Back to the Sources
Full course description
Reading history is not the same as researching it. Researching history means pursuing one’s own enquiry into the past, instead of following another historian’s argument about it. Above all, researching history implies not relying on ‘second-hand’ information. Instead, it involves going back to the primary historical sources as much as possible. However, going back to the sources is not as simple and straightforward as it may sound. There are all sorts of difficulties involved, intellectual as well as practical.
This Skills is offering a first introduction to the ways historians deal with these difficulties. During the Skills student will discuss the information value of several historical sources: international treaties, public political statements, memoirs, archival records, public opinion sources. The several specific sources that you will discuss during the course will all be related to one specific theme: the origins of the first European Community, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), established in 1952 (and the first that ceased to exist, in 2002). This early episode in the history of European integration is particularly suited for an introduction to historical research because a variety of archival and other primary sources is readily available. It is also an interesting topic because it has led to controversy among historians. What was the role of the leading politicians and officials involved, especially Schuman and Monnet? To what extent did existing idealism about European unity play a role? Or was the initiative to establish the ECSC rather inspired by national self-interest of the states involved?
This Skills will be a useful guide to those students who are keen on doing historical research in the future. But it will also prove to be of value to those with a general interest in history and in the history of the European integration process in particular. By offering knowledge and insights on how the historian works, it will mentally equip them to assess the strong and the weak aspects of the histories they will be reading to inform themselves on specific topics, especially topics concerned with the process of European integration.
- To familiarize students with the most important types of primary sources (esp. on the history of the EU) and the ways to find these sources (heuristic objective).
- To stimulate a critical and methodical attitude towards sources (critical objective).
- To differentiate between primary and secondary sources.
- To appreciate the importance of primary sources for the study of historical phenomena in general.
- To recognize the different characteristics and pitfalls of the several types of primary sources.