The Craft of International History

The Craft of International History: A Guide to Method

Marc Trachtenberg
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 278
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rnfc
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  • Book Info
    The Craft of International History
    Book Description:

    This is a practical guide to the historical study of international politics. The focus is on the nuts and bolts of historical research--that is, on how to use original sources, analyze and interpret historical works, and actually write a work of history. Two appendixes provide sources sure to be indispensable for anyone doing research in this area.

    The book does not simply lay down precepts. It presents examples drawn from the author's more than forty years' experience as a working historian. One important chapter, dealing with America's road to war in 1941, shows in unprecedented detail how an interpretation of a major historical issue can be developed. The aim throughout is to throw open the doors of the workshop so that young scholars, both historians and political scientists, can see the sort of thought processes the historian goes through before he or she puts anything on paper. Filled with valuable examples, this is a book anyone serious about conducting historical research will want to have on the bookshelf.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2723-7
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Chapter One THE THEORY OF HISTORICAL INQUIRY
    (pp. 1-29)

    This is a book about method. It’s about the techniques historians use to understand international politics. But issues of method cannot be dealt with in a vacuum. To seehowhistorical work needs to be done, you first have to have some sense forwhatit is exactly that historians should be trying to do. What’s the aim of historical analysis? What’s the point of this whole branch of intellectual activity? These questions are of fundamental importance, even in practical terms. To understand the goal of historical work—to know what historical understanding is and what historical explanation is—can...

  5. Chapter Two DIPLOMATIC HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY
    (pp. 30-50)

    A historical interpretation has to have a conceptual core. The facts never really just “speak for themselves.” The historian thus has to make them “speak” by drawing on a kind of theory—by drawing, that is, on a certain sense for how things work. But what does this mean in practice? What role does theory in that broad sense play in actual historical work? And how does a particular conceptual framework take shape in the mind of the historian in the first place? Howshouldhistorians go about developing the sort of theoretical framework they need to make the past...

  6. Chapter Three THE CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF HISTORICAL TEXTS
    (pp. 51-78)

    There’s a method for tackling historical problems, a method for reaching relatively solid conclusions more quickly and more efficiently than you might have thought possible. That method is based on the analysis of what historians call secondary sources—not documents and other “primary” or “original” sources produced at the time, but books and articles written mainly by the historians themselves.

    My main goal in this part of the book is to show what that method is and how it can be used to reach conclusions on major historical issues. I want to show in this chapter how historical texts can...

  7. Chapter Four DEVELOPING AN INTERPRETATION THROUGH TEXTUAL ANALYSIS: THE 1941 CASE
    (pp. 79-139)

    Is real insight into basic historical questions beyond the reach of those who are not prepared to spend many years studying them? I don’t think so. I think that scholars who are not prepared to make that kind of investment can still develop a certain level of historical understanding—a level no one would call superficial—provided they approach historical problems the right way.

    How then are such problems to be approached? Not passively: you can’t just read a lot of books and articles and documents, absorbing what you can and throwing everything into the hopper, and expect that something...

  8. Chapter Five WORKING WITH DOCUMENTS
    (pp. 140-168)

    For most purposes, the method outlined in the previous two chapters will take you as far as you need to go. But suppose you wanted to go further still. Suppose your goal was to get to the bottom of some historical issue—or at least to go into that issue as deeply as you could. In that case, you’d have to spend a lot of time working with primary sources. You’d certainly want to look at published collections of documents. You might also want to use material available on microfilm or microfiche or in some electronic format. You might even...

  9. Chapter Six STARTING A PROJECT
    (pp. 169-182)

    Suppose you’re a political scientist and your goal is to get a handle on a certain theoretical issue by studying it in some specific historical context. How in practice do you proceed? How do you get such a project off the ground? What do you actually do when you begin a project of this sort?

    In this chapter, I want to talk a bit about how the kind of project can be done, and I’m going to do that by taking you through a couple of exercises. I’ll be talking in some detail about two specific projects and about the...

  10. Chapter Seven WRITING IT UP
    (pp. 183-198)

    You begin a major historical research project—one based, that is, on extensive research in original sources—by trying to get a sense for the scholarly “lay of the land.” Your first goal when you start a project is to see what scholars have had to say about the subject you’re interested in—to see where they differ and what specific claims lie at the heart of those disagreements. You want to see what the key questions are and how those questions relate to each other. The aim, in other words, is to develop a certain sense for the “architecture”...

  11. Appendix I IDENTIFYING THE SCHOLARLY LITERATURE
    (pp. 199-216)
  12. Appendix II WORKING WITH PRIMARY SOURCES
    (pp. 217-256)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 257-262)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 263-266)