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Reading in the Disciplines: History

Historical Reading Skills

There are several things that should be considered when reading a historical document or text. More information about these historical thinking skills is presented on the chart located to the right.

First, a reader should consider the source of a document. Who wrote the document? What was the author's perspective? When and where was it written? Why was it written?  all sources are not equal. A reader must determine whether or not a text is reliable, and determine why it is reliable, or why not. 

Next, a reader should contextualize a document.  If you do not know anything about the context of the document, seek additional sources to get some background information.  If you have no idea who Malcolm X was, reading a document he wrote will not be meaningful to you. Wikipedia can be a good place to get some basic background information. 

Then, a reader should look at other documents to see if there is corroboration of this documents with others. Do you find other documents agreeing with this documents, or disagreeing? What are the other documents available on this issue? Which documents are reliable?

Finally, a reader should do a close reading of the document. When reading the document deeply consider the claims that the author makes. What evidence does the author provide? What language does the author use? What words and phrases does the author use?  If you encounter words that are not familiar to you, look them up to assist you in understanding what the author is saying.  The meanings of words can change over time, so something like the Oxford English Dictionary can give you historical context to words. Consider how the author's use of language represents their perspective. 

Reading Like a Historian

Why Historical Thinking is not about History

Historical Thinking

Thinking Historically

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