on December 22, 2000
This book began as a Ph.D. and Th.M. research and writing methods course at Fuller Theological Seminary. From there it has grown into a valuable resource for serious graduate (post-graduate) students of church history. Clearly written and distilling the insights of the authors' many years of research, writing and teaching in the field, no serious student of church history should be without it. Acknowledging the separate though inter-related issues of personal commitment and academic rigor, the authors discuss the relation of faith to critical scholarship. This personal aspect of academic work is often left out of many books, and the authors' opening of the conversation is a needed starting point in the consideration of ones' commitment to academic life.
The opening chapter is an introduction to church history as a specific historical discipline. Historiography - the writing of history - is explored with further references for a more in depth study of this rapidly changing field. Particular historians noted for their scholarship include Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1694-1755), August Neander (1789-1850), and Philip Schaff (1819-1893). Specific era's that influence historiography include the Enlightenment and the Romantic periods.
The second chapter focuses on perspective and meaning in history. What is the difference between church history and secular history? What is the difference between a Christian doing history and a non-Christian doing history? What is truth and can it be historically determined? In asking whether objectivity is possible, the authors draw the student into one of the most important questions of modern history writing. These questions are explored and suggestions are offered with sources given for further reference.
A consideration of reference and bibliographic sources as one begins historical research is the burden of the third chapter. This is the beginning of research itself. It is here that the authors' practical experience in teaching this subject shows so well. The questions discussed in the book are the questions every student beginning historical investigation is familiar with. Sources referred to are ones that are essential beginning points.
Important primary resources are the subject of the fourth chapter, and the reader is alerted to works that must be consulted in any topic. Computerized records have made many primary materials more accessible and the growing importance of computers is noted. Perhaps the weakest point of this work deals with the details of computing. A necessary fault due to the revolutionary advances in computing, this area is one that can become outdated almost by the time of publication. Since the writing of this book, software programs have become much more powerful and information much more accessible. The internet has transformed communication (and also mis-communication) in ways not available when this book was published. It is hoped that further updated editions will address this valuable research tool. It must be noted, though, that specialist information is still often available only on location and to those who personally and patiently search through many languishing records.
All research is still-born if it is not written up. How to go about this important aspect of writing is the topic of the fifth chapter. Specific help offered by computers is noted, and though progress has marched on well beyond what is described in the pages of this book, one very important point is noted that becomes more important as computers are relied on more and more. It is now possible like never before to access information and put it into research form without actually assimilating it. Bibliographic references and quoted material can be downloaded and passed into research papers without the information ever passing through the researchers' mind. It is easier than ever before to substitute quantity for quality. The potential for this situation to exist can only grow with the rapid advances in information technology and the expanding possibility for the mis-use of technology is not passed over in this thorough introduction.
The final chapter deals with the preparation of lecture notes and writing for publication. A practical chapter indeed, this is one area that gets very little mention in most academic settings. A further 64 pages offer bibliographic resources and avenues for further investigation of the many areas covered in this book.
The authors have done the field of church history a great service by their careful and detailed work. While general enough to cover the field broadly, the extensive bibliography points the way for an in-depth coverage of the various topics not otherwise available in a book this size. This is a valuable work for students as well as teachers engaged in the serious study of church history, and who want to keep their methodology up-to-date.