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

Phil Donnelly June 25, 2012

Presented at:
SCL Conference 2012


When classical educators describe the "grammar" of a given subject, they often refer to the "information," or "facts," involved in a topic of study. The goals of this representation are twofold: first, to show the educational benefits that are lost when "grammar" is reduced "information;" second, to illustrate, by means of a specific example, how a truly grammar-based study of history differs in 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.


Grammar History Teachers Teaching


Phil Donnelly
Phillip J. Donnelly serves as Director of the Great Texts Program in the Honors College at Baylor University. His research focuses on the historical interaction between philosophy, theology, and imaginative literature, with particular attention to Renaissance literature and the reception of Classical educational traditions. He is the author of Milton’s Scriptural Reasoning (Cambridge University Press, 2009). His recent essays include: “Latin Pedagogy and Ethical Ends in the Royal Grammar (1542),” in Transformations in Biblical Literary Traditions, edited by D.H. Williams and Phillip J. Donnelly (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), and “Historical Appearance in Areopagitica,” in Milton and Questions of History, edited by Feisal Mohamed and Mary Nyquist (University of Toronto Press, 2012).

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