Cover image for The historian's toolbox : a student's guide to the theory and craft of history
The historian's toolbox : a student's guide to the theory and craft of history
Williams, Robert Chadwell, 1938-
Publication Information:
Armonk, N.Y. : M.E. Sharpe, [2003]

Physical Description:
xv, 170 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D16 .W62 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



What is history and how do we learn about it? How has our understanding of history changed and developed over the years? How do historians and students actually go about "doing" history? In an engaging and entertaining style, this accessible "how-to" manual introduces readers to the theory, craft, and methods of history and provides a series of "tools" to help anyone read, research, and understand the past. The first half of the book is a stimulating overview of the key elements of history - evidence, narrative, judgment - that explores how the study and concepts of history have evolved over the centuries. The second half guides readers through the "workshop" of history. Unlocking the historian's "toolbox," it reveals the tricks of the trade, offering concrete examples and practical advice on the study, comprehension, and communication of history. The book covers myriad historical tools, including documents, sources, footnotes, arguments, bibliographies, chronologies, and many other items. It also examines professional ethics and controversial issues, such as plagiarism, historical hoaxes, and conspiracy theories. Brief and illuminating, and filled with fascinating historical information and stories, The Historian's Toolbox will inspire students and teachers alike as it cuts through the jargon and explains simply the "why," "what," and "how" of history.

Author Notes

Robert C. Williams is Vail Professor of History at Davidson College in North Carolina

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The third edition of this title by Williams (emer., Davidson College) contains most of the material in the previous editions (2nd ed., 2007; 1st ed., CH, Sep'03, 41-0075), including part 1, "The Craft of History," and part 2, "The Tools of History." The chapter titled "Using the Internet" has been expanded and moved into a new section--part 3, "The Relevance of History." This new part has sections titled "Oral History," "Material Culture," "Public History," "Event Analysis," "New Tools: GIS and CSI," "History on the Internet," "TMI: Too Much Information," and "Epilogue: The Persistence of History." The purpose of the third edition is "to help history students, and even other historians, understand the tools of the intellectual process and craft that is history." The book guides students in selecting a topic, conducting research, evaluating and acknowledging sources, writing narrative, and interpreting meaning. As in previous editions, each chapter concludes with a "task"--an assignment that gives practical application to the concepts discussed. Although pricey for a student history text, this title, now enhanced with new material, continues to serve as an excellent guide to conducting historical research. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above. E. R. Hitchcock Cumberland University

Table of Contents

Illustrations and Tablesp. xi
History as Funp. xiii
Part I The Craft of History
1 The Pastp. 3
2 Storyp. 7
3 Historyp. 11
4 Metahistoryp. 20
5 Antihistoryp. 27
6 The Presentp. 33
7 The Futurep. 39
Part II The Tools of History
8 Doing History: An Overviewp. 47
8.1 Choosing a Good Paper Topicp. 47
8.2 Reading Historyp. 48
8.3 Taking Notesp. 51
8.4 How to "Write a Good History Paperp. 52
9 Sources and Evidencep. 56
9.1 Primary and Secondary Sourcesp. 56
Primary Source: The Wannsee Protocol (1942)p. 57
Secondary Source: Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (2000)p. 57
Summaryp. 59
9.2 Documentsp. 59
A Revolutionary War Ancestor's Pension Application (1832)p. 59
9.3 Mapsp. 61
Sebastian Munster's Map of the Americas, c. 1540p. 61
9.4 Artifactsp. 64
Digging Ancient Moscowp. 64
9.5 Imagesp. 66
Sharpshooter's Home or Photographer's Studio?p. 66
9.6 Cliometrics: Using Statistics to Prove a Pointp. 70
The Black Population of Colonial Americap. 70
9.7 Genetic Evidencep. 72
Welsh and Basques, Relatively Speakingp. 72
Jefferson and Sally Hemings-What's My Line?p. 73
10 Credit and Acknowledgmentp. 79
10.1 Footnotesp. 79
10.2 Bibliographyp. 81
Styling Your Bibliographyp. 81
Types of Bibliographiesp. 82
A Selective, Annotated Bibliographyp. 82
10.3 Acknowledging Sources and Avoiding Plagiarismp. 83
10.4 Professional Plagiarism: How Not to Do Historyp. 86
11 Narrative and Explanationp. 90
11.1 The Language of the Historianp. 90
Paul Revere and the New England Villagep. 91
11.2 Chronologyp. 95
The Life of Margaret Fullerp. 95
11.3 Narrativep. 98
Pickett's Charge at Gettysburgp. 98
11.4 Argumentp. 102
"Little Women" Who Helped Make This Great Warp. 103
11.5 Causationp. 104
11.6 The Reasons Whyp. 106
Explaining the Mann Gulch Fire of August 5, 1949p. 107
12 Interpretationp. 110
12.1 Reviewing Historyp. 110
Bellesiles's Arming Americap. 110
12.2 Historical Revisionp. 114
The Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy (1822)p. 114
12.3 Historiographyp. 117
World War IIp. 118
12.4 Women's History: The Leo Frank Casep. 121
13 Speculationp. 126
13.1 Historical Speculationp. 126
Will the Real Martin Guerre Please Get an Identity?p. 126
13.2 History as Fictionp. 128
The Soldier Who Never Wasp. 129
13.3 Conspiraciesp. 131
Who Really Really Killed Lincoln?p. 131
13.4 Forgeries and Facsimilesp. 134
Is a Document Genuine?p. 134
Is a Collection of Documents Authentic?p. 135
How Can Forgeries Influence History?p. 136
Is a Newly Discovered Collection by a Well-Known Author Authentic?p. 137
If It Is a Forgery, Who Is the Forger?p. 137
13.5 Fiction as Historyp. 138
13.6 Film as History: Fact or Fiction?p. 141
Film Can Help the Historian Understand the Pastp. 141
Films Can Hinder Our Understanding of the Historical Pastp. 143
Part III The Relevance of History
14 Everyday Historyp. 149
14.1 Studying Ordinary Peoplep. 149
The Burgermeister's Daughterp. 149
14.2 Everyone's a Historianp. 151
15 Oral Historyp. 154
15.1 The Perils of Memoryp. 154
15.2 Interviewees and Interviewersp. 156
The WPA Slave Narrativesp. 157
15.3 Techniques of Oral Historyp. 159
16 Material Culturep. 161
16.1 Spirits in the Material Worldp. 161
Richard Bushman and The Refinement of Americap. 162
16.2 Studying Material Culturep. 164
17 Public Historyp. 166
17.1 History Beyond the Ivory Towerp. 166
17.2 History and the Publicp. 167
The Enola Gay Controversyp. 168
18 Event Analysisp. 172
18.1 History in Real Timep. 172
The Iraq War: Munich, Mukden, or Mexico?p. 173
19 History on the Internetp. 177
19.1 Using the Internet: Promises and Pitfallsp. 177
19.2 Wikipedia and "Wikiality"p. 179
19.3 Blogging the Past (and Present)p. 181
Glossaryp. 183
Selected Bibliographyp. 191
Indexp. 195