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What historians do

There is a growing misconception that history is only about things of the past. History and historians today are innovators and pioneers who use many complex techniques and technologies to unravel what was so that we not only appreciate what is but are better informed to imagine what can be.

A day in the life of historians…

People wonder what historians do. And in my own case, Black Historians, what do we really do?

We go through hand written notes from the 18th and 19th century mostly provided by or accessed through partners. These network of partners include individuals and institutions who have kept these documents and materials. Historians attempt to trace any information, knowledge or data. We then attempt to connect those lines to what we already know with the effort to enrich or correct missing or wrong knowledge.

We then attempt to connect those lines to what we already know with the effort to enrich or correct missing or wrong knowledge.

We use complex equipment and machines to unravel new data. For example, we use microfilm and microfilm readers to extract adverts for slave purchases or enslavers seeking their lost “property” in the early 18th and 19th centuries. We also use archeological digs and excavations to unearth artifacts – including personal possessions, remains, etc that could yield any relevant historical information. We pretty much seek evidences of what was, so we can better understand what is, and what is to come.

We seek to go back to connect the dots, fill in missing gaps and ask more questions.

Sometimes it’s loads and loads of interviews. Oral, structured, formal, informal, focus groups and more methods that we employ to tap into human knowledge and memory (usually of elders) of what has never been written down before yet form critical pieces of information of understanding how things have been so we can be better informed today.

Sometimes spaces are available to share our findings through presentations, lectures, speeches and seminars. Sometimes we just relish in the new knowledge we have just unraveled.

A lot of people today think history is boring. Some say it’s in the past. Little wonder so many wrong policy decisions are being made because some people’s history have been completely ignored or wrongly understood.

The deliberate omission of the history of particular groups are real.

The systematic distortion of the history of Black people is real. The deliberate omission of the history of particular groups are real. Because certain groups had access to write and denied others the ability to read and write meant that they owned the narratives and as we read those documents we now understand that what they called “property” were actually humans beings with families, stories and experiences. But because they were considered property, others felt that their lives and stories did not matter…how wrong they were.

So history is not just learning about the past. It’s wide, it’s huge and is a career path for those who are interested in understanding the past in order to create a better future.

Channon Oyeniran

Channon Oyeniran

Channon Oyeniran is the Co-Founder of OyES Education. She’s a consultant for a number of tertiary institutions specializing on Black Historical education. She is also the Vice President of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) where she works on preserving and promoting Canadian Black Heritage. A number of her articles have also featured on Canadian Encyclopedia and other top teaching and learning domains in Canada. She can be found on social media as @channonoyeniran

1 thought on “What historians do”

  1. Great post! Thank you for shedding some important light in what happened behind the scenes and the hard work that historians do in shaping our communities and societies.

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