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. Yes, some of the readings will overlap a bit. Ttrust 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! If the professor believes people are treating readings lightly, pop quizzes will occur as a consequence. (16% of course grade)

In addition, this grade will include participation in the Spring Semester’s Research Day showcase, mostly as observers, but as active observers/questioners. More on that will be clarified later in the semesters. (5% of course grade)

Writing Exercises: Throughout the semester, there are a number of writing assignments, usually tied directly to that week’s readings. The nature of these assignments will vary as different skills are being emphasized, so pay attention to directions/announcements in Canvas. Assignments are due at the start of class, unless otherwise stipulated. In other cases, or for late work, they may be either placed in my campus mailbox, or slid under my office door. (16% of course grade)

Primary Document Analysis: Early on in the semester, we will analyze a set of primary documents.  The analysis will include short answers to basic questions about the selected document (authorship, intended audience, etc.) as well as a four-page (+/- ½ page) argumentative essay regarding what the documents reveal about the society and period it pertains to.  This argumentative essay must be double-spaced, stapled, typed in a 12-point font, and conform stylistically to the Dept. Style Guide or Chicago Manual of Style. (14% 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: (16% of course grade)

Book/article Review:  Guidelines to this assignment are located here, but further counsel on book reviews is also tucked away in each of our course textbooks. (13% each of course grade)

Lecture and Reading Schedule

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

Come to class having already digested the day’s reading. I have some of the earlier web-based readings directly linked. Later on, as you get used to databases like J-Stor, I've not always linked the reading, anticipating that you'll know by then how to find the articles yourself.



Readings and Assignments

17 Jan Introduction to Course; Begin Shooting the Past
  • Go over syllabus
  • Cullen, 1–3
  • 19 Jan Continue with Shooting the Past
  • Rampolla, 1–7
  • Cullen: (3e)7–13 / (2e)
  • General “Mad Dog” Mattis
  • 22 Jan Continue with Shooting the Past
    Cullen: (3e)29–34 / (2e)30-36
    24 Jan Conclude Shooting the Past; discussion
    Assignment Due
  • Cullen: (3e)59-66 / (2e)63-71
  • Writing: “History is...”
  • 26 Jan History: Why? What’s it Good For?
  • Wineburg, “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts”
  • 29 Jan Argument & Evidence: Evaluating Sources
  • Cullen: (3e)44–56 / (2e)47-60
  • Rampolla, 8-21,
  • Rael, “How to Read a Secondary Source
  • 31 Jan Words: In the Library/Primary v. Secondary
    Assignment Due
  • Rampolla, 82–102
  • Cullen: (3e) 35–43 / (2e)37-46
  • Writing: Worksheet #1
  • 2 Feb Argument & Evidence: Thesis-Hunting
  • Rampolla, 24–35
  • Cullen: (3e)55–56 / (2e)59-60
  • Rael, “Predatory Reading
  • 5 Feb Close-Reading Davis, vii–x, 1–34
    7 Feb Still close... Davis, 35–61
    9 Feb Closer... Davis, 62–93
    12 Feb Closer still... Davis, 94–125
    14 Feb Martin Guerre: the Debate Finlay versus Davis
    16 Feb History& Historiography: Introductions
  • Burke, “Overture”
  • Cullen: (3e)14–19 / (2e)14-20
  • Writing: Outllines and Primary Doc. Analysis to be handed out in class (due 23 Feb)
  • 19 Feb History in the Ancient World
  • Porter, “Politics and Public Relations Campaigns in Ancient Assyria”
  • I Chronicles 11–15 (avail. in Canvas; pay attn to intro and explanatory notes!)
  • 21 Feb History in the Ancient World (cont.) M.I. Finley, “Myth, Memory, and History”
    23 Feb Paper-Writing: the Research Question
    Assignment Due
  • Cullen: (3e)67–85 / (2e)72-91
  • Writing: Outline exercises & essay on German Letters (Prim. Doc. Analysis) due in class
  • 26 Feb Medieval Historical Writing
    Assignment Due
  • Collingwood excerpt
  • Research Question/Proposal Due
  • 28 Feb Medieval Primary Source
  • Jordan Fantosme: pp. 1-27
  • Roger of Howden, “The Revolt of 1173–1174”
  • 2 March Von Ranke
  • Overview and all 3 Links under “Miscellany”
  • Gilbert, “Historiography: What Ranke Meant”(find in JStor)
  • 5-9 March Spring Break  
    12 March The Modern Turn Hamerow, “The Professionalization of Historical Learning”
    14 March Paper-Writing: Building your Argument
  • Cullen: (3e)86–110 / (2e)91-119
  • 16 March Marx and History
  • “Dialectical Materialism” at the Unnameable Site (Read Secs. 1-5)
  • Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 21, Chapters 1 and 2
  • 19 March Workshop: Citations
    Assignment Due
  • Bring several of your sources to class.
  • Rampolla, 111–125
  • Article Review Due
  • 21 March Workshop: Plagiarism
    Begin Research Meetings with Professor
  • Rampolla, 103–110
  • Isaac, “Plagiarism
  • 23 March Paper-Writing: Revising
    (Meetings... cont.)
  • Rampolla, 69–81
  • Cullen: (3e)118–129 / (2e)127-139
  • Isaac, “Writing Guide
  • 26 March Annales : Macrohistory & longue durée
    (Meetings... cont.)
  • Harsgor, “Total History: the Annales School”
  • Braudel Excerpt (esp. pp. 118–129)
  • 28 March Microhistory
    Assignment Due
  • Ginzburg, “Microhistory: Two or Three Things that I Know about It” (in JStor)
  • Preliminary Bibliography Due
  • 30 March New Social History / Geertz
  • Levi, “On Microhistory”
  • 2 Apr Letting the Internet back in...
  • Rampolla, 23
  • Evaluating Web Pages (at UC-Berkeley)
  • 4 Apr Other Disciplinary Toolboxes Sharpe, “History from Below”
    6 Apr Assignment Due
  • Rampolla, 51–81
  • Writing: Revision of German Student Letters Papers
  • 9 Apr Non-textual Sources
  • Ivan Gaskell, “Visual History”
  • 11 Apr Workshop: Outfoxing Search Engines
    Assignment Due
    Writing: Revision of Bibliographies (due in class)
    13 Apr History & Gender
  • Scott, “Women’s History”
  • Porter, “History of the Body Reconsidered”
  • 16 Apr Oral History
  • Prins, “Oral History”
  • 18 Apr Environmental History Grove, “ Environmental History”
    20 Apr Newest-fangled Tools? Sensory History Smith, 1–38
    23 Apr Close Reading Again... Smith, 39–83
    24 Apr Research Day  
    25 Apr Assignment Due Historiography Paper Due by 5pm
    27 Apr ...and Again Smith, 115–46
    30 Apr History & Postmodernism Carr, “Narrative and the Real World”
    7 May
  • The Historical Future
  • Burke, “History of Events and the Revival of Narrative”
  • 8 a.m. (oh, joy...)

  • Your Professor

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

    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