Political and historical methodology

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Part of the Strategic Studies curriculum

Welcome to STST122 Political and Historical Methodology. The purpose of this short first year course is to give you an understanding of how we study politics and history.

To ask questions or begin a discussion about this course, do not hesitate to go to this course's talk page.

Lecture One: The History of History[edit | edit source]

Etymology[edit | edit source]

Etymology is the study of a word. Why is it formed like that? What was the thinking behind the creation of this word? Where does this word come from?

The word 'history' in English comes from the Greek historia, which meant to inquire.[1] However, if we look at the word in German, Geschichte, it means what happened. There is an obvious tension here. Is history an inquiry, or what happened?

The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is logical to assert that we cannot know 'what happened' if we have not first 'inquired' in to a given event.

Academic History[edit | edit source]

It was not until the 19th Century that history became an academic discipline. What made it 'academic' was a method, much like scientific method, to ensure that assertions are not made without evidence. Academic history requires you to have both an object of study and a method with which to discover information about that object. This gave history a methodology, which will be discussed in detail below.

Definitions of History[edit | edit source]

As academics began to look at history, they attempted to define it. Marc Bloch gave the world an excellent definition of history as science des homme dans le tem -literally the science of man in time.[2] Science, from the Latin scientia, a preposition of scire - to know, means here that we use a definite method in order to discover and expand our knowledge about the exploits of man within the framework of time.[1] This is good because it tells us how we can contribute to this endeavour. There is a method, it isn't restricted to a few individuals, and its focus is people in the time that they have inhabited the Earth. Anything before that is prehistory, and we generally leave that to Paleontologists and their ilk. Anything during that time frame but not to do with humans is not history in this academic sense. Remember that this is all arguable, that it is one person's definition of history. What do you think? Is Bloch too narrow in defining it to include only humans?

If that is a 'good' definition of history, let's look at a 'bad' one, and the reasons it is 'bad'. The twentieth century English historian Arthur Marwick provided us with a longer definition, which has a few problems with it if we dissect his statement in detail:

[History is] bodies of knowledge about the past produced by historians, together with everything that is involved in the production, communication of and the teaching about that knowledge

This definition states that history is done by 'historians'. Who is a historian? Well, it is someone who 'teaches' and 'communicates' the knowledge that they have 'produced', although how the historian produces that knowledge is open for discussion. This definition does not provide us with any hint about historical method. It also implies that history can only be undertaken by certified 'historians', people who have 'communicated' - published - their research. It also implies that real history is a profession, as it is inextricably linked with teaching.

So, by this definition, stop your Wikiversity history courses now! Unless you can get published and begin teaching, you arn't a historian and there is no point in trying to be one. If you would like to try, then you will have to come up with your own method first.

Lecture Two: Historical methodology[edit | edit source]

History has its own version of scientific method, and we have seen above how this came into being and why. So what is the method?

Object of Study[edit | edit source]

As discussed above, you must start with an object of study. This should be stated as either a title or a question - that is up to you. So, let's say that as part of a four year degree course in Strategic Studies at Wikiversity, we are conducting a study in to the media reporting of the 1982 Falklands War. The title of our study will be: Was Truth the First Casualty in the Falklands War?

Initial Hypothesis[edit | edit source]

Now that you have a question, begin your research with a hypothesis. What do you think the answer to your chosen question is? This can be based on what little you have read so far, or just on a gut feeling. It doesn't matter particularly, since we are going to research it and prove or disprove it later. It is just there initially to give you a focus in your investigation. For our study: Truth was the first casualty in the Falklands War.

Research using Sources[edit | edit source]

Now you must research the question, using a mixture of available sources. There are different types of sources, organised in to primary, secondary and tertiary categories. Click on the links for more information, but roughly, primary sources are original documents such as letters, speeches, government reports etc; secondary sources are articles, essays and books based on primary sources (what you would recognise as a history book in your local bookshop) and tertiary sources are a more peripheral type of source which compiles primary and secondary source material, such as an encyclopedia or a library catalogue.

Your research should include as wide a range of primary sources and existing literature as possible, while attempting to stay away from using tertiary sources since they relate more to the practice of scholarship than your scholarship itself.

Note down all the ideas and quotations that you take from your sources, documenting the page number, the title, author, publisher, year published and place published, since you will need to cite these details in your final report to prove to others that you are not plagiarising exisiting ideas.

While you are researching, do not forget your object of study! All your notes and personal thoughts should be geared towards answering your question.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

You will come to a conclusion based on your research. This is crucial. From your interpretation of the research that you have done, what is the answer? This is why we have a scientific method - your conclusion comes from a logical interpretation of the available evidence, not on a whim or swiftly-arrived-at idea - it's why we sought to prove or prove wrong your original hypothesis rather than just accept it.

Lecture Three: Methodologies in Political Science[edit | edit source]

This lecture is yet to be written.

Lecture Four: Writing an Essay[edit | edit source]

An essay will follow the method above. It will have three main parts:

  • An introduction
  • With a thesis statement (what your argument is)
  • A Main Body
  • A Conclusion

Rather than including your preliminary hypothesis in the introduction if your research has proved it wrong, include the thesis - the argument you support and will outline that you have arrived at after extensive research.

An old mantra about essay writing goes:

Say what you're going to say, say it, say what you've said. Although this is not strictly true, do keep it in mind when reading below how to craft an essay.

The Introduction[edit | edit source]

This should answer three questions:

  1. What is the essay about?
  2. Why is this topic important?
  3. How is the essay structured?

This then leads to a THESIS STATEMENT: what are you arguing?

In practice, the introduction will contain a 'hook' (something which gets you started), definitions of key terms, your thesis statement and an outline of the essay.

The Main Body[edit | edit source]

This is an elaboration of your thesis statement. It is the proof - you explain the points which caused you to arrive at your thesis, and the evidence that you found to support this. This is where you cite the research you did - any disputable fact or point made originally by someone else (i.e. it isn't your intellectual property) should be referenced.

The main body will show that your thesis is valid by doing making a series of points:

  • Point One - explain, qualify, discuss or compare
  • Point Two - explain, qualify, discuss or compare
  • Point Three - explain, qualify, discuss or compare
  • etc

This takes up the bulk of your available word count.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Restate your argument and explain now, in the light of your points, why you arrived at this belief yourself. It is not a summary - it is where you explain to the reader how all the points you just made fit together to support your thesis.

Lecture Five: Citing Sources[edit | edit source]

The Wikiversity Policy on Citing Sources can be found here

CITE YOUR SOURCES! Whether you are writing an essay, a lesson for Wikiversity or an article for Wikipedia, you must show where you got your evidence and ideas from. Anything which was not originally said or thought up by you must be cited.

If you are using someone else's words, word for word, you must put this passage in 'single quotation marks' and reference it after the next punctuation point.[3] If you take someone's idea but express it in your own words, you must again reference that after the next available punctuation point. It may be in your own words, but it isn't your own point.

Your sources should be cited as footnotes in the text, and again as simple entries in a bibliography at the end of the essay.

Below is a guide on how to reference common resources. They take the form of bibliographical entries. For footnotes, you should also append the relevant page number(s) onto the end of the information so that the person reading your work can look up the exact same sources as you used.

Cite books like this[edit | edit source]

Surname, Forename (Year Published) Title in Italics: Include all subheadings, Edition Name if you did not use the first edition (City published: Published)

eg: Knightley, Phillip (2003) The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq, Updated Edn (London: Andre Deutsch)

Cite journals like this[edit | edit source]

Surname, Forename 'Title of Article in Single Marks' Title of Journal in Italics Volume Number, Issue Number (Date), Pages the article runs from and to in the journal

eg: Mearscheimer, John 'A Strategic Misstep: The Maritime Strategy and Deterrence in Europe' International Security Vol. 11, No. 2 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 3-57

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Most full length dictionaries have short etymological notes incorporated into each entry. Alternatively, etymological dictionaries are available for purchase. An online etymological dictionary can be found at http://www.etymonline.com/
  2. Bloch, Marc (1941) APOLOGIE POUR L’HISTOIRE OU MÉTIER D’HISTORIEN (Paris: Librairie Armand Colin), pp. 18-19. This is available online at http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/bloch_marc/apologie_histoire/apologie_histoire.html
  3. An example reference