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, rather than following another historian’s argument about the past. 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 training offers a first introduction to the ways historians deal with these difficulties. During the course, students will discuss the information value of several historical sources, especially public political statements, archival records and public opinion sources. The sources that will be discussed are all related to one specific theme: 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 well-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 much 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 training will be a useful guide to 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 students to assess the strong and the weak aspects of the histories they will be reading. This will enable them 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.