What is Synopticity?

What is Synopticity? (The Judgment of a Historian)

Synopticity is ‘Approaching History in the way a professional historian would’ by drawing together knowledge, ideas and arguments to show overall historical understanding. Essentially, throughout your studies at B.H.S. you are aiming to read, think, and write like a historian. With continued practice you will be able to demonstrate a breadth of understanding (an ability to see beyond the obvious and to see the deeper implications of questions), together with a relevant linking of ideas and arguments across the topic or period in order to reach a valued judgment. The historian’s craft is one of discipline and imagination.

Historians do the following:

  1. Sourcing – analyzing the resource: Who said so? Where did this come from?
  2. Teach students to stop and source before reading!
  3. Consider a document’s attribution (the name of the author or editor and how

the document came into being) before doing anything else:

  1. Read the headnote, if any;
  2. Look at all the source information, including date, publisher;
  3. Note the attribution, if any;
  4. Consider the genre (book, diary, newspaper, speech);
  5. Set it in historic context – time and region;
  6. Verify provenance (records documenting authenticity or history of ownership);
  7. Study the Table of Contents and Index.
  8. Contextualizing – imagining the setting, making it visual
  9. Create a picture in your head: what did the original scene look like?
  10. The available technology affects the way information is produced and delivered

What things were different in those days? How might that matter?

  1. Who are the others thinking and writing on this subject – the people talking about it?
  2. Corroborating – cross-checking: Who else says so?
  3. Inter-textual reading – looking for corroboration/confirmation.
  4. What do other sources say?
  5. Where would we find other perspectives on this issue? (e.g., after the destruction of the USS Maine, what was on the front page in Havana? in Madrid?)
  6. How does other material support, oppose, or extend your understanding of the subject?
  7. Close reading – bias, tone, implied meaning: What does it say? How does it say it?