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Historical Research methodology (Steps in historical research)

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Jul 10, 2022 , Updated: Jul 18, 2022 · 6 min read

Historical research methodology is the step-by-step structure of the procedures that a historical researcher must follow to produce a worthy research outcome.

Research methodology deals with the activity of recognizing, using and interpreting the sources of history towards a careful investigation for increasing the sum of historical knowledge.

It is a systematized study of procedural features in conducting investigations for assessing the past studies and social experiences and analysing them with new factual additions and further new interpretations and explanations.

Types of Historical Research

1) Bibliographic research

Bibliographic research may be defined as any research requiring information to be gathered from published materials.

It aims at determining and presenting truthfully the important facts about the life, character and achievements of important educators.

The main purpose of a bibliography entry is to give credit to authors whose work you've consulted in your research.

It also makes it easy for a reader to find out more about your topic by delving into the research that you used to write your paper.

2) Legal research

Historical approach to legal research helps untangle legal problems rooted in the past.

It often provides guideposts showing how things have developed and evolved over the years.

It is "the process of identifying and retrieving information necessary to support legal decision-making.

In its broadest sense, legal research includes each step of a course of action that begins with an analysis of the facts of a problem and concludes with the application and communication of the results of the investigation."

3) Studying the history of ideas

It involves the tracing of major philosophical or scientific thoughts from their origins through their different stages of development.

Historians of ideas study ancient and present times, but also visions of the future, in order to discuss and determine the factors that affect historical development.

Through the study of History of ideas you achieve engaging perspectives on modern worldviews.

4) Studying the history of institutions and organizations

Studying the history of some prominent schools, universities and other educational institutions also provide numerous problems for significant historical research.

The main objective of an institutional history is to help scientists and their organizations learn, so it is important that they actively engage in the process.

Facilitators with a broad social science outlook are usually required to promote this process.

Steps in historical research

1) Selecting the idea, topic or research question

The investigator should have a clear mind about the idea, topic or research question.

The problem should be significant and one which can be solved through research.

He should have familiarity with previous research in the field and should see that duplicity does not take place.

2) Formulation of hypothesis

The hypothesis (परिकल्पना) that the researcher constructs for historical research are useful in explaining events, conditions or phenomena (घटना) of the historical period in question.

3) Collection of data

As compared to other method, collection of data in this method is difficult.

Historical data has to be inclusive, it will create a lot of confusion.

So researcher has to be on guard against it, he has to propose a number of headings into which the data may be classified.

The efforts of the historian in the collection of data are seriously handicapped because of many difficulties.

1) He has not lived at the time and is thus removed from the events that he investigates.

Therefore he must draw his data from the experiences and observations of others.

2) The recorded experiences are available in their exaggerated form and are full of superfluous details.

3) The recorded experiences may be out-dated point of view and do not suit present day requirements.

4) The records which have been destroyed cannot be created over again.

The available records are incomplete and otherwise defective in several ways.

5) The historical data are not comparable to the materials of the physical sciences.

They have to be reconstructed in many cases from unverifiable source.

Sources of history

Sources of history are classified into two parts: i.e., Material or physical sources and Written or literary sources.

Material or physical sources of history such as ancient monuments, coins , inscriptions, etc., which got buried under the ground are unearthed by the archaeologists.

Written or literary sources were created during the medieval period, they provide us with rich information about the past.

These literary works are considered as the written sources of history.

Primary and secondary sources
1) Primary sources
They are the original creation of the time of the history to which they are referring to.

They provide first-hand or original information of the historical event.

Tools, weapons, clothing, building, painting, coins etc are the examples of primary sources unconsciously kept.

Autobiographies, letters, diaries etc are consciously kept for information.

2) Secondary source
The sources which have been created by analysing and interpreting the primary sources are called secondary sources.

They are generally written much later after a given historical event.

Examples: literary works, biographies.

Secondary sources are not trusted completely, but they serve some useful purpose.

Historical criticism

The historians does not often use the methods of direct observation since he gets much of his data from the reports of those who witnessed or participated in these events, the data is subject to historical criticism.

It consists of 2 parts as under:

1) External criticism
Through external criticism, the historian checks the validity of the document and determine whether it is admissible as an evidence.

For this purpose, he asks many questions like - time, author, language of the document.

2) Internal criticism
After external criticism, the historian tries to find out the accuracy or worth of the document.

Following questions comes to his mind - was the writer competent, unbiased, honest and without fear, pressure or vanity.

4) Interpretation of data

The interpretation of data is complicated in historical research.

Since history is actually a record of the chain of related events, it becomes very difficult for a researcher to interpret that one event in the chain was caused by the previous event in the chain.

Here determining cause and effect relationship too is a difficult job.

The researcher must be cautious in his use of analogy in the interpretation of data.

While drawing comparison between one historical event and any number of others, he must carefully make use of similarities as well as of differences.

5) Writing of research report

The reporting of historical research should imbibe the good qualities of historical narrative.

Sufficient care should be taken in the selection and organization of the material to be presented.

There are different methods of organising historical research material: chronological, topical, thematic and foundational.

The style of writing research report should be lucid, simple, objective, designed scholarly and intelligible for the report to be effective.

It should reflect historical accuracy, possess historical authenticity and should be based on historical evidence obtained.

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