Some study tips for History 206

In this course, your responsibility is not merely to read the  assignments but to understand them. This can be daunting,
especially with the textbook, because of the amount of information on each page. The good news, however, is that understanding a chapter is not the same thing as memorizing it! The trick is to learn what to remember.

Your work each week must include, then, both doing the reading and making sure you understand it. If you neglect the latter part—if you work with your brain on auto-pilot and don’t process the reading you’ve done—then you will get lost in the details and have much harder time making anything stick.

Fortunately, there are ways to help you focus. First, the textbook is full of questions intended to help you do exactly this. They appear at the start of each chapter, at the end of each chapter, and at the top of almost every right-hand page. The point of these is to help you draw out the big points and main ideas from the sea of words, dates, and names. If you can answer these questions, you’re doing OK. If you can’t, it’s a sign something’s not quite right.

Another approach—which is particularly helpful around exam time (hint, hint)—is ask yourself what is going on in a specific block time. Given that each chapter of the textbook covers a limited span (usually around ten years), ask yourself what were the prevailing ideas—political, economic, and socio-cultural—in that block of time? Can you give examples? Next: how did these ideas differ (or not) from those of an earlier block of time? For example, what were the reigning economic ideas of the 1920s, and how did they compare to the 1880s?

If you are trying to make sense of a chapter that has a lot of information about some specific group (for example, African Americans, womem, Republicans, reformers), it may be helpful to ask questions such as this: What did this group want in this period? How did these goals compare to those of other groups? What factors helped or limited this group from getting what it wanted? How did things change for this group from the beginning to the end of this period? Did this group get what it sought? Give examples.

When you can answer--and give examples--to these kinds of questions, you can feel confident you have a handle on the material. If you're studying with a friend, you can split up the questions between you. On the other hand, if you're still having trouble with a question--or multiple questions--you can always bring them up in discussion section or bring them to my office hours (or your TA's).