Some Thoughts about
in the Academic Setting
Develop a personal ability not only to read but also to "use" the printed text
Suggestions about readings for HIST 103 are found at two levels =
(1) The specific electronic course syllabus page [EG]. 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 reaching deeper into specialized topics. You will probably not have many occasions to pursue these more specialized readings, but might well do so in connection with some or all of your four draft essays [ID] or in response to particular issues raised in your Discussion Section.
Notice that accent above on reading lists as "suggestions". You are free to pick and mix these options as you wish and as guided by your Instructor in the Discussion Section. Do not feel you have to stop after 2 or 4 hours in any one reading. THE ONLY OBLIGATORY FEATURE OF THE READINGS IN THIS COURSE IS THAT YOU ARE EXPECTED TO DEVOTE EIGHT HOURS A WEEK (on average a little more than one hour a day), OUTSIDE OF CLASS AND DISCUSSION SECTION MEETINGS, READING AND WRITING IN YOUR JOURNAL [ID]. Feel free to budget your over-all commitment of 8 hours per week as you see fit (one full-8 hour day or split up over the week). But keep your Discussion Section calendar firmly in mind. More time with one reading means less time for others, but if that suits your curiosity and fits the goals of your Discussion Section, fine. Be practical, make prudent choices among the suggested readings. But, most of all, develop and then 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; show judgment and discrimination. Along with the passive act of information extraction and transference into your journal, there are also two vital active roles for the academic reader and note-taker =
(1) Summary or epitomization of readings, and
(2) "analysis" and/or "synthesis" of readings in four short "draft essays" of your own composition (1 to 4 pages) [ID].
We all use the terms "analysis" and "synthesis", but we do not always make sure our meaning is clear =
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.
The following questions can be put to any historical narrative. They 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]
Wouldn't the questions and standards suggested above apply to your own draft essays?
Put yourself in a "laboratory" experiment in 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 a few key examples from each reading. This is what I mean by using printed texts.
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. Thats what this "using" experiment is about. Do not hesitate to dig in, to give the most interesting and important texts your closest possible "reading", but also learn how to "skim".
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, such as our third term of "Western Civilization". 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, and your Discussion Section Instructors will do the same.
For our purposes, English will suffice, because the sources attached to our course will be in English. Still we need to remind ourselves right here that the serious study of "Western Civilization" in our period requires reading knowledge of at least four languages, English, French, German and Russian. 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, 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" [TXT]. Our mutual purpose here is to help you learn a thing or two about the past 200 years of "Western Civ", and then to discover what you have learned, as displayed in your reading notes, draft essays and exams, all in your journal. We are not much interested in what you cannot or have not learned. So present yourself as fledgling historian in your journal in the finest way you can, and trust that the journal will be read in order to discover you as fledgling historian.