Historical inquiry: people, motive, and consequences
Over the last few chapters we have been looking at how historians can interpret sources to help them in their work. Here is a brief summary of what we have learned about dealing with a source. Refer Image1
- Is it a primary or a secondary source?
- What information does the source show?
- Who wrote it? When and where was it written? Why was it written? Put the source into its context.
- Can the source help you show cause and effect?
- From the other information you have gathered is the source accurate?
- Is the source factual or is it someone's opinion?
- Do you think the source is reliable?
- Does the source tell you the full picture - or only part of it?
- For what purpose was the source created - is it propaganda?
What to look at when investigating history
By looking at sources we can come to a better understanding of how people lived in the past, how their societies and government worked and why they lived the way they did. When we know more about a culture and its laws we can then understand why wars happened, why civilisations grew or why they died out. We can see a progression and development in some societies, like the change from the Roman Republics to the great Roman Empires. We can also see how ancient societies have influenced our modern-day society. Concepts like democracy and philosophy are not modern ones, they are actually thousands of years old. These examples from the past can help us to understand our present and even our future.
History is sometimes the study of whole societies, but often it is also a study of significant individuals in that society. Just one person can change the course of history through their power, influence, thoughts or actions. Rulers like Julius Caesar, King Henry VIII, Napoleon, and Queen Victoria have all had an impact on our world. People like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi have helped to change the way we think about human rights and equality in our world. By studying infamous tyrants and dictators like Hitler and Stalin we can learn about the darker side of human history. We cannot study history without studying the significant people who have changed it for the better or the worse. Refer Image2
When we study history we are looking for cause and effect - what made something else happen. Just like detectives investigating a crime, historians are looking for a motive. In many places in the world, huge monuments have been left to us by the inhabitants of a civilisation that has died out. It can be difficult for historians to decipher what these monuments are and what they were used for.
The Egyptian pyramids at Giza are tombs for three pharaohs, but they also contain many hidden chambers and shafts that baffle historians. There are disagreements over the motives behind why the pyramids were built in the way they were. Some historians believe that shafts were built in to the pyramids for religious reasons - a passageway for the soul. Others believe they were to provide air for the builders. There are many hypotheses surrounding the mysteries of these ancient tombs and historians are still trying to uncover more information on the pyramids to answer those questions.
History is also about studying the consequences of people's motives and their actions. A historian can see why a war happened and who was involved, but it is also important for them to study the consequences of that war. By studying the impact of an event like a war, or a natural disaster, on different groups of people we can see why a society developed the way it did.
A good example of this is the 'Jazz Age' of the 1920s. After the First World War, many young people rebelled against the strict society they grew up in and rejected many of the ideals and conservative beliefs of their parents. Young women cut their hair short and began to wear trousers. The young men who had survived the war also reacted in similar ways. For a historian, this period of social change has to be viewed as one of the consequences of the horrors of the First World War. The experiences of ordinary people in times of great change are one of the richest sources of information for a historian to draw upon. When studying history you must always remember to look for the effect, as well as the cause. Refer Image3