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b. History


Aims. Historical research aims to uncover the past through interpretation of an array of appropriate primary and secondary sources. Often when reviewing the same sources, historians can and do disagree on interpretations of events and assessments of individuals and their actions. The issue of explaining why something happened versus when and where it happened is the most difficult challenge for the historian. Historical research aims to offer fresh, often provocative or counter perspectives based on discovery, development, and analysis of the best available evidence. There are occasions when a historical researcher is limited by the inability to gain access to certain sources. Thus, interpretations of a given topic may change dramatically with additional sources.

Content. Historical research in education focuses on topics that have significant, but often contested, social implications, such as the history of the “achievement gap” or the “gender gap” in educational resources and outcomes. For example, the history of access to elite higher education has generated enormous debate within the historical community. While previous debates have concentrated on the role of race in higher education admissions, researchers are now focusing on the greater role of legacies, social class, and athletic ability in elite college admissions. Historical research in education also involves the study of specific institutions and individuals and their roles in history. Biographies and collective biographies often reveal significant insight into educational change and events. Historians examine a range of normative issues, such as the values embedded in emerging educational structures and the aims of reform movements. They examine a wide range of empirical questions, including what happened in education (description), how it happened (process), and why it happened (causation).

Methods. The historical researcher has to identify and gain access to appropriate sources, determine how reliable and accurate the resources are, and analyze the perspectives or biases from which they were generated. Often drawing on concepts and methods from other disciplines, historians analyze documents such as letters, school policies, newspapers, journals, reports, diaries, narratives, and oral accounts. No single preferred method or perspective exists in historical research. Historical research is often considered both an art and a science because of the skills required to locate, evaluate, and analyze primary data as well as the creativity needed to construct a coherent and credible narrative. Because most historians do not approach a research project with a preconceived notion of an outcome (hypothesis), their approach to a topic is often driven by the primary sources that are deemed most relevant to the project and judged by the credibility of the interpretation.


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