Caleb McDaniel: How to Read for Your History Class

Are you taking a history class this Fall?  Are you a history major taking multiple history courses with large amounts of reading?  If so, you need to read Caleb McDaniel’s post on “How to Read for History.”

Last Spring I taught a course in British Colonial America that required a very large amount of reading. The students complained about the number of pages I had them read each week (I actually made a last minute decision to cut one book from the reading list–Peter Wood’s Black Majority–because I thought I had assigned too many books), but several of them seemed to feel a sense of accomplishment when the course was over.

Side note:  Part of this class was filmed for a future iTunesU course.  Stay tuned.  (No, Jonathan Rees–this is not a MOOC, at least not officially).

Here is a taste of McDaniel’s post:

First, whether you are reading a long book or a short essay, you should always skim your reading material to gather information about the structure and major points of a text. As we will see, skimming involves more than running your eyes across a page. It is a dynamic process in which you not only gather information from a text but also formulate questions that you will want to have answered when you move to the next stage of reading. Skimming is one of the most important stages in reading, yet it is probably the most misunderstood and least practiced. For that reason, I have dedicated the bulk of this guide to skimming.

Only after skimming will you give a text the slow read. But the second stage of reading entails more than just running your eyes over the words more slowly than you did while skimming. When you slow-read a book you will also be writing (taking notes), recalling (by constantly looking back to the information you learned by skimming), and reviewing (by pausing at the end of each section of a text to make sure you have grasped its main point).

The third stage of reading begins after the actual act of reading has ended. In the post read you will reflect back on what you have read and evaluate the arguments that the author has advanced.

I wish I had McDaniel’s post to distribute to my class last semester.  I will definitely use it in the future alongside his “How to Discuss a Book for History.”

These are great resources.  Thanks, Caleb!

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