Reading Historical Texts

When analyzing history, it is important to recognize the existence of multiple and differing perspectives. “Historians can never see the event itself; he (she) can see it through witnesses.” No matter the event that is being examined, the saying that there are two sides to every story holds true, but in the case of history, it could be hundreds upon hundreds of different opinions on one topic. Learning how to find the right primary sources is a skill that involves much practice of engaging historical thinking which is absolutely critical for in the classroom setting.

To activate historical thinking skills most effectively one must be able to “talk to the texts” and understand the biases that surround the topic. Thinking aloud is a good way to do this. When one verbalizes their thoughts it can make it easier for the individual or a group working together to solve the issue that is posed. It is important to remember that everyone comes from a different background, not just the people who wrote the text being analyzed, but the readers as well. Realizing this can be beneficial to conducting primary source activities in the classroom. Sometimes the most important thing that a text can do is what people get from it, not just from what is blatantly stated. Time, place, person, and their tone are all contributing factors to what can be gained from a text.

Finding these aspects of a text is not always simple. Today, the school system urges success in the fastest way possible. It promotes the idea of there being a right/wrong answer to every question, but this is not always the case for history. To fully engage with a text, one must slow down and let the text “speak” to them but keep in mind that the primary source was not written for those in the classroom. Detaching from present conceptions is absolutely needful. When doing this, it is when one can fully achieve understanding the intended purpose of the text.

History is more than just knowing facts! It involves looking at events from the past through not only today’s lenses but from the perspectives of the time as well.