The Seventh Decade Direction: Is There Are Way to Write History That Isn't Boring?
For example: “How did white and African-American defense plant workers create and think about interracial relationships during World War Two?” This question investigates broad issues—interracial romance, sexual identity—but within a specific context—World War Two and the defense industry. Avoid selecting a topic that is too broad: “How has war affected sex in America?” is too broad. It would take several books to answer this question. A good question is narrow enough so that you can find a persuasive answer to it in time to meet the due date for this class paper. After selecting a broad topic of interest, narrow it down so that it will not take hundreds of pages to communicate what happened and why it was important. The best way write a narrow question is to put some limitations on the question’s range. Choosing a particular geographic place (a specific location), subject group (who? what groups?), and periodization (from when to when?) are the most common ways to limit a historical question. The example above already contains a limited subject group (whites and African-Americans) and a short time period (WWII, 1941-1945); simply adding a place, such as “in the Bay Area” or “in Puget Sound” further narrows the topic: “How did white and African-American defense plant workers in the San Francisco Bay area create and think about interracial relationships during World War Two?” is a much more manageable question than one that addresses all defense workers. Avoid a question that only looks at one specific event or process. For example, “What happened on Thursday, Dec.12, 1943 at the Boeing bomber plant in Albany, California?” is too narrow. Perhaps there may have been several important events that day, including a fight over an interracial relationship. However, this question does not position you to explore the larger processes that were taking place in the plant over time, nor why they are important for understanding sex, race and gender in American history. A good historical question demands an answer that is not just yes or no. Why and how questions are often good choices, and so are questions that ask you to compare and contrast a topic in different locations or time periods; so are questions that ask you to explain the relationship between one event or historical process and another.
Muslims, on the other hand, date their calendar from the day their religious leader Muhammad left Mecca for Madinah (Fernández-Armesto 98). According to the western calendar, the initials “B.C.” denote the years before the birth of Christ (Thompson and Holm 56). The western dating system is the most popular dating method in historical studies. Years after the birth of Jesus are known as “A.D” which stands for Anno Domini, which is a Latin phrase that means “in the year of the Lord” (Fernández-Armesto 99).
Historians often disagree over what "the facts" are as well as over how they should be interpreted. The problem is complicated for major events that produce "winners" and "losers," since we are more likely to have sources written by the "winners," designed to show why they were heroic in their victories.
Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. The World: A History Combined Volume, London, UK: Pearson, 2009. Print.
Thompson, James Westfall, and Bernard Holm. A History of Historical Writing: From the earliest times to the end of the seventeenth century, Michigan, US: University of Michigan, 2006. Print.