Remember, your exams are objective. This means you will need to know some fairly detailed information, including dates, names, major events, people, and concepts. On this page, you'll find hints about how to study.
The question most people ask is this:
How do I learn history when my notes have millions of pieces of data? How do I remember it all?
It's not hard. Really. It just takes time. Remember, people have been successfully learning vast amounts of information for centuries. It can be done if you adopt the right strategies.
Take Alexander Hamilton, for example.
You know, Alexander HAMILTON. Revolutionary War hero, signer of the Constitution, one of three authors of the Federalist Papers, first Secretary of the Treasury, lawyer, friend of Washington, politician, red-haired, good singer. People often described him as BRILLIANT.
With all his jobs and responsibilities, Hamilton often managed VAST amounts of information. As a lawyer, he had to keep track of his cases and the law itself. As Secretary of the Treasury, he had to produce on demand information about the federal budget, the national debt, and the state of national finances (a lot of numbers). As a political thinker, he had theories of government to learn, discuss and defend. And as a private citizen, he had to manage several houses, look after his family, and maintain membership in a number of clubs and societies.
How did he learn, remember, and manage all of this information without a laptop? Through several VERY useful strategies.
Nope. When he had to learn something, say, for a test, Hamilton liked to pace and talk. He sometimes took walks while reciting aloud. See, Hamilton knew something that generations of scholars have discovered:
RECITATION TELLS YOU EXACTLY WHAT YOU KNOW AND WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW.
Study your notes. (Say for an hour, nonstop.)
Close your notes.
Recite from memory what you just studied.
HA! See what happens? Information you REALLY studied either comes back in fits and starts, or not at all. And that's NORMAL. If you want to achieve a level of COMPLETE comfort with the data, you have to go over it AGAIN AND AGAIN. That's what recitation is for. It forces you to read and speak the data repeatedly. Generally, after about a week of good recitation, you're ready for just about anything.
Something else, too. When you learn and recite over and over, NEW ways of looking at the information often begin to appear. Insights. Breakthroughs. The parts of learning that make scholarship fascinating.
So Hamilton recited. Is that all?
NO. Hamilton had MAGNIFICENT study skills. He took notes on his NOTES. He read A LOT. And he used this strategy as well:
HE WROTE OUT IN HIS OWN WORDS all the concepts, ideas, and events that he wanted to remember.
This particular activity will not help you amass data as quickly as recitation. It will, however, provide you with a DEPTH of knowledge.
You might want to write out paragraph ID's on MAJOR events and MAJOR dates.
OK, but what's a MAJOR date or a MAJOR event?
Easy. A major date is a date associated with SIGNIFICANT people and events in history. Think about it. In 1301, for example, 1492 - the year Columbus discovered America - is a MAJOR date. So is 1776 - the year the colonies declared independence. So is 1854 - the date of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In history, of course, MAJOR dates can be those that are unknown to the average person. These include 1803 (the date of the Louisiana Purchase), 1831 (the date of the Nat Turner Rebellion), 1846 (the date of the Wilmot Proviso).
In 1302, 1889 is significant because it is the date of the Johnstown Flood. So is 1929 - the year the stock market crashed - and 1945 - the year World War II ended. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 also qualifies, as does the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935.
Get it? On every MAJOR date, something REALLY important happened. Or someone VERY important did something. Or a NEW CONCEPT was born. History SHIFTED somehow.
Got it. Keep going . . .
OK. A major EVENT is something that occurred on a major date or over a period of time. Sometimes a major event is ONE SINGLE POINT IN HISTORY. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The Battle of Lexington. Columbus discovers America. Richard Nixon resigns the White House.
Or, a MAJOR event can be something that unfolds over time, but that nonetheless leaves a HUGE mark on history. Take the Farmers' Movement from HIST 1302. There's no SPECIFIC date that encompasses this movement, for it took place from the 1870s to the early 1900s. The farmers, though, had a SUBSTANTIAL effect on the United States. The same is true for the cattle drives that took place from about 1866-1885.
In HIST 1301, the age of reforms lasted from about the 1820s to the 1850s. The transportation revolution (vastly important) ran from the late 1790s to the 1850s.
Sometimes developing a paragraph ID can cement information in your memory. It also helps hone your writing skills.
Paragraph ID for 1692 - a MAJOR date: "In 1692, Salem, MA experienced a witchcraft scare which resulted in 20 executions. It was said the accused had 'bewitched' young women and caused them to have violent fits. Today, historians believe this incident reveals the presence of deep-rooted social problems in the Massachusetts colony, perhaps anxiety or anger over the decline or its original, utopian mission." And, in your ID, you might want to go on. You might want to write up HOW the Massachusetts colony was getting away from its original mission, WHEN this shift away from utopia started to occur. WHAT that meant to MA residents.
1889: "The Johnstown Flood, the worst man-made disaster in United States history, occurred in 1889. Unleashed in Pennsylvania, this flood illustrates many of the worst features of the Gilded Age, including this era's indifference to safety." (That's a little brief, but it conveys the basic idea of what happened.)
OK. I've recited and studied and written. Anything else I can do to help myself learn history?
SURE! Take another look at Hamilton. He didn't just know how to study and learn. Hamilton also understood how to MANAGE large amounts of data. Hamilton was an expert at KEEPING CURRENT. Imagine trying to cram all the information Hamilton had to know: all the legal rules, all the cases, all the financial numbers, all the political theories, all the channels through which the United States government collected money and paid debts.
YIKES! That's several CDs worth of information. And he didn't even have a TELEPHONE!
How did he manage? Well, he didn't cram. He KEPT UP and KEPT CURRENT. Hamilton maintained constant contact with the information he needed to know. He was always studying, writing, learning, having meetings, asking questions, and interacting with others. Simply put, he was TOTALLY IMMERSED in information.
You don't necessarily have to do this. BUT, if you want to prevent an information overload as the semester continues, it is wise to keep in touch with your notes and text. A little writing, a little recitation every day can go a LONG WAY towards improving memory and towards deepening your appreciation of history. And having a large amount of information mentally at your fingertips also makes you look REALLY smart . . .
Hamilton could really study. That's great. But he never took US history in the year 2001 from Dr. Hagan.
True. Very true.
So my question is this: I understand about major dates and events. But I have HUNDREDS of dates in my notes! What are all the other ones for? Do I have to know them ALL?
YES and NO. Look at your notes. What are all those other dates doing? What is their purpose? Say you notice a statement that Cortez may have come to the New World to seek his fortune in 1504. What's that date for? It's a CONTEXTUAL DATE. It's there so that you'll get a sense of how NEW WORLD COLONIZATION operated. To really understand 1500s conquest and colonization, you need to be aware that many Spanish explorers first came over in the early 1500s and and lived on islands like Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola. Then, after 1519, they branched out into larger exploration and conquest. That 1504 date is there to help you understand the process - to try place conquest and Cortez in a larger context. It's not an EARTHSHATTERING date. But it's GOOD TO KNOW if you really want to understand colonization and see it in action on a basic human level.
Same in 1302. Say you have a date telling you that by 1883, Julian Carr had the biggest tobacco operation in the United States. That's a contextual date. It's telling you a specific piece of evidence about New South industrialization. It's like saying, "Want an example of industrial growth in the New South? Here's one! 1883. Julian Carr's mechanized tobacco factory!"
It's GOOD TO KNOW as a nice, dated, specific example of one type of development associated with the New South. However, it is not THE MOST IMPORTANT DATE OF ALL TIME in regard to the New South.
Some dates in history provide CONTEXT - they let you know the details of how history unfolded. See, MAJOR events and developments don't just pop out of nowhere. They are always the result of OTHER events that have built up over time. These other events and developments (and even people) are generally not as SPECTACULAR as the major happening but are quite important, nonetheless.
Take the attack on Pearl Harbor - December 7, 1941. DECEMBER 7, 1941 IS A MAJOR DATE if there ever was one. That's one you HAVE TO KNOW.
BUT . . .
If you want to know WHY or HOW Pearl Harbor happened, there are a bunch of OTHER dates attached to OTHER events that you need to understand. These include the dates surrounding the Japanese invasion of China; the date the USA cut off oil supplies to Japan; the date the US Navy lost contact with the Japanese fleet; the date the US military warned its naval bases in the Pacific to be on alert.
To understand Pearl Harbor for a history class, you must have a sense of how all these events came together before the actual attack. And that means you have to know something about their dates. AND WHEN YOU PUT THEM ALTOGETHER, that's called STUDYING THE HISTORY of an event. It's what pro historians do for a living.
START YOUR STUDY OF DATES WITH THE MAJOR EVENTS AND PEOPLE. THEN, ADD THE SUPPORTING EVENTS AND THEIR DATES.
The Pilgrims colonized Plymouth, MA in 1620. (1620 is the major date - a huge event in history.) But before that, starting in 1607, they lived in Holland. (1607 is a contextual date, supporting the major date. It's not ABSOLUTELY critical to know if you want to understand the Pilgrims. But it's GOOD to know.)
The Johnstown Flood occurred in 1889 (a major date - a terrible disaster). The flood is somewhat related to a canal system built in Pennsylvania in the 1840s. (A lesser, contextual date. It's not ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to know if you want to understand Johnstown, but it is a little piece of detail that adds something to the larger picture.)
But I never seen to study the RIGHT dates. How do I know what dates are important enough to be on the test and not? How do I choose?
It takes practice. Think of dates as the structure of history. They place all the stories and anecdotes in context and order.
Plus, if you're reciting, writing, and keeping current, this question of remembering dates, etc. should not be much of a problem.
Do I have to know anything other than dates and events?
PLEASE! Of course. Dates are great. Major events are great. Famous PEOPLE are great. But there's something ELSE lurking in the study of history. The idea of . . . (drum roll)
You also have to think in terms of historical concept. That means you have to put your thought into the realm of general ideas, notions, and theories. The conceptual study of history questions includes, for instance, an examination of the character of North and South, the similarities and differences between colonies, the major factors that influenced the development of American colonization, the character of the Gilded Age, the overall impact of industrialization after the Civil War.
How? I'm new at this. How do I think up concepts when all this information is unfamiliar?
You can shift yourself into abstract thought - exploring concepts and ideas about history - in several ways. One of my favorite techniques for learning concepts in history is to try and approach the data from a new perspective. To do this, you might ask yourself things like:
What is the story of Aztec conquest from Cortez' perspective? Describe the de Soto expedition from the perspective of the Natives. Was the Old South one area or a multitude of regions?
In what ways is the history presented in the text and in the lectures different?
What ONE word best describes the Gilded Age?
Write the Native American history of the United States up to 1600.
What is the significance of land in colonial America?
Does American history after 1877 work in cycles?
Place yourself in colonial MA or VA and describe what you see as of 1650.
To what extent does disaster and war guide US history?
Questions like these can sometimes help you bring up new ideas, new theories. They help to put information into new perspectives. Think up your own.
NOW, sit back and think. Think of the kind of MIND you'll develop if you
3. Maintain constant contact with your information
4. Develop the ability to generate and analyze concepts
What will you be after all this? (Trumpet fanfare)
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