The Well-Educated Mind: Histories

First it was novels. Then it was autobiographies. Now, it’s history’s turn.

As with previous sections in The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer begins with an overview of the genre. Here, she distinguishes between several periods in the history of history:

  • Ancient History
  • Medieval History
  • Renaissance History
  • The “Enlightened,” or “Rational,” Approach
  • Positivism to “Progress-ism” to “Multiculturalism”
  • Romanticism to Relativism to Skepticism (and Thence to Postmodernism)

Attentive readers will recognize that the the last two periods are overlapping as the telling of history fragmented according to your particular philosophical bent. The history of ideas and the ideas of history are forever intertwined.

So, when it comes to actually reading a historical account, Bauer again gives questions for each stage:

Grammer-Stage Reading (195-198)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • Does the writer state his or her purpose for writing?
  • What are the major events of the history?
  • Who is this story about?
  • What challenges did this hero/ine face?
  • Who or what causes this challenge?
  • What happened to the historical hero/ine?
  • Do the characters go forward, or backward – and why?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Where does the story take place?

Logic-Stage Reading (198-206)

  • Look for the historian’s major assertions
  • What questions is the historian asking?
  • What sources does the historian use to answer them?
  • Does the evidence support the connection between questions and answers? [Note: readers of the actual book are treated to a primer on fallacies at this point]
  • Can you identify the history’s genre?
  • Does the historian list his or her qualifications?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (206-209)

  • What is the purpose of history?
  • Does this story have forward motion?
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • Why do things go wrong?
  • What place does free will have?
  • What relationship does this history have to social problems?
  • What is the end of history?
  • How is this history the same as – or different than – the stories of other historians who have come before?
  • Is there another possible explanation?

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated histories list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

With that in mind, here’s the list:

So far with this list, I’ve got my work cut off for me, having only read Herodotus (would highly recommend). I’ve a copy of the few of the others, but while I’m thinking of it, I might venture to the local used bookstore and see what I can find. Although, you can actually piece together most of this list for less than $100. Not bad for what would be close to a year or more of reading for many people!

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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