Hickey Home Page

42.298.02  Historiography and Historical Methods

Spring 2010 

M. Hickey  Old Science Hall Office 130  389-4161 mhickey@bloomu.edu

Office Hours:  T-Th. 2:00-3:30; Weds 5:00-6:00 (or by appointment)  

Navigation links for this syllabus:

Weekly Schedule of Assignments (LISTS DUE DATES)  


Link to the Library Assignment



This course has two basic components.  The first is an introduction to the branch of historical inquiry known as Historiography.  The second is an introduction to basic historical research methods.

Historiography is the history of historical writing.  We will examine changes in the ways that western civilizations have understood the history's meaning and purposes.  Understanding historiography is critical to understanding a culture's intellectual history.  But it also is integral to doing historical research.

Historians ask questions about the past, which they try to answer based on research.  A good historian knows how to read for argument, ask historical questions, and find historical sources. 

"Read for Argument!"  "Ask Historical Questions!"  "Find Relevant Sources!."  Much of your course work will be devoted to sharpening these critical skills. 

This course is a pre-requisite for 42.398, Research and Writing.  The skills you develop are essential to 42.398.  But they also are essential to all your upper-level history courses. 

The assignments in this course are designed to meet five objectives: 

1) understand how history has evolved as a scholarly discipline

2) understand how to read secondary sources for argument

3) understand how to use basic historical research tools

4) understand how to define and clarify historical research topics and questions

5) understand how to organize the first stages of a historical research project. 

The course will culminate in planning your own individual research project. 


Required Texts:

Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History (New York:  Norton, 1995).

Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 6th Edition (Boston:  Bedford-St. Martins, 2010).

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:  Andrea Lunsford, Easy Writer, 4th Edition (Boston: Bedford-St. Martins, 2010)


Course Grade Scale:

A grade of "A" in this course means that your cumulative score on assignments equals 93 percent or more of possible points. A-=90-92; B+=88-89; B=83-87; B-80-82; C+=78-79; C=73-77; C-=70-72; D+= 68-69; D=60-67.

Your grade will be based upon:

Class Participation (10 percent)

A Multi-Part Library Assignment (total of 10 percent)

Definition of Historiographic Topic (5 percent)

Revised Historiographic Reading List (5 percent)

Definition of Research Question (5 percent)

Common Reading Précis Assignment (5 percent)

Individual Reading Précis Assignment 1 (5 percent)

Individual Reading Précis Assignment 2 (5 percent)

Primary Source Locator Assignment (10 percent)

Historiographic Essay (20 percent)

Research Proposal (20 percent).   

Absence/Late Paper Policy:  I will consider absences "excused" only in cases of medical, family, or university/work-related events.  Students must inform me of the absense in advance in writing.

I will not accept late papers or give "make up" assignments for unexcused absence. 


Paper Form

All papers for this course must be written in 12 point Times Roman font, with one inch margins.  Type your name in the top right hand corner of the first page.  All pages must be numbered.  Staple papers in the top left hand corner. 

Do not "double-skip" between paragraphs! 

All quotations must be placed in quotation marks (except in the case of bloc quotations). 

All quotations, paraphrases, and direct summaries must be accompanied by endnotes in proper form.  See On Plagiarism and On Endnote Form.  Also see Rampolla, chapters 6 and 7.

WARNING:  Plagiarism on any assignment will result in failure of the course; I also will file an official complaint with the Office of Student Standards.


Class Participation (10 percent)

Your participation grade will be based on the quality of your contributions to class discussions.  

You must attend every class session  having completed all readings for the week.   

Your participation grade will fall in direct ratio to the percentage of class meetings that you miss.  

There are study questions on the assigned readings linked to this syllabus.  Answer these questions.  Bring your written answers to class.


Multi-Part Library Assignment (total of 10 percent)

There is a Multi-Part Library Assignment linked to this syllabus.  The assignment is designed to help sharpen skills and habits necessary for research projects. 

The assignment is divided into two sections:  Section A (Secondary Sources); and Section B (Primary Sources). 

Each section is sub-divided into several exercises,  which require you to complete several tasks.  Read the directions for each part carefully before beginning that portion of the assignment!

You must complete each portion of the assignment on schedule (see the weekly schedule).   

You will get credit for a portion of the assignment only if you have completed it correctly, according to the instructions. 

If you have made errors, you will have two business days after I return your paper to correct that portion of the assignment. 

If, when you turn in the revised paper, it is correct, then you will receive credit; if not, you will receive no credit.

If you complete the entire library assignment (all 11 parts), you will receive full credit. 

Your grade will fall in direct ratio to the number of portions you fail to complete correctly.


Link to the Library Assignment


Definition of Historiographic Topic (5 percent)

Pick a historical topic that interests you.  I must approve your topic. 

There are some topics that I will not approve, because they are overdone or have proven untenable  (e.g., the JFK assassination; the Molly Maguires; the decision to bomb Hiroshima; anything having to do with the Mafia).

You will read 10-20 secondary sources to learn about the topic and its historiography (what other historians have argued about the topic). 

Pick a topic that will hold your interest for the whole semester.  Assignments related to your topic will account for more than half of your grade! 

Pick a topic that is "do-able," that is neither too broad nor too narrow. 

For instance, "the history of the Civil War" is too broad!  But "Bloomsburg's Fourth of July Parade in 1905" is too narrow (you would not be able to find many sources)!

To ensure that you choose a "do-able" project, and prevent you from spending a lot of time going down dead-end streets, I require that you:

If I approve your topic and reading list, you will receive full credit (5 percent).

If I do not approve your topic and reading list, you can repeat the process once.

If you fail to attend your scheduled conference appointment or fail to schedule a conference, you will fail this assignment.


Revised Historiographic Reading List (5 percent)

Once you begin reading,  you will find that some titles are more important than others.  You also will learn about important titles that were not on your initial list.

Therefore, you will revise and supplement your reading list.  



Common Reading Précis Assignment (5 percent)

A précis is a very concise summary. 

Historians must learn to "read for argument."   To understand a book or article, you must understand the author's main point (the "thesis").  Remember, historians don't just list "facts"!  They interpret evidence and propose arguments to explain what the "facts" mean. 

Writing a précis of an article, chapter, or book requires that you grasp the author's main point and boil it down to a few paragraphs.  (See Rampolla, "Summaries.")  

This assignment will focus on Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History (New York:  Norton, 1995).

In class, I will assign you a chapter on which you will write an in-class précis. 

You can use your notes to write this in-class précis, but you can not use the book.  So take good notes when you read and during our class discussions.  

I will grade each précis on the basis of its logic, clarity, and accuracy. 


If you fail to attend this class session without an excused absence, you will fail this assignment.


Definition of Research Questions (5 Percent): 

Choosing a topic is the starting point for historical research.  But before you can begin serious work with primary sources, you need to define your basic research questions.  

The questions you ask can shape the types of primary sources you need and the methods you use to analyze those sources. 

Defining a clear historical research question is not as easy as you might think.  Avoid questions that are simply too big to answer in an undergraduate research project ("How have big oil companies shaped US foreign policy?").   Avoid questions that don't require research ("Did the US aid the Shah of Iran?).  Avoid questions that don't really add to understanding of larger historical issues ("What kind of guns did marines at the US embassy in Iran have in 1979?").  Avoid questions that can't be answered by historical research, even though they might be important ("Was it moral for the US to aid the Shah?"). 

So, where do you start in defining a clear historical research question? 

You can't ask a good question about a topic until you've read something about that topic.  Therefore, you should be thinking about "do-able" research questions as you read the books and articles on your secondary source reading list.

You must:

If your questions are clear, well-focused, and appear answerable on the basis of historical research, you will receive full credit (5 percent).

If your questions are not clear, well-focused, and answerable, you will repeat the process until I approve of your questions.   


If you fail to attend your scheduled conference appointment or fail to schedule a conference, you will fail this assignment.



Individual Précis No. 1 (5 percent)

Pick the most important book from your reading list.  Write a précis (a summary) of the book's thesis.  (See Rampolla, "Summaries.")  

The book must be:

In a one-page précis:

Remember, explain the thesis.  Don't simply describe the topic of the book!

I will grade each précis based on its logic, clarity, and accuracy. 




Individual Précis No. 2 (5 percent)

Pick another important book from your reading and write a précis on that book, following the same directions as Individual Précis No. 1.  

I will grade each précis based on its logic, clarity, and accuracy. 




Primary Source Locator Assignment (10 percent)

To write a research paper, you  need primary sources.  This assignment is designed to get you looking for primary sources on your topic.  

1. Locate and identify a primary source collection or database related to and useful for your research topic (based on your questions). 

2. Schedule a conference to discuss your primary source.

3.  At the conference, give me a written identification the source collection in bibliography form (see Rampolla). 

If I approve, you can go on to step 4.   If not, you must repeat steps 1-3.

4.  Write a 2-3 page paper that:

REMEMBER, I am asking you to identify a collection of sources, not a specific document!  

I will grade your paper on the basis of its logic and clarity and your use of correct form.


If you schedule a conference then fail to attend, or if you fail to meet with me for source approval, you will fail the assignment. 


Historiographic Essay (20 percent)

In this paper, you will analyze what other historians have argued about your topic. 

You must explain how historical interpretations on your topic have changed over time.

You must explain differences between “schools” of historical interpretation regarding your topic.  

In other words, compare and contrast what many historians have argued about your topic.   

Preparing for your paper: 


Writing your paper:

I will grade this paper based on the logic of your argumentation, the clarity of your presentation, the accuracy of your analysis of secondary sources, your use of appropriate sources, and your use of proper form for quotations and endnotes.



Research Prospectus (20 percent)

Most professors who teach Bloomsburg's History 498 (Research and Writing Skills) will require that you write a research proposal or prospectus.  It is a good skill to learn.  It requires that you think carefully about your topic, the questions you want to answer, why those questions are important, how they relate to what other historians have written, and what sources you will need for your research.  

If you have done all you assignments to this point, have already done most of the work for the prospectus.  Now you must put it all together.

You will write a brief prospectus.  Your target length is 5 pages (not counting the bibliography).  You must explain:

Attach a typed bibliography that follows the guidelines in Rampolla. 

The bibliography must include all your primary and secondary sources, divided into a section for Primary Sources and a section for Secondary Sources.

I will grade your proposal based on its logic, clarity, and thoroughness.   I will grade your bibliography based on its inclusion of key sources and use of accurate form.  The proposal will account for 75 percent of the grade; the bibliography for 25 percent of the grade. 



Weekly Schedule of Assignments and Links to Study Questions:

I may alter the dates of some assignments during the semester, so check the weekly schedule every week!


"Appleby" refers to Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History (New York:  Norton, 1995).

Rampolla refers to Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, any edition.

If you click on the reading assignment for each week, it will take you to a linked page of study questions.


Week I:  19-21 January) 



Week II: (26-28 January)




Week III: (2-4 February)




Week IV: (9-11 February))  




Week V: (16-18 February) 




Week VI: (23-25 February) 



    DUE Library Assignment  Part B 3 and B 4


Week VII: (2-4 March) 




SPRING BREAK:  6-14 March 


Week VIII: (16-18 March)   




Week IX: (23-25 March) 




Week X: (30 March-1 April):  




Week XI: (6-8 April) 




Week XII: (13-15 April)



Week XIII: (20-22 April)



Week XIV: (27-29 April)






Research Prospectus due at final scheduled exam session