Getting Good at History

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Getting Good at History

Post by PennySalem » Wed May 05, 2010 10:29 pm

How can a team get better at History questions? What books are good to read to learn the necessary information? Where may I find resources that will help make people better at the subject?

My school plays NAQT questions.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Rococo A Go Go » Wed May 05, 2010 10:35 pm

Read textbooks (lower level college textbooks tend to be helpful), biographies, almanacs, and encyclopedias. Also, Wikipedia can be very useful as long as you make sure you watch for errors. Other than that, just make sure you keep track of history questions in practice and games and remember the clues that come up-- you'll likely hear them again.

Also, read the Stanford Culture Pages: http://ai.stanford.edu/~csewell/culture/
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Scott » Wed May 05, 2010 10:46 pm

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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by PennySalem » Thu May 06, 2010 7:04 am

I've looked at the Culture Guide, but the information on it on history doesn't seem to appear often... and it's quite outdated (especially with current leaders).

Can you recommend any intro-level college textbooks?
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu May 06, 2010 8:01 am

The same way you get better at anything else: reading.

Apart from textbooks, I've had really good experience with older history books -- from the first half of the 20th century. While modern history books delve deeply into social history ("how the average person in this period lived") older books will be primarily about battles, leaders, politics, etc. -- i.e., about the things that come up in quizbowl. Back when I was in college and had lots of free time, I liked to read two books on the same subject, one right after another. I figured that if anything appeared in both, it was worth knowing for quizbowl purposes.

Some specific books I recommend: Read these two, and you will answer or 30 every Jacksonian-era question you hear.

I've also had pretty good experiences with David McCullough books. They tend to be pretty organized and will give you a good cognitive map of what's going on. "1776" is, imo, particularly useful for quizbowl, though sadly it only covers a very small period of time.

Also, let me give a shout out to one other book. In 2005, Subash Maddipoti gave me a copy of The First Man in Rome, a novel about Gaius Marius, and told me that it would "spark my love affair with Roman history." He was pretty much right.

Wikipedia is a pretty good resource. In my view, the problem with Wikipedia is not so much that it contains mistakes, but rather that its emphasis can be off. If an article on "Battle of X" is written by a guy who really loves archery, there might be a huge section on archery tactics and very little on other aspects of the battle. And if you're reading an article on anything related to Eastern Europe, you should expect bias in favor of the home country of the author, if not an outright edit war between authors from neighboring countries.

And, of course, you can read old packets. Circle the stuff you don't know or that seems interesting, then go look it up on Wikipedia or check out a book on the subject. There are even entire tournaments of nothing but history questions (and not all are by me either!)
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Cheynem » Thu May 06, 2010 10:23 am

Reading some breezy textbooks on the subject might work--for American history, I enjoyed "The Unfinished Nation" by Alan Brinkley. If your question writer is in a progressive state of mind, Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" might work. For presidential elections and stuff, I have not encountered a better book than Stefan Lorant's "The Glorious Burden," which also contains numerous political cartoons.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by PennySalem » Thu May 06, 2010 9:39 pm

Hmm... So let me get this straight. Usually, the best way to learn history is to read into specific time periods?

How appropriate is looking through packets for history questions?
and what's the general thought on textbooks that cover whole subjects?

Western history appears to be overrepresented in NAQT questions. What books are good for western history questions?
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Rococo A Go Go » Fri May 07, 2010 12:17 am

PennySalem wrote:Hmm... So let me get this straight. Usually, the best way to learn history is to read into specific time periods?
For the most part, yes. This is especially the case in regards to American history. The United States' has been around for a relatively short amount of time (and we as Americans are going to focus on it), so questions are able to go more in depth. As a result, when you study you'll need to study topics that are likely to come up more in depth as well.

That brings me to a couple of recommendations: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis. This book is a good look at our founding fathers. The aforementioned 1776 is good, and I suggest reading over the Federalist Papers (especially #s 10, 39, 51 and 84) and other documents of the era. And for the Civil War, I learned quite a bit from Ken Burns' documentary "The Civil War." I know that's not a book (I think there's a book that goes with it acutally) but it still is very interesting and pretty informative.

European history is a whole different ballgame, and one I know a bit less about. The one book on European History that I do keep around though is my old AP European History textbook from high school: A History of the Modern World" by R.R. Palmer, Joel Colton, and Lloyd Kramer.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Important Bird Area » Fri May 07, 2010 12:25 am

PennySalem wrote:Hmm... So let me get this straight. Usually, the best way to learn history is to read into specific time periods?
Yes. Or at least: that's certainly the most interesting way to learn about history. Reading almanacs and encyclopedias is boring, and even most college textbooks are not all that great.
PennySalem wrote:How appropriate is looking through packets for history questions?
Personally, I dislike this (insofar as it makes quizbowl more of a self-referential game than it already is), but it seems to work for a lot of people.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Fri May 07, 2010 12:28 am

bt_green_warbler wrote:
PennySalem wrote:How appropriate is looking through packets for history questions?
Personally, I dislike this (insofar as it makes quizbowl more of a self-referential game than it already is), but it seems to work for a lot of people.
Generally, it's a good way to start out -- you get a general idea of what comes up and what to look for when you're reading books later.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Important Bird Area » Fri May 07, 2010 12:36 am

PennySalem wrote:Western history appears to be overrepresented in NAQT questions.
I'm not sure I agree with this; at least, non-western history is a hard category to fill under our existing distribution, and I think expanding it very much would certainly increase the difficulty of our sets. If I were tinkering with the balance of the history distribution, I'd probably increase the European history a bit and reduce American history accordingly.

Second Nick's recommendation for Palmer and Colton as a basic European textbook (I used it in high school too.)
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Important Bird Area » Fri May 07, 2010 12:44 am

Ukonvasara wrote:
bt_green_warbler wrote:
PennySalem wrote:How appropriate is looking through packets for history questions?
Personally, I dislike this (insofar as it makes quizbowl more of a self-referential game than it already is), but it seems to work for a lot of people.
Generally, it's a good way to start out -- you get a general idea of what comes up and what to look for when you're reading books later.
Possibly a subject for a different thread... but I've always found just reading packets for knowledge incredibly tedious. It's much more interesting to play packets in practice. (Granted, I've always been at established programs with lots of people committed to quizbowl, so it's been easy to find other players interested in practicing.)
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Rococo A Go Go » Fri May 07, 2010 12:58 am

I forgot about a couple websites I've used for classes before, which feature a lot of information on US Presidents and Roman Emperors respectively:

http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident

http://www.roman-emperors.org/
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Fri May 07, 2010 1:09 am

bt_green_warbler wrote:
Ukonvasara wrote:
bt_green_warbler wrote:
PennySalem wrote:How appropriate is looking through packets for history questions?
Personally, I dislike this (insofar as it makes quizbowl more of a self-referential game than it already is), but it seems to work for a lot of people.
Generally, it's a good way to start out -- you get a general idea of what comes up and what to look for when you're reading books later.
Possibly a subject for a different thread... but I've always found just reading packets for knowledge incredibly tedious. It's much more interesting to play packets in practice. (Granted, I've always been at established programs with lots of people committed to quizbowl, so it's been easy to find other players interested in practicing.)
That is very true; I always prefer(red) playing packets, even reading them to myself, to looking through them with the aim of "studying"/
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by cchiego » Fri May 07, 2010 1:19 am

Some of the most helpful resources I've found that get me a lot of knowledge in a short amount of time are political cartoons. They're interesting to look through, cover a large portion of the history of at least the US (and some other major countries), and are superb for identifying major figures/scandals/etc. that you might not have heard about before. Plus, they usually cover the major presidential candidates in a given election year, so that can be very helpful in getting those failed candidates straight. I had a book (that dated from 1960!) that basically covered the history of the US in the form of cartoons and other images and it's basically the core of my US history knowledge.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Charbroil » Fri May 07, 2010 1:51 am

Ukonvasara wrote: That is very true; I always prefer(red) playing packets, even reading them to myself, to looking through them with the aim of "studying"/
May I ask what the difference between reading packets to oneself and looking through them with the aim of studying is? I'm just curious since your wording makes the two sound somewhat similar.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Cheynem » Fri May 07, 2010 2:20 am

One way to get good at basically any quizbowl subject is to write a large number of questions on the subject. I speak not because I am good, but because I have seen tremendous improvement in my playing ability due to writing questions. This especially works if you're not particularly crazy about a topic to begin with.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Auroni » Fri May 07, 2010 3:02 am

Cheynem wrote:One way to get good at basically any quizbowl subject is to write a large number of questions on the subject. I speak not because I am good, but because I have seen tremendous improvement in my playing ability due to writing questions. This especially works if you're not particularly crazy about a topic to begin with.
Yeah, my approach is very similar to Mike's here. Whenever I get decent history buzzes at harder tournaments, it is because I have written questions on those subjects or related ones before.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by OctagonJoe » Fri May 07, 2010 3:05 am

Hilltopper22 wrote:European history is a whole different ballgame, and one I know a bit less about. The one book on European History that I do keep around though is my old AP European History textbook from high school: A History of the Modern World" by R.R. Palmer, Joel Colton, and Lloyd Kramer.
I also support the use of this textbook (that I also used in high school for AP Euro). A vast majority of my Euro history knowledge still comes from having reading through it.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by PennySalem » Fri May 07, 2010 8:24 am

Wow, guys, this is really helpful!

I read "The Western Experience" by Chambers for my AP European class; how does it compare to the aftermentioned "History of the Modern World?"

If I chose to learn through reading, would it be appropriate for me to learn non-western history through books on particular regions?

As for US history, how should important non-president characters be learned? That is, how can I learn the important Secretaries, Senators, Vice Presidents (elections are often in questions), attourney generals, governers, etc?
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Ethnic history of the Vilnius region » Fri May 07, 2010 8:24 am

If you're a high schooler who wants to get good at history, I do think looking over packets helps. High school question writers are always and should always be thinking of new questions to ask and new ways to ask them that will be gettable by the vast majority of teams, but ultimately you are going to see lots of things that came up in one high school tournament come up in another. Reading packets to glean clues can be really boring for many though, and yeah, it's kind of a superficial way of improving. For those who don't like that approach, I think at least taking note of what does come up in packets and learning more about those things by reading books, almanacs, or whatever else floats your boat is effective. And just reading books about specific periods like the ones mentioned above is no doubt beneficial.

Getting back to helpful resources, I’ve mentioned this before in some other thread, but a great way to get started on history is by checking out the Dorling-Kindersley History of the World. I own the 1994 edition , and a more recent edition exists as well. It has some problems here and there, but I can’t recommend it enough. It’s chock full of color pictures, timelines, snippets, etc. I think it does an especially good job with non-Western history.

Another really good history book that’s probably out of print but possibly in your local library is the Family Encyclopedia of American History. The writing gets a little goofy at times (I think it was published by Reader's Digest), but it has some incredibly good, in depth discussion of people and events in U.S. history. Granted, much of it would NEVER come up in quizbowl, but it has some astonishingly in-depth information for a one-volume encyclopedia and is fun to peruse.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by KevinL » Fri May 07, 2010 1:48 pm

I will join the support for Palmer and Colton's A History of the Modern World. It is an excellent textbook, very informative and not that difficult to read. Another good European History resource is Modern European History by Birdsall S. Viault. You may not get the deeper clues and probably won't first line much in harder sets, but it gives a great overview of European history. I found it quite useful.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by kayli » Fri May 07, 2010 3:42 pm

I like anything Palmer and Colton have ever written. They're chock full of good, relevant facts.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Rufous-capped Thornbill » Fri May 07, 2010 7:48 pm

Yeah, what these guys said. Read old books. For quizbowl, no one really cares about what the life in the Dust Bowl was like. TIME's series on WW2 is really good, and at most, if not all, local libraries. For really in-depth stuff on the beginning of WWI, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is really good. I also own a book called "Great Battles of the Civil War," the author/publisher escapes me. But I get early buzzes on Civil War battles all the time from that book. I tend to learn a lot from packets as well, and then delve deeper by visiting Wiki or googling whatever the topic may be.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by ryandillon » Sat May 08, 2010 8:26 am

Yeah learning from packets helps. It can go a bit slow though.

Whenever I want to pick up a lot of information really fast I look at old bonuses. They often have a clue that i haven't learned yet or somehow tie into other things.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by PennySalem » Sat May 08, 2010 12:18 pm

What kinds of packets are nice to look over? I've been using the ACF packets recently....
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Carambola! » Sun May 09, 2010 12:15 am

I find that AP level history classes can teach relatively early clues, European History especially. Studying for the AP test parallels pretty well with learning history for quizbowl.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by PennySalem » Fri May 14, 2010 4:49 am

Cheynem wrote:Reading some breezy textbooks on the subject might work--for American history, I enjoyed "The Unfinished Nation" by Alan Brinkley. If your question writer is in a progressive state of mind, Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" might work. For presidential elections and stuff, I have not encountered a better book than Stefan Lorant's "The Glorious Burden," which also contains numerous political cartoons.
Anyone know other good textbooks for American history???
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Fri May 14, 2010 3:41 pm

One thing I did was use my old AP US history syllabus, which had a list of terms on it, and try to memorize a few leadins and deeper information about each item on them. Of course not every person or event in American history can be captured on the syllabus, so I would add to it as well. My class used Garraty's American History, which I thought was pretty good.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Frater Taciturnus » Fri May 14, 2010 3:52 pm

PennySalem wrote:
Cheynem wrote:Reading some breezy textbooks on the subject might work--for American history, I enjoyed "The Unfinished Nation" by Alan Brinkley. If your question writer is in a progressive state of mind, Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" might work. For presidential elections and stuff, I have not encountered a better book than Stefan Lorant's "The Glorious Burden," which also contains numerous political cartoons.
Anyone know other good textbooks for American history???
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Angry Babies in Love » Fri May 14, 2010 5:06 pm

OctagonJoe wrote:
Hilltopper22 wrote:European history is a whole different ballgame, and one I know a bit less about. The one book on European History that I do keep around though is my old AP European History textbook from high school: A History of the Modern World" by R.R. Palmer, Joel Colton, and Lloyd Kramer.
I also support the use of this textbook (that I also used in high school for AP Euro). A vast majority of my Euro history knowledge still comes from having reading through it.
Palmer is really long and really in-depth. Good for school? Probably. But good for quizbowl? Maybe, but I can't see someone reading this long, verbose textbook just for quizbowl.The AMSCO US History book (basically an APUSH review) would be good for American history. Though if you take APUSH, you'll probably be relatively solid in US History.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Kwang the Ninja » Fri May 14, 2010 11:03 pm

Wurzel-Flummery wrote:The AMSCO US History book
This, man. My APUSH teacher swore by this book. I wasn't really playing quizbowl when I took AP, so I didn't buy the book (we had classroom copies so buying books was optional), but I really, really wish I had.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by euterpe42 » Fri May 28, 2010 7:43 pm

I have to recommend Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe and Cartoon History of the Modern World. These books are surprisingly in-depth and very quick to read. They also come with bibliographies of more scholarly works if you want to dig even deeper.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Smuttynose Island » Sat May 29, 2010 9:11 pm

Wurzel-Flummery wrote:The AMSCO US History book
The AMSCO US History book is nice, but I felt that it tended to scratch the surface a lot of the times. I found that America: A Narrative History was a much more comprehensive book. It's also around twice as long as AMSCO, but it's a great book if you really want to learn American History.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Duncan Idaho » Sun May 30, 2010 12:44 am

The American Pageant, while filled with some corny language (e.g. "All farmers had to do was tickle the earth with a hoe, and it would laugh back a harvest."), is a decent US textbook. It tends to wax verbose when discussing non-quizbowl history, such as social change without names, but it has many useful political cartoons that come up as clues in US history questions. Perhaps just scan the book and look for the cartoons.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Papa's in the House » Sun May 30, 2010 2:20 am

While short, the Foundations of Modern History book "The 'Thirty Years War' and the Conflict for the European Hegemony 1600-1660" is a pretty in-depth book regarding this particular series of conflicts and the people/nations/etc. involved.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Terrible Shorts Depot » Sun May 30, 2010 11:59 am

Ben Cole wrote:The American Pageant, while filled with some corny language (e.g. "All farmers had to do was tickle the earth with a hoe, and it would laugh back a harvest."), is a decent US textbook. It tends to wax verbose when discussing non-quizbowl history, such as social change without names, but it has many useful political cartoons that come up as clues in US history questions. Perhaps just scan the book and look for the cartoons.
Insert plug for Lizabeth Cohen's skill as a historian. Making a New Deal is really, really good (though probably not great for quizbowl).
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Tanay » Mon May 31, 2010 2:03 pm

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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by Cheynem » Mon May 31, 2010 2:05 pm

I enjoy Cohen's "A Consumer's Republic" more, partly because it combines my various obsessions--suburbia, postwar America, shopping malls, advertisements.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by DongDonger » Tue Jun 01, 2010 7:28 pm

Just paying attention in class seems to have helped us with history tossups... also, memorizing the stock clues and key vocab terms is also a pretty good place to start.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by sssssssskkkk » Tue Jun 01, 2010 11:41 pm

DongDonger wrote:Just paying attention in class seems to have helped us with history tossups... also, memorizing the stock clues and key vocab terms is also a pretty good place to start.
I agree! Especially when your history teacher is very enthusiastic, entertaining, and knowledgeable. Our class uses Great Topics in American History for primary documents in our papers - it has a load of lots of good primary documents.
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Re: Getting Good at History

Post by pleasewalkforward » Tue Jun 01, 2010 11:44 pm

euterpe42 wrote:I have to recommend Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe and Cartoon History of the Modern World. These books are surprisingly in-depth and very quick to read. They also come with bibliographies of more scholarly works if you want to dig even deeper.
Glad I'm not the only one who has gotten points from reading Larry Gonick. He is especially helpful with the history of Islam and of pre-1000 C.E. China and India.
EDIT: I've also found that A.P. study books can net some points. Reading them around exam time killed two birds with one stone.
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