodology of History. Synthese Library, vol 88. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-010-1123-5_22

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Historical Methods

Through this choice of papers students are encouraged to reflect on the variety of approaches used by modern historians, or on the ways in which history has been written in the past, to read historical classics written in a range of ancient and modern languages, or to acquire the numerical skills needed for certain types of historical investigation. 

Students can choose any one option of:

Approaches to History

This paper introduces students to ways of looking at the past that will probably be novel to them. The course explores both the strengths and the weaknesses of looking at the past from the perspective of other intellectual disciplines, with their varied methodologies and their different types of evidence (Anthropology; Archaeology; Art History; Economics and Sociology). The paper also offers a chance to examine the particular perspective on History offered by an awareness of the role of gender and gender difference, an approach that has been developed powerfully in recent decades. Classes and tutorials are supported by a comprehensive lecture-course which runs in the Michaelmas Term. Students are encouraged to attend lectures on all the different disciplines, since these include a number of overlapping themes and interests; in contrast tutorials normally concentrate on only two or three of the disciplines. The study of each Approach is organized around a series of broad sub-topics which are described more fully below and are supported by short bibliographies. However none of the reading is prescribed and a course-tutor could perfectly well approach each subject with a different set of examples, chosen from any period.

Prescribed topics

The paper is concerned with the ways in which the writing of history has been influenced by other disciplines, methods and techniques. Candidates will be required to show knowledge of at least two different ‘approaches’ out of the six set out below. The sub-headings give guidance to areas in which questions will be set:

Anthropology and History

This Approach introduces students to the work of cultural and social anthropologists, and to the way it has influenced the thinking of historians in recent decades. As with the other Approaches, the aim is to offer students new broader perspectives on the ways in which the past can be studied and to think more carefully about the concepts they use. The four broad subthemes and supporting bibliographies allow students to read some of the classic works of anthropology and thereby appreciate the diversity of ways in which anthropologists have approached the study of humans in the present. Students can consider the extent to which functionalism and field studies at a micro level have influenced historical work, or the possibilities for historians of the cultural anthropology exemplified by the work of Clifford Geertz. Students will also be encouraged to take note of the extent to which there is a two-way interaction between anthropology and history and to consider the implications of the intense self-criticism of anthropology as an agent of colonialism.

Family and kinship

This topic offers students the chance to analyse how anthropological work has sharpened historians’ understanding of the central role of family and kinship structures in societies and of the diversity of forms which these structures may take. As a central topic of much anthropological work it exemplifies the way anthropological approaches have been contested and have developed over the last half century – from the stress on scientific categorization in the mid-twentieth century to the more recent emphasis of Pierre Bourdieu on fluidity and improvisation.

Authority and Power

This topic introduces students to another central interest of anthropologists – to the way authority is constructed and maintained in small face-to-face societies and to the role of rituals in legitimizing power or authority. Areas of particular study might include the strengths and limitations of the functionalist approach to feuds and rebellions, or the way in which historians have learnt from anthropologists’ attempts to analyse how rituals work.

Religion, Magic and Popular Culture

This topic examines an area where the debt of many historians to the work of anthropologists has been extensive and has opened up a number of lively debates. The work of Evans-Pritchard or Clifford Geertz and its influence on historians such as Keith Thomas or Robert Darnton offers a classic example. At a general level the topic encourages students to examine why religion and magic make sense to their participants and to consider the limitations of concepts such as popular culture.

The construction of history

This topic explores the way anthropologists have looked at and thought about the past, be it myths, genealogies, oral histories, or the work of professional historians, as an attempt by participants within a society to explain who they are and to legitimize, contest or make sense of the world as it is. Students are encouraged to consider the applicability of such interpretations to historical testimonies and records from the past or indeed to the work of professional historians and anthropologists in the present.

Archaeology and History

The aim of this Approach is to introduce history students, very familiar with working with the evidence of words and texts, to a different type of evidence for the human past: mute material remains. The course underlines the very considerable strengths of material objects as evidence, but also their limitations, and how they are subject to varying interpretations. It also offers a chance to show how an archaeological approach has altered historians’ perceptions of the past. The course, while arranged thematically, introduces students to aspects of archaeological methodology (such as how to find and interpret traces of buried landscapes). It is not centred around theoretical debates within ‘Archaeology’ itself, though students may engage with these if they wish. The introductory explanations and attached bibliographies give some idea of how each theme might be studied though each can equally be approached with a different set of examples, chosen from any period. It is also possible to centre a topic on a specific site or group of material (e.g. for ‘Burials’ the Spitalfields crypt, or the Sutton Hoo barrows).

This topic will introduce students to many of the different types of surviving evidence for ancient and capes (crop-marks revealed through air photography; pottery-scatters through field-survey; modern topographical features; etc.). It will show how we can read in the landscape changing patterns of economic exploitation, settlement and ideology. Production and exchange This topic explores the evidence for the manufacture and exchange of goods examining both production sites and the distribution patterns of archaeologically identifiable products.

Burial: belief and social status

In this topic students are invited to consider the extent to which the dead, and what is buried with them, can provide evidence of belief and social differentiation.

The built environment: form and function

By looking at both whole townscapes and individual buildings, this topic encourages the student to explore the builders’ intentions and the way that people have used the built environment.

Art and History

The goal of this Approach is to broaden the historian’s sensitivity to an infinite variety of visual evidence. In most history writing, disproportionate attention is paid to written sources: this course is designed to foster a more balanced approach. However, using visual evidence is far from simple. ‘Art’ in this context is very broadly defined, to include not merely the western canon of ‘high art’, but the entire gamut of material cultural production, and its consumption. The short bibliography can be supplemented with case-studies from different periods and places. Indeed, students should be encouraged to engage in detail with particular images – including any to be found in Oxford’s museums and galleries. While for brevity and convenience it is largely focused on western art traditions, this is not intended as any constraint on the scope of the course. The course is structured around four broad – and overlapping – themes.

Creation and consumption

The first theme relates to the social context of art: how, precisely, are the variety and changes in artistic production (styles of painting, forms of architecture, etc.) related to contemporary social developments? Consideration needs to be given not only to structures of patronage, but also to broader issues of markets and consumption.

Art and politics

The second theme includes, but extends beyond, the use of visual imagery as a form of propaganda. Images have been deployed for subversive, no less than authoritarian, purposes. Analysis often reveals a creative tension in the interpretation of an image, whose ‘true’ meaning is contested.

The power of images: ways of seeing

The third theme explores varieties of visual response. Intense emotional identification with a picture, or a violent desire to destroy a statue, are repeatedly documented phenomena. To study these responses in context is to shed new light on historical societies.

The idea of the history of art: displaying, writing and collecting

The last theme is the particularly western way in which ‘the history of art’ has been conceived. This notion has been profoundly influential (through collecting, the construction of museums, art writing and art history), and rewards study. The post-medieval European idea of ‘fine art’ is a highly particular category: to recognize it as such is to become more fully aware of the richness of a far more inclusive realm of visual culture beyond the ‘fine’ arts, both in European and non-European traditions.

Economics and History

The aim of this Approach is to introduce students to the ways in which economic models and statistical sources can be used to understand history. It encourages students to tackle the central issue of how economic development has changed the character and quality of human life and, to this end, to look at the ways in which political, social, and cultural institutions have determined long-run economic and demographic outcomes, and simultaneously been determined by them. The course takes a global perspective, with particular attention to the analysis of cross-country and cross-time differences in capital and labour market institutions and technological change, and the effects of those differences on economic and human development. In the course of these four lectures, students will be introduced to economic approaches to collecting and using quantitative historical data to identify causal links between historical factors and economic outcomes.

The Great Divergence, Living Standards and Institutions

How do economists measure economic activity and living standards?  And how do economists think about institutions and their effect on the economy? The ‘Great Divergence’ between Western Europe and Asia provides a particular focus for thinking about these general questions.

How do economists think about how humans interact with the natural environment? The ‘Malthusian model’ of population and living standards is a central theory. The recurring problem of famine raises the issues of the relative importance of nature’s constraints (scarcity, climate shocks) and human agency and institutions (markets, policies).

How do economists approach slavery? What is the significance of slavery for the broader economy? How viable is a slave-based economy? Slavery in antiquity provides one possible focus, as do the importance of slavery to the British economy, and the North American experience more generally.

How do economists define money, understand the determinants of inflation, and evaluate its consequences? Historical financial crises (e.g. Europe’s Price Revolution, the South Sea Bubble, bank runs in Depression-era America or the German hyperinflation of 1923) provide a focus for questions around the rationality or otherwise of economic behaviour, collective and individual.

History of Women, Gender and Sexuality

This Approach introduces students to the historiography of gender, women’s history and the history of sexualities and to explore the contributions these approaches have to other historical agendas. The contributions of women’s history are explored, underlining the importance of recovering the experiences of women in the past, the methodological challenges of doings so, and interrogating key concepts like patriarchy. The work of historians using gender as a category of historical analysis uncovers the degree to which masculinity and femininity are contested social categories, and the ways in which gender norms shape social, political, economic and cultural structures and processes, allowing students to look at the means by which gender and sex hierarchies are maintained and contested. Examining the history of sexuality and the body introduces students to work exploring the cultural, social and scientific categories of sexuality and gender as historically and geographically specific and malleable, and to studies highlighting the differences between laws, norms and experience.

Women, Gender, Sexuality and Work This topic looks at the ways in which men and women’s work has been differentiated, at the relationship between the social and sexual division of labour, the ways gender and race have intersected in shaping labour regimes and the definitions of ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ work. Students are introduced to work examining the determinants and processes of change in male and female roles in the household and workplace.

Women, Gender, Sexuality and Politics This topic examines the way the language and practice of politics, colonialism, nationalism and citizenship have been gendered. It introduces students to work contesting narrow understandings of political participation to uncover the way women have exercised political power both formally and informally, and challenged their political exclusion. The intersections of race and gender in the establishment and evolution of political structures are explored.

Women, Gender, Sexuality and the Body

This topic introduces students to scholarship exploring the history of sexuality, looking at the ways in which the sexual identities of men and women are culturally variable, and at changing understandings of the sexed body. Students are introduced to scholarship exploring the relationship between queer theory and history, and to work examining the intersections between norms and practice.

Women, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion

This topic explores the ways in which gender norms have been constructed and subverted by religious discourses. The variety of forms of religious expression available to men and women is discussed. The complex relationships between intellectual and religious change and the positions of women and men are assessed.

Women, Gender, Sexuality, and Empire This topic explores in more detail the way that ideas about gender have shaped the political, social, economic and cultural structures of empire, and the ways that policing gender and reproduction have been important tools of empire and domination. It highlights the intersections of ideas about gender and race in imperialism and colonialism.

Sociology and History

The aim of this Approach is to introduce students to the discipline of sociology, to explore ways in which sociological method has influenced historians, and to look at ways in which sociology and history over the years have diverged or converged. Students are introduced to the discipline of sociology as the study of man as a social animal, shaped by social institutions but at the same time able to construct or reconstruct them. How much scope different sociologists give to the individual and human agency is discussed. The course is organized around four broad themes.

Sociological techniques

The approach of sociology to sources, concepts, the comparative method and ‘grand theory’ is compared to that of historians, and examples from the hybrid of historical sociology are examined. The traffic is not all one way and the appeal to some sociologists of the narrative and biographical approach is also illustrated.

Social stratification

This topic introduces students to the sociological theories of social stratification, especially those of Marx on class and Weber on social status, and examines how they have set the agenda for much social history. It also explores how such concepts have lost some of their explanatory force and how historians have refined them in new and exciting ways.

Power and authority

This topic examines ways in which sociologists have conceptualized the state and political institutions and at how they have analysed political obedience in terms of power (coercion) and authority (the recognition of legitimacy). It explores different notions of power developed by theorists such as Foucault, and ideas of bureaucracy, social discipline, revolt and revolution. Ways in which historians have used or developed these ideas are discussed.

Sociology and religion

This topic examines ways in which religion has been treated by sociologists. It looks in particular at the concept of the secularization of modern society, both as a debate among sociologists of religion and as a research question for historians who have refined and challenged the theory in the light of empirical evidence.

Histories of Race

This Approach enables students to look at both the historiography of histories of race and ethnicity and at the contribution this large body of scholarship has made to other historical agendas and methodologies. Work on the histories of race and racialised people are evaluated while each topic explores the potential of treating race as a category of analysis in historical work more broadly. This strand allows students to explore how knowledge about race has been historically produced, how racialised political, economic, and social structures have been historically sustained, and how racialised systems have been contested, resisted, and subverted. The methodological challenges faced by scholars writing histories of racialised, colonialised, and marginalised peoples are explored and the contribution of other disciplines – including gender studies, anthropology, and the history of science and medicine – are also assessed. Examples span classical antiquity to the twentieth century.

Race as a category of historical analysis

What do historians mean when they employ the term “race”? This topic assesses important discussions surrounding the use of race as an analytical category, including debates on the applicability of race to premodern periods. The topic also introduces scholarship on the relationship between race and other categories of historical analysis, including gender, class, and religion.

Race, labour, and law

This topic looks at the ways in which race and racial theories have arisen from – and in turn helped to sustain and legitimate – a variety of labour regimes and legal and penal systems in the past. Particular attention will be paid to scholarship on slavery in the Atlantic world but readings will be drawn from across different parts of the world and across time periods.

Racial theories in the past  

This topic surveys the ways in which people and societies have conceptualised race and racial difference since classical antiquity, and the forms of classification and ordering that have ensued. This topic will ask how and why certain racial theories have been intellectually, politically, socially, and culturally influential in the past.

Recovering voices

This topic introduces key strategies for uncovering and writing about the histories of people who have been silenced in traditional historical records. As well as evaluating influential methodological interventions, including the work of postcolonialism, this topic will draw attention to some of the newest and most innovative attempts to write histories of historically marginalised people.

Challenging race

This topic centres histories of resistance, antiracism, and racial solidarity movements. In so doing, this topic asks to what extent attention to race can produce histories that challenge our conventional chronological and geographic frameworks. 


Tacitus to weber.

Historians commonly approach the study of historical writing in two quite distinct ways: either by study of the techniques which we hold to be immediately relevant today, or by looking at the “history of history”, as for example by focussing on classic texts in Western historical writing. This paper takes the second road. Its principal agenda are as follows:

  • The close reading of texts which really will bear close reading — reading being still the most fundamental of all historical “methods”.
  • Consideration of central problems which affect all historical writing: the scope and proper subject matter of history; historical objectivity; the interrelation between the author’s past and present; the relation of literature to history; the question of whether there is a “Whiggish” progression in historical writing, so that modern writing is necessarily better than that of earlier periods; and (not least) why we should bother with history at all.
  • The outlines of how the Western historical tradition has evolved in fact.

Those writers considered are Tacitus, Augustine, Machiavelli, Gibbon, Ranke, Macaulay, Weber

Foreign Texts (Texts in a Foreign Language)

HERODOTUS, V. 26 - VI. 131 to be read in Greek, ed. C. Hude (Oxford Classical Texts, 3rd edn., 1927)

The central part of Herodotus’ Histories studied in this paper analyses the causes and course of the Ionian Revolt and the first Persian invasion of Greece, which ended in defeat at the hands of the Athenians and Plataeans on the plain of Marathon in 490 BC. Included in Herodotus’ account of these events, however, is also his account of the circumstances in which Kleisthenes got the constitutional reforms which created democracy passed at Athens, a long speech on tyranny at Corinth, and much discussion of internal politics at Sparta and of Spartan foreign policy during the reign of King Kleomenes (c.520-c.490).

Herodotus’ text is our major source for all these events, and our understanding of them depends upon an understanding of Herodotus’ sources and his historical methods. By close study of the way in which Herodotus tells his story, making comparison where possible with evidence contemporary with the events described and with other later accounts, it is possible to understand both what Greeks of the middle of the fifth century had come to regard as the foundations of their current political arrangements, and also to assess the reliability of the traditions which Herodotus exploits. Problems concerning the nature of Athenian and Spartan politics in these years, as well as of the state of relations between Persia and Greece, for which there is also some Persian evidence, are the central historical concerns. But understanding Herodotus is important not only for our comprehension of the events of the period but for our understanding of the development of western historiography at whose head Herodotus stands.

Candidates are required to comment on gobbets set in Greek but are not required to translate Greek in the examination paper.

Einhard and Asser

EINHARD, Vita Karoli Magnis Imperatoris

ASSER, De Rebus Gestis Aelfredi

The paper offers students the chance to engage with two of the most famous Latin texts of the early middle ages: Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne and Asser’s of Alfred.

These texts bring the student face to face with the nature of early medieval kingship and, more specifically, with two momentous transformations in European and British history. From whatever angle we look at the Carolingian and Alfredian ages, the Emperor Charlemagne and King Alfred emerge as great instigators in the process by which military greed and opportunism were wrought into new political, religious and literary cultures.

Einhard’s Vita Karoli (written within a decade or two of Charlemagne's death in 814) and Asser’s De Rebus Gestis Aelfredi (written in the 890s during Alfred’s lifetime) are the preeminent texts by which these transformations were captured. Both authors were alive to the achievements of their subjects and to the attitudes and aspirations of their times. Moreover as learned scholars and powerful figures in their own right they also had their own agendas. Despite the brevity of Einhard’s Vita (a mere 40 pages in Penguin) every phrase bristles with undertones and allusions; the extent of Einhard’s debt to classical writers and the significance of what he does and does not say have continued to generate enormous scholarly attention and debate.

By closely focusing on these works and their interpretation students can gain experience and practice of how to approach primary sources at the start of their Oxford careers, thereby acquiring a skill which will prove invaluable for their work on subsequent papers. Passages from the texts are set in Latin for detailed comment but the modest length of the texts means that students with basic Latin should have little difficulty coping with them. Students studying this paper may attend the Latin reading classes offered for graduate students (subject to the agreement of the tutor concerned).

Helpful translations are readily available (the Penguin Classics: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne, trans., L. Thorpe and Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and other Contemporary Sources, trans., S. Keynes & M. Lapidge).


ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution

Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution, first published in 1856, is one of the most famous accounts of the origins of the French Revolution ever written. Noted for its wide-ranging and subtle analysis of the government, society and culture of eighteenth-century France, it has always been an essential point of departure for any student working on the Revolution, admired not so much as a piece of historical research but as a brilliant study of political economy. Moreover, the text is more than just a study of the causes of the French Revolution. Written in the aftermath of the coup d’état of Napoleon III in 1851, it was intended as an oeuvre à thèse, which would explain to contemporary mid-nineteenthcentury Frenchmen their failure to establish a permanent liberal democracy.

Traditionally L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution is taught by a wide cross-section of college tutors. Students will be introduced to the complexity of Tocqueville’s argument, in particular his conception of the centralised French absolute state, his views on the genesis and significance of class conflict, and his understanding of the role of the Enlightenment in causing the French Revolution. Beyond this, there are various way in which the text may be placed in a wider context. Students may examine the historiography of the causes of the French Revolution in order to compare and contrast Tocqueville’s analysis with earlier and subsequent explanations. They may seek a deeper understanding of the more recent historiography of eighteenth-century France to see how Tocqueville’s vision has been refined or challenged. Finally they may re-examine the text in the light of Tocqueville’s own intellectual development and political career.

The course is intended to give students the opportunity to develop their reading ability in the French language, and in the first term at least they should expect to spend much of the time getting to know the text in the original. It also enables students to get to grips with an extremely rich and influential work of history that will give them a graphic insight into the problems of historical method and the historian’s craft. 

Meinecke and Kehr

FRIEDRICH MEINECKE, Die Deutsche Katastrophe: Betrachtungen und Erinnerungen (Wiesbaden, 1949) pp. 5-104.

ECKART KEHR, Der Primat der Innenpolitik: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur preussisch-deutschen Sozialgeschichte im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Berlin 1970) pp. 87-129, 149-83.

This paper is intended to introduce German-reading undergraduates to two of the most influential twentieth-century historians of modern Germany: Eckart Kehr and Friedrich Meinecke.

Each made a distinctive contribution to the development of modern German historiography: Meinecke was perhaps the most influential of all the later historicists and Kehr was an inspiration to the so-called critical school of social history, whose emphasis on the primacy of socio-economic factors in politics has informed an immense literature since he was ‘rediscovered’ by Hans-Ulrich Wehler in the 1960s.

The set passages of the two authors not only give students a flavour of their methodology, but also introduce some of the key historical debates which relate to the period 1870-1945. In general, the paper provides an introduction to the continuing debate on the ‘peculiarity’ of modern German history and allows students to become familiar with the so-called Sonderweg (‘special path’) theory. 


MACHIAVELLI, Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, Bk I

Machiavelli’s reputation as an advocate of ruthless and unscrupulous politics does serious injustice to the richness, generosity and subtlety of his political thought. The Discourses on Livy (written c. 1513- 1519) reveal these latter qualities well. They provide an indispensable corrective to the familiar picture found in his better-known treatise The Prince. In the Discourses Machiavelli uses historical examples from ancient and modern times to illustrate the ways in which rulers and people habitually behave in the political life of republics and kingdoms. He asserts his belief that history can be used by citizens and statesmen to build up the kind of ‘case-lore’ already utilized in the practice of medicine and of law.

The text is a powerful and attractive example of Renaissance historical writing and at the same time an introduction to the Florentine genre of critical political analysis. Classical stories are set to work by Machiavelli to teach his fellow-Florentines how to rescue their city from the disasters which beset it in his day and how to capture for themselves by emulation something of the glory of Republican Rome.

A capacity to read straightforward material in present-day Italian will be enough to enable candidates to cope with the language in which this text is written. Any modern Italian edition will suffice: those published by Rizzoli, Feltrinelli and Einaudi have good introductions and notes. Machiavelli’s The Prince should certainly also be read; the best recent edition in English is that by Quentin Skinner and Russell Price in the series Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (1988). 

Vicens Vives

Vicens Vives JAIME VICENS VIVES, Aproximación a la historia de España Vicens Vives’s Aproximación a la historia de España, first published in 1952, is one of the most important reflections on the history of Spain never written. Relatively short, this text is not a synthesis but more of an innovative recapitulation of the main historiographical problems of Spain’s past from ancient times to the outbreak of the Civil War (1936). Written in a time of dictatorship, instead of pursuing the metahistorical debate on the uniqueness of Spain that had held the centre stage until then, Vicens Vives’s book marked a turning point calling for the adoption of more rigorous and modern methods then dominant in the rest of Europe, above all in France.

Aproximación a la historia de España is taught through seven tutorials and four classes (or lectures, depending on the number of takers). Students will be introduced to the figure and the work of Jaime Vicens Vives (1910–1960), as well asto the complexity of his rethinking of Spanish history over the longue durée. Beyond this, there are various ways in which the Aproximación may be placed in a broader context. Students may consider the constraints on historical writing in Francoist Spain, of which Vicens Vives was an opponent despite the fact that he never abandoned the country. They will be invited to explore the main characteristics of the so-called ‘new history’ (nueva historia) that Vicens Vives inaugurated in close dialogue with the Annales school, as well as considering his wider contacts with other historians both in Spain and abroad, including Sir John Elliott. Finally, they will be asked to reflect on the legacy of Vicens Vives in regard to the historiography of Spain in the second half of the twentieth-century, as well as on the new directions that it has taken more recently.

This course is intended to give students the opportunity to develop their reading ability in the Spanish language through an accessible academic text, while acquainting them with a number of key issues in the study of the history of Spain. It will also enable students to engage with an influential work of history that will give them an insight into general problems of historical method.

Students will be asked to read the work in its entirety on the basis of the 2nd edition, or one of its many reprints: J. Vicens Vives, Aproximación a la historia de España (1960). An annotated English translation of the work is also available: J. Vicens Vives, Approaches to the history of Spain, translated and edited by J.C. Ullman, 2nd edition corrected and revised (1970).

TROTSKY 1905 pp. 1-9, 17-245 (available for purchase as a photocopy from the History Faculty Library)

A study of Trotsky’s 1905 aims to examine Trotsky’s ideas as expressed in his history and to place them within the context of Russian Marxism in general.

Issues raised by the study of the period include: the development of the Russian Social Democratic movement, the worker’s movement, the development of Russian liberalism and the part it played in the events of 1905, the nature of the Russian Imperial Government and the effect of the Russo-Japanese war on Russian society and politics, the Russian agrarian question.

There are a number of recent monographs on these subjects and the study of this period provides the opportunity to discuss many of the problems associated with the last years of the Russian autocracy. 


Quantification in history.

The purpose of this course is to introduce historians to the statistical exploration of historical problems. It imparts statistical skills which enable students to read and understand quantitative economic and social history research, and also to undertake elementary quantitative work on their own. The aims of the course are to:

  • To provide an introduction to elementary topics in parametric and non-parametric statistics, culminating in basic regressions. No prior knowledge of statistics is assumed and A-level mathematics is not required.
  • To examine computer-based historical datasets throughout the course. Additionally, students explore and evaluate the uses and limitations of quantification in history through writing two short applied essays on a secondary source of their choice that they are studying in another history class.
  • To introduce students to history and computing, providing basic training in one of the most widely used statistical package in economic and social history.

Candidates will be required to show understanding of the following:

  • the application and limitation of quantitative methods to historical problems
  • levels of measurement and the appropriate classification and arrangement of historical data (tables, charts, graphs, histograms, etc.)
  • summarizing historical facts: univariate descriptive statistics (frequency distributions, means, medians and modes, measures of dispersion, concepts of normality) 
  • exploring historical relationships: bivariate descriptive statistics (correlation, measures of association including correlation coefficients, linear regression) 
  • drawing inferences from historical data (sampling, distributions and confidence intervals; hypothesis testing; significance and probability, parametric and non-parametric measures of association and sample statistics; multivariate analysis)
  • use of computer-based statistical packages (data entry and verification, classification and transformations, statistical manipulation, interpretation and presentation)
  • Understanding basic ANOVA, and running their own basic regressions. 

Please note that the options listed above are illustrative and may be subject to change.

Teaching: Faculty lectures or classes, as well as college classes or tutorials, held over one or two terms.

Assessment: This paper is assessed with a 3-hour written examination.

Shapiro Library

Historical Associations

Professional associations and academic communities are often a good place to start for scholarly information and materials on methods and research.

  • American Historical Association The professional and academic organization of academic historians, this organization has a wealth of information about careers in history as well as a directory of historians and historical programs
  • H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online H-Net "creates and coordinates Internet networks with the common objective of advancing teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences." Contains public discussion lists related to numerous disciplines.
  • National Council on Public History The professional association for public historians, the NCPH serves practitioners by "building community among historians, expanding professional skills and tools, fostering critical reflection on historical practice, and publicly advocating for history and historians."
  • Organization of American Historians Less focused on academic history, the OAH nonetheless provides quite a bit of information about the profession, jobs, and current topics in history.

Historical Research and Methods

Guides and major works.

The following is a list of works on Historical methods, philosophy, and subfields of history.

examples of historical research studies

Writing Guide

A series of guides on reading, researching and writing history by Patrick Rael, professor of History at Bowdoin College can be found on this link

Source: Patrick Rael, Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students (Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College, 2004).

Research Methods

The Shapiro Library subscribes to the SAGE Research Methods database, a resource designed for those who are doing research or who are learning how to do research. Methods and practices covered include writing research questions and literature reviews, choosing research methods, conducting oral histories, and more. 

  • SAGE Research Methods - History Discipline The History discipline of SAGE Research Methods includes books, reference resources, videos, cases and datasets useful to historical researchers.
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Preparing a History PhD proposal

The carefully thought-out and detailed research proposal to be submitted with the formal application is the product of a sometimes prolonged negotiation with your potential supervisor. The supervisor may be enthusiastic about your project or might advise you to consider a different subject or change your angle on it; they may query aspects of your plan such as its breadth, the availability of primary sources or the extent to which you are familiar with the secondary literature. You may be asked to demonstrate the originality of your research question or be advised to consider applying to another institution which may have more appropriate expertise. During this process you will likely be asked to submit a specimen of written-up historical research, such as your Masters or BA dissertation. The sooner you start developing the structure that is expected in a research proposal, the more productive your exchanges with your potential supervisor will be.

You may find different advice for writing a research proposal across different OU webpages. Given that a research proposal can vary significantly across different disciplines, when applying to the History Department you should follow the guidance provided here.

The research proposal you submit in January should be approximately 1000 words, plus a bibliography, and should contain the following:

A title, possibly with a subtitle

The title should not take the form of a question and it may run to a dozen words or more. Like the title of a book, it should clearly convey the topic you propose to work on. A subtitle may explain the chronological or geographical focus of your work, or the methodological approach you will take. Choosing a title is a good way for focusing on the topic you want to investigate and the approach you want to take.

These are examples of poor titles and topics to research:

  • Captain Cook’s Third Voyage
  • Women in eighteenth-century England

These would be poor topics to research because they lack a strong question and it is not clear which approach they take to their already well-researched subjects. They are generic or merely descriptive. 

Examples of good research topics

  • Constructing the Eternal City: visual representations of Rome, 1500-1700
  • Rearing citizens for the state: manuals for parents in France, 1900-1950

These projects combine a sharp chronological and geographical focus with a clear indication of how the sources will be analysed to respond to a precise question. In the first case, for example, the premise is that visual representations are critical in the making of a city’s eminence. This indicates the type of sources that will be analysed (paintings, engravings and other visual sources). The chronology is particularly well chosen because in these two centuries Rome turned from being the capital of the Catholic world to becoming the much sought-after destination of the Grand Tour; interesting questions of change and continuity come into focus.

Brief summary of your argument

An acceptable PhD thesis must have a central argument, a 'thesis'.  You need to have something to argue for or against, a point to prove or disprove, a question to answer. What goes into this section of the proposal is a statement of your question and the answer you plan to give, even if, for now, it remains a hypothesis.

Why this subject is important

We expect originality in a thesis and so under this rubric we expect you to explain why the knowledge you seek on the subject you propose to work on is important for its period and place, or for historians’ views on its period and place. Finding some early-modern English laundry lists would not suffice  on its own  to justify writing a PhD thesis about them. But those laundry lists could be important evidence for a thesis about the spread of the Great Plague in London, for example.

Framing your research

Your proposal has to show awareness of other scholarly writing on the subject. This section positions your approach to the subject in relation to approaches in some of those works, summarising how far you think it differs. For instance, you could challenge existing interpretations of the end the Cold War, or you might want to support one historian or another; you could open up a neglected aspect of the debate - say by considering the role of an overlooked group or national government - and perhaps kick-start a debate of your own. All this is to show that you have read  into  your subject and familiarised yourself with its contours. We don’t expect you to have done all your research at the start, but it is essential for you to show familiarity with the key texts and main authors in your chosen field.

What sources might you need to consult in libraries and archives?

Here you should describe or at least list the primary materials you are likely to use in researching your thesis. This demonstrates your confidence that enough relevant sources exist to support a sustained scholarly argument. Many archival catalogues are available online and can be searched remotely, including The National Archives, the National Archives of Scotland, the National Archives (Ireland), the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and Archives Wales. You can search the London-based Historical Manuscripts Commission and the National Register of Archives, both of which provide access to local county record offices. Databases such as ‘Eighteenth Century Collections Online’ and the British Library’s ‘British Newspapers Online 1600-1900’ will help you identify and locate relevant sources.

What skills are required to work on the sources you plan to use?

You need to show that you have the linguistic competence to pursue your research. With few exceptions, original sources must be read in the original languages; if the principal historical literature is not in English, you must be able to read it too. Palaeographic problems aren’t confined to ancient writing. You might have to tackle early modern or other scripts that are hard to decipher. Even with fluent German, an applicant baffled by the Gothic script and typeface would flounder without undertaking ancillary study. Training is available at The Open University, or in some circumstances you can be funded to undertake training elsewhere, and you should demonstrate awareness of the skills that you need to acquire.

Do you have the technical competence to handle any data-analysis your thesis may require?

Databases, statistical evidence and spreadsheets are used increasingly by historians in certain fields. If your research involves, say, demographic or economic data, you will need to consider whether you have the necessary IT and statistical skills and, if not, how you will acquire them.

How will you arrange access to the libraries and archives where you need to work?

Although primary sources are increasingly available in digitised form, you should consider that important sources may be closed or in private hands. To consult them may require some travelling and so you should be realistic as to what you will be able to do, particularly if you are applying to study part-time as not all archives are open out of regular office hours.

A bibliography

This should come at the end and include a list of the primary sources you plan to use and the relevant secondary literature on the subject. While you should show that you are on top of recent work (and of important older studies) on the topic, there is no point in having a long list of works only marginally related to your subject. As always, specificity is the best policy.

Please follow this link to see an  example of a successful research proposal [PDF].

All this may seem daunting, as if the department is asking you to write a thesis before you apply. But that is not our intention; the advice is to help you perform the necessary spadework before entering the formal application process. Working up a proposal under the headings suggested above will, if your application is successful, save you and your supervisor(s) much time if and when the real work begins.

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The Oxford Handbook of International Relations

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30 Historical Methods

Joel Quirk is an RCUK Fellow, Department of Law and Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull.

  • Published: 02 September 2009
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Research into both international and intellectual history has flourished in recent times. This article highlights a number of recent contributions, paying particular attention to the relationship between history, theory, and method. The article is organized into five distinct sections. The first section offers a brief sketch of the vagaries of history as a field of study. The second section is concerned with the search for universal models, and the relationship between rationalist theories, radical simplification, and international history. The third section is concerned with critical responses to the historical limitations of radical simplification, and allied attempts to come to terms with questions of contingency and complexity. The fourth section explores more recent developments in rationalist theory. Using innovations in realist theory as an explicatory focal point, it examines a number of recent contributions that have placed rationalist approaches on a stronger historical footing. The main focus throughout this discussion is the origin and operation of the state system, which has long been a premier site for historical inquiry in international relations circles. The final section takes up the parallel field of intellectual history, exploring how recent works on the history of ideas have been shaped around contemporary agendas.

For most international relations scholars, historical inquiry is not simply (or even primarily) an end in itself, but also serves as an essential platform for the advancement of a range of theoretical goals. This self‐conscious orientation extends to the study of both international and intellectual history. It not only plays a decisive role when it comes to the methods adopted by scholars from various schools, but also helps to ensure that historical projects are routinely organized around the demands of modern theoretical arguments. In this intellectual environment, the importance attached to making a theoretical contribution can be both an asset and an obstacle. International relations scholars have marshaled an arsenal of valuable tools, techniques, and templates, offering important insights into many vital questions, but these contributions can also come at the price of historical depth, with complex, multicausal issues ending up as testing grounds for partisan efforts to corroborate abstract theoretical models.

Historical inquiry is often identified as a neglected area in international relations circles ( Teschke 2003, 14 ; Keene 2005, 1–3 ). This might have been true in the past, but it is no longer true today, as research into both international and intellectual history has flourished in recent times. Although silences and problem areas remain, especially when it comes to long‐standing Eurocentrism, there has nonetheless been tremendous growth over the last two decades. In this chapter I highlight a number of recent contributions, paying particular attention to the relationship between history, theory, and method. This project is organized into five distinct sections. The first section offers a brief sketch of the vagaries of history as a field of study. The second section is concerned with the search for universal models, and the relationship between rationalist theories, radical simplification, and international history. The third section is concerned with critical responses to the historical limitations of radical simplification, and allied attempts to come to terms with questions of contingency and complexity. The fourth section explores more recent developments in rationalist theory. Using innovations in realist theory as an explicatory focal point, I examine a number of recent contributions that have placed rationalist approaches on a stronger historical footing. The main focus throughout this discussion is the origin and operation of the state system, which has long been a premier site for historical inquiry in international relations circles. The final section of the chapter takes up the parallel field of intellectual history, exploring how recent works on the history of ideas have been shaped around contemporary agendas.

1 On History

In his famous work What is History ?, E. H. Carr (1962, 6) observes that “the belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which it is very hard to eradicate.” It is not necessary to be a postmodernist to recognize the merits of this position. Many different forms of interpretation are involved in the complex relationship between historical events and their contemporary representation. The recollections of relevant participants will not always point in a single direction. Many competing factors, both proximate and long term, will necessarily be involved. Subsequent records are unlikely to be complete, and those that are available will inevitably reflect parochial orientations and preoccupations. Other key issues include the selection of events that become “history,” rather than falling by the wayside, and the level of importance that ends up being attached to any number of potentially relevant factors. It is also clear, moreover, that the vagaries of historical inquiry also extend to contemporary orientations and agendas, where it is not unusual for people to “study history less for what they might learn than for what they want to prove” ( Hinsley 1963, 13 ). The classical example here is the “Whig interpretation” of history, which refers to a long‐standing tendency among Anglo‐Saxon historians to “emphasise certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present” ( Butterfield 1965, v ). This represents the most well‐known manifestation of a much larger conundrum, as contemporary preoccupations can end up influencing how the historical record is represented in a variety of ways.

These considerations apply to all forms of historical inquiry. When we focus our attention upon international relations, a number of additional issues come to light, starting with differences between history and international relations (as a form of social or political science). This issue is complicated by internal variations within disciplines, which make it difficult to speak of anything more than general tendencies. There is widespread agreement, however, that the two disciplines ultimately favor different approaches. One synopsis comes from Jack Levy (1997, 32) , who maintains “that the distinctive difference between history and political science is that historians describe and explain the connections between a series of events, whereas political scientists formulate and test general theoretical propositions about relationships between variables or classes of events.” Another reading comes from John Gaddis (2002, 62–3) , who observes that all forms of social inquiry inevitably involve generalizations, but that historians tend to embed generalizations within narratives, while social scientists tend to embed narratives within generalizations. Academic international relations' attachment to general theoretical propositions has also ensured that international relations theorists are often heavily reliant upon the works of historians for information. This widespread dependence on secondary sources raises difficult methodological questions, which are rarely explicitly addressed. Historians may not always make their underlying assumptions explicit, but this does not mean that they simply compile historical data, detached from theoretical or methodological commitments ( Lustick 1996 ; Kratochwil 2006 ; Roberts 2006 ). This has led to a slightly odd situation where international relations theorists draw extensively upon the often painstaking research conducted by historians, yet regularly disconnect these contributions from the nuanced, case‐specific, and typically multicausal approach that most historians favor.

The main point at issue here is the close relationship between history, theory, and method. In order fully to understand the various ways in which the historical record has been conceptualized and discussed amongst international relations scholars one must first interrogate both the theoretical aspirations involved, and the methods utilized to advance these goals. This is particularly important when it comes to more recent works, as modern scholars typically end up structuring their arguments around the strengths and weaknesses of previous contributions. Many disciplines tackle “big picture,” macro‐historical projects, yet these projects tend to be organized on very different lines to equivalent projects in academic international relations. These projects may end up exploring similar historical topics, but they remain embedded within different academic discourses. In the case of international relations, this has both positive and negative dimensions. International relations scholars have offered valuable insights into many important questions, yet theorists can sometimes lose sight of history as a distinctive field of study, with its own methodological and interpretative challenges (see Pierson 2004 ; Trachtenberg 2006 ). Theory will always need history, since past events offer an indispensable platform against which various models come to be formulated and evaluated, but there will always be a danger of theory becoming an end in itself, rather than a valuable tool.

2 Rational Action, Materialism, and Functionalism

In any given sequence of international events, an extraordinary number of factors will be in play. These factors can be evaluated inductively, by taking into account a range of competing influences, but as more issues are taken into account it invariably becomes harder to move beyond case‐specific idiosyncrasies and thereby identify unambiguous causal patterns or universal models. Modern social scientists have sought to resolve this dilemma through various forms of radical simplification. This has chiefly been expressed in three overlapping strategies: rational action, materialism, and functionalism. Each of these strategies comes with considerable intellectual baggage. In this setting, I am primarily concerned with their theoretical dimensions and methodological rationale.

Rational action is designed to cut through the vagaries of human behavior by treating individuals as atomized utility maximizers. For some detractors, this constitutes “a caricature of the human condition” ( Jackson 2000, 47 ), yet this objection loses some of its force if we view rational action as a qualified methodological move, rather than a totalizing ontological stance. The key point at issue is not whether every actor operates according to a hyper‐rational calculus, but whether it is heuristically useful to structure theoretical inquiry around this universal behavioral model. Rational action is commonly coupled with various forms of materialism, building upon the underlying notion that the organization and distribution of material capabilities ultimately define the structural context within which political actors pursue their strategic interests. Material properties do not always exist in isolation, but often gain depth and definition through the ideational orientations that surround them, yet it can still be useful to operate as if material forces were entirely separate. The final component in this theoretical triad is functionalism, which often serves as a bridge between rational action and materialism, as the origin and operation of various institutional forms is explained by their strategic functions, or utilitarian purposes. Functionalism can operate on multiple levels. On the one hand, we have institutional arrangements between political communities, such as regimes or international organizations, which are said to reflect strategic interests in developing institutions that serve favorable political and economic functions. On the other, we have institutional arrangements within communities, as the genesis and subsequent development of various political and economic complexes can be traced to utilitarian responses to competition amongst powerful vested interests.

This triad has been central to an ongoing theoretical quest for universal models, clear causal connections, and definitive predictions. From this standpoint, it is difficult to imagine a more effective set of tools. Rational action cuts through the vagaries of human behavior, materialism delineates both interests and capabilities, and functionalism provides an explanation for the origin and operation of various institutional forms. The primary goal is not to blend together a range of considerations, but to specify a small number of key mechanisms that clearly account for variations across multiple cases. This has in turn given rise to two overlapping axes of theoretical contention. The first axis is defined by wide‐ranging disputes over the application of these overlapping strategies, as theorists of various persuasions share an underlying commitment (albeit with some modifications or additions) to rational action, materialism, and functionalism, yet disagree over their substantive ramifications. This dynamic has been central to debates amongst neorealists and neoliberal institutionalists. It also extends to differences among many exponents of rational choice theory, neoclassical realism, the new liberalism, and other theories that draw inspiration from economic models. Not all rationalist theories are universal in scope. Some theories become applicable only in particular circumstances, such as international negotiations, leading to sophisticated debates over the specific consequences of universal behavioral models operating within narrowly defined parameters. The second axis of contention revolves around a host of issues, actions, and idiosyncrasies that have frequently been marginalized as part of a methodological commitment to radical simplification. This dynamic is chiefly concerned with questions of identity, ideology, epistemology, and contingency. It is also especially relevant to the study of international history, as the search for enduring axioms has frequently overshadowed the distinctive qualities of less familiar historical settings.

In order to illustrate these themes, I turn to a familiar point of departure: Kenneth Waltz's outstanding Theory of International Politics   (1979) . The main features of Waltz's theory are well known, starting with the state‐centric character of the international system and the enduring effects of anarchy, both institutional (like‐units, functional adaptation) and behavioral (self‐help, rational action), and then extending to the structural dimensions of relative material capabilities, and more specific points regarding bipolarity and economic interdependence. In many ways, the path Waltz takes is more interesting than his ultimate destination. Rejecting the “inductivist route,” Waltz (1979, 4, 7) argues that “explanatory power … is gained by moving away from ‘reality’, not by staying close to it.” A theorist must cut through complexity by identifying a bounded realm of activity, within which generalizable patterns become explicable through the integration of a small number of heuristically powerful, ruthlessly simplified mechanisms. This means embracing a systemic approach that excludes domestic politics, or regime type, not because they are irrelevant, but because they can force us “back to the descriptive level,” unduly complicating our grasp of “big, important, and enduring patterns” stemming from international anarchy ( Waltz 1979, 65, 70 ). This ruthless strategy ends up “bracketing out” a tremendous range of issues. Of particular importance here is Waltz's static approach to international history, which is encapsulated in his claim that “the texture of international politics remains highly constant, patterns recur, and events repeat themselves endlessly. The relations that prevail internationally seldom shift rapidly in type or in quality” ( Waltz 1979, 66 ).

Waltz's theory has played a central role in numerous debates. His main contribution to the study of international history has been as a critical foil. In this context, his work has been regularly presented as an emblem of the more general historical shortcomings of “mainstream” approaches. This association may not be entirely fair, since Waltz is not necessarily the strongest example available, but it has nonetheless served as an important starting point for a range of historical projects. While these projects differ in many important respects, they can be loosely integrated around a shared critique of the historical limitations of radical simplification. From here, the theoretical quest for universal essences has given way to a more qualified focus upon contingent properties, as scholars have (re)turned to a range of issues previously marginalized on methodological grounds.

3 Historical Complexity and Contemporary Theory

for theorists like Waltz, the current status quo is best viewed as an unbroken extension of enduring axioms. This totalizing stance has provoked a sustained barrage of historically oriented critique. One of the main objections to this perspective is that it ends up incorrectly projecting recent innovations backward through time, thereby elevating contingent structures and orientations to the status of transhistorical essences. This line of argument is nicely summarized by John Hobson (2002) , who argues that international relations scholarship often suffers from two distinct modes of ahistoricism: chronofetishism and tempocentrism. The former is said to denote “a ‘sealing off’ of the present such that it appears as an autonomous, natural, spontaneous and immutable entity.” The latter refers to the extrapolation of this “naturalized” present “backwards through time such that discontinuous ruptures and differences between historical epochs and states systems are smoothed over and consequentially obscured” ( Hobson 2002, 9 ).

One of the key points at issue here is the relationship between theoretical parsimony and historical complexity. The main advantage of radical simplification is that it enables theorists to cut through complexity, making it possible to speak of definitive, universal causes that unite otherwise disparate cases, yet this source of strength can also be a source of weakness, as the search for transhistorical essences has also tended to “smooth over” both distinctive historical features and fundamental differences. This trade‐off is especially acute in the cases of neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism, which both played major roles within theoretical debates during the 1980s and 1990s, and thus regularly served as focal points for historical and theoretical critique. Among the many strategies that have been employed here, three main impulses can be identified: (1) a concerted effort to catalogue the historical shortcomings of rational action, materialism, and functionalism; (2) a concerted effort to interrogate the complexities and idiosyncrasies that have shaped particular historical milieux; and (3) a concerted effort to challenge aspects of contemporary life that might otherwise appear natural, or immutable.

From this vantage point, an important point of departure is provided by John Ruggie (1993) . Expressing profound frustration with a widespread inability to conceptualize meaningful challenges to the modern state system, Ruggie famously looks to the transition from medieval to modern forms of political rule for guidance. This transition poses severe problems for Waltz, who posits a sharp, consistent demarcation between domestic and international. This image is difficult to reconcile with medieval history, where political life was organized around a heteronomous order of cross‐cutting jurisdictions, both religious and secular, together with a significant level of functional differentiation (non‐like‐units). If political life has been organized on fundamentally different terms, how did the states system arise? For Ruggie (1993, 151) , modern statehood is defined by a commitment to “territoriality defined, fixed, and mutually exclusive enclaves of legitimate dominion.” This unique model is said to have emerged within a relatively short timeframe, with a range of cumulative factors paving the way for a decisive moment of radical disjuncture in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which Ruggie tentatively frames in terms of epochal change, or a form of punctuated equilibrium.

In making this argument, Ruggie (1993, 141) is explicit about the inherent limitations of his project, observing that much of his work is limited to searching “for a vocabulary and … research agenda by means of which we can start to ask systematic questions about the possibility of fundamental international transformation today.” His case is strongest when it comes to substantive differences between medieval and modern, but his explanation of the transformation from one order to the other remains fairly suggestive. On this point, a theoretically more rigorous argument has recently been advanced by Daniel Philpott. According to Philpott (2001, 4) , the constitutional structure of our current global order can be traced to two seminal revolutions in sovereignty, the Treaty of Westphalia and colonial independence, which in turn reflect “prior revolutions in ideas about justice and political authority.” To substantiate these claims, he identifies two distinct roles played by ideas in shaping these momentous events. The first role is concerned with identities, as ideas are said to persuade actors to take on new forms of identification through reason of reflection. The second role is concerned with social power, as ideas are said to “alter the costs and benefits facing those who are in a position to promote or hinder the policies that the ideas demand” ( Philpott 2001, 58 ). Ideas do not operate in isolation from other factors, but neither are they reducible to material structures or strategic calculations.

Philpott's argument is well suited to decolonization (see also Jackson 1990 ; Crawford 2002 ), but has proved to be more contentious when it comes to Westphalia. Like Ruggie, Philpott favors a decisive moment of radical disjunc‐ ture, but this formula has been challenged on several fronts. Some scholars accept Westphalia as a key turning point, but also identify a further transformation from absolutist sovereignty to sovereign nationhood ( Reus‐Smit 1998 ; Hall 1999 ). Others question its status as a decisive moment ( Osiander 2001 ). On this front, several neo‐Marxist scholars have developed an alternative methodological approach to historical transformation. In one pioneering contribution, Justin Rosenberg favors a quite different form of “structural discontinuity,” which separates pre‐capitalist orders from the modern capitalist system. This emerges from a strident critique of realism, as the widely held notion of an essential continuity in relations between states is discarded in favor of a comparative approach that connects variations in geopolitical behavior to underlying forms of political and economic organization. In this model, the distinctive qualities of the modern state system are said to correspond to the unique social structures of capitalist society ( Rosenberg 1994 ). This line of argument has recently been expanded and further refined by Benno Teschke (2003) , who charts a staggered progression through medieval, absolutist, and modern capitalist politics. In developing his argument, Teschke is careful to balance historical complexity and theoretical parsimony, giving due consideration to uneven development while nonetheless making a strong case for the role of property regimes in (re)structuring the identities of political communities. In this context, “the decisive shift towards modern international relations is not marked by the Peace of Westphalia, but comes with the rise of the first modern state: post‐revolutionary England” ( Teschke 2003, 249 ).

Interest in sovereignty and modernity has not been limited to international history, but also extends to intellectual history. A complex amalgam of these two related fields can be found in the work of Jens Bartelson. Focusing on the relationship between sovereignty and knowledge, Bartelson offers a genealogical history that spans the Renaissance, the “Classical Age,” and Modernity. The genealogical method has become increasingly popular in recent times. Commonly associated with Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault, a genealogy “is strategically aimed at that which looks unproblematic and is held to be timeless; its task is to explain how these present traits, in all their vigour and truth, were formed out of the past” ( Bartelson 1995, 73 ). For Bartelson, this translates into an episodic narrative that builds upon a series of textual exemplars, as impromptu shifts in political discourse are traced to mutations in the epistemic and ontological foundations of intellectual inquiry. Another prominent exponent of a discursive approach to sovereignty is Cynthia Weber (1995) , who focuses upon changing boundaries between sovereignty and intervention. Instead of stabilizing the definition of sovereignty (or intervention), and evaluating substantive historical practices against an abstract standard, Weber contends that individual states are “written,” or constituted, according to logics of representation and simulation. To be sovereign, a state needs to “organize its affairs in such a way that its foundation of sovereign authority is authorized to speak for its particular domestic community in international affairs” ( Weber 1995, 124 ). Through a series of case studies, she connects ruptures in this symbolic relationship to a range of interventionary practices, demonstrating that claims about (true) sovereign authority are not always incompatible with intervention, but have also been invoked to validate incursions that transgress conventional notions of territorial demarcation.

The genesis, operation, and ongoing evolution of the state system is now firmly established as a premier focal point for historical research in international relations circles. It is here that tremendous progress has been made over the years, yet this heavy concentration upon one historical milieu, however important, also opens the door to charges of Eurocentrism. On this front, academic international relations remains shamefully weak, yet is slowly improving. Of particular significance here is the macro‐historical work of Barry Buzan, Charles Jones, and Richard Little. For these scholars, Waltz's theory remains a useful starting point, but is unnecessarily restrictive. Moving beyond a static association between anarchy and like‐units, they identify four possible combinations of political units and international structure: (1) hierarchy and like‐units, (2) anarchy and like‐units, (3) hierarchy and un‐like‐units, and (4) anarchy and un‐like‐units ( Buzan, Jones, and Little 1993, 37–47 ). These variations serve dramatically to undercut “the Westphalian Straightjacket” ( Buzan and Little 2001, 25 ), giving pride of place to different forms of organization, from empires and suzerain networks, to tribal orders and city states (see also Watson 1992 ; Buzan and Little 2000 ). This perspective also reflects a substantial debt to the expansive approach of prominent “English School” figures such as Martin Wight and Hedley Bull ( Wight 1977 ; Bull and Watson 1984 ). This debt is shared by many modern scholars, most notably when it comes to the theory and practice of international society. Historical discussion of international society usually begins with the premise that there are different kinds of society, which have evolved over time in response to various dynamics. This theoretical starting point has been successfully applied to a range of historical cases, proving to be especially valuable as a framework for evaluating relationships between European and non‐European peoples ( Keene 2002 ).

The approaches outlined above are loosely bound together by a shared rejection of radical simplification. Once we move beyond this common affinity we quickly encounter significant variations. This is partially a question of the specific strategies and orientations that particular approaches favor, and partially a question of the overarching goals to which they aspire. For many scholars, the main purpose of historical inquiry is to provide a more compelling explanation of particular events, and/or persuasive theoretical argument. This can translate into “thick description,” various forms of causal and constitutive analysis, or more traditional historical narratives. For other scholars, the primary purpose of historical inquiry is to shatter prevailing orthodoxies into both complicit and contestable fragments, paving the way for either modernist reform or postmodern resistance.

4 Renewing Rationalism

The various works considered in the previous section collectively pose a fundamental challenge to rationalist theories of international relations. In most cases, the main axis of contention is not metaphysical, but empirical, as critics have repeatedly documented the difficulties involved in reconciling various historical experiences with rational action, materialism, and/or functionalism. In response to this ongoing challenge, rationalist scholars from various schools have recently offered a range of innovative theoretical models and historical elaborations, while striving to uphold the overall tenor of the social scientific project. These works may not convince every critic, but they collectively go a considerable way in reinvigorating the historical credentials of rationalist approaches. In this context, Waltz once again occupies a key position. This has both negative and positive dimensions. In the case of the former, more nuanced works can end up being indirectly overshadowed, as Waltz's shortcomings are often held to epitomize rationalist shortcomings more generally. This is problematic, as other projects frequently have more to offer ( Gilpin 1981 ; Doyle 1986 ). Many forms of historical analysis, such as debates over the “democratic peace” or the obsolescence of major war, have chiefly taken place amongst rationalists of various stripes, with relatively limited external input. It is also clear, however, that Waltz continues to serve as a major historical and theoretical foil. This is particularly evident when it comes to realist theory, where more recent scholarship has cautiously returned to some of the key issues and developments that Waltz deliberately excluded.

In this context, two pioneering contributions have come from Stephen Walt (1987) , who highlights the role of intentions, and Jack Synder (1991) , who focuses on domestic politics. Walt offers a sophisticated, policy‐driven analysis of the formation of international alliances, both formal and informal. His primary empirical evidence comes from the diplomatic history of the Middle East between 1955 and 1979, where he identifies thirty‐six alliances, both bilateral and multilateral, which involve eighty‐six national decisions. This evidence is marshaled to evaluate a number of interlinked hypotheses, revolving around the prevalence of balancing and bandwagoning, the role of ideology, foreign aid, and transnational penetration. Walt's major contribution (1987, 172) emerges out of a compelling critique of traditional notions of the balance of power, where he concludes that “examining the impact of several distinct sources of threat can provide a more persuasive account of alliance formation than can solely focusing on the distribution of aggregate capabilities.” Balance‐of‐threat theory gives considerable weight to material resources, an essential component of Waltz's theory, but introduces an additional set of considerations, based upon the intentions of the actors involved. Another influential reformulation of realist theory comes from Synder (1991, 19) , who argues that “realism must be recaptured from those who look only at politics between societies, ignoring what goes on within societies.” This model is expressed in a case‐study driven analysis of imperial overexpansion. Building upon an analysis of the evolving policies of Germany, Japan, Britain, the USSR and the United States, Snyder argues that imprudent, counter‐productive expansionary policies can be chiefly traced to domestic coalition‐making and ideological mythmaking. While expansion may not be in the national interest, or the interests of the general population, logrolling domestic coalitions are held to have successfully mobilized various institutional and ideological resources to advance their parochial interests.

These works represent early examples of a larger trend, as realist theory has experienced a renaissance in the aftermath of the cold war. Echoing Walt and Synder, this new generation of realist scholarship has regularly ended up “sacrificing some of Waltz's parsimony” ( Schweller 1998, 10 ) in the pursuit of greater theoretical precision and historical sophistication. The best example here is arguably Dale Copeland (2000, 3) , whose theory of dynamic differentials seeks to explain the causes of major war, integrating “power differentials, polarity, and declining power trends into one cohesive logic.” This innovative synthesis is then tested against a series of empirically rich case studies from the twentieth century, followed by a more limited survey of earlier cases within Europe, as Copeland argues that declining yet still dominant great powers are most likely to initiate (or risk) major war. In this model, estimations of the inevitability and severity of decline are mediated by international polarity, sustaining enduring systemic pressures that tend to overshadow, but not entirely eliminate, unit‐level dynamics. This reformulation of systemic theory constitutes one of two main avenues of recent inquiry (see also Schweller 1998 ; Mearsheimer 2001 ). Other contributions have followed Snyder in taking up internal factors such as elite behavior and (mis)perceptions, or a combination of internal and international dynamics ( Wohlforth 1993 ; Van Evera 1999 ). Some of these moves have proved controversial ( Legro and Moravcsik 1999 ), but they have also enhanced the explanatory power of realism on multiple fronts. Historical inquiry has been an essential part of this equation, as theorists have sought to validate their preferred approach using detailed case studies, measures, and models. Rather than rejecting rational action, materialism, and functionalism, the underlying impulse has instead been to formulate strategies to place these models on a stronger historical footing.

In keeping with larger trends, these works have been primarily organized around debates within rationalist circles. Those involved are well versed with larger critiques, but have here concentrated their energies upon getting their own house in order. This does not mean, of course, that there have been no explicit rejoinders. Especially prominent here is Stephen Krasner's work on sovereignty, which is organized around the idea that logics of consequences, based upon strategic calculations, have consistently trumped logics of appropriateness, based upon rules and identities ( Krasner 1999, 5–6 ). The history of sovereignty, a premier site for rationalist critics, is framed in terms of “organized hypocrisy,” as states are said to have routinely deviated from prevailing norms, decoupling political behavior from institutional scripts. This argument finds expression in thematic studies of minority rights, human rights, sovereign lending, and state creation from the nineteenth century onwards. In this model, ideas are not entirely irrelevant, but material power and strategic interests remain the decisive arbiter.

The preceding discussion is by no means exhaustive. As other chapters in this volume can attest, realism is by no means the only theory available here. I would argue, however, that the trajectory of realist theory reveals a great deal about the evolving relationship between rationalist methods and historical research. From the 1950s onwards, academic international relations attached considerable importance to parsimonious, universal models, leading to various forms of radical simplification. This reached its most influential expression in the work of Waltz, who ruthlessly sacrificed historical detail in the pursuit of theoretical elegance, introducing a focal point for critique in which questions of historical contingency emerged as vital issues. In the face of this challenge, more recent scholarship has favored a higher degree of theoretical precision and empirical rigor, furnishing realism with a stronger historical foundation. It is also worth noting, however, that the various works identified above continue to assume, rather than explain, the existence of the state, thereby largely sidestepping Ruggie's concern with epochal change. It is not that rationalist theories have little to offer here (see Spruyt 1994 ), but when it comes to the ongoing search for universal models, this could very well be one major historical variable too many.

5 Intellectual History and Contemporary Theory

In each of the approaches outlined above, the content of historical inquiry is primarily structured around the requirements of modern conceptions of the nature and purpose of theoretical endeavor. A similar dynamic also applies to the closely related field of intellectual history, where various aspects of the history of ideas have been consistently called upon to validate a range of contemporary causes and theoretical positions. The relationship between intellectual history and international history is not always easy to pin down. There have recently been some innovative attempts to combine the two realms ( Johnston 1995 ; Hopf 2002 ), but it is also not unusual to see textual sources being presented as major influences, or historical exemplars, without direct verification of the impact of their often esoteric content on parallel historical developments. In this context, discussion of the history of ideas can end up as an unacknowledged substitute for detailed research into international history.

The main point at issue here, however, is the relationship between intellectual history and contemporary theory. Intellectual inquiry into international relations was not consistently differentiated from the study of law, philosophy, history, economics, and/or religion until the twentieth century. A key component in the development of this modern innovation has been a cumulative, retroactive effort to forge genealogical links with earlier intellectual endeavors, resulting in a range of mainly European scholars being recruited to a range of theoretical causes. This widespread practice raises several methodological issues, which have not always been explicitly addressed ( Schmidt 2002a, 6–7 ). Much like the study of international history, the study of intellectual history has flourished in recent times. Three main areas of inquiry can be identified here: (1) the composition of the realist tradition, (2) the integration of political and international theory, and (3) the early history of the international relations discipline.

The search for universal templates is not confined to international history, but also extends to intellectual history, where canonical figures have been routinely presented as exemplars of timeless ideas or eternal conversations. This approach has been comprehensively challenged in other disciplines, but remains popular within international relations circles, with the two most prominent exponents being the realist tradition ( Gilpin 1984 ) and Martin Wight's expansive differentiation (1991) between realism, rationalism, and revolutionism. Both schemes project modern categories backward through time, with the realist tradition placing luminaries such as Thucydides, Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean‐Jacques Rousseau alongside more recent innovations. Modern realists have regularly invoked this pedigree to bolster various theoretical claims, provoking two main lines of critique. The first line of critique questions the attribution of a realist persona to various scholars, leading to charges that those involved should not be caricatured as realists ( George 1994, 70–4 ; Walker 1993, 26–47 ). The second (sometimes tentatively) accepts that these figures belong to an identifiable tradition, and instead uses their vaunted status to interrogate modern conceptions of realist theory ( Haslam 2002 ; Williams 2005 ). The best example of this approach arguably comes from Richard Lebow, who bases his work upon detailed, contextual case studies of Thucydides, Carl von Clausewitz, and Hans Morgenthau. This serves as a platform from which to re‐evaluate modern conceptions of realism, supporting Lebow's contention (2003, 58) that “the modern academy has introduced a false dichotomy between political and moral behavior and political and moral theorizing.”

This line of argument resonates with recent moves to integrate political and international thought. Early international relations scholarship presented political and international theory as discrete categories, with the scarcity of the latter being unfavorably contrasted with the bounty of the former ( Wight 1966 ). Recent scholarship has challenged this formulation, embracing an integrated framework under the rubric of international political theory. This forms part of the rapid growth of normative theorizing during the 1990s ( Schmidt 2002b ). In this context, the history of ideas has once again been called upon to bolster contemporary agendas, as scholars have sought out compelling antecedents for more recent endeavors. One influential approach comes from Chris Brown (1992) , who organizes the history of ideas into cosmopolitan and communitarian strands, with Immanuel Kant exemplifying the former and Georg Hegel exemplifying the latter. Another comes from David Boucher (1998) , who bases his expansive historical survey upon a tripartite division between empirical realism, universal moral order, and historical reason. In both of these frameworks dominant conceptions of value‐neutral explanation give way to an explicitly normative orientation. This also extends to recent works on “classical” theory ( Clark and Neumann 1996 ; Jahn 2006 ), which are similarly organized around tensions between past and present intellectual models (see also Jackson 2000 ). Some contributions have provided variations on the timeless ideas framework. Others have concentrated upon key differences between historical milieux. In the case of the latter, the goal is to “illuminate our contemporary intellectual situation by establishing contrasts rather than affinities with the past, to call attention to the fact that at different times thinkers have conceptualized international politics … in quite different ways” ( Keene 2005, 17 ). This line of argument shares many features in common with Hobson's indictment of academic international relations' widespread tendency to “smooth over” underlying historical differences.

The final focal point for recent research into intellectual history has been the early development of academic international relations, where there has been a concerted effort to move beyond perfunctory treatments of immature idealism ( Long and Wilson 1995 ; Long and Schmidt 2005 ). This has found expression in a stream of detailed critiques, as scholars have argued that conventional narratives offer a grossly distorted picture of the intellectual history of the early twentieth century, most notably when it comes to the story of a “first great debate” ( Wilson 1998 ; Quirk and Vigneswaran 2005 ). Many eminent figures from this period have also been subject to critical reappraisal, including realist icon Carr ( Jones 1998 ; Cox 2000 ). The best example from this now extensive literature arguably comes from Brian Schmidt, who contends that international relations scholars have routinely confused retroactive analytical constructs for authentic traditions, and thereby incorrectly elevated the historiographical (by)products of current agendas to the status of historical realities. Schmidt instead embraces an alternative methodological approach, which he describes as a critical internal discursive history, that strives to “reconstruct as accurately as possible the history of the conversation that has been constitutive of academic international relations” ( Schmidt 1998, 37 ).

The eclectic contributions outlined here can be loosely grouped together around two main impulses. On the one hand, we have a common desire to offer a distinctive account of the intellectual contribution of particular authors and/or eras. In many cases, this is primarily a question of offering a more detailed account than those currently available, and thereby deflating problematic representations. On the other hand, we have a common desire to utilize the history of ideas as an authoritative platform from which to speak to contemporary theoretical debates. In many cases, this translates into attempts to open space for different models of intellectual inquiry, as earlier authors and eras are held to have operated in quite different ways from current theoretical conventions. Beyond these overarching impulses we encounter considerable variation. While the timeless ideas framework remains popular, recent scholarship has continued a now long‐standing practice of looking outside academic international relations for inspiration, drawing upon scholars such as John Gunnell (1993) and Quentin Skinner (2002) .

6 Concluding Remarks

All forms of historical inquiry invariably have important normative and praxeological dimensions. For theorists who view history as a realm of recurrence and repetition, the key point at issue is effective management. By exploring cyclic historical patterns, they cautiously seek to identify ways of mitigating the worst effects of enduring structural forces. For theorists who view history as a realm of contingency and complexity, the key point at issue is fundamental change. By exploring historical ruptures and essential differences, they cautiously seek to identify nascent potentials within contemporary life that point to ways of reorienting international order. This perspective does not necessarily translate into historical determinism, since future cataclysms are always possible, but it does suggest that aspects of the current status quo that otherwise appear natural, or immutable, are best understood as contingent expressions of a long‐term process of historical contestation. Within both these perspectives we encounter further variation, as scholars regularly offer divergent accounts of the strategies and orientations that are required to promote and/or evaluate either effective management or fundamental change.

International relations theory has served as a common medium through which these differences have been conceptualized and discussed, helping to provide purpose and structure to an eclectic array of historical projects. On this front, the main axis of contention has been an ongoing search for universal models, clear causal connections, and definitive predictions. This has been chiefly expressed in various forms of radical simplification, based upon rational action, materialism, and functionalism. The most influential example of this approach has been the work of Kenneth Waltz. More recent contributions have introduced powerful modifications of Waltz's abstract vision, offering a higher degree of historical rigor and theoretical precision while remaining committed to social scientific ideals. These contributions have gone against the grain of recent trends in historical research within international relations circles, which have been heavily populated by critics of rationalist approaches. The search for transhistorical essences that operate across various time periods and regions will always be tremendously challenging. It is easy to be overly critical when scholars fall short in pursuing such a difficult theoretical task. The real sticking point, however, has less do with individual shortcomings than with the uncertain wisdom of the overall exercise. As we have seen, this has often translated into a referendum on the merits of radical simplification, and the relative importance of various issues and idiosyncrasies that have been marginalized in the pursuit of theoretical parsimony. Both international and intellectual history have been central to this often fractious debate, as scholars have highlighted historical developments and intellectual contributions that do not conform with prevailing models. This central relationship between history, theory, and method has ultimately ensured that historical research within academic international relations is not so much an end in itself as an expansive platform for the advancement of various contemporary goals.

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Please note you do not have access to teaching notes, historical approaches for hospitality and tourism research.

International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management

ISSN : 0959-6119

Article publication date: 24 September 2019

Issue publication date: 22 May 2020

This paper aims to show how historical approaches can better inform understanding of hospitality and tourism research. Recent work in business and management has posited the value of historical research and narrative frameworks to explicate business phenomena – here the authors propose an approach to hospitality and tourism studies could be similarly beneficial.


Three principal historical approaches are proposed: systematic study of historical archives, oral histories and biography and prosopography. The paper further proposes that such work should be aligned to Andrews and Burke’s framework of the 5Cs: context, change over time, causality, complexity and contingency to help situate research appropriately and effectively.

This paper suggests that historical methods can prove particularly useful in hospitality and tourism research by testing, extending and creating theory that is empirically informed and socially situated. The analysis put forward shows that undertaking historical work set against the framework of the 5Cs of historical research offers the potential for wider and deeper understandings of hospitality and tourism research by revealing temporal and historical dynamics in the field that may hitherto be unseen or insufficiently explored.


Much of the existing work on the benefits of historical approaches in business and management has focussed on the why or the what. This paper focuses on the how, articulating how historical approaches offer significant potential to aid the understanding of hospitality and tourism research.

  • Qualitative research
  • Methodology
  • Oral history
  • Prosopography

MacKenzie, N.G. , Pittaki, Z. and Wong, N. (2020), "Historical approaches for hospitality and tourism research", International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management , Vol. 32 No. 4, pp. 1469-1485. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCHM-03-2019-0273

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examples of historical research studies

Students’ Sense of Belonging Matters: Evidence from Three Studies

On Thursday, February 16, we hosted Dr. Maithreyi Gopalan to discuss her latest research on how students’ sense of belonging matters.

  • Evidence has shown that in certain contexts, a student’s sense of belonging improves academic outcomes, increases continuing enrollment, and is protective for mental health. In some of the studies presented, these correlations were still present beyond the time frame of the analysis, suggesting that belonging might have a longitudinal effect.
  • Providing a more adaptive interpretation of challenge seemed to help students in a belonging intervention make alternative and more adaptive attributions for their struggles, forestalling a potential negative impact on their sense of belonging.

Professor Gopalan began her talk by discussing how the need for “a sense of belonging” has been identified as a universal and fundamental human motivation in the field of psychology. John Bowlby, one of the first to conduct formal scientific research on belonging, examined the effects on children who had been separated from their parents during WWII (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). From his pioneering work, Bowlby and colleagues proposed that humans are driven to form lasting and meaningful interpersonal relationships, and the inability to meet this need results in loneliness and mental distress. Educational psychologists adapted the concept of belonging to indicate how students’ sense of fit with themselves and with their academic context can affect how they perceive whether they can thrive within it (Eccles & Midgley, 1989; Eccles & Roeser, 2011).

After providing this brief overview of what belonging means more broadly, Dr. Gopalan introduced the concept of “belonging uncertainty” pioneered by social psychologists Geoffrey Cohen and Gregory Walton at Stanford University (Walton & Cohen, 2007) to describe the uncertainty students might feel about their belonging when entering a new social and academic situation , which is most pronounced during times of transition (e.g., entering college). Research has shown that belonging uncertainty affects how students make sense of daily adversities, often interpreting negative events as evidence for why they do not belong. Belonging uncertainty may result in disengagement and poor academic outcomes. In contrast, a sense of belonging is associated with academic achievement, persistence in the course, major, and college (Walton & Cohen, 20011, Yeager & Walton, 2011). It is the concept of belonging uncertainty that is the focus of Dr. Gopalan’s presentation, with emphasis on the findings from the following key research questions:

  • How do students’ sense of belonging in the first year correlate with academic persistence and outcomes at a national level?
  • Can belonging interventions during the first semester of college lead to increased persistence and academic achievement in a diverse educational setting?
  • How does a student’s sense of belonging amidst the COVID-19 pandemic correlate with mental health?

Study 1: College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A National Perspective (Gopalan & Brady, 2019)

Most research examining college students’ sense of belonging has come from studies looking at one or a few single four-year institutions. To examine how belonging differs across student identities and institutions, Professor Gopalan and colleagues looked at the responses from the only nationally representative survey of college students to date that had measured belonging. The Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS) (Dudley et al ., 2020) sampled first-time beginning college students from 4070 eligible two- and four-year institutions (N= 23, 750 students), surveyed during their first year and subsequently two years later.

Professor Gopalan examined average measurements of belonging across institution type and student characteristics (Gopalan & Brady, 2019) and associations between belonging measurements and measurements of academic achievement, including GPA and persistence (continued enrollment), self-reported mental health, and self-reported use of campus services. The results, Dr. Gopalan explained, were striking: underrepresented racial and ethnic minority students (URMs) and first-generation/low-income students (FGLIs) reported a lower sense of belonging in four-year colleges than their non-URM and non-FGLI counterparts. 1 Importantly, they also found that having a greater sense of belonging is associated with higher academic performance, persistence, and is protective for mental health in year three of students’ undergraduate trajectory, suggesting that belonging might have a longitudinal effect (Gopalan & Brady, 2019). These findings were consistent with previous results from smaller studies involving single institutions. Sense of belonging is important not just in specific institutions but nationally, and social identity and context matter . One practical and policy-driven takeaway from this study is that only one national data set currently measures students’ sense of belonging using a single item. More robust measurements and large data sets might reveal additional insights into the importance of belonging for students’ educational experiences.

1 At two-year colleges, first-year belonging is not associated with persistence, engagement, or mental health. This suggests that belonging may function differently in two-year settings. More work is ongoing to try to understand the context that might be driving the difference. (Deil-Amen, 2011).

Study 2: A customized belonging intervention improves retention of socially disadvantaged students at a broad-access university (Murphy et al ., 2020)

Professor Gopalan and colleagues wanted to understand how to adapt existing belonging interventions to different educational contexts and dig deeper into underlying psychological processes underpinning belonging uncertainty. Because previous social-belonging interventions were conducted in well-resourced private or public institutions, Professor Gopalan was interested in examining whether the positive effects of belonging interventions could be extended to a broader-access context (context matters as not all extensions of belonging interventions have been shown to reproduce persistent changes in enrollment and academic outcomes). For this purpose, the traditional belonging interventions were customized for a four-year, Hispanic-serving public university with an 85% commuter enrollment using focus groups and surveys. Based on prior research, belonging interventions provide an adaptive lay theory for why students encounter challenges during transition times (Yeager et al ., 2016). Students, particularly those with little knowledge of how college works or those who have experienced discrimination, or are aware of negative stereotypes about their social group, may make global interpretations of why college can be challenging and may even associate challenges as evidence that they and students like them don’t belong. With belonging interventions, the lay theory provided to students aims to frame the experience of challenge in more adaptive ways—challenge and adversity are typical experiences, particularly during transitional moments, and should be expected; adapting academically and socially takes time—students will be more likely to persist, seek out campus resources and develop social relationships.

  • They acknowledge that challenges are expected during transitions and that these are varied.
  • They communicate to students that most students, including students from non-minority groups, experience similar challenges and feelings about them.
  • They communicate that belonging is a process that takes time and tends to increase over time
  • They use student examples of challenges and resolutions.

The Intervention

All students in the first-year writing class were randomly assigned to either the belonging group or an active control group. The intervention was provided to first-year students in their writing class and consisted of a reading and writing assignment about social and academic belonging. The control group was given the same assignment but with a different topic, study skills. In the intervention group, students read several stories from a racially diverse set of upper-level students who reflected on the challenges of making friends and adjusting to a new academic context. The hypothetical students reflected on the strategies they used, the resources they accessed, and how the challenge dissipated over time. After the reading exercise, the students in the intervention group were instructed to write about how the readings echoed their own first-year experiences. Then, they were asked to write a letter to future students who might question their belonging during their transition to college. Research has shown that written reflections help students internalize the main messages of the belonging intervention (Yeager & Walton, 2011).

Similar to previously published belonging interventions, results in persistence and academic achievement were significant for minoritized groups in the belonging cohort:

  • Persistence. Compared to the control group, continuous enrollment for URM & FGLI students increased by 10% one year after and 9% two years after the intervention.
  • Performance. The non-cumulative GPA from the URM & FGLI students increased by 0.19 points the semester immediately following the intervention and by 0.11 over the next two years compared to students in the control group.

Figure 1-A belonging intervention increases continuous enrollment over 2 years by 9 percentage points among socially disadvantaged students enrolled in a broad-access institution.  Note: Percentages are unadjusted for baseline covariates. size by group and condition: socially advantaged students, control condition (N = 243); socially advantaged students, treatment condition (N = 226); socially disadvantaged students, control condition (N = 299); socially disadvantaged students, treatment condition (N = 295).

Immediately following the intervention, a selected sub-sample of students in both conditions was invited to take a daily diary survey for nine consecutive days. The daily diary survey assessed students’ daily positive and negative academic and social experiences (students were asked to report and describe three negative and three positive events that they faced daily and to rate how positive and negative the events were), as well as their daily sense of social and academic belonging. The daily-diary assignment revealed another interesting finding: the intervention did not change the overall perception of negative events. URM & FGLI students in both groups had a statistically similar daily-adversity index and reported the same number of daily adverse events on average. However, there was no connection between the adversity index and sense of belonging for students in the belonging cohort. In contrast, students in the control group evidenced a negative correlation between daily adversities and belonging: “the greater adversity disadvantaged students experienced on a day, the lower their sense of social and academic fit” (Murphy et al ., 2020).

Providing a more adaptive interpretation of challenge seemed to help students in the belonging condition make alternative and more adaptive attributions for their struggles that did not connect to their sense of belonging. A follow-up survey one year after the intervention showed that minoritized students in the belonging intervention continued to report a higher sense of belonging in comparison to their counterparts in the control group.

Study 3: College Student’s Sense of Belonging and Mental Health Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic (Gopalan et al ., 2022)

Dr. Gopalan presented the third study, which turned out to provide a unique opportunity to assess whether sense of belonging had predictive effects on mental health. In the fall of 2019, researchers sent a survey to students at a large, multicampus Northeastern public university called the College Relationship and Experience survey (CORE), which included two questions about belonging, among other items. In the Spring of 2020, after students were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a variation of the same survey was sent to students who had taken the CORE survey. After controlling for pre-COVID depression and anxiety, Dr. Gopolan and colleagues found that students who reported a higher sense of belonging in the fall of 2019 had lower rates of depression and anxiety midst-COVID pandemic , with the effects on depression more strongly predictive than those for anxiety. The correlation between a lower sense of belonging and higher rates of depression and anxiety was also found to be strongest for first-year students, who had little time during their first year to build community and adjust to college before the pandemic hit.

Dr. Gopalan concluded with some practical advice for instructors: “Stop telling students they belong, show them instead that they belong,” citing a recent op-ed from Greg Walton . We do this by modeling the idea that belonging is a process that takes time and by communicating to students that they are not alone , which can be done through sharing our own experiences with belonging, and by allowing students space to hear the experiences of their peers and learn from one another.

  • Classroom Practices Library which includes Overview: Effective Social Belonging Messages are more.
  • The Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) : a free belonging intervention for four-year colleges and universities.
  • Research library on belonging
  • Article on Structures for Belonging: A Synthesis of Research on Belonging-Supportive Learning Environments
  • “Stop telling students ‘You Belong!’”
  • Everyone is talking about belonging: What does it really mean?
  • Post-secondary
  • Academic Belonging : introduction to the concept and practices that support it.
  • Flipping Failure : a campus-wide initiative to help students feel less alone by hearing stories about how their peers coped with academic challenges

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117 (3), 497–529. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497

Deil-Amen, R. (2011). Socio-academic integrative moments: Rethinking academic and social integration among two-year college students in career-related programs. The Journal of Higher Education , 82(1), 54-91. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2011.11779085  

Dudley, K., Caperton, S.A., and Smith Ritchie, N. (2020). 2012 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:12) Student Records Collection Research Data File Documentation (NCES 2021-524). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved 2/27/2023 from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid-2021524

Eccles, J. S., & Midgley, C. (1989). Stage/Environment Fit: Developmentally Appropriate Classrooms for Early Adolescence. In R. E. Ames, & Ames, C. (Eds.), Research on Motivation in Education , 3, 139-186. New York: Academic Press.

Eccles, J. S., & Roeser, R. W. (2011). Schools as developmental contexts during adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21 (1), 225–241. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00725.x

Gopalan, M., & Brady, S. T. (2020). College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A National Perspective. Educational Researcher , 49(2), 134–137. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X19897622

Gopalan, M., Linden-Carmichael, A. Lanza, S. (2022). College Students’ Sense of Belonging and Mental Health Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, Journal of Adolescent Health , 70(2), 228-233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2021.10.010

Murphy, M.C., Gopalan, M., Carter, E. R., Emerson, K. T. U., Bottoms, B. L., and Walton, G.M., (2020). A customized belonging intervention improves retention of socially disadvantaged students at a broad-access university Science Advances, 6(29). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba4677

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A Peek Inside the Brains of ‘Super-Agers’

New research explores why some octogenarians have exceptional memories.

Close up of a grey haired, wrinkled older woman’s eye.

By Dana G. Smith

When it comes to aging, we tend to assume that cognition gets worse as we get older. Our thoughts may slow down or become confused, or we may start to forget things, like the name of our high school English teacher or what we meant to buy at the grocery store.

But that’s not the case for everyone.

For a little over a decade, scientists have been studying a subset of people they call “super-agers.” These individuals are age 80 and up, but they have the memory ability of a person 20 to 30 years younger.

Most research on aging and memory focuses on the other side of the equation — people who develop dementia in their later years. But, “if we’re constantly talking about what’s going wrong in aging, it’s not capturing the full spectrum of what’s happening in the older adult population,” said Emily Rogalski, a professor of neurology at the University of Chicago, who published one of the first studies on super-agers in 2012.

A paper published Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience helps shed light on what’s so special about the brains of super-agers. The biggest takeaway, in combination with a companion study that came out last year on the same group of individuals, is that their brains have less atrophy than their peers’ do.

The research was conducted on 119 octogenarians from Spain: 64 super-agers and 55 older adults with normal memory abilities for their age. The participants completed multiple tests assessing their memory, motor and verbal skills; underwent brain scans and blood draws; and answered questions about their lifestyle and behaviors.

The scientists found that the super-agers had more volume in areas of the brain important for memory, most notably the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex. They also had better preserved connectivity between regions in the front of the brain that are involved in cognition. Both the super-agers and the control group showed minimal signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains.

“By having two groups that have low levels of Alzheimer’s markers, but striking cognitive differences and striking differences in their brain, then we’re really speaking to a resistance to age-related decline,” said Dr. Bryan Strange, a professor of clinical neuroscience at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, who led the studies.

These findings are backed up by Dr. Rogalski’s research , initially conducted when she was at Northwestern University, which showed that super-agers’ brains looked more like 50- or 60-year-olds’ brains than their 80-year-old peers. When followed over several years, the super-agers’ brains atrophied at a slower rate than average.

No precise numbers exist on how many super-agers there are among us, but Dr. Rogalski said they’re “relatively rare,” noting that “far less than 10 percent” of the people she sees end up meeting the criteria.

But when you meet a super-ager, you know it, Dr. Strange said. “They are really quite energetic people, you can see. Motivated, on the ball, elderly individuals.”

Experts don’t know how someone becomes a super-ager, though there were a few differences in health and lifestyle behaviors between the two groups in the Spanish study. Most notably, the super-agers had slightly better physical health, both in terms of blood pressure and glucose metabolism, and they performed better on a test of mobility . The super-agers didn’t report doing more exercise at their current age than the typical older adults, but they were more active in middle age. They also reported better mental health .

But overall, Dr. Strange said, there were a lot of similarities between the super-agers and the regular agers. “There are a lot of things that are not particularly striking about them,” he said. And, he added, “we see some surprising omissions, things that you would expect to be associated with super-agers that weren’t really there.” For example, there were no differences between the groups in terms of their diets, the amount of sleep they got, their professional backgrounds or their alcohol and tobacco use.

The behaviors of some of the Chicago super-agers were similarly a surprise. Some exercised regularly, but some never had; some stuck to a Mediterranean diet, others subsisted off TV dinners; and a few of them still smoked cigarettes. However, one consistency among the group was that they tended to have strong social relationships , Dr. Rogalski said.

“In an ideal world, you’d find out that, like, all the super-agers, you know, ate six tomatoes every day and that was the key,” said Tessa Harrison, an assistant project scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who collaborated with Dr. Rogalski on the first Chicago super-ager study.

Instead, Dr. Harrison continued, super-agers probably have “some sort of lucky predisposition or some resistance mechanism in the brain that’s on the molecular level that we don’t understand yet,” possibly related to their genes.

While there isn’t a recipe for becoming a super-ager, scientists do know that, in general , eating healthily, staying physically active, getting enough sleep and maintaining social connections are important for healthy brain aging.

Dana G. Smith is a Times reporter covering personal health, particularly aging and brain health. More about Dana G. Smith

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It may be safe for some to wait 15 years for repeat colonoscopy, study suggests

Closeup view of physician colonoscopy to patient in a clinic.

New research suggests patients with an average risk of colon cancer may only need to undergo a colonoscopy screening every 15 years instead of the recommended 10. 

Swedish researchers found that waiting an extra five years after a first negative colonoscopy carried about the same risk of later having a colorectal diagnosis or dying from the disease as getting screened every 10 years. Extending screening time could reduce “unnecessary invasive examinations,” according to the study published Thursday in JAMA Oncology. 

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S. and the second most deadly behind lung cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that screening begin at age 45 for people who don’t have a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

In an editorial accompanying the new study, gastroenterologists suggested that future screening guidelines may safely be prolonged for some people, noting that “15 has the potential to be the new 10.”

While rates are going down among people over 50, colorectal cancer diagnoses are on the rise among younger people , opening up a potentially large new group of people who may require colonoscopies. 

Doctors are grappling with how to best allocate appointments. 

“We do not have enough gastroenterology doctors to do a colonoscopy every 10 years in everyone over 50,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, the Bloomberg distinguished professor of oncology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, who was not associated with the new research. 

For the new study, researchers looked at national registry data of more than 110,000 people whose first colonoscopy had a negative result for colorectal cancer. They compared these people with more than 1 million in a control group. 

The average age in both groups was 59 years, and about 60% of the patients were female. Taking family history into account, they found that after having a first negative colonoscopy, the risk of later having a colorectal cancer diagnosis or dying from the disease was about the same among people who had a colonoscopy every 10 years and those who stretched it to 15. 

They estimated waiting an extra five years between colonoscopies would miss two colorectal cancer cases, and cause one colorectal cancer-related death, for every 1,000 people, while potentially saving 1,000 colonoscopies for other patients. 

Employing cheaper, less invasive screening methods 10 to 15 years after a negative colonoscopy could greatly reduce the number of missed screenings, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Mahdi Fallah, head of the Risk Adapted Cancer Prevention Group at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. 

“The best screening test is the one that is actually done. So, if a test like colonoscopy is unaffordable for a person, an alternative cheaper valid test is much better than no test at all,” said Fallah, who is also a visiting professor in the department of clinical sciences at Lund University in Sweden.

More diverse population

The research was conducted in Sweden, which has a mostly white population and a health care system that looks very different from that of the U.S. The national health care system also collects information on the family health history of its citizens, meaning the researchers could be sure those who reported no colorectal cancer in their family were correct. 

“It would be really hard to apply these findings to the U.S.,” said Dr. Cassandra Fritz, a gastroenterologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “When we ask patients about colorectal cancer in first-degree relatives, most people don’t know.” Fritz was not involved with the new study.

The U.S. is also much more racially and ethnically diverse, but the research does provide important context that will help doctors understand how they can best delegate their limited resources, Fritz added. 

“We need to think about how we can potentially save resources and impact more people with the resources we have,” said Dr. Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist and director of epidemiology at Massachusetts General Cancer Center in Boston and a co-author of the JAMA editorial.

The proportion of colorectal cancer that occurred in people under age 55 doubled from 1995 to 2019, from 11% to 20%. But the total number of cases in this population is still relatively low. 

“Once you get younger than 50, the incidents of colorectal cancer are probably not going to require screening everyone. The risk benefit doesn’t outweigh the cost,” Dr. Robert Bresalier, professor of medicine in the department of gastroenterology hepatology and nutrition at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Bresalier was not involved with the new research.

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That only goes for people without a family history, he added. People who have a parent or sibling who has had colorectal cancer should begin screening 10 years before that parent or sibling was diagnosed, Brawley said. 

Other means of screening, mainly stool tests, have been honed to be more precise in recent years. Fecal occult blood tests detect blood in the stool, which can be a warning sign of colon polyps or cancer. FIT-DNA tests, such as Cologuard, detect altered DNA in the stool, which could indicate cancer, and are about 90% effective at detecting cancer, but are less effective at detecting precancerous polyps. 

These tests are noninvasive and relatively cheap compared to colonoscopy screening. The catch is, they need to be done more often — every one to three years — than colonoscopy. If the test is positive, the person should get a colonoscopy, which could trigger getting one sooner than every 10 years. 

Still, the tests could be a good option for cutting down on the number of colonoscopies given after a negative first screening, Chan said. 

“It is important to get screened, but there is a finite number of resources to screen people,” he said. “To screen as many people as we can, we need to make choices about what type of screening we’re doing and how often we’re doing it.”

Better screening in the U.S. will likely be more tailored to risk factors other than age, which experts don’t yet know much about, Bresalier said. 

“One size may not fit all. We know a lot about the genetics of colorectal cancer, but most of that research was done in white people. There are potential differences among men and women and among different ethnicities,” he said. “We may get to a point where we get to risk-based intervals even in normal risk people, based on these other factors.” 

Warning signs of colon cancer

Symptoms of colorectal cancer often don’t show up until later stages and can be difficult to differentiate from other, less serious conditions.

“You can’t rely on the symptoms,” Chan said. “Many people don’t have symptoms at all and that highlights how important screenings are.” 

Having blood in bowel movements, which can appear as red or black, a change in how often you go, abdominal pain and weight loss can all be warning signs of colorectal cancer — and they can also be signs of irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and a host of other less-serious issues. 

Nonetheless, people with new symptoms should make an appointment to see a doctor, Fritz said. 

Anyone over age 45 should start getting screened. What that looks like may be determined by where you live. 

“In some areas, it’s more feasible to get a colonoscopy than in others. In some areas, it might be more realistic to get a stool-based test,” said Chan. 

This includes people living in rural areas or areas without access to a gastroenterologist. For those who are underinsured or uninsured, Fritz said it is possible to pay cash for a stool-based test, though a positive stool test will require a colonoscopy later on.

Something everyone should do is understand their risk, Fritz said. 

“A lot of people avoid having conversations about bowel movements, but it’s really important to talk to your family so you know if you are at high risk,” she said. 

Kaitlin Sullivan is a contributor for NBCNews.com who has worked with NBC News Investigations. She reports on health, science and the environment and is a graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at City University of New York.

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As Biden and Trump seek reelection, who are the oldest – and youngest – current world leaders?

Joe Biden, at 81, is the oldest American president , a distinction he’s held since entering office at age 78. As Biden runs for reelection in 2024, he is the ninth oldest national leader in the world, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of sitting leaders in 187 United Nations member states.

Former President Donald Trump, who is running for the White House again this year, is younger than Biden. But at 77, Trump also falls among the 20 oldest world leaders when compared with those currently in power.

With current U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump both running for reelection to the country’s highest office, Pew Research Center examined the ages of current national leaders to place the ages of Biden and Trump into a global context.

This analysis examines the ages of the current heads of government in 187 countries that are member states of the United Nations, relying on government biographies and regional news articles. It reflects the ages of national leaders – and in a few instances, acting or interim leaders – as of May 1, 2024. It excludes six UN member states for which an exact birth date of the leader could not be found: Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Mali, Niger and Somalia. For each of these countries, we reached out to embassy officials in the United States but did not receive further information.

This analysis focuses mostly on heads of government as defined by a country’s political system or constitution. In some cases, we determined the national leader based on which executive has the power to appoint/dismiss the nominal head of government. In San Marino, where there are two captains regent who share power, we included data for Alessandro Rossi, as he assumed the position most recently.

This analysis also draws on Freedom House country rankings to determine whether countries are free, partly free or not free. These rankings are based on two numerical scores assigned to each country for its political rights and civil liberties.

The median age of each country’s overall population is a 2024 projection from the UN’s World Population Prospects 2022 report . The projections are based on “all available sources of data on population size and levels of fertility, mortality and international migration.”

American voters are skeptical about both candidates’ fitness for the job, according to a recent Center survey . Only about four-in-ten U.S. registered voters are extremely or very confident that Trump has the mental fitness to be president (38%), while a similar share are confident in his physical fitness (36%). Even fewer express this degree of confidence in Biden’s mental (21%) and physical (15%) fitness for the role.

Below are five key facts about the ages of current national leaders.

National leaders range in age from their mid-30s to 91. The youngest leader is Burkina Faso’s Ibrahim Traoré, who is 36. He only slightly edges out two fellow 36-year-olds, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milojko Spajić. Only two other world leaders are in their 30s: Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris and Chilean President Gabriel Boric.

The oldest national leader is President Paul Biya of Cameroon, who was born in 1933 and took office more than 40 years ago. Biya is the only current national leader in his 90s.

The median age of current national leaders is 62, as of May 1, 2024. The largest share of global leaders today (34%) are in their 60s. Roughly a quarter (22%) are in their 50s; 19% are in their 70s; and 16% are in their 40s. Biden is among the 5% of leaders who are in their 80s.

A dot plot showing that most global leaders are in their 50s and 60s.

Countries that are less free tend to have older leaders. In countries that Freedom House classifies as “not free,” the median age of the national leader is 68. That compares with 62 in countries that are classified as “partly free” and 60 in countries classified as “free.”

A dot plot showing that countries ranked less free tend to have older global leaders.

The United States is one of only three countries that are classified as free and have a leader age 80 or older; the other two are Ghana and Namibia. In Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo recently turned 80 in office. And in Namibia, 82-year-old Nangolo Mbumba took over as president earlier this year following the previous leader’s death in office at age 82.

The median age for women leaders and men leaders is the same. Among men who are world leaders, 3% are in their 30s, while no women leaders are in this age group. Yet, of the 14 women leaders currently in power, 29% are in their 40s, compared with 14% of leaders who are men.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark is the youngest female leader at 46, followed closely by fellow 46-year-old Kaja Kallas , the prime minister of Estonia. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh is the oldest female leader at 76.

A dot plot showing that the median age for men and women leaders is the same.

In most countries, the leader is significantly older than the median member of the population. For example, the median American is 38, according to UN population projections for 2024, while Biden is more than twice as old. In fact, the only countries that have a leader who is younger than the median resident of the country are Montenegro, Ireland and Italy. Andorran Prime Minister Xavier Espot Zamora, at 44, is the same age as the median Andorran resident. 

In general, countries that Freedom House classifies as free are more likely than those classified as partly free or not free to have leaders who are closer in age to the median resident of the country.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published on March 24, 2023.

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Laura Silver is an associate director focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center .

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Tracy Slatyer poses in front of chalkboard

Three from MIT awarded 2024 Guggenheim Fellowships

Mit professors roger levy, tracy slatyer, and martin wainwright appointed to the 2024 class of “trail-blazing fellows.”.

MIT faculty members Roger Levy, Tracy Slatyer , and Martin Wainwright are among 188 scientists, artists, and scholars awarded 2024 fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Working across 52 disciplines, the fellows were selected from almost 3,000 applicants for “prior career achievement and exceptional promise.”

Each fellow receives a monetary stipend to pursue independent work at the highest level. Since its founding in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has awarded over $400 million in fellowships to more than 19,000 fellows. This year, MIT professors were recognized in the categories of neuroscience, physics, and data science.

Roger Levy is a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Combining computational modeling of large datasets with psycholinguistic experimentation, his work furthers our understanding of the cognitive underpinning of language processing, and helps to design models and algorithms that will allow machines to process human language. He is a recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, and a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

Tracy Slatyer is a professor in the Department of Physics as well as the Center for Theoretical Physics in the MIT Laboratory for Nuclear Science and the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research . Her research focuses on dark matter — novel theoretical models, predicting observable signals, and analysis of astrophysical and cosmological datasets. She was a co-discoverer of the giant gamma-ray structures known as the “Fermi Bubbles” erupting from the center of the Milky Way, for which she received the New Horizons in Physics Prize in 2021. She is also a recipient of a Simons Investigator Award and Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

Martin Wainwright is the Cecil H. Green Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Mathematics, and affiliated with the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems and Statistics and Data Science Center . He is interested in statistics, machine learning, information theory, and optimization. Wainwright has been recognized with an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, the Medallion Lectureship and Award from the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and the COPSS Presidents’ Award from the Joint Statistical Societies. Wainwright has also co-authored books on graphical and statistical modeling, and solo-authored a book on high dimensional statistics.

“Humanity faces some profound existential challenges,” says Edward Hirsch, president of the foundation. “The Guggenheim Fellowship is a life-changing recognition. It’s a celebrated investment into the lives and careers of distinguished artists, scholars, scientists, writers and other cultural visionaries who are meeting these challenges head-on and generating new possibilities and pathways across the broader culture as they do so.”

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A gene long thought to just raise the risk for Alzheimer's may cause some cases

For the first time, researchers have identified a genetic form of late-in-life Alzheimer's disease

WASHINGTON -- For the first time, researchers have identified a genetic form of late-in-life Alzheimer’s disease — in people who inherit two copies of a worrisome gene.

Scientists have long known a gene called APOE4 is one of many things that can increase people’s risk for Alzheimer's, including simply getting older. The vast majority of Alzheimer’s cases occur after age 65. But research published Monday suggests that for people who carry not one but two copies of the gene, it's more than a risk factor, it's an underlying cause of the mind-robbing disease.

The findings mark a distinction with “profound implications,” said Dr. Juan Fortea, who led the study the Sant Pau Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain .

Among them: Symptoms can begin seven to 10 years sooner than in other older adults who develop Alzheimer’s.

An estimated 15% of Alzheimer’s patients carry two copies of APOE4, meaning those cases “can be tracked back to a cause and the cause is in the genes,” Fortea said. Until now, genetic forms of Alzheimer’s were thought to be only types that strike at much younger ages and account for less than 1% of all cases.

Scientists say the research makes it critical to develop treatments that target the APOE4 gene. Some doctors won’t offer the only drug that has been shown to modestly slow the disease, Leqembi, to people with the gene pair because they’re especially prone to a dangerous side effect, said Dr. Reisa Sperling, a study coauthor at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Sperling hunts ways to prevent or at least delay Alzheimer’s and “this data for me says wow, what an important group to be able to go after before they become symptomatic.”

But the news doesn’t mean people should race for a gene test. “It’s important not to scare everyone who has a family history” of Alzheimer’s because this gene duo isn’t behind most cases, she told The Associated Press.

More than 6 million Americans, and millions more worldwide, have Alzheimer’s. A handful of genes are known to cause rare “early-onset” forms, mutations passed through families that trigger symptoms unusually young, by age 50. Some cases also are linked to Down syndrome.

But Alzheimer’s most commonly strikes after 65, especially in the late 70s to 80s, and the APOE gene – which also affects how the body handles fats -- was long known to play some role. There are three main varieties. Most people carry the APOE3 variant that appears to neither increase nor decrease Alzheimer’s risk. Some carry APOE2, which provides some protection against Alzheimer’s.

APOE4 has long been labeled the biggest genetic risk factor for late-in-life Alzheimer’s, with two copies risker than one. About 2% of the global population is estimated to have inherited a copy from each parent.

To better understand the gene’s role, Fortea’s team used data from 3,297 brains donated for research and from over 10,000 people in U.S. and European Alzheimer’s studies. They examined symptoms and early hallmarks of Alzheimer’s such as sticky amyloid in the brain.

People with two APOE4 copies were accumulating more amyloid at age 55 than those with just one copy or the “neutral” APOE3 gene variety, they reported in the journal Nature Medicine. By age 65, brain scans showed significant plaque buildup in nearly three-quarters of those double carriers – who also were more likely to have initial Alzheimer’s symptoms around that age rather than in the 70s or 80s.

Fortea said the disease's underlying biology was remarkably similar to young inherited types.

It appears more like “a familial form of Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Eliezer Masliah of the National Institute on Aging. “It is not just a risk factor.”

Importantly, not everyone with two APOE4 genes develops Alzheimer’s symptoms and researchers need to learn why, Sperling cautioned.

“It’s not quite destiny,” she said.

The drug Leqembi works by clearing away some sticky amyloid but Sperling said it’s not clear if carriers of two APOE4 genes benefit because they have such a high risk of a side effect from the drug – dangerous brain swelling and bleeding. One research question is whether they’d do better starting such drugs sooner than other people.

Masliah said other research aims to develop gene therapy or drugs to specifically target APOE4. He said it's also crucial to understand APOE4’s effects in diverse populations since it’s been studied mostly in white people of European ancestry.

As for gene tests, for now they’re typically used only to evaluate if someone’s a candidate for Leqembi or for people enrolling in Alzheimer’s research – especially studies of possible ways to prevent the disease. Sperling said the people most likely to carry two APOE4 genes had parents who both got Alzheimer’s relatively early, in their 60s rather than 80s.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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  4. The Historical Approach To Research

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  5. 10+ Historical Research Examples in PDF

    examples of historical research studies

  6. Historical research

    examples of historical research studies


  1. Lec 1

  2. The Research Process

  3. 33 Unforgettable Historical Photos That You Probably Haven't Seen Before

  4. 40 Fascinating Historical Photos That Will Shift Your Perspective

  5. Left-handed workers in a right-handed world

  6. 29 Eye-Opening Photos: A RESH PERSPECTIVE on the PAST


  1. Introduction to Historical Research : Home

    This guide is an introduction to selected resources available for historical research. It covers both primary sources (such as diaries, letters, newspaper articles, photographs, government documents and first-hand accounts) and secondary materials (such as books and articles written by historians and devoted to the analysis and interpretation of historical events and evidence).

  2. A Step by Step Guide to Doing Historical Research

    This step-by-step guide progresses from an introduction to historical resources to information about how to identify a topic, craft a thesis and develop a research paper. Table of contents: The Range and Richness of Historical Sources. Secondary Sources. Primary Sources.

  3. Home

    Historical research involves the following steps: Identify an idea, topic or research question. Conduct a background literature review. Refine the research idea and questions. Determine that historical methods will be the method used. Identify and locate primary and secondary data sources. Evaluate the authenticity and accuracy of source materials.

  4. (Pdf) Historical Research Design

    Abstract. The steps in historical research design include gathering data from primary and secondary sources, formulating an idea (hypothesis), analyzing source material, analyzing data to reject ...

  5. Stages of a Historical Research Project

    Make a new list of steps that apply to you. Keep reading and you will find a discussion of each of these steps below. Decide what you want to know. Find out what has been done already. Envision the overall research project. Consider possible end products. Make a list of necessary equipment, people, and materials.

  6. Historiography

    Historiography - Critical Analysis, Sources, Interpretation: This concluding section surveys contemporary historical practice and theory. As the previous section has demonstrated, there are many branches of history today, each with different kinds of evidence, particular canons of interpretation, and distinctive conventions of writing. This diversity has led some to wonder whether the term ...

  7. History and biography

    Abstract. This article explores the relationship between historical and biographical writing. It looks at the way structural and individualized approaches to past events complement each other and also conflict on occasion by focusing on examples drawn from modern British and American history. Given as an inaugural lecture by the new Director of ...

  8. Quantitative Methods in Historical Research

    Current advances in modern quantitative methods are discussed by Historical Methods Newsletter, published by The University Center for International Studies and The Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh. That such research has a fairly long tradition is shown by W. W. Grey, The Calculus of Variant.

  9. Historical Methods

    Historians commonly approach the study of historical writing in two quite distinct ways: either by study of the techniques which we hold to be immediately relevant today, or by looking at the "history of history", as for example by focussing on classic texts in Western historical writing. This paper takes the second road.

  10. Research Guides: History: Historical Research and Methods

    Guide to basic historical research at the Shapiro Library. The Shapiro Library subscribes to the SAGE Research Methods database, a resource designed for those who are doing research or who are learning how to do research. Methods and practices covered include writing research questions and literature reviews, choosing research methods, conducting oral histories, and more.

  11. Preparing a History PhD proposal

    The research proposal you submit in January should be approximately 1000 words, plus a bibliography, and should contain the following: A title, possibly with a subtitle. The title should not take the form of a question and it may run to a dozen words or more. Like the title of a book, it should clearly convey the topic you propose to work on.

  12. Historical Methods

    Much like the study of international history, the study of intellectual history has flourished in recent times. Three main areas of inquiry can be identified here: (1) the composition of the realist tradition, (2) the integration of political and international theory, and (3) the early history of the international relations discipline.

  13. History Research in Management and Organization Studies

    Introduction. This Editors' Picks provides an occasion to celebrate the momentum that doing history research in management and organization studies (MOS) has gained since the calls for more history in the early 1990s (Zald, 1993, 1996; Kieser, 1994; Üsdiken and Kieser, 2004). Organization is an especially appropriate venue to do so given the ...

  14. (PDF) Conducting research in daily life: A historical review

    A History of Research Conducted in Daily Life . Peter Wilhelm & Meinrad Perrez . June, 2013 . ... 1908) self-study is the earliest example of an event contingent . sampling protocol, we are aware of.

  15. Library Guides: History: Archives and Archival Research

    Archived materials can include manuscripts, letters, photographs, moving image and sound materials, artwork, books, diaries, artifacts, and the digital equivalents of all of these things.*. Only a small percentage of items in archives are available online or in digital formats. At the Smithsonian, only 52% of the items in their archives are ...

  16. (PDF) Archival Research Methods

    Archival research method includes a wide range of techniques to facilitate the investigation historical documents, data sources, and other written materials. 15 Journal publications and United ...

  17. Animal Experiments in Biomedical Research: A Historical Perspective

    Abstract. The use of non-human animals in biomedical research has given important contributions to the medical progress achieved in our day, but it has also been a cause of heated public, scientific and philosophical discussion for hundreds of years. This review, with a mainly European outlook, addresses the history of animal use in biomedical ...

  18. Philippine Studies: Historical & Ethnographic Viewpoints

    Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints is an internationally refereed journal that publishes scholarly articles and other materials on the history of the Philippines and its peoples, both in the homeland and overseas. It believes the past is illuminated by historians as well as scholars from other disciplines; at the same time, it prefers ethnographic approaches to the ...

  19. Historical approaches for hospitality and tourism research

    Design/methodology/approach. Three principal historical approaches are proposed: systematic study of historical archives, oral histories and biography and prosopography. The paper further proposes that such work should be aligned to Andrews and Burke's framework of the 5Cs: context, change over time, causality, complexity and contingency to ...

  20. More than Tuskegee: Understanding Mistrust about Research Participation

    Groups ranged in size from 4-10 participants (N = 70). Mistrust of the health care system emerged as a primary barrier to participation in medical research among participants in our study. Mistrust stems from historical events including the Tuskegee syphilis study and is reinforced by health system issues and discriminatory events that ...

  21. Students' Sense of Belonging Matters: Evidence from Three Studies

    Research has shown that belonging uncertainty affects how students make sense of daily adversities, often interpreting negative events as evidence for why they do not belong. Belonging uncertainty may result in disengagement and poor academic outcomes. In contrast, a sense of belonging is associated with academic achievement, persistence in the ...

  22. Home

    SAT Practice on Khan Academy® is free, comprehensive, and available to all students. With personalized plans, practice tests and more, Khan Academy is good preparation for any test in the SAT Suite.

  23. A Peek Inside the Brains of 'Super-Agers'

    These findings are backed up by Dr. Rogalski's research, initially conducted when she was at Northwestern University, which showed that super-agers' brains looked more like 50- or 60-year-olds ...

  24. ABC News' Becky Worley joins research study that could help millions of

    Here, she documents her experience as a participant in the All of Us Research Program, a National Institutes of Health project that aims to study more than 1 million people from all backgrounds.

  25. Colon cancer screening may be safe every 15 years for some, research

    For people with no family history of colon cancer or other risk factors Swedish researchers found that screening every 15 years was still protective. The American Cancer Society recommends that ...

  26. 2024 AP Exam Dates

    2024 AP Exam Dates. The 2024 AP Exams will be administered in schools over two weeks in May: May 6-10 and May 13-17. AP coordinators are responsible for notifying students when and where to report for the exams. Early testing or testing at times other than those published by College Board is not permitted under any circumstances.

  27. Updates on H5N1 Beef Safety Studies

    Ongoing Research. To verify the safety of the meat supply in the context of H5N1, USDA's FSIS, APHIS, and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are working on three separate beef safety studies related to avian influenza in meat from dairy cattle. These studies are taking place in the interest of scientific inquiry and reaffirm consumer confidence.

  28. How Biden, 81, stacks up in age against other world leaders

    Biya is the only current national leader in his 90s. The median age of current national leaders is 62, as of May 1, 2024. The largest share of global leaders today (34%) are in their 60s. Roughly a quarter (22%) are in their 50s; 19% are in their 70s; and 16% are in their 40s. Biden is among the 5% of leaders who are in their 80s.

  29. Three from MIT awarded 2024 Guggenheim Fellowships

    MIT faculty members Roger Levy, Tracy Slatyer, and Martin Wainwright are among 188 scientists, artists, and scholars awarded 2024 fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Working across 52 disciplines, the fellows were selected from almost 3,000 applicants for "prior career achievement and exceptional promise.".

  30. A gene long thought to just raise the risk for Alzheimer's may cause

    To better understand the gene's role, Fortea's team used data from 3,297 brains donated for research and from over 10,000 people in U.S. and European Alzheimer's studies.