Turn It Around: Intellectual Turns that Flipped History Writing Upside Down

While people have been writing history since the beginning of written language, the way they have done so has, of course, been evolving ever since. Greek poets, for example, didn’t use the same methodologies as nineteenth century historians. In this post we want to take a look at three of the most recent theoretical waves that shifted historians’ perspectives on writing history and that helped shape historical research as it exists today: the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and the performative turn. These “turns” didn’t just impact history (or even had their origins in history), but instead touched most of the social sciences and made scientists across fields have a minor breakdown and possibly an existential crisis or two. Who doesn’t love drama, right?

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Medieval reenactment in Bruges, Belgium (via Gruuthuse museum)

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Getting Creative with Primary Sources

In our last methodology post, we very broadly discussed different types of source materials that inform historical research and writing.  Today, we’re going to take a little detour and talk specifically about primary sources for a minute because even within the historical community there is often a limited (and limiting!) view of what can constitute a good primary source and how they should be used.  So, c’mon, let’s leave our preconceived notions at the door and get creative!

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Mentally Unstable punk fanzine (source)

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Types of Sources and How They’re Used

Sources are the lifeblood of the historian’s craft.  They inform every aspect of our research and our arguments and without them, we wouldn’t be able to form meaningful narratives about the past.  In this post, we’re going to explore the different categories of source materials and how each is commonly used in scholarly pursuits.  In addition, we’re going to cover how historians evaluate the informational value of sources – a process that is just as applicable to reading today’s headlines as it is to reading a historical text!

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How Historians do History: A Closer Look at Methodology

Studying history hasn’t always been a very scientific endeavor. Texts got copied and tales got told, people sang about military victories, told their children stories and used history as a tool to serve their political or religious agenda. Today however, history definitely is a science! To make that happen, historians make use of a few tools and techniques to study the past in a way that’s as objective as possible. We call these tools their methodology.

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