The first thing I ever did myself was to record my Grandmother’s sister, Alice, talking about her life, her past and what she remembered from when she was a girl living in Ireland. In school we made family trees, but that wasn’t something I had done on my own initiative. I still have the tape recording, I just don’t have a machine I can hear it on. Technology isn’t always our best friend.
Many people get into genealogy and stop there when it comes to history. Not me. I have researched many people (mostly women adventurers and fighters of one kind or another) and places (mainly local history, places I have found through my own exploring). I also like to research the history of paranormal things and creatures like dragons. (Can you prove they don’t exist?)
How to Learn About History on Your Own
Narrow your focus.
Choose a time period, an event, a country, a building, a person or some other smaller area of history you want to learn more about. Narrow your focus a bit because history is huge as a topic. Every moment becomes history as we live it.
Start a journal.
Pick a notebook (or bring a laptop) to take notes, write down facts and information as you find them. Keep notes about the resources you have used too. You may want to use the same book, website, etc. again or find the author of the book for more information, even an interview.
Keep a pen and pencils handy. Along with the journal you might want to draw maps, sketch a face, or use colour pencil crayons to organize your notes. Consider a hand scanner which you can take to scan a document or pages in a book rather than giving yourself writer’s cramp.
Review your notes and pull things together in a report.
It isn’t enough to have a rambling collection of facts. When you put all your information together to create a report (just for yourself even) it really helps you see everything as a bigger picture. You also notice details which you hadn’t seen connected before.
Join a local history society or group.
It’s okay to go it alone when you can’t find anyone to share your interest. But, most towns will have a local museum and a local history society too. Of course cities may have more resources for you once you begin looking. If the person or place you are researching is something local then the historical society will likely invite you to present your research to the group at a meeting. (Of course, this is up to you to do or turn down if you just can’t handle public speaking).
Where to Learn About History on Your Own
- Visit museums and libraries and talk to the staff there. Let them know about your interest in history – they usually have suggestions you wouldn’t have thought of.
- Get on the mailing list so you will know when a new exhibit comes to your local museum or library.
- Visit the art gallery and look at paintings/ illustrations from the time period you are looking at.
- Make the trek to bigger cities and visit those museums and libraries too.
- Look at genealogy. It’s a lot of information but a nice way to track down ancestors and find out where the bodies are buried, literally.
- Get online and track down other people who share your interest. Read their websites or weblogs. Leave comments or notes for them. Ask questions. If they really seem to know a lot ask if you can send them some questions, even interview them through email.
- If your interest is something local, get out there with your camera. Take photos of the places where history happened. Talk to people like urban explorers or look them up online and see the photos they have taken too.
- If your interest is Medieval history talk to people who like Renaissance Fairs and create their own costumes to wear based on the authentic clothing worn in the time period.
- If you have an interest in prehistory, find out about anyone who has been digging up history in the area you are researching. Try to find them online and get information from the source.
- Read fictional history books too. In most cases the authors will talk about their research and any liberties they took in changing history for their fiction. Meanwhile, you will be reading an account based on all their own research of the time period, the place or person you are researching too.
- Keep an eye on the news, online and through the television and radio too. History happens all the time. New finds and discoveries come up in the news more often than you may think.
- Talk to people who were there for history in this century. Read biographies from people in earlier times. You may even find autobiographies which they wrote themselves versus a biography which was written about them.
- Watch for TV programs, documentaries, coming up for your history interest. Talk to your librarian and see if any documentary can be ordered in for you. Talk to the people who were interviewed in the documentary and, of course, the people who created the documentary would be a great source of information. (The narrator is not always a great source, look for the people who produced the documentary).
Where to Find History Online
- History Today
- World History
- CBC Digital Archives
- BBC History
- History On-line
- World History: Infoplease.com
- History Online
- HowStuffWorks – History