In first tutorial of my first History unit my tutor asked two questions of the group. Firstly – ”What is History?” and secondly – “Why did we choose it?”. At the time, I found the first question extremely difficult to answer but the second, for me, was never in doubt. Both of the questions were asked again in the first unit of my Honours degree with similar results, but with much more qualification. I now have a far better understanding of the theories and vagaries of the debate about what defines History, and importantly, why I chose History to study. I elevate understanding my choice to equal footing as theory, as it has determined what kind of historian I am or will become.
My thesis is about the Georgian period of the Vauxhall Gardens and its role in facilitating social or cultural change and, as yet, I have not written a single word.[i] This is mainly because the task seemed too big, too esoteric, too daunting, I had nowhere to begin. I had no framework within which to view my research, let alone write a story. Each week during the semester the series of discussions on historical theory gave me a new paradigm to assess my conceptual frame work and motivations. This lead me to the conclusion that I am a Narrative Historian with a Biographical bent which, in turn, has provided structure and design for my thesis. I now know: how to present the History- structure and viewpoint, have a consideration for cause through individuals’ motivations and have mechanisms for checking my thinking and understanding, in particular, when contextualising primary and early secondary sources.[ii] This essay is about my understandings of these theories and how I will apply them to the Vauxhall Gardens thesis.
As we discussed each of the seven topics I felt that although they were referred to as theories of History, there were other groupings within this general term that helped my conceptualisation of each. I came to see four categories: the building block, motivations, methods and thinking check or tools. From each I took elements that suited my situation in terms of Thesis topic and my personal filters.