By period or by region

Feb 2015
Thessaloniki, Greece
What is the most productive way, in terms of organization to study history. To work on a specofoc region and move forward chronologically or go from period to period exploring the world at the current moment?
Feb 2015
New England
I guess it depends on what you are trying to accomplish in your research. But to be honest, I don't think we really divide up history into eras and regions because it helps deepen our knowledge, so much as we do it in order to break history into more manageable sized chunks.

R5 plus

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
Home of Ringing Rocks
What is the most productive way, in terms of organization to study history. To work on a specofoc region and move forward chronologically or go from period to period exploring the world at the current moment?
When you figure it out, make sure to let me know :lol:.

For me, it starts with an area of interest, moves to the events happening around that topic, then branches off haphazardly into the farther reaches and less identifiable connections as they pop up in research. Sometimes my focus is extremely narrow, at other times, it's extremely broad, just to get the lay of the land before narrowing back on a certain segment again.

EDIT: I do make some use of timelines and maps. It's gotten to the point though that I'm creating my own to fit my particular needs. A member here, Pragmatic Statistic, got me started on the map part, the timelines are in MS Excel.
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Jan 2015
Large Fields
I think organization by region while maintaining the chronology is the best form. Historical differences are very stark both in terms of regions/cultures and periods/eras, thus the utilization of both factors serve as an emphasized importance in the subject of history.
Apr 2015
I think that the best way to study history is to combine both ways. Start by studying what is happening in the whole world in chronological order, and when something interesting happens in France, for example, zoom into France and study their history in greater detail over a 50-100 year timeline. When you finish this short but detailed timeline, go back onto the main timeline and scan the world again. Continue zooming into smaller parts of the world one by one, when something interesting happens. Good plan?


Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
I'd personally go with learning by period, in a manner of Braudel

Mike McClure

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
I prefer a strictly chronological approach. It makes it easier to see the interconnections of different events.
Jun 2017
I think the best way to start is a combination of both. Study history chronologically on the most signifigant regions in their respective periods of time(for me this tended to mean studying the most powerful civs). Once you have a general idea of the main plot of the human story you can fill in whatever areas you missed, I feel its far more interesting to learn about the smaller civs after youve learned about the big ones and already know the context of the world those civs were in. So my answer is both. Chronology is important because I believe history is best learned as a story and region is important to be able to split up that story into realistically doable chunks. Then you go detail digging.

Mike McClure

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
It depends on what you are studying. I usually look at things chronologically. You can pick-up on conections that you would otherwise miss.


Forum Staff
May 2013
Albuquerque, NM
We humans love stories, and those stories about our selves reign supreme. We are also remarkably consistent in believing that our own group should be more valued than other groups. We begin to learn "history" from out families. Names that would otherwise be forgotten linger in our memory. Where our family was, and went is coupled with what they achieved and any connection with historical events far beyond the family unit. If Great-Uncle Silas served in the ACW, we become at least marginally interested in that conflict rather than the Sepoy Rebellion in India. Our schooling focuses on those events that our outfit has deemed important, and that re-enforce current public policy. Our native language also limits the scope of our interests.

Most folks acquire their native language(s) early, and read history in that language where we are most comfortable. Even more often, children grow up on here-say and legend rather than any disciplined study of past events. They may basically stop reading in a disciplined way, once the group's schooling objectives are met. People have limited time, and anyone who has raised children, (those complaining, demanding, and selfish little creatures whose faults we try to overlook) knows that there are never enough resources available for Mom & Dad. Nurturing is time consuming, and is truly is its own reward. After an exhausting day, adults come home only to deal with family concerns, so what does Dad read? A. The sports and comics section of the newspaper, or watch television, or B. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason while carefully taking notes and reading the foot notes in the Bibliography section? Perhaps, since we are historians here,"B" should be Churchill's complete works read in depth. In any case, we tend to read what is interesting as a relief from the dullness of "regular" life. We read about people like ourselves, but lives that were more exciting, rewarding, meaningful, than spending six days out of any week in a job we don't much like and that pays (in our own opinion) far too little.

That shouldn't be surprising. Perhaps more surprising is how many of us do make time to explore and study history. As long as there is an audience, writers will write. To make a living writing, one has to sell the product of one's labor ... and it takes significant effort and skills to write what we might term "The Great American History of the Lincoln County War". How best to sell a manuscript to a publisher has generated its own genre of books. The printing press has swamped students with far more material than can be read and absorbed in a couple of human lifetimes, and don't even think of embracing all that appears across the spectrum of modern media.

For those hardy souls who in an earlier time might have wandered the world looking for something approximating "Truth" and novelty, education in all its forms must do. If a student is fortunate enough to live in Texas, or Wales, we might be driven by regional culture and pride to make the effort to understand how we came to be. However, regional and events can rarely be studied with efficiency and effectiveness in a vacuum.
What Texas is, is the result of at least a thousand years of human occupation and search for personal/group survival. How could one learn to understand how and why the Welsh regard themselves in context with migrations that since the Paleolithic? For most of human history we have been tied to rural landscapes for food and the necessities of life. As the reach of humans has expanded with a series of revolutionary developments, the focus of our existence has expanded and evolved into an urban world. The problems that we face today, are largely the unintended consequences of choices made for at least that last 2-5 thousand years ago. To understand the Great Ware properly, a historian needs to be aware of those long term trends our species has faced, and how we as a species have tried to control our present and future.

Short answer: Read and study what you find interesting, but accept that you in the end we can never know for sure much of anything in the social sciences. Look for writers whose scholarship and judgement is valued by other serious students. Keep an open mind as you explore interesting stuff that may only appear in footnotes, notes, bibliographies, indexes, etc. When the area of your interest bumps up against other areas, be prepared to learn another language, or accept the opinions of others. Who you gonna trust? What was the author's intent, and how clearly did the author research and think through the material he might be regarded as an "expert in"? When you love a writer's work, be careful that you don't stumble over their weaknesses, and self-deception. More sources tend to be less tainted, but not without faults arising from others prejudices. I've heard it said that it takes 100K hours of dedicated and focused work to acquire the knowledge and skill we associate with an expert. Who meets that criteria?

Ericsson (1990) says that it takes 10,000 hours (20 hours for 50 weeks a year for ten years = 10,000) of deliberate practice to become an expert in almost anything. That assertion is open to serious criticism, but lets see what it might tell us about the state of historical awareness in a large population, like the U.S. I believe most American high school students will have four years of history classes. One hour classes, twice a week for a schools academic year might come to about 2,500 hours of instruction. Historum's high school teachers might give us their estimates on how many hours of study their student's actually make. How many hours does the average BA in History acquire? Double the high school figures? That comes to 5K, or roughly half this theory says needed to become an "expert". The number of hours spent enrolled in classes within the discipline, of course is no guarantee that the student learned anything at all, but without those long dedicated hours of work how much can we rely on a writer to get their topic properly covered?