In case you couldn’t tell, I’m on a roll with reading articles about studying history. Here is a great brief article from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Here is a chunk of that article.
What is History? What are the sources and procedures used by Historians? What are the major types (or varieties) of History? Why do we study History?
Historians who have tried to define history or to discuss the nature of historical thinking have reached such diverse conclusions that one practitioner abandoned the effort, declaring “history is what historians do”. No doubt true, but this statement offers the student only a little help. Accordingly, for our purposes, history will have three separate but always interrelated meanings: History is thepast (whether or not anyone recalls or writes about it); History is the active process of studying and writing about the past; and History is what men and women write (an essay, an article, or a book) following a systematic study of the past. History, in the broadest sense then, results from a multi-faceted encounter between the past and the men and women who study it as well as write about it and the reader of the results. Or, as the authors of a recent text write, “History is an effort to reconstruct the past to discover what people thought and did and how their beliefs and actions continue toinfluence human life.” [McKay, Hill, and Buckler, History of World Societies, 3rd ed, 1992, p. 4]
Written histories produced by modern professional (and skilled amateur) historians, however different in choice of subject and approach, share at least four characteristics. They are based on a critical analysis of evidence, secondary as well as primary. The evidence most commonly used by historians are written records, but also valuable are other sources, such as, for example, visual evidence or archeological evidence. In dealing with this evidence, historians exhibit an imaginative appreciation of historical anachronism (i.e. the recognition that the past is different from the present). They attribute causation to secular rather than divine factors. And they present the evidence (the facts) according to a significant pattern and order determined by the judgment of the historian. The collection of facts and their interpretation are thus woven together in the study of history.
If history is the study of all that men and women have done and said in the past and of how they expressed themselves (in the arts), then the possible varieties of written history are endless. Most common are: political, institutional, and diplomatic; intellectual and cultural; social and cultural; and economic. At times, one of these may receive more emphasis than another; today, for example, social history is often more stressed than political history. Equally prevalent and probably more popular with the non- professional reader are biographies, some of which attempt to understand an individual in the context of his/her life and times while others apply (modern) psychological theories to explain character and motivation. Historians sympathetic to the social sciences focus on the factors, largely social and economic, that bring about social change; like political scientists or sociologists, these historians view their studies as scientific, using the past as a laboratory to derive and test theories dealing with contemporary problems.
It is a very interesting interpretation on the way that people should approach history. One I certainly believes should be read. If you want to read all the article, check it out here.