How Historic Research Works – Easter Island

I really love the great example of historic research. OK, I also love the fact that it’s all about the Easter Island statues that I’ve always found fascinating, but mostly I love it as an example of historical research. I find that most people don’t have a clear idea in their head what research actually is. While the concrete steps they took through archeology are a little different than you would use for historical research where there are records, the ideas about research expressed are refreshingly solid.

I especially appreciated:

1. Pre-Research

This step wasn’t really the end result of what they were doing, but they first examined everything they could about the area and its history. They looked at facts and theories and what people who said things had facts that actually had to back them up.

2. Hypothesis

They do a great job of this because they started as believers in the conventional wisdom. Whenever you do research you need to have a question or  a prospective answer that they could prove or disprove.

3. Dig

They dug, literally in this case, looking for both things that backed up what they were saying and things that didn’t. They acknowledged that things they expected to find that they weren’t. So, and this is one of the important bits, they didn’t try to explain away why they didn’t find what they were looking for, they didn’t just assume what they were looking for existed somewhere, they didn’t extrapolate. They tried to find a new theory that fit the evidence they had.

4. They didn’t assume people in the past were exactly the same as us.

I’m always amazed at how many people look at the past and assume they looked at things the same way we do or  they are stupid. These researchers’s original hypothesis was shown to have  more to do with 21st century concerns than evidence on the ground. That happens a lot, people doing research start with a mind set or a place where they want to end up so only look at evidence one way. It often leads people to ignore evidence. These researched didn’t.  They kept looking for answers and were able to come up with a completely different story that actually was supported by evidence. That’s what a real researcher does. Also, their new theory shows once again that people in the past weren’t stupid.

5. Hands On Experimentation

They also did a little hands on experimentation to see if part of their theory actually worked. I’m all for that. The easiest way to tell what it’s like to do something is, after gathering all the information you can, to try it yourself.


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Sarah Uthoff - Trundlebed Tales

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+, LinkedIn , SlideShare, and . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

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