(Still Under Construction for Spring 2015!!)

This course is an introduction to the methods and practice of the study of history. Students will learn to understand how historians construct and write about the past and will be introduced to the history of the writing of history. Students will also learn to critically evaluate historical arguments and the material used to produce those arguments, to develop research skills, and to produce written work in accordance with disciplinary conventions.

The description above is the official verbiage. Now for the Isaac spin. This course has a twofold purpose: to introduce historians-in-the-making to both the practical and philosophical “Whys” and “Hows” of our craft. Because of this approach, the course is going to have a lot of both reading and writing. We will be absorbing the mentorship of leading historians and then writing so as to test that mentoring and our mastery of the skills involved. Why should young historians subject themselves to this gauntlet? For the simple reason that, if they invest themselves at this time and level in these questions and skills, they will profit therefrom in every following history course they take. So...

Course Objectives

Through this course, students will:

Grading and Assignments

Readings:  There is an abundance of reading ahead, but a steady pace will keep your head afloat. Please take this counsel to heart, and do not skip assignments. Doing so will eventually catch up with you in unpleasant ways. In addition, do not put the reading off until the last moment; much of the material will be complex and require an investment of your brain, not just your time. Nonetheless, you will need time to digest it properly. Some of the readings will overlap a bit; trust me: the repetition will only help you.

Participation:   This course will operate primarily as a seminar, not as a lecture. This means that student participation is of the utmost importance. This category can include things like attendance, academic courtesy, diligence in completing assignments, and still other intangibles. Primarily it will focus on classroom contributions to discussions. Just in case you haven't seen the point here: this will be the primary way in which the professor evaluates your reading habits. Be prepared for an intensely Socratic approach! (15% of course grade)

Weekly Exercises: Most Thursdays (but some Fridays), there will be a written assignment, usually tied directly to that day's readings. The nature of these assignments will vary as different skills are being emphasized, so pay attention to directions/announcements in Canvas. Thursday assignments are due at the start of class; for Fridays, by 5pm, either in my campus mailbox, or slid under my office door. (15% of course grade)

Primary Document Analysis: In consultation with the instructor, each student will select and analyze a primary document related to the topic of their historiographical essay.  The analysis will include short answers to basic questions about the selected document (authorship, intended audience, etc.) as well as a three-page (+/- ½ page) argumentative essay regarding what the document reveals about the society and period it pertains to.  A word to the wise: incorporating even now the secondary sources you will be later using to complete your historiographical essay can only help the analysis.  The argumentative essay must be double-spaced, stapled, typed in a 12-point font, and conform stylistically to the Chicago Manual of Style. (15% of course grade)

Historiographical Essay: An 8-10 page historiographical essay on the topic of your choice is required. (20% of course grade) Details will be available in Canvas.

Final Exam: (15% of course grade)

Book Reviews:  Guidelines to this assignment are located here, but further counsel on book reviews is also tucked away in each of our course textbooks. (10% each of course grade)

Lecture and Reading Schedule

We have two required texts, plus numerous on-line readings, for this course. Be sure you have:

Come to class having already digested the day’s reading.



Readings and Assignments

13 Jan Introduction to Course; Begin Shooting the Past Go over syllabus
15 Jan  
  • Benjamin, 1–13
  • Patrick Rael, “Introduction
  • 16 Jan Assignment Due Writing: “History is...”
    20 Jan Conclude Shooting the Past; discussion
  • Wineburg, “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts”
  • Guldi & Armitage, 1–13
  • 22Jan Words: In the Library/Primary v. Secondary
  • Benjamin, 14–23, 36–47
  • Writing: Worksheet #1 (due 5pm, Friday 23 January)
  • 27 Jan Words: Which to Read, Which to Ignore Benjamin, 47–61
    29 Jan Words: Ways (not) to Write Them Benjamin, 62–71
    3 Feb History& Historiography: Introductions
  • Postlewait, “Writing History Today”
  • Writing: Assignment handed out in class (due 6 Feb)
  • 5 Feb History in the Ancient World
  • Porter, “Politics and Public Relations Campaigns in Ancient Assyria”
  • I Chronicles 11–15 (pay attention to Intro and explanatory notes!)
  • 6Feb Assignment Due Writing: Outline exercises and essay on German Student Letters
    10 Feb History in the Ancient World (cont.)
  • Benjamin, 89–97
  • M.I. Finley, “Myth, Memory, and History”
  • 12 Feb Medieval Historical Writing “The Role of Towns in the Battle of Bouvines”
    16 Feb   First Book Review Due (5pm)
    17 Feb Medieval Primary Source
  • Jordan Fantosme: pp. 1-27
  • Roger of Howden, “The Revolt of 1173–1174”
  • 19 Feb Workshop: Plagiarism Benjamin, 71–80
    24 Feb The Modern Turn  
    26 Feb Workshop: Citations Bring several of your sources to class.
    Writing: Prelim Bibliography (due by 5pm, Friday 27 February)
    2-6 Mar Spring Break Happy Studying/Writing ??
    10 Mar “Wie es eigentlich gewesen”
  • Hamerow, “The Professionalization of Historical Learning”
  • J.H. Round handout (to be given in class)
  • 12 Mar Skills Workshop
  • Benjamin, 81–89
  • 16 Mar   Writing: Revision of German Student Letters Papers (by 5:15)
    17 Mar Marx and History
  • “Dialectical Materialism” at the Unnameable Site (Read Secs. 1-5)
  • Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 21, Chapters 1 and 2
  • 19 Mar Annales : Macrohistory & longue durée
  • Harsgor, “Total History: the Annales School”
  • Braudel Excerpt (esp. pp. 118–129)
  • 24 Mar Microhistory
  • Ginzburg, “Microhistory: Two or Three Things thatI Know about It”
  • 26 Mar Other Disciplinary Toolboxes Darnton, “The Great Cat Massacre”
    Writing: Revision of Bibliographies (due in class)
    31 Mar Letting the Internet back in...
  • Benjamin, 67–69
  • Evaluating Web Pages (at UC-Berkeley)
  • Guldi & Armitage, Ch. 1
  • 2 Apr History & Gender
  • Halperin, “Is There a History of Sexuality?”
  • 6 Apr   Writing: Second Book Review Due (See options here or here) by 5:15
    7 Apr  
  • Guldi & Armitage, Ch. 2
  • 9 Apr Workshop: the Devil in the Details
  • Guldi & Armitage, Ch. 3
  • 14 Apr Environmental History
  • Worster, “Doing Environmental History”
  • 16 Apr   Guldi & Armitage, Ch. 4
    21 Apr Wrap-Ups
  • Historiography Paper Due
  • 23 Apr History & Postmodernism Carr, “Narrative and the Real World”
    29 Apr Final Exam @ 3:00  

    Your Professor

    Dr. Steven Isaac
    Office: Ruffner 226A
    Office Phone: 395-2225
    Office Hours: 11:00 MWF / 1:00 TR

    Web Resources/Links

    This is hardly a comprehensive list below of all the available sites, but over the years I have found these folks typically to be the most helpful and consistently reliable.

  • Patrick Rael's Website at Bowdoin College