Historical Research Design: Definition, Advantages & Limitations

Historical Research Design: Definition, Advantages & Limitations
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  • 0:05 Qualitative Research
  • 1:24 Historical Design
  • 4:29 Strengths and Limitations
  • 6:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Most research involves looking at what's happening right now. But what if a researcher wants to look at the past and what it can tell us about the future? In this lesson, we'll explore historical research design, its steps, and its pros and cons.

Qualitative Research

Stan's parents survived the Holocaust and immigrated to the United States, where he was born and raised. He grew up hearing stories about the concentration camps and the horrible things done to people who were not accepted by the Nazi party. More than once, when telling stories about the camps, Stan's mom would tear up and ask, 'Why? Why did they do that?'

It's a question that has haunted Stan for most of his life. Why did the Nazis take millions of people out of their homes, torture them, and then kill them? Stan wonders if the answer to that question could help prevent genocide in the future. He's passionate about finding the answer.

Stan is a psychologist, and he has always done research that involves numbers. He looks at averages and percentages and tries to figure out how people act in a lab. But he's starting to wonder if that's the best way to attack his mother's question. Instead, he thinks maybe he should focus on qualitative research, which involves examining non-numerical data. There are many ways to gather qualitative data. Let's look at one type of qualitative research closer, that of historical design, and its strengths and limitations.

Historical Design

So, Stan decides that he wants to figure out why the Nazis acted the way they did. He wants to do historical research, which involves interpreting past events to predict future ones. In Stan's case, he's interested in examining the reasons behind the Holocaust to try to prevent it from happening again.

Historical research design involves synthesizing data from many different sources. Stan could interview former Nazis or read diaries from Nazi soldiers to try to figure out what motivated them. He could look at public records and archives, examine Nazi propaganda, or look at testimony in the trials of Nazi officers. There are several steps that someone like Stan has to go through to do historical research:

1. Formulate an idea: This is the first step of any research, to find the idea and figure out the research question. For Stan, this came from his mother, but it could come from anywhere. Many researchers find that ideas and questions arise when they read other people's research.

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