Today is National Dictionary Day here in the U.S. and I thought it would be a fun time to look at some unusual words that pertain to history. These aren't really dictionary definitions. After all, what fun would that be? They are more, definitions as they apply to historical research.
Definition - the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.
early 15c., from Latin contextus "a joining together," originally past-participle of contexere "to weave together,"
from com- "together" + texere "to weave".
In history -
When looking at a specific, small topic, like family history, establishing context can mean two things. The first, is gathering information about outside events that might have affected the subject of your research. For example, researching your ancestors living in Oklahoma in the 1930s, it could be very important to understand the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, so that you can understand what the sources you find mean within the context of those two events.
The second form of context, can refer to bias. Every piece of information is subject to bias. You are bias, and the sources you choose to incorporate as well as the information you choose to wain from those sources and how you tell the story will be influenced by that bias. Even your sources are bias, they were written by humans with opinions and objectives for specific reasons. This establishes a context that can help you understand what further information you might need as well as how to interpret your sources.
the evidence of the past, such as historical sites, buildings,
and the unspoilt natural environment, considered collectively
as the inheritance of present-day society
Origin - c.1200, "that which may be inherited," from Old French iritage, eritage , heritage, from heriter "inherit," from Late Latin hereditare,
ultimately from Latin heres (genitive heredis) "heir."
In history -
Heritage has earned itself a rather controversial position in the historical vocabulary. According to historian David Loewenthal, "The purpose of 'heritage' is to domesticate the past for present causes."* It is the idea of using history as a kind of propoganda with a specific end in mind. Consider it the ultimate bias-- and one more often than not political in nature. This simple term, while often used innocently, can have rather dark connotations in some instances.
the body of techniques, theories, and principles of historical
research and presentation;
methods of historical scholarship.
1560s; see from history + -graphy. Related: Historiographer.
In History -
Typically this refers to a method of doing research that we adhere to, in order to make our research valuable for future generations. Historiography dictates that we should attempt to interpret history without bending it based on our personal biases or the biases of our sources. It also tells us that to do this we should try to rely upon primary sources for our information where possible, rather than relying on the interpretation of another historian too heavily.
*taken from John Fea's Why Study History? pp. 39-40.
If you are interested in knowing more about the how and why behind genealogy and family history research, my book The Purposeful Family Historian delves into how to harness the bigger picture of historical context and research to find your purpose and propel your research.
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