The American Scholar on the Value of Historical Research

Anthony Grafton and James Grossman have published a blog post on The American Scholar entitled, “Habits of Mind: Why college students who do serious historical research become independent, analytical thinkers” (HT Zalman Newfield). The article begins by summarizing the conventional thinking on both sides of the “value of the humanities” argument, and then settles in to a thoughtful and informed discussion of the benefits of the processes and side effects of studying one particular field with the broad and diverse macro-field of “The Humanities,” namely, history. You’ll have to read through the article yourself for all the insights, but the conclusion is that the student who learns to conduct serious historical research is not just learning a vocation, but is doing much more:

When a student does research in this way—when she attacks a problem that matters to her by identifying and mastering the sources, posing a big question, and answering it in a clear and cogent way, in the company of a trained professional to whom she and her work matter—she’s not becoming a pedant or a producer of useless knowledge. She’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?


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