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How to Study History Independently
Determining Your FocusFinding ResourcesGetting InvolvedAsk a QuestionRelated ArticlesReferences
This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA. Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014.
There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
Studying history independently can have many challenges. Many opportunities are lost by not being able to discuss important events and get an interactive experience. However, regardless of your situation, there are many ways to study history effectively, from organizing your materials, creating a schedule, and taking action by seeking out like-minded individuals. Studying independently can provide you with a wealth of information and knowledge and expose you to new ideas that are otherwise unfamiliar.
Part 1Determining Your Focus
1Pick something of interest. Studying independently will require you to manage your own time and workload, which can be difficult if you are trying to study a subject or period you have no interest in. Try to choose a subject in history that interests you, no matter how much you already know about the subject.
- Remember, this doesn’t have to be a school subject, it can also be a hobby or point of interest.
2Be as specific as possible. Knowing why you want to study history, and what specifically you would like to study, will help you better find relevant resources and materials. Try to narrow down your subject to searchable periods in order to have the best possible search results and the most comprehensive study possible.
- Examples of specific interests can range from larger periods, like the Renaissance, to specific events, like the war of 1812.
- Remember that this doesn’t mean you have to choose between one or the other. You can make plans to pursue all of your many interests.
3Ask for advice. Ask parents, friends, and former teachers for advice. Studying alone can sometimes be overwhelming, especially when trying to navigate material that you are unfamiliar with. Reach out and get in touch with others you know who have spent time studying, whether it has been independently or in school.
- Try asking teachers questions like, “I’m trying to study Colonial American history independently, do you know of any good resources?” “Do you have any good tips for studying independently?” or “How quickly do you think I’ll be able to learn this material?”
Part 2Finding Resources
1Go to your local library. Local libraries are great resources for information and material. Go to your local library and talk to your librarian about what resources the library offers. Be sure to ask them about the subject or period you are interested in studying. Many libraries have connections with other libraries, which means they can reserve resources that they do not have.
- Most public libraries require a library card. If you don’t have a library card ask your librarian about the registration process.
- Libraries are also a quiet place where you can spend time studying.
2Look for online resources. Online resources can be particularly helpful, especially if you live in a remote area or have a schedule that won’t allow you to frequently go to a library. There are many comprehensive online learning resources that can help you source material, test your knowledge, and take part in conversations with others who are also interested in history.
- Try looking up scholarly articles and peer-reviewed essays on online resources, like Google Scholar and JSTOR.
- Look for period or subject specific blogs or forums online, like history subreddits on Reddit or personal blogs devoted to your area of interest.
- Many online resources, like universities and scholarly sites, also offer multimedia material, like recorder lectures, slideshows, and interactive websites.
3Research other university courses. Many acclaimed universities also post their syllabi online, which can be a great resource of information and time management. Looking at syllabi for examples may also point you in other directions that are only accessible through specific educational institutions, like libraries, that might not otherwise be available or discussed online.
- Many of the Ivy League schools, like Harvard, post their syllabi on their website. Try contacting their department or searching out a specific subject.
4Prioritize primary sources, which provide firsthand accounts. These might include diaries, artifacts, autobiographies, or any items recorded during the time period you're studying. This is the truest form of studying history! You can access a lot of documents on the National Archives online. For local history, there are often artifacts or documents in local museums, libraries, or city hall.
- You can access the National Archives by visiting here: https://www.archives.gov/.
- Look online and in bookstores for books and other documents from the time period you're studying.
- When using primary sources, remember to consider the author, their purpose for writing the text, and when the text was written. Try to avoid biased sources, and put the information into context as you study it.
5Visit museums as often as possible. Museums house real items from history and provide you in-depth detail about them. Not only are permanent exhibits fantastic places to learn, but you can also enjoy special exhibits that change often. When studying alone, you can make your study come alive by taking yourself on “field trips” to museums that break of the monotony of reading text after text.
- Some museums let you tour their halls online. For example, you can tour many art museums through Google Arts and Culture.
Quiz yourself using flashcards, Quizlet, or Kahoot. When you're learning history on your own, you need a way to test your knowledge. Quizzing yourself is a great option. You can make your own flashcards, or look online on Quizlet for flash cards or on Kahoot for quizzes. These sites allow you to access materials others have created on a topic, if they were made public.
Part 3Getting Involved
1Take part in historical reenactments. Participating in historical reenactments can be a great way to get involved in learning about historical events that are of interest. Historical reenactments can occupy a wide range of events, from reenacting sieges and treaty signings to historical meetings and roleplay. Most historical reenactment groups are run by a community of others who share interests and have a passion for history.
- Look into historical reenactments groups, like the American Heritage Festival, or consult online resources like Reenactor.
2Visit a historical site you are interested in. Planning a visit to a historical site can also be a great way to involve friends, family, and loved ones in your passion for history. Visit a site that you already know a lot about so that you can involve others in your passion. You can also visit sites that you don’t know much about to excite an new historical passion.
- Many travel sites and agencies, like TripAdvisor, offer comprehensive reviews of historical trips and vacations.
- There are also many online blogs devoted to visiting historical sites around the world, like Travelthruhistory.
3Collect historical memorabilia. Collecting historical memorabilia is a great way to continue learning about events that interest you. There are many ways to collect memorabilia. You can source it from specific collectors, or you can browse pawn shops and antique stores. It will be helpful to have an idea of what you are looking for when contacting specific collectors. However, browsing pawn shops and antique stores can be a great way to stumbleupon hidden finds.
- Try looking for historical memorabilia on online vendors, like Heritage Auction or Ebay.
- Don't get discouraged. If you're having trouble with a certain book, essay, or lecture, try something else. Go to multiple sources for one topic if you aren't quite grasping it.
- Try and teach someone else what you've learned. Teaching someone reinforces what you know. Make sure to ask them if they understood it after you taught it to them too!
- Don't be afraid to contact experts in the field. Even a simple emailed question can lead to great discoveries.
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