The Historian's Toolbox : A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History book cover
4th Edition

The Historian's Toolbox
A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History

ISBN 9781138632172
Published December 12, 2019 by Routledge
212 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

The Historian’s Toolbox introduces students to the theory, craft, and methods of history and equips them with a series of tools to research and understand the past. Written in an engaging and entertaining style, and filled with fascinating examples, this best-selling "how to" book opens up an exciting world behind historical research and writing.

This fourth edition expands the repertory of tools and techniques available to students entering the workshop of history. These include materials on the Kennedy assassination, the litigation of Van Gogh’s Night Café, local town histories, contemporary history, Twitter, and the contemplation of the end of history as well as the Sixth Extinction in a new epilogue. The book demonstrates the relevance and expanding possibilities of the study of history in our cacophonous information age of tweetstorms and fake news; it emphasises the increasing value of critical thinking, facts and evidence in the face of political lies and conspiracy theories. Material added to the fourth edition will resonate with a new generation of computer-literate readers in the face of climate change.

The Historian’s Toolbox continues to be a seminal text for supporting students throughout their study of history and an accessible teaching tool for instructors.

Table of Contents


Illustrations and Tables

History as Fun


Part I. The Craft of History

1. The Past

2. Story

3. History

4. Metahistory

5. Antihistory

6. The Present

7. The Future


Part II. The Tools of History

8. Doing History: An Overview

8.1 Choosing a Good Paper Topic

8.2 Reading History

8.3 Taking Notes

8.4 How to Write a Good History Paper

9. Sources and Evidence

9.1 Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Source: The Wannsee Protocol (1942)

Secondary Source: Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (2000)


9.2 Documents

A Revolutionary War Ancestor’s Pension Application (1832)

9.3 Maps

Sebastian Munster’s Map of the Americas, c. 1540

9.4 Artifacts

Digging Ancient Moscow

9.5 Images

Sharpshooter’s Home or Photographer’s Studio?

9.6 Cliometrics: Using Statistics to Prove a Point

The Black Population of Colonial America

9.7 Genetic Evidence

Welsh and Basques, Relatively Speaking

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings—What’s My Line?

10. Credit and Acknowledgment

10.1 Notes

10.2 Bibliography

Styling Your Bibliography

Types of Bibliographies

A Selective, Annotated Bibliography

10.3 Acknowledging Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism

10.4 Professional Plagiarism: How Not to Do History

11. Narrative and Explanation

11.1 The Language of the Historian

Paul Revere and the New England Village

11.2 Chronology

The Life of Margaret Fuller

11.3 Narrative

Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg

11.4 Argument

"‘Little Women’ Who Helped Make This Great War"

11.5 Causation

11.6 The Reasons Why

Explaining the Mann Gulch Fire of August 5, 1949

12. Interpretation

12.1 Reviewing History

Bellesiles’s Arming America

12.2 Historical Revision

The Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy (1822)

12.3 Historiography

World War II

12.4 Women’s History: The Leo Frank Case

13. Speculation

13.1 Historical Speculation

Will the Real Martin Guerre Please Get an Identity?

13.2 History as Fiction

The Soldier Who Never Was

13.3 Conspiracies

Who Really Really Killed Lincoln?

13.4 Forgeries and Facsimiles

Is a Document Genuine?

Is a Collection of Documents Authentic?

How Can Forgeries Influence History?

Is a Newly Discovered Collection by a Well-Known Author Authentic?

If It Is a Forgery, Who Is the Forger?

13.5 Fiction as History

13.6 Film as History: Fact or Fiction?

Films Can Help the Historian Understand the Past

Films Can Hinder Our Understanding of the Historical Past


Part III. The Relevance of History

14. Everyday History

14.1 Studying Ordinary People

The Burgermeister’s Daughter

14.2 Everyone’s a Historian

14.3 Local History. A Tale of Two Towns

15. Oral History

15.1 The Perils of Memory

15.2 Interviewees and Interviewers

The WPA Slave Narratives

15.3 Techniques of Oral History

16. Material Culture

16.1 Spirits in the Material World Richard Bushman and The Refinement of America

16.2 Studying Material Culture

16.3 Provenance and Ownership. Tracing Stolen Art

17. Public History

17.1 History Beyond the Ivory Tower

17.2 History and the Public

The Enola Gay Controversy

18. Event Analysis

18.1 History in Real Time

The Iraq War: Munich, Mukden, or Mexico?

19. New Tools: GIS and CSI

19.1 Spatial History: Geographic Information Systems

19.2 Killer App: Crime Scene Investigation Forensics

20. History on the Internet

20.1 Using the Internet: Promises and Pitfalls

20.2 Wikipedia and "Wikiality"

20.3 Blogging the Past (and Present)

21. TMI: Too Much Information

21.1 History as Information

21.2 Hacking History: The Deluge of WikiLeaks

21.3 Private Parts: The Intrusion of History

21.4 Twitter

22. Epilogue: The End of History?



Selected Bibliography


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Robert C. Williams is Vail Professor of History Emeritus at Davidson College. He has taught Russian, European and American history at Williams and Bates Colleges and at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Russian Art and American Money (1980), nominated by Harvard University Press for the Pulitzer Prize.


"The Historian's Toolbox is a quintessential guide that needs to be on the desk of every undergraduate student of history. The fourth edition incorporates new debates and tools for Digital Humanities."

Dr. Anjana Singh, Asst. Professor in Early Modern History, Department of History; University of Groningen, The Netherlands