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The University of Nottingham

Learning from the Past: A Guide for the Curious Researcher

The University of Nottingham via FutureLearn


Discover sources that help you understand the past, and explain the present!

The language of history determines how we view our world and understand urgent issues, such as the environment, conflict and human rights. This language is shaped by documents held in libraries and archives, and the ways in which researchers interpret these is constantly developing. This course will provide you with skills to discover and critically analyse the records of the past, including hidden treasures from the British Library’s collections. Researchers at the University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham will show how these collections influence the way we view our world today.

No prior knowledge or training is needed. This course is for people who are interested in how history informs the ways in which we view the world today, or are already using records to find out about the past. You may be thinking about starting a postgraduate course, want to find out more about a specialist interest, or are working on a family or local history project.

You don’t need any specific tools beyond those that you are using to access this course.


  • How to "read" history, and why it matters
    • Why history?
    • History and political language
    • Cracking the Code: Linguistics and the analysis of large bodies of text
    • Skills: Reading your sources critically
  • History as images and artefacts
    • Picturing territory: Maps and topography
    • Images of modern slavery: Political mobilisation or historical stereotyping?
    • Images of victims: Empathy or stolen agency?
    • Skills: Locating sources
  • Thinking outside the box
    • Our Place in the World
    • The Sounds of the Past
    • Skills: Digital collections and "good" research questions
    • Summary and Ways Forward

Taught by

Maiken Umbach


4.4 rating at FutureLearn based on 155 ratings

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