How to Become a Historical Researcher

Offering advice on how to become a historical researcher is never going to be a simple step by step guide that can be followed and be something that guarantees results, however this post will offer some advice that will steer you in the right direction. Hopefully it will help those of you who are interested on your way to becoming a historian!

Before we start, just what is historical research? For more information on this topic, please see our previous post. So, how do you set about becoming a historian?

The most obvious of paths is through education. For those of you that are young enough and are in still in full-time education at school, the simplest way is of course to study history at every opportunity through your learning provider and to continue that through college and university. If you wish to become a historical researcher as a full time profession it would be very much advisable and most probably required that you continue to study a form of history through to postgraduate education, perhaps even gaining a doctorate!

But what then? Even with all of your degrees, where and what do you do? How do you become a historical researcher?

Perhaps a career as an archivist! Although this may sound rather sterile and boring to many, an archivist career does not have to be restricted to boxing historical items up for real researchers to come along and access. Working as an archivist can allow you to research. It can give you a fantastic understanding of how the researching can and should be done, the big picture of what is available to you as a researcher and how best you can access it. With this training and understanding, when a job arrives as a historical researcher you will be much more prepared. Even volunteering at places such as your local historical archive can be greatly benefitial to your chances, and very interesting and rewarding!

Of course, not all of us are blessed with youth, do not have the opportunity to go to college or university or simply do not want to pursue the subject with full time rigour. Many historical researchers are not full time professionals with doctorates supporting them, but local or family historians who have little or no qualifications in the subject. Remember, a lack of a qualification in history does not prevent you from becoming a historical researcher!

Family historians use services such as ancestry.co.uk to access their family tree and delve into their family history with great interest. To become this sort of researcher, all you need is an internet connection, a bit of cash and dedication to the cause!

Reading historical sources detailing your local area for, say a local community project can easily be as important and interesting as any historical research project. Primary data concerning your local town or street can be accessed from many town or city libraries.

Hopefully this article has ignited your interest in historical research and shown you a number of ways of how to become a historical researcher!

Hear why Dr Rumm became a historian!

What is Historical Research?

The process of understanding and understanding the background and growth of a chosen field of study or profession can offer insight into organizational culture, current trends, and future possibilities. The historical method of research applies to all fields of study because it encompasses their: origins, growth, theories, personalities, crisis, etc. Both quantitative and qualitative variables can be used in the collection of historical information. Once the decision is made to conduct historical research, there are steps that should be followed to achieve a reliable result. Charles Busha and Stephen Harter detail six steps for conducting historical research (91):

the recognition of a historical problem or the identification of a need for certain historical knowledge.
the gathering of as much relevant information about the problem or topic as possible.
if appropriate, the forming of hypothesis that tentatively explain relationships between historical factors.
The rigorous collection and organization of evidence, and the verification of the authenticity and veracity of information and its sources.
The selection, organization, and analysis of the most pertinent collected evidence, and the drawing of conclusions; and
the recording of conclusions in a meaningful narrative.
In the field of library and information science, there are a vast array of topics that may be considered for conducting historical research. For example, a researcher may chose to answer questions about the development of school, academic or public libraries, the rise of technology and the benefits/ problems it brings, the development of preservation methods, famous personalities in the field, library statistics, or geographical demographics and how they effect library distribution. Harter and Busha define library history as “the systematic recounting of past events pertaining to the establishment, maintenance, and utilization of systematically arranged collections of recorded information or knowledge….A biography of a person who has in some way affected the development of libraries, library science, or librarianship is also considered to be library history. (93)”

There are a variety of places to obtain historical information. Primary Sources are the most sought after in historical research. Main resources are first hand accounts of knowledge. “Finding as well as assessing primary traditional data is a workout in detective work. logic, intuition, persistence, and common sense…(Tuchman, Gaye in Strategies of Qualitative Inquiry, 252). Some examples of primary documents are: personal diaries, eyewitness accounts of events, and oral histories. “Secondary sources of information are records or accounts prepared by someone other than the person, or persons, who participated in or observed an event.” Secondary resources can be very useful in giving a researcher a grasp on a subject and may provided extensive bibliographic information for delving further into a research topic.

In any type of historical research, there are issues to consider. Harter and Busha list three principles to consider when conducting historical research (99-100):

Consider the slant or biases of the information you are working with and the ones possessed by the historians themselves.
This is particularly true of qualitative research. Consider an example provided by Gaye Tuchman:
Let us assume that women’s letters and diaries are pertinent to ones research question and that one can locate pertinent examples. One cannot simply read them….one must read enough examples to infer the norms of what could be written and how it could be expressed. For instance, in the early nineteenth century, some (primarily female) schoolteachers instructed girls in journal writing and read their journals to do so. How would such instruction have influenced the journals kept by these girls as adults?…it is useful to view the nineteenth-century journal writer as an informant. Just as one tries to understand how a contemporary informant speaks from specific social location, so too one would want to establish the social location of the historical figure. One might ask of these and other diaries: What is the characteristic of middle-class female diary writers? What is the characteristic of this informant? How should one view what this informant writes?

b. Quantitative facts may also be biased in the types of statistical data collected or in how that information was interpreted by the researcher.

There are many factors that can contribute to “historical episodes”.
Evidence should not be examined from a singular point of view.