The Value of Historical Research

By Wesner, Brad | Parks & Recreation, February 1994 | Go to article overview

The Value of Historical Research


Wesner, Brad, Parks & Recreation


Historical studies in leisure research are relatively rare. Historical research, however, is important for both practitioners and academics in the field.

Historical research helps practitioners, students and educators understand how recreation, park and leisure services have developed. With this understanding, people can take pride in their work. Historical research also benefits the general public, for it lets the public observe how recreational pursuits and recreation organization has evolved over time. Meanwhile, the educator cannot prepare leaders of tomorrow without an adequate understanding of what has happened in the past.

The purpose of historical research is to preserve and interpret facts. The researcher gathers the facts and then attempts to assimilate the facts into a meaningful order. The researcher also triangulates the facts. In other words, the researcher attempts to verify the facts using other data sources. Historians tend to use primarily sources, such as original documents, although they will use secondary sources, such as encyclopedias to help interpret and expand upon the fact.

As with all research, the reader must read historical research carefully. Facts can often be interpreted in a variety of ways. For instance, a person interpreting the recreation movement using a social-control viewpoint may interpret the facts differently than someone writing from a human development perspective. Historians also tend to filter history through their personal viewpoint. For instance, considerably different histories of the recreation movement could be provided by immigrants, "tramps and loafers," political bosses and reformers (Hardy, 1983). Although history is constantly being rewritten, the role of interpretation is impossible to avoid and should not be minimized. Facts themselves have no meaning. It is the organizing and interpretation of the facts that gives meaning to them.

Leisure studies is an interdisciplinary field. To date, no magazine is devoted exclusively to historical research in the field. Numerous scholarly journals and specialized magazines, however, periodically contain well-written histories of leisure or review of books of leisure history. For instance, within the past decade the following journals, listed alphabetically, have featured one or more major historical articles pertaining to leisure studies: American Heritage; American Jewish History; Antiques and Collecting Hobbies; The British Journal of Sociology; European History Quarterly; French Historical Studies; The Geographical Magazine; Greece and Rome; The Historical Journal; History Today; International Social Science Journal; Journal of American Culture; Journal of Contemporary History; Journal of Cultural Economics; Journal of Family History; Journal of Leisure Research; Journal of Negro History; Journal of Social History; Journal of Sport History; Journal of Urban History;Journal of the West; Labor History; Leisure Sciences; The Magazine Antiques; Music and Letters; Pacific Historical Journal; Past and Present; Quarterly Review of Film Studies; Sight & Sound; Travel Holiday; and Victorian Studies. Few of these studies were conducted by people with backgrounds in leisure studies; rather, the researcher had an interest in something else and that interest simply overlapped into leisure studies.

Contribution to Knowledge

Historical studies generally fall into one of six categories: the history of movements, the history of individual people, the history of groups of people, the history of a single subject, the history of a geographical area, and the history of an idea. Each type of study can be found in the field of leisure studies, and an example of each is given below. Each type of study provides a contribution to knowledge, sometimes lending support to previously held beliefs and sometimes challenging that gut-feeling of how and why the movement unfolded as it happened.

Researchers who study the history of movements within the recreation movement examine the field of leisure studies on a very broad basis. …

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