How do historians study secondary sources?

Feb 2017
Caveat for this thread: it's not about academic guidance, I'm just a guy who's curious about the profession of historian.

I've been reading a bunch of books that are targets for academics these days, many marked up university library books, and it's got me wondering about the mind of a historian when they're studying a topic or book that's a secondary source. Is it as simple as scanning for relevant passages? Do they tend to read every iota of text? Is there any rhyme or reason or best practices or does it vary from person to person?


Forum Staff
Aug 2016
I've noticed in recent years that my interests have become so specialized or narrow that it's tempting to just go to the table of contents or index and just read those portions that are relavent to my interests. With e-books or on-line texts it's also possible to do key word searches.
Dec 2011
When I look around, I would say most historians do not read most books from start to finish, but concentrate on the relevant chapters or sub-chapters. There's simply not enough time, you are expected to be familiar with a wide range of scholarly works and depending on your actual job position, you have to be active in academic administration, teaching, PR, "fund raising", archival research etc.