How do professional historians do their work? How do they analyze documents and sources, weave them together to tell a story, and identify and answer important questions about the past?
Whatever their area of expertise, professional historians use a common set of skills—locating primary sources, placing them in context, reading texts closely and precisely, and corroborating multiple accounts—to make sense of the past.
In a unique interactive workshop, Christopher Hamner, an associate professor of American history at George Mason University, demystifies this process by guiding you in how to think about and interpret the past. Hamner introduces participants to the skills and thought processes of the historical profession, employing actual primary sources from 300 years of American history. Participants have the opportunity for hands-on work with sources and to practice thinking like a historian themselves.
10 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Historical Thinking Skills
Understand and practice using the research skills of sourcing, the process by which historians identify the influence that the author and audience have on a particular historical document; close reading, the analysis of tone, language, imagery, and symbolism that helps scholars interpret not just what is being said, but how it is expressed; corroboration, the comparison of multiple sources to examine similarities, disagreements, and contrasts; and contextualization, the placement of primary sources against historical events to see how each influences the other.
12:30–1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30–4 p.m. How Historians Think About Cause and Effect
Examine the concepts of hindsight, the way that knowledge of events’ outcomes can sometimes undermine historical understanding; agency, determining who exercises power, where it comes from, and how it is limited; and contingency, the decision points that help shape events and the “what if?” questions that often accompany them.