Engage in what is called ‘active reading’ 

Engage in what is called ‘active reading’ . Active reading means that you don’t just read over the material but that you engage with it all the way through.

Engage in what is called ‘active reading’

Be an Active Reader
Engage in what is called ‘active reading.’ Active reading means that you don’t just read over the material but that you engage with it all the way through.

Step 1
Secondary Sources

·         What are you reading? Is it a synthesis of the existing knowledge? Is it a historiography? Further, is it a piece of original research?
o   Read every piece without prejudice. In other words, don’t make the readings fit your assumptions!

·         Why are you reading it? Keep in mind for what purpose you are reading something. Are you reading for detailed factual information or for the author’s argument and his/her evidence?

You will often be reading “for argument” or “for the analytical points.” Yet you might not know all the facts, which means that you need to take note of them and look up information, words, and concepts with which you aren’t familiar. Sometimes, having a historical timeline and a dictionary handy makes all the difference in the world.

·         Instead of highlighting passages, write summaries of sections in the margins or on post-it notes or on a separate piece of paper. If you do the latter, make sure that you include all bibliographic information.

o   If you do the above, you will be able to track the development of the author’s argument. You will see whether it flows or if it has holes.

·         Pay attention to the author’s evidence! What materials did the author use to make his/her case? Look at the footnotes. What secondary sources did the author use? With which historiography did s/he engage? What primary sources did s/he use?

·         Jot down a “summary paragraph” or a list of bullet points of the above. Note the piece’s topic, argument, development of argument, evidence, and any holes/questions. Do this for every secondary source.

Primary Sources

·         Do a basic analysis of the document.
What is the historical context of the document?
Who is writing?
To whom—who is the audience, explicit and implicit?
What is the document about?
What is the subtext? Also, what is implied here—keep in mind that you need to provide evidence! If you say “so-and-so is writing this but he really means that,” you need to show evidence for your assertion from the text or the context.
·         Jot down a summary paragraph that deals with the questions posed above. Do this for every primary source.

Now take a break. A nice long break.
Think about what you read.

Step 2
If you are writing a larger paper that engages with several readings, consider:
How do the assigned readings “hang” together?
Do they engage the same or similar or complementary questions and/or topics?
Do they speak to each other?
Additionally, do they come to the same conclusions, or complementary conclusions, or do they stand in conflict?
What would be a smart way to discuss the materials? Can you group them? Or create a timeline of how and why the thinking about the matter has changed? Can you impose any sort of logic on them?
Jot down your notes. Be detailed.

You now have a quite a bit of information at your fingertips. Use your powers!

KBP, revised August 2020.


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