Asking Questions

Prof Alec Myers leading a seminar discussion with History students at the University of Liverpool, c.1969
Prof Alec Myers leading a seminar discussion with History students at the University of Liverpool, c.1969

During a particularly encouraging Open Day at the University of Liverpool yesterday, I mentioned a number of times that the core of university education (certainly in a subject like History) is not so much learning the right answers as understanding how to ask the right questions. This prompted me to think about the huge number of questions I’ve asked of students just in the first week of the new academic year. Here are just a few of them…

  • What is the purpose of a lecture?
  • What comes to your mind when someone mentions the First World War?
  • Where does our popular perception of the First World War come from?
  • When were what Samuel Hynes called the “myth-making years”?
  • How many times do these three government statements about marking the First World War centenary contradict each other?
  • What is historiography?
  • How do we know the past exists?
  • What is empiricism?
  • What might an empirical approach to history be?
  • What is wrong with thinking “textbooks are the authoritative source of historical knowledge since they objectively present facts”?
  • Is there such a thing as an historical fact?
  • Can we ever be entirely objective about the past?
  • Just because something is impossible, is that a good enough reason not to try?
  • How does who we are influence how we understand and write history?
  • Does subjectivity mean all views are equally valid?
  • What is meant by “inductive reasoning”?
  • What do you need to do before arriving at an archive?
  • When you have too many records to be able to look at, what should you do?
  • Does 10,000 words sound like a lot?
  • Why might historians be interested in charity?
  • Have you ever heard of a book called Self-Help?
  • What is medical history?
  • What characteristics of this essay by Michael Foucault would I not want to see you imitate in your essays?
  • What did Foucault mean by “medical police”?
  • What did he mean when he said eighteenth-century noso-politics “consists in the displacement of health problems relative to the problems of assistance”?
  • Did any of that make any sense?

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