|Herodotus: Invented History|
Rule One: Things are never simple.
Firstly, just remember that history is fairly complicated. This is a good thing because it means that there is always more to learn and you will never get bored. As a general rule, when someone tells you a neat historical fact such as “Hitler caused WWII” just remember that, with a little digging, you will find out more. Sometimes you will find that the neat fact is simply wrong but more usually you find that the fact is only partially correct and with a little effort you can give flesh out a fuller picture of what happened. Think of the complexity of the world we live in and how every event has different causes and then consider that times past were no different. Treat history with the respect it deserves and if there is material available for study don’t settle for the first answer given.
Rule Two: Know Your Biases
|Thucydides: A Better Historian than Herodotus|
Rule Three: Think of it as a Story
History is the simplest of all subjects to learn. I’m biased because I like history but hey. I find it the simplest to learn because you can treat it like a story. If you just learn a string of dates “Battle of Hastings happened 1066 AD” etc. then you will find it hard to remember. But think of your friends and family and try and piece together what they have been up to over the last few years. Now you could try and learn a list of dates, marking off what a particular person did on a particular day. If you can do that and remember it I salute you! But if you can’t you might be better to try and think of one person and think in terms of stories. Stories are a great way to remember the tale. Even if you forget the dates you will remember the overall sequence of events and that’s half the battle. As a general rule, computers are very good with tables and lists of numbers. Humans generally are not, but we are quite decent with stories.
Rule Four: Learn a few dates
|Sima Qian: First Chinese Historian|
Rule Five: Know Your Sources
|Edward Gibbon: Famous Historian|
Ok, so the “holiday” is a historical event. Your sources of information are books, carvings, newspaper articles etc. To get the best picture of the event you need to find as many sources as possibly, make sure that they aren’t simply copying each other and give priority to those sources that are fairly close in time to the event that they are describing while keeping an eye out for the biases of those who wrote it.
Rule Six: Know a little theory
Lastly, there are theories of history that historians have come up with over the years. These are not explanations of particular events but grand frameworks of ideas that they use to try and understand all of history. Some are better than others but if you read one of their works and don’t realise that there is a grand overall theme (that they may try and force the data to fit) you may be misled by them. You don’t always see it but it happens often enough that it’s worth spending an hour or so reading up on it just so you won’t be caught out next time you watch the History Channel. There is a brief list of theories here.
That’s it! You’re now fully qualified to tinker about and read some history. If you have anything you feel I’ve missed or said wrong please leave a comment below.