A Little Book for New Historians: Why and How to Study History, By Robert Tracy McKenzie

A Little Book for New Historians

Why and How to Study History

Little Books

by Robert Tracy McKenzie

A Little Book for New Historians
  • Length: 120 pages
  • Dimensions: 4.25 × 7 in
  • Published: March 12, 2019
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 5346
  • ISBN: 9780830853465

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Many people think of history as merely "the past"—or at most, information about the past. But the real work of a historian is to listen to the voices of those who have gone before and humbly remember the flesh and blood on the other side of the evidence. What is their story? How does it become part of our own?

In A Little Book for New Historians veteran historian Robert Tracy McKenzie offers a concise, clear, and beautifully written introduction to the study of history. In addition to making a case for the discipline in our pragmatic, "present-tense" culture, McKenzie lays out necessary skills, methods, and attitudes for historians in training. Loaded with concrete examples and insightful principles, this primer shows how the study of history, faithfully pursued, can shape your heart as well as your mind.

"This slim volume will challenge everything you've learned about studying the past. Put names and dates to the side and buckle your seatbelts for a ride that engages your heart as much as your mind. New historians—and old—will benefit mightily from the wisdom of this little book."

Sam Wineburg, Margaret Jacks Professor of Education and (by courtesy) History, Stanford University

"This book makes an outstanding contribution—for students of history, readers of history, history classes in college or high school, and discussions of history in church groups. It explains clearly what historians do, how historical study can promote the right kind of intellectual discipline, and why history means so much for Christian faith. The book is as powerfully effective as it is accessibly succinct."

Mark Noll, author of In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible and American Public Life, 1492-1783

"Beautifully written and thought provoking. Tracy McKenzie reminds us that history is so much more than knowledge about the past. He invites us to understand history as a Christian vocation; he equips us to develop historical habits of the mind, and he challenges us to be transformed by our historical consciousness. Just as history is foundational to Christian faith, McKenzie shows us that historical understanding is also foundational to being a faithful Christian. His book will enrich both the college and church classroom."

Beth Allison Barr, associate professor of history, associate dean of the graduate school at Baylor University

"If we take McKenzie's warnings about American 'present-tense culture' seriously and apply his lessons of history as the remembered past, the solutions for many of our contemporary racial problems would soon become clear. This book provides practical reflection and instruction on the development of historical thinking skills and growth of historical consciousness. I wish I had it when I was a new historian."

Robert Chao Romero, historian, UCLA Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies

"More than a how-to for beginning history students, this book is a tonic for our times. When many on the left and right clamor for history instructors to teach 'what really happened,' McKenzie lays bare the prideful arrogance behind such a desire and reminds us what a mature historical consciousness can provide—a discerning eye for the situation in which one has to act. Brimming with valuable insights culled from decades of classroom instruction by a master teacher, reading this book is both an intellectual pleasure and a practicum for spiritual formation. One can hope that the author's awe and humility before the task of making sense of the past will rub off on everyone who takes up this book."

Lendol Calder, professor of history, Augustana College

"This primer for new historians is full of Christian wisdom about the study of the past. Written by a seasoned veteran who has taught history majors for more than thirty years—in both secular and Christian academic institutions—it will instruct and transform you with profound historical thinking about the world in which we live and the people we should love. Read it and join the conversation!"

Douglas A. Sweeney, distinguished professor of church history and the history of Christian thought, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"Tracy McKenzie writes that we are living in a 'present-tense culture.' This observation will come as no surprise to history teachers on the frontlines, whose students tend to see the study of history as an exercise in memorizing arcane facts and hence place little value on learning history. In this concise and accessible book, McKenzie shows a way out of the tyranny of the present, explaining both how and why to learn from the past. He shows how to develop habits of inquiry and reflection that allow engagement with the past as a life-changing moral inquiry rather than the dry recital of facts. The wisdom he offers for new historians can be fruitful for more experienced scholars as well. This small book should be on every historian's reading list."

Rob Sorensen, history department chair, The Bear Creek School

"In engaging and accessible prose, Tracy McKenzie provides an excellent introduction to the historian's craft for the undergraduate student—I know of none better. A Little Book for New Historians offers a compelling rationale for the study of history along with helpful practical guidelines on how to do so. But, above all, it challenges students to view history as an essential part of an education that endeavors to form mind and spirit in humane and holy ways. Deeply informed by Christian faith, this work summons the student to seek a 'heart of wisdom' through the careful investigation of the past."

Ronald K. Rittgers, Erich Markel Chair of German Reformation Studies, professor of history and theology, Valparaiso University

"A Little Book for New Historians is short on words and long on wisdom. In it, Tracy McKenzie proves once again to be a sure and reliable guide for Christian students and faculty on what it means to do history well and why it is worth it. Like the past itself, his work offers us lots of gifts to be received."

Richard Pointer, Westmont College


Part One: Why Study History?
1. So What Is History Anyway?
2. Our "Present-Tense Culture"
3. Practical Rewards
4. Transformation
5. Discipleship
Part Two: How to Study History Faithfully
6. Listening to Other Historians
7. Listening to the Dead
8. Contributing to the Conversation
9. Why Does It Matter?
Appendix: What is History, and What are Its Characteristics?
General Index
Scripture Index


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Robert Tracy McKenzie

Robert Tracy McKenzie (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is Arthur F. Holmes Chair of Faith and Learning and professor of history at Wheaton College. His books include Lincolnites and Rebels, A Little Book for New Historians, and The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History.