This is the first step in any type of educational research including historical research.
This step involves identifying, locating, and collecting information pertaining to the research topic.
There is no one approach that is used in conducting historical research although there is a general set of steps that are typically followed. These include the following steps although there is some overlap and movement back and forth between the steps:
1. Identification of the research topic and formulation of the research problem or question.
2. Data collection or literature review.
3. Evaluation of materials.
4. Data synthesis.
5. Report preparation or preparation of the narrative exposition.
Each of these steps is described briefly on this page, starting in the top left corner
There are two types of evaluations all sources must pass.
1. External Criticism–this is the process of determining the validity, trustworthiness, or authenticity of the source. Sometimes this is difficult to do but other times it can easily be done by handwriting analysis or determining the age of the paper on which something was written.
2. Internal Criticism–this is the process of determining the reliability or accuracy of the information contained in the sources collected. This is done by positive and negative criticism.
· Positive criticism refers to assuring that the statements made or the meaning conveyed in the sources are understood. This is frequently difficult because of the problems of vagueness and presentism.
· Vagueness refers to uncertainty in the meaning of the words and phrases used in the source.
· Presentism refers to the assumption that the present-day connotations of terms also existed in the past.
· Negative criticism refers to establishing the reliability or authenticity and accuracy of the content of the sources used. This is the more difficult part because it requires a judgment about the accuracy and authenticity of what is contained in the source.
Firsthand accounts by witnesses to an event are typically assumed to be reliable and accurate.
Historians often use three heuristics in handling evidence. These are corroboration, sourcing, and contextualization.
This refers to synthesizing, or putting the material collected into a narrative account of the topic selected.
Be sure to watch out for these four problems that might be encountered when you attempt to synthesize the material collected and prepare the narrative account.
1. Trying to infer causation from correlated events is the first problem. Just because two events occurred together does not necessarily mean that one event was the cause of the other.
2. A second problem is defining and interpreting key words so as to avoid ambiguity and to insure that they have the correct connotation.
3. A third problem is differentiating between evidence indicating how people should behave and how they in fact did behave.
4. A fourth problem is maintaining a distinction between intent and consequences. In other words, educational historians must make sure that the consequences that were observed from some activity or policy were the intended consequences.