Presentation on theme: "Skimming a Historical Monograph Many people do not know how to skim, and regard it as a form of “cheating” on an assignment. This is partly because people."— Presentation transcript:
Skimming a Historical Monograph Many people do not know how to skim, and regard it as a form of “cheating” on an assignment. This is partly because people mistake skimming for “inattentive reading,” which it is not. Skillful skimming will require greater attention, but less time, than ordinary reading, particularly at first.
Tools for paper Skimming Certain tools are helpful for skimming. These include: 1.Highlighters in at least three colors 2.Pens in at least two colors 3.Flags or other markers 4.Index cards or a notepad If you are skimming an e-resource, it is necessary to be familiar with the features that simulate these tools.
Important Structural Features Books have structures that help us to navigate the information they purvey more effectively. In order to skim a book, it is important to be able to identify and use: 1.The Index and Table of Contents 2.The Introduction, Preface, Acknowledgements, and other prefatory matter 3.The Citations, Bibliography, and/or list of Works Consulted. 4.The Conclusion (if any) 5.Chapter-Breaks and Section-Breaks within chapters.
Step one: Read the Introduction The Introduction should be read completely and thoroughly. If the book also has a Preface, it may be necessary to read this as well. Some authors make little distinction between the two. Highlight and flag the areas in which the author discusses – methods, – research questions, – the Thesis and – the structure of the argument. It is best to use unique colors for each of these and stick to this code for future books (eg: red for Thesis). Take many notes on the Introduction. Make a list of terms: a)You do not understand. b)Which the author makes it a point to define. c)You know to be important to the field. d)Which relate to your own research interest.
Step two: Read the beginning and end of each chapter This is where understanding the structure of the argument is important. In the Introduction, the author should have told you what purpose each chapter plays in this argument. Here, you are trying to get the gist of how these pieces are developed in practice. Flexibility is necessary. Generally, there is more “new” material (not in the Introduction) at the end of a chapter than at the beginning, so often you will read more pages from the end than the beginning. If the author summarizes the chapter in a section at the end, this is the ideal amount to read. Add to your list of terms as new ones appear in these sections, or as terms recur that you may have missed on your first reading.
Step Three: Searching the Index for terms You will have collected a fair-sized list of important terms by now. Each of these should appear in the index. Find them. Read the first significant entry for each term. Generally, this will be an entry of 3 or more pages, although sometimes you will have to look at each page to decide whether the term is the subject of at least one paragraph, or is simply being used out-of-hand. The point is to see how the author uses the term in relation to his or her overall argument.
Step Four: Check the References, read the Acknowledgements It is important to know how an author knows what he/she claims to know, and what sources they used in building their arguments. Many historical monographs have all their references in a set of “end notes” at the end of the volume. This is the most practical format for skimming. Look for the most frequently cited sources, and count the use of primary and secondary sources. Assess the relevance of these sources to the argument, and consider whether there are sources you can think of that seem to be missing. If you are familiar with the field, the Acknowledgements may tell you a great deal about the author’s school of thought and intellectual influences. It is worth noting down any names you recognize from the Acknowledgements, possibly taking time to do a Wikipedia or Google Scholar search on unfamiliar names that appear important.
Step Five (Optional): Read the Conclusion Historians are notoriously bad at writing Conclusions, to the point that many have simply stopped the practice altogether. If your book has a Conclusion, take a look at it and see if it adds to the argument.
Caveats A “normal” historical monograph consists of four to six chapters, but this is not necessarily always the case. A book with fewer chapters may need to be approached at the sub-section level. For a book with many more chapters, a different approach to skimming will be necessary. A book which presents multiple “case studies” may need to be treated differently. Each case will have its own Introduction at the beginning and findings at the end, which must be read fully. Some books will be poorly indexed, making it much harder to track down your list of terms. An e-resource’s built-in word search may help here, or else the student will be reduced to scanning each page for terms. Some books will use footnotes on each page, which are much harder to skim than endnotes. In this instance, you must leaf through each page during your reference-check. Some authors are better than others at structuring and explaining their arguments. A badly written Introduction can mislead you regarding the structure or the argument overall. Keep an eye out for discrepancies between the text and the Introduction.