Mouly (1978) states that while historical research cannot meet some of the tests of the scientific method interpreted in the specific sense of its use in the physical sciences (it cannot depend, for instance, on direct observation or experimentation, but must make use of reports that cannot be repeated), it qualifies as a scientific endeavour from the standpoint of its subscription to the same principles and the same general scholarship that characterize all scientific research.
Historical research has been defined as the systematic and objective location, evaluation and synthesis of evidence in order to establish facts and draw conclusions about past events (Borg (1963). It is an act of reconstruction undertaken in a spirit of critical inquiry designed to achieve a faithful representation of a previous age. In seeking data from the personal experiences and observations of others, from documents and records, researchers often have to contend with inadequate information so that their reconstructions tend to be sketches rather than portraits. Indeed, the difficulty of obtaining adequate data makes historical research one of the most taxing kinds of inquiry to conduct satisfactorily.
Reconstruction implies a holistic perspective in that the method of inquiry characterizing historical research attempts to ‘encompass and then explain the whole realm of man’s past in a perspective that greatly accents his social, cultural, economic, and intellectual development’ (Hill and Kerber, 1967). Ultimately, historical research is concerned with a broad view of the conditions and not necessarily the specifics which bring them about, although such a synthesis is rarely achieved without intense debate or controversy, especially on matters of detail. The act of historical research involves the identification and limitation of a problem or an area of study; sometimes the formulation of a hypothesis (or set of questions); the collection, organization, verification, validation, analysis and selection of data; testing the hypothesis (or answering the questions) where appropriate; and writing a research report. This sequence leads to a new understanding of the past and its relevance to the present and future. The values of historical research have been categorized by Hill and Kerber as follows:
|• it enables solutions to contemporary problems to be sought in the past; |
|• it throws light on present and future trends; |
|• it stresses the relative importance and the effects of the various interactions that are to be found within all cultures; |
|• it allows for the revaluation of data in relation to selected hypotheses, theories and generalizations that are presently held about the past. |
As the writers point out, the ability of history to employ the past to predict the future, and to use the present to explain the past, gives it a dual and unique quality which makes it especially useful for all sorts of scholarly study and research.
The particular value of historical research in the field of education is unquestioned. It can, for