The Historian’s Toolkit—Tools of the Trade (Episode 1 of 3): Historiography and Its Influence on Moroccan History
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
Welcome to The Historian’s Toolkit! This is a three-part series focusing on the tools of the trade that historians use to study the past as well as how we can use those items to learn about a topic of history in the Arab World. The Historian’s Toolkit will feature three articles of which each one focuses on the specific trade tool as well as applying it to Arab history. This series will focus on the historian’s tools of historiography, primary sources, and the book review. In this first installment, we are going to learn about what is historiography, how do we use it, and then we will apply it to the study of Moroccan history.
What is Historiography?
So, you might be asking, “what is historiography, why is it important, and how do historians use it?” Historiography is defined as “the study of the methods of historians developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of historical work on a particular subject.” Alternately, historiography is also sometimes defined as the study of historical writing and the science of history. Another way to explain the tool of historiography is to say that it is used to study how historical thought and arguments have changed over time, whether that be only a few years or many centuries. So, how do historians use historiography? We take a certain topic or region of history and read up about what other historians have said about this history, and then we analyze the changing arguments and write up a paper, work, book, or article about how those analyses have shifted and what that means for the field of historical scholarship.
Applying the Tool of Historiography to Arab World History—Morocco Edition:
So, now it is time to apply these newly acquired skills of historiography into a(n) historical topic of the Arab World. Our first order of business will be to pick the specific region that we will be studying. In this first installment, we will be traveling to the beautiful and intriguing country of Morocco. As a country, Morocco is rich with history, being that its status as a modern state (nation) dates to the 8th century AD, and then the region has also been inhabited by people since prehistoric times. It is rich with culture, heritage, history, beautiful architecture, interesting politics, and the most amazing naturescapes one might hope to see in their lifetime.
So, how do we incorporate the historian’s tool of historiography into studying the history of Morocco? Well, we do that by finding differing arguments by at least two historians (although more than two is highly recommended) and then try to analyze what that means for the field of historical scholarship. And no, I am not going to ask my dear readers to suffer through reading those large history textbooks, I will, instead, do that myself.
To utilize the tool of historiography, historians would examine at least two competing theories of Moroccan history. They would research the historians by discussing their backgrounds such as what type of history are they utilizing in their research whether it is social, intellectual, economic, military, women’s, biography, or some other methodology. Within the arguments, the historians would try to find some common thread, and see how the scholars presented these themes. Finally, a historian would want to figure out the most compelling argument that applies to their research. How would they go about doing that? They would read much further in-depth about the authors, research what sources they used, and try to decide which work advances the field of historical scholarship.
For instance, one historian might study the history of Morocco from a more “global perspective,” of say in the context of the country’s relation to the rest of the world, or perhaps, how did they become independent from France, what alliances did they rely on, and why did they want to become independent? Others may take studying the country only from a more recent or even further back vantage point. It all depends on what they also want to put in their narrative or who/what/where/when/why they want to study Morocco. Of course, there are so many other questions that can be asked, but it is a start for sure.
Many historians might want to find out who are the preeminent scholars within their field of study, in this case, Moroccan history. Well, historians typically look at three different things: was the work published by an academic press, did the author of the book find new evidence to advance the field, or did he/she just reexamine previous work, and we rely heavily on book reviews because if a journal or another historian reviewed the book, then we can surmise that it is important to the field if someone else took the time to review it. The same goes for the reverse if none of these things happen, then we can also be sure that it did not move the field of history further. However, sometimes whether the work is important to historical scholarship can be up to the researcher themselves because it might be applicable to their work and potentially not others. Utilizing historiography in the study of history is not black-and-white, there are usually a lot of gray areas which allow for discoveries to be made. Mind you, this is only a brief introduction to the field, and we go so much farther in-depth typically, but I do not want to go there just yet. Finally, historiography’s goal is to study how historical writing has changed over time.
Thank you for joining me on this exciting journey to learn a little bit more about the beautiful field of history as we unravel the historian’s ‘tools of the trade’. Be on the lookout for the next installment in “The Historian’s Toolkit,” where we will explore the usage of primary sources and relate them to another historical topic in the Arab World. I hope you have enjoyed our excursion into the wonderful and exciting world of historical scholarship.
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