© Damen, 2002

29. Technical Terms.

Many words you may consider generic are, in fact, technical terms when one is talking history. In the study of ancient Egypt, for instance, "kingdom" refers to one of three distinct periods: the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 BCE), the Middle Kingdom (2000-1800 BCE) and the New Kingdom (1550-1000 BCE). Likewise, in discussions about ancient Rome "empire" means that period from 31 BCE to 476 CE, when a succession of "emperors" dominated Roman government. If you're speaking about the centuries preceding 31 BCE, the technical term for Roman government is "Republic." Thus, words like "kingdom," "republic" and "empire" need to be used carefully in certain historical disciplines.

If you have doubts about whether or not a term has a technical sense, or the proper way to deploy it, it's probably best to substitute a neutral term. For instance, when you wish to refer to Roman government in general, neither the Republic nor the Empire, just say "the Roman state." "State" is not a technical term in Roman history, as readings in this field will show.

Misuse of such terms not only may cause confusion between writer and reader but betrays a failure to grasp some basic principles of history. The best way to make sure you deploy technical terms correctly is to watch closely how they're used in the reading assignments for a class. By imitating that, you demonstrate your awareness of the laws of history's linguistics, namely the dialect any particular species of historian speaks. All in all, be aware that the proper use of technical terms is yet one more gauge at my disposal in assessing the quality of effort a student is putting into a class. When you use technical terms appropriately, I can see you've done your reading well.

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