Historiography and Historical Methods (Spring 2011) 

42.298.02  Tues-Thurs, 9:30

Professor:  M. Hickey    Office:  OSH 130  x-4161  mhickey@bloomu.edu 

Office hours:  T-Th, 2:00-3:15; Wed., 1:00-2:45 and 5:30-6:00.

Navigation links for this syllabus:

Basic course information:

Course policies:

Graded Assignments

Quick Link to the Library Assignment

Hickey's 12 steps

Weekly Schedule of Assignments  



Course Introduction:


This course has two basic components.  The first is an introduction to Historiography.  The second is an introduction to basic historical research methods.

Historiography is the history of historical writing.  This course will survey ways that historians in western civilizations have understood the history's meaning and purposes.  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.  They don't study the past in some kind of intellectual vacuum.  They do so in a sort of unending dialogue with their sources about the past, and with previous historians.  To be blunt:  If you don't know what other historians written and argue about a topic (if you don't know the historiography), you can't begin to do serious historical research about that topic.

This course will introduce you to the history of historical writing and help you learn how to master the historiography on a topic that interests you.

Among the things you must know if you are going to do serious historical research (or be a good historian, period), are how to read for argument, how to ask valid historical questions, and how to find historical sources. 

This course is designed to help you learn how to read for argument, ask historical questions, and find sources relevant to your research interests.   It is a pre-requisite for 42.398, Research and Writing.  But the skills you will develop in this course also are essential to success in all other upper-level history courses. 



If you take your work in this course seriously, it will help you meet these objectives: 

1) relate the development of history as a scholarly discipline to broader historical contexts

2) recognize and accurately explain the arguments in secondary sources (works by historians)

3) compare and contrast the arguments of different historians who have examined the same topic (which also means being able to differentiate between various "schools" of historical analysis

4) apply basic historical research tools to finding primary and secondary sources on a specific topic

5) define and clarify coherent historical research topics and questions

6) organize the first stages of a historical research project 






Required Texts:

Hoefferle, Caroline.  The Essential Historiography Reader.  Boston:  Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2011.

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


Grade Components and Grade Scale

Your grade will be based upon the following assignments (descriptions are linked to this list):

Course grade scale: 


Mandatory Verification that you have read the syllabus and are aware of course policies and procedures


You must read this syllabus and then sign a form verifying that you: a) have read this syllabus; b) are aware of course policies and procedures.    Follow this link to fill out the form:   Link to the "Verification Document" Form


If you have questions about the syllabus, course policies, or assignments, it is your responsibility to ask those questions (in class, or after class, or in my office hours, or by email).  It is my responsibility to answer those questions as clearly and directly as possible.  


I will not grade any of your quizzes, exams, or papers until you have verified that you have read the syllabus (etc).


Plagiarism Policy

This class has a  zero tolerance policy regarding plagiarism and all other forms of cheating. 

For the definitions of plagiarism and cheating that apply in this course, see this link on plagiarism.  

For the University's Academic Integrity Policy and an explanation of the appeals process regarding violations of academic integrity, see the online version of the  BU student handbook, The Pilot.  

If I determine that you have cheated or plagiarized on any assignment, I will strictly follow university guidelines: 

  1. You will receive a failing grade for the assignment

  2. I will file a formal report with BU’s Student Standards Board.  This can lead to your academic dismissal.

  3. If you have cheated or plagiarized on more than one assignment, you will fail the entire course.


Attendance (Mandatory)


Your grade in the entire course will drop in direct proportion to your unexcused absences. 


Example:  Student X has 950 out of the 1000 possible points on graded assignments (an A).

                     Student X missed 20 percent of class sessions with unexcused absences

                     200 points will be deducted from Student X's course grade, which becomes 750 points (a C).




Excused Absences, Late Assignments, and Make-Up Assignments 

Excused absences:  

A student misses class because of illness, a family emergency, or a University-related event, but has either:

a) informed the instructor in writing in advance, or

b) after the fact, provides the instructor with University-approved documentation excusing the absence. 


Late Assignments

Assignments are due on the date and at the time indicated in the syllabus. 

10 percent of the possible grade total will be deducted from the grade of a paper that is late, with an additional 10 percent deducted for each additional day that it is late. 

At the instructor's discretion, this policy may be waved in the case of medical or other emergencies. 


Make up Assignments:


Missed in class assignments or conference appointments can be made up or rescheduled at a later date only if the assignment/conference was missed due to an excused absence.  In such cases, the make up quiz or exam will be administered at a time and place chosen by the instructor.

In all other cases, you will fail the assignment (which includes failing assignments that are based on confernces).


Mandatory Paper Form

In addition to the relevant chapters in Rampolla (6 and 7), see the links On Plagiarism and On Endnote Form. 



Class Participation (10 percent; 100 points)

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 (10 percent; 100 points)

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!

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; 50 points) 

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). 

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; 50 points possible)

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.  

70 percent of your grade will be based upon your inclusion of the most significant appropriate works (scholarly books and articles); 30 percent will be based on use of correct bibliography form.



Common Reading Précis Assignment (5 percent; 50 points possible)

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.")  

You all have a common reading assignment--an article from a scholarly journal:  Jeanette Keith, "The Politics of Southern Draft
Resistance, 1917–1918: Class, Race, and Conscription in the Rural South," Journal of American History 87, no. 4 (March 2001): 1335-1361.

  1. Use your library skills to obtain a copy of this article

  2. Read the article and take careful notes. 

  3. We will discuss this article in class

  4. You then will write a précis on that article. 

The paper must follow the mandatory paper format.

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


Definition of Research Questions (5 percent; 50 points)

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; 50 points possible)

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; 50 points possible)

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; 100 points)

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 an obtainable primary source collection (for example, a collection of published documents, a book series, a set of newspaper, a microfilm collection, or digital archive) that contains sources relevant to your research. 

2. Schedule a conference to discuss this primary source collection.

3.  At the conference, give me a written identification the source collection in correct 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; 200 points possible)

In this paper, you will analyze what other historians have argued about your topic.  You must also explain how historical interpretations on your topic have changed over time, and the 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 (which will account for 20 percent of the grade).



Research Prospectus (20 percent; 200 points possible)

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. 

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, Due Dates, and Assignment Links:

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


Hoefferle refers to Caroline Hoefferle, The Essential Historiography Reader.  We will discuss each chapter of this book in class.  I expect you to answer the questions on the documents in each chapter, and to bring your answers (and the book) to class.  In class discussion of this book will account for the bulk of your class participation grade.

Rampolla refers to Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History.  There are linked study questions for some Rampolla Assignments.


Week I:  18-20 January) 



Week II: (25-27 January)


Readings for next week, Hoefferle, chapter 2. You must be able to identify any or all terms that Hoefferle has "highlighted" using text in the margins.  You must write out answers to the study questions for each document.



Week III: (1-3 February)




Week IV: (8-10 February))  




Week V: (15-17 February) 




Week VI: (22-24 February) 



 DUE Library Assignment  Part B 3 and B 4


Week VII: (1-3 March) 




SPRING BREAK:  6-14 March    In addition to other assignments, Read the Rampolla Book, chapters 4, 6 and 7!


Week VIII: (15-17 March)   




Week IX: (22-24 March) 




Week X: (29 March-31 March):  




Week XI: (5-7 April) 




Week XII: (12-14 April)



Week XIII: (19-21 April)



Week XIV: (26-28 April)






Research Prospectus due at final scheduled exam session  Weds, 4 May, 8 AM