At the beginning of your studies, you will probably have many general questions, such as:
o How did Europe come to dominate so much of modern history?
o Was North America destined to become a super power?
o Does the past have any bearing on the world today?
o Does history have any bearing on an individual person’s life?
Many people enjoy easing into history and historical questions by reading historical fiction. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is a popular choice and can lead people to further study Renaissance art, culture, and history.
History of War
Many people begin studying history by looking at the history of warfare. Military History and Maritime History can be fascinating subjects. You can study the wars themselves or the political figures who orchestrated the events.
Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940-45 by Sir Max Hastings is a detailed portrait of Winston Churchill. It is a fascinating introduction to England during the modern wars. Learning about the war periods can be disturbing. You might have many questions about the very nature of war.
Some questions might be:
o Does war define human history?
o Should you define historical time periods by the wars that were fought?
o If history is written by the victors, can we ever have a truly accurate account of a war?
o Can lessons from history help us prevent future militarized conflicts?
Whispers from the Ancient World
Once you explore modern military history, you might want to learn more about Ancient History and Civilization. Understanding the roots of civilization is key to a broad historical education. For thousands of years, a liberal arts education was based around ancient history and ancient languages such as Latin and Greek. In the modern era, our knowledge of the ancient world has been enhanced by Archaeology. Books that explore the ruins of ancient buildings and villages offer a fascinating glimpse inside the daily life of the ancients.
Another way to see ancient civilization through the eyes of those who lived at that time is by reading accounts recorded by ancient historians. Both The Histories (Oxford World’s Classics) by Herodotus and The Peloponnesian War (Classics) by Thucydides are respected accounts of the ancient world. These accounts, however, are not entirely accurate. Historians in the ancient world were not as concerned with making sure every detail of their histories was factually accurate. They wanted to tell stories; they wanted to flatter the people in power. This former inclination to change history troubles some people. They see remnants of this in modern life and it raises many questions:
o Have people changed since ancient times?
o Were ancient governmental systems better or worse than today’s governments?
o Is it possibly to find an unbiased ancient historian? What does this say about our own modern historians?
o Has the discipline of history improved since the days of Herodotus and Thucydides?
o Do any groups or individuals still try to change history to suit their purposes?
Politics as Usual
The political machinations of the ancient world are just as exciting as the today’s Political History. The history of each political system in the world is a long history. Thousands of small cultural movements contributed to the adoption of each governmental system. It is impossible to study political history without exploring Social & Economic History as well. Academic history studies have only been interested in political history for a short period of time. Of all historical studies, it is the youngest. Political history intersects with Cultural History. The questions you will have will be related to culture as well as politics.
o Will the two party system in America last indefinitely?
o Is democracy the best form of government?
o Is an economically successful communist country possible?
An Entire World of History
Too many people focus exclusively on western history in their studies. There is an entire world of history, be sure you do not focus exclusively on western cultures, such as Britain & Ireland. Make sure that you dedicate at least some of your study time to eastern cultures. There are many excellent World History Texts available. Russia and China are fascinating countries. It is quite easy to get lost in their engrossing histories. Russia and the USSR, 1855-1991: Autocracy and Dictatorship by Stephen J. Lee is a great text to transition your political studies to Eastern cultural studies. You should also investigate some of the faiths of people in the Eastern world. Texts on Buddhism and Hinduism can help you better understand the historical story of people. Religious History Essays are often a source of insight. When you study, you should make note of any questions you might have.
o Why is most history curriculum focused exclusively on Western culture?
o Should you study the history of other cultures or just focus on your own?
o Is it possible to relate to a history about a people from a different cultural background?
o Should people study different religions to better understand the faith and culture of a nation?
The Basics of History Study
It is important to amass a collection of Reference material. Depending on what area of study you want to focus on, there are a few books you should have. If you are studying the British Empire, you should get a copy of The Penguin Historical Atlas of the British Empire (Penguin Reference) by Nigel Dalziel. You should augment your studies with as many Journals, Letters & True Accounts, as possible. Reading texts such as Her Own Life: Autobiographical Writings by Seventeenth Century Englishwomen provide a valuable insight into the real lives of people in history. In the end, that is the true value of history. Getting insight into those from the past, from all Countries & Regions, and learning how their struggles can relate to ours is a valuable lesson from history.