Thursday, July 24, 2014

Argument is at the core of history

You may think of a fight or a debate when you see the word argument. And when you think of history class, with its powerpoints, videos, and dry textbooks, debate may seem the furthest thing from this discipline. Though you may have a difficult time accepting the assertion that historians constantly engage in argument, that’s exactly what they do. Throughout this course, you are going to hone your skills analyzing and participating in argument and debate. As you do this, you will work on improving your thinking, writing, and speaking skills.

What is an argument? In simple terms an argument boils down to this: accept X because of Y. What do historians argue about? Pretty much everything.

For example, what topics are important? Why are they important? What were the causes and consequences of these events? How should these events be described? Are there perspectives being left out, overemphasized?

Remember, the past is not history. This means historians have to decide which topics deserve attention. How is this decision made? Based on what criteria? Once that decision is made, an historian must then decide how to describe a person or event. Again, choices have to be made. And what are these choices based on? Historians construct a version of the past based on their examination of evidence and their point of view. The end result is an interpretation about the past that is inherently debatable.

That argument is at the core of history should make sense when you consider that even when people see the same event they will almost certainly describe it differently. Why are the accounts not identical?

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