What Do Historians Do?

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Historians are professionals who study, research, and analyze past events, cultures, and societies. They use a variety of sources, including primary documents, artifacts, and secondary sources, to gain insights into the past and interpret the significance of historical events. Historians play an essential role in our society by helping us understand our past and how it has shaped our present.

Historians work in a variety of settings, including museums, archives, libraries, universities, and research institutions. They may specialize in a particular time period, region, or topic, such as military history, social history, or cultural history. Historians also use their knowledge and expertise to inform public policy, provide legal testimony, and contribute to public debates about historical issues.

Whether they are working on a book, conducting research, or teaching students, historians are passionate about their work and are committed to uncovering the truth about the past. They use critical thinking, analytical skills, and a deep understanding of historical context to make sense of complex historical events and help us better understand our world.

What is History?

History is the study of change over time, and it covers all aspects of human society. Historians examine the past and study the records and artifacts left by previous generations. They analyze these sources to create a narrative of the past, to understand how people lived, what they believed, and how their actions shaped the world we live in today.

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Historians use a wide range of sources to reconstruct the past. They examine primary sources, which are documents or artifacts created during the time period being studied. These sources can include letters, diaries, photographs, maps, and government records. Historians also use secondary sources, which are works written by other historians about the past. These sources can provide context and analysis, but historians must be careful to evaluate their accuracy and bias.

History is a discipline that requires critical thinking, interpretation, and analysis. Historians must be able to weigh evidence, identify patterns, and draw conclusions based on incomplete or contradictory information. They must also be able to communicate their findings clearly and persuasively, both to other historians and to the general public.

Methods of Historical Research

Primary Sources

Historians use primary sources to obtain information about past events. Primary sources are original documents and artifacts created during the time period being studied. Examples of primary sources include letters, diaries, photographs, government records, and newspapers.

Primary sources can provide valuable insights into the thoughts, actions, and experiences of people during a particular time period. However, historians must be careful to analyze primary sources critically and consider the biases and perspectives of the individuals who created them.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are works that analyze and interpret primary sources. Examples of secondary sources include books, journal articles, and documentaries. Historians use secondary sources to gain a broader understanding of a particular time period or event.

Secondary sources can be valuable tools for historians, but they must be evaluated critically. Historians must consider the author’s perspective and biases, as well as the accuracy and reliability of the information presented.

Oral Histories

Oral histories are accounts of past events and experiences that are passed down through word of mouth. Historians use oral histories to gain insights into the perspectives and experiences of people who may not have left written records.

Oral histories can be valuable sources of information, but they must be approached with caution. Memories can be fallible, and individuals may have biases or agendas that influence their recollections.


Archaeology is the study of past human societies through the excavation and analysis of artifacts, structures, and other physical remains. Archaeological evidence can provide insights into the daily lives and activities of past peoples.

Archaeological evidence can be valuable, but it must be interpreted carefully. Archaeologists must consider the context in which artifacts were found and the potential biases and limitations of their methods.

Fields of Historical Study

Political History

Political history is the study of political events, movements, and leaders throughout history. This field of study focuses on the way power is acquired, maintained, and exercised. Political historians analyze the actions of governments, political parties, and individual politicians to understand how they have impacted society. They also examine the social and cultural contexts in which political events occurred.

Some of the key areas of study within political history include:

  • Revolutionary movements and political upheavals
  • Wars and conflicts
  • Political ideologies and systems
  • International relations and diplomacy

Social History

Social history is the study of the ways in which people lived and interacted with one another throughout history. This field of study focuses on the day-to-day experiences of ordinary people, rather than just the actions of political leaders and elites.

Some of the key areas of study within social history include:

  • Family life and gender roles
  • Religion and spirituality
  • Education and literacy
  • Class and social inequality

Cultural History

Cultural history is the study of the ways in which people have expressed themselves creatively throughout history. This field of study focuses on the arts, literature, and other forms of cultural expression.

Some of the key areas of study within cultural history include:

  • Art and architecture
  • Literature and poetry
  • Music and dance
  • Theater and film

Economic History

Economic history is the study of the ways in which people have produced, traded, and consumed goods and services throughout history. This field of study focuses on the economic systems and institutions that have shaped society.

Some of the key areas of study within economic history include:

  • Industrialization and technological change
  • Trade and commerce
  • Capitalism and socialism
  • Globalization and international trade

Historical Interpretation and Analysis

Historical interpretation and analysis is the process of examining and interpreting historical events and sources to understand their significance and meaning. This process involves analyzing primary and secondary sources, identifying patterns and trends, and drawing conclusions based on the evidence available.

Historians use a variety of methods and techniques to analyze historical sources, including textual analysis, content analysis, and discourse analysis. They also use a range of theoretical frameworks, including Marxism, feminism, and postcolonialism, to interpret and understand historical events and sources.

One of the key challenges of historical interpretation and analysis is the fact that historical sources are often incomplete or biased. Historians must carefully evaluate the reliability and validity of sources and take into account the context in which they were produced. This involves examining the social, cultural, and political factors that shaped the production and reception of historical sources.

Another important aspect of historical interpretation and analysis is the need to recognize and address the multiple perspectives and interpretations that exist within the historical record. Historians must be aware of their own biases and assumptions and strive to approach historical sources with an open mind and a willingness to consider alternative viewpoints.


Historians play a crucial role in our understanding of the past. Through their research, analysis, and interpretation of historical events, they provide us with valuable insights into the world we live in today.

Historians pose questions about the past, gather evidence to support or refute their hypotheses, and draw conclusions based on that evidence. They use a variety of sources, including primary sources such as diaries, letters, and government documents, as well as secondary sources such as books and articles written by other historians.

One of the challenges that historians face is the fact that historical interpretations can vary widely depending on the historian’s perspective, biases, and the available evidence. This is why it is important for historians to be transparent about their methods, assumptions, and limitations, and to engage in constructive dialogue with other historians and scholars.

Ultimately, historians help us to better understand the past, which in turn helps us to make sense of the present and plan for the future. By studying history, we can gain a deeper appreciation of the complexities of human experience, and develop a more nuanced understanding of the world around us.

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Avatar photo About the author: Arnoldo Reyes is a skilled data scientist with a passion for using data to drive business success. Born and raised in Mexico City, he now calls San Diego home and is proud to be part of the vibrant tech community in Southern California. Arnoldo studied at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), where he earned a degree in Data Science and Analytics.