Some Thoughts about
in the Academic Setting
Develop a personal ability not only to read but also to "use" printed or electronic texts
Notice that you are not obligated to read books from cover to cover (though you might choose to do so), nor are you required to limit yourself to books. Important readings can be found in journals and on the larger website associated with the course. Suggestions about readings are found at two levels =
(1)The specific electronic course syllabus page [ID]. Reading suggestions indicated on the syllabus page are like the first bibliographic layer, providing the most comprehensive coverage of the most important course-related readings.
(2) The Student's Annotated Chronology and Systematic Bibliography [SAC] [ID]. SAC provides bibliographic suggestions organized chronologically and topically.
Notice that the accent above is on reading lists as "suggestions". You are free to pick and mix these options as you wish.
THE ONLY OBLIGATORY FEATURE OF COURSE READINGS IS THAT YOU ARE EXPECTED TO DEVOTE NINE HOURS A WEEK OUTSIDE OF CLASS READING AND WRITING IN YOUR JOURNAL [ID].
Feel free to budget your over-all commitment of 9 hours per week as you see fit, guided by your good judgment about the main issues outlined each week. More time with one reading means less time for others, but if that suits your curiosity, fine. Be practical, make prudent choices among suggested readings.
Most of all, develop and trust your own instincts. Put in the time, and the results will be good.
HISTORIAN'S TOOLS = Analysis and Synthesis
As you read and make entries in your journal, direct quotes are useful to you and can be interesting to your reader. Facts, details, direct citations are important. But resist mechanical recording of data. Here, as above, you are asked to show judgment and discrimination. Along with the passive act of information extraction and transference into your journal, there are also two vital active roles that the academic reader plays =
(1) Summary or epitomization of readings, and
(2) "analysis" and/or "synthesis" of readings in short "draft essays" of your own composition [ID].
We all use the terms "analysis" and "synthesis", but we do not always make sure our meaning is clear = Analysis means breaking a topic into sensible parts. Synthesis means amalgamation of parts into a sensible whole
The following questions can be put to any historical narrative,
which includes not only what you read and hear but also what you write and say
The important questions and standards below work
for you as reader seeking to understand
for you as writer seeking to communicate clearly and forcefully,
synthesizing your readings and other "input" with your own thoughts
Experienced teachers of critical thinking often emphasize eight ways to analyze (break into constituent parts) and/or synthesize (build up, amalgamate, link to other sections or other texts). The active role of the reader is to create a comprehensive picture of what any given narrative statement means, and that act often involves composition of brief personal essays. Reading should always combine elements of analysis and synthesis, therefore, active reading is also writing.
These questions could be put in the singular or plural. And they might apply in some cases, but not in all =
1) What is the main purpose?
2) What is the key question posed?
3) What is the most significant information presented?
4) What is the main conclusion?
5) What are the presumptions of prior knowledge?
6) What are the essential assumptions unexpressed directly?
7) What larger picture emerges from a generalization on main themes?
8) What is the "point of view"?
The Foundation for Critical Thinking [W] identified nine useful intellectual standards =
1) Clarity (completeness, illustrative examples)
2) Accuracy (sources that can be checked, possibility of verification)
3) Precision (specifics, details)
4) Relevance (connection of details to larger arguments)
5) Depth (awareness of difficulties and complexities)
6) Breadth (multiple perspectives or points of view)
7) Logic (coherence of parts, fit of facts with generalizations)
8) Significance (hit or miss main problems, balance and hierarchy)
9) Fairness (Who says? Who am I to say? Vested interests)
Would the questions and standards suggested above apply the same way to primary and secondary historical narratives? [ID]
Put yourself in a "laboratory" experiment, using written texts (as distinguishable from the standard meaning of reading texts). Sharpen your skills of quick extraction of central THESIS and swift acquisition of key examples from each reading. This is what I mean by using printed texts.
You will find that UO library books suggested in bibliographies will not always be available, so be flexible. Be prepared to check them out as available (put a "hold" on a desired title). In the meantime, take a second or third choice from among the many options. For long-term projects, you should know how to use the Summit option when you cannot get the book at UO. The KNIGHT LIBRARY CATALOG allows you to order books from libraries with which UO is associated. SUMMIT works best for extended research papers. Our KNIGHT collection should be sufficient for draft-essay purposes.
Of course, careful and concentrated reading is the superior way to approach quality writing, but in this actual world of ours we often have to move fast and make the most of limited time. That's what this "using" experiment is about. Do not hesitate to dig in, to give the most interesting texts your closest possible "reading", but also learn how to "skim".
In your library work, be practical, but still trust your own instincts = If you want to expand your using or reading horizon beyond the titles found in the syllabus or in SAC, do so. Most of the titles distributed throughout SAC are on the library’s open shelves and available for two-week checkout. Hey, I’m easy. If you would like to substitute one of these other publications for books I suggest, do so, but only after you and I have discussed the matter.
START YOUR OWN LIBRARY
You will have some spare change this term because you are not purchasing a high-price textbook. Buy a photocopy card at the library and use it regularly.
You might consider placing photocopies or electronic cut-and-paste versions of important texts and maps in a packet especially devoted to photocopied course materials, but do not put them in your journal.
A tip = As you build your own photocopy library, always copy title pages. You want to take away perfect bibliographical information as well as the desired text. Staple separate selections together with title page on top.
Photocopying helps overcome the brief checkout time allowed for reserve-book-room titles. It helps build your own permanent and personal "textbook" or anthology of useful readings. And it extends the life of our library holdings because you can mark the photocopy as you wish.
SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
The study of any big national history requires bravery as well as the more traditional academic virtues. Double the bravery for regional, comparative or world histories. No one can master it all, so every serious historian (this includes you) learns how to surf these powerful surging seas of information with grace and aplomb.
Do not despair, just show appropriate respect for the job at hand. I promise to provide a great deal of navigational help as we glide over these surging seas. For our purposes, English will suffice, because the sources attached to our course will be (nearly always) in English. When the occasional foreign-language term or bibliographic reference occurs, you will not be held responsible for it in its native form. Yes, there are words of foreign origin that have come into English, and we will presume that is so. E.g., bourgeoisie, tsar, intelligentsia, Soviet, etc.
Work to use what you learn and understand in the best possible way. Do not fret much about what you cannot yet learn or do not yet understand. Remember the warnings and reassurances in "Ways of Seeing History". Our mutual purpose is to discover what you can learn, not what you cannot or have not learned.