Grammar or Information: What’s the Difference in Historical Studies?

Phillip Donnelly discusses learning history grammatically.

When classical educators describe the ‘grammar’ of a given subject, they often refer to the ‘information,’ or ‘facts,’ involved in a topic of study. Tje goals of this presentation are twofold: first, to show the educational benefits that are lost when ‘grammar’ is reduced to ‘information’; second, to illustrate, by means of a specific example, how a truly grammar-based study of history differs in a crucial ways from an information-based approach. The study begins with an explanation of how an appeal to ‘facts’ as the basic units of human knowledge involves a variety of doubtful assumptions regarding the character of human knowing. In contrast I suggest grammar needs to be understood as an art that is concerned with appropriate verbal making. The sense of what is appropriate concerns relations among words (such as diction and syntax) but also the manner in which words refer to reality. The second part of the presentation considers how this difference between information and grammar works practically. How does the difference between information and grammar shape our approach to a history project on the English Civil War? Ultimately, by learning to study and teach history (and other subjects) grammatically, rather than in terms of mere information, Christian educators can overcome some deeply-rooted assumptions about knowing that would otherwise undermine Christian fidelity.

Phillip Donnelly

Dr. Phillip J. Donnelly is Associate Professor of Literature in the Honors College at Baylor University, where he serves as Director of the Great Texts Program. His research focuses on the historical intersections between philosophy, theology, and imaginative literature, with particular a ention to Renaissance literature and the reception of classical educational traditions. The topics of his published work range from St. Augustine and post-modern critical theory to the Renaissance poetry of George Herbert and John Milton. This presentation is part of a larger book project on the verbal arts.

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