A Style of History for Beginners

By Paul L. Ward | Go to book overview

A STYLE OF HISTORY FOR BEGINNERS

By Paul L. Ward

Are there standards of historical thinking that a teacher can put before beginning students, to show them how to handle data so as to reach sound historical judgments? Certainly the styles of history produced by acknowledged masters follow no one pattern: this is well shown in the collection of representative statements recently edited by Fritz Stern as The Varieties of History.* Some leading historians have long felt that the qualities of good history, whatever they are, cannot be taught explicitly. Students even when born with the necessary insight, the contention is, can only absorb these standards through years of practice on historical materials.

But this seems talk about an unattainable level of craftmanship, for teachers who, each September, face classes containing potentially serious beginning students. Many of these promising students --as some of us have painfully learned by now--will have no real patience with class discussions that fritter away in empty or inconclusive talk. I should therefore like to report what are taught as standards for historical thinking in one large freshman course where students come with no previous interest in history but respond to it quickly and with satisfaction when it is presented in terms of these definite standards.

Students at the point of completing high school or entering college seem particularly ready to be challenged by tasks that they can feel are essential preparation for the adult competition ahead of them. Recent developments in philosophy give us abundant justification for assuring these students that historical thinking is both distinctive and difficult. Only a decade or two ago the trend was to assume that history's methods should be made more like the methods of philosophy and science. Now many writings--one of the best is P. H. Nowell-Smith recent paper in the Aristotelian Society's Proceedings for 1956- 1957--are making clear the important

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Works referred to in the text are listed at the end of the pamphlet with full titles and facts of publication.

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