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...
Through this course, students will:
- Demonstrate the ability to produce written work according to academic conventions outlined in The Chicago Manual of Style.
- Define history and explain its evolution as a discipline through the study of the history of the writing of history.
- Apply knowledge of the varying approaches historians take to their subject through an analysis of multiple schools of history.
- Communicate effectively and advance persuasive arguments through classroom discussion.
- Demonstrate the ability to read primary and secondary sources critically, including recognizing bias, evaluating the usefulness of a source, and analyzing the significance of a source.
- Demonstrate the ability to conduct research, including competency in utilizing the library catalog, periodical databases, and evaluating internet sources.
- Demonstrate competency in disciplinary writing through the completion of at least one of each of the following assignments: 1) Book review; 2) Primary document analysis; 3) Historiographical essay.
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! If the professor believes people are treating readings lightly, pop quizzes will occur as a consequence. (15% 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. (15% 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. (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/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. (10% 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:
- Peter Burke, ed., New Perspectives on Historical Writing
- Cullen, Essaying the Past
- Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre
- Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History
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
|18 Jan||Introduction to Course; Begin Shooting the Past|
|20 Jan||Continue with Shooting the Past|
|23 Jan||Continue with Shooting the Past
|25 Jan||Conclude Shooting the Past; discussion||Cullen, 63-71|
|27 Jan||History: Why? What's it Good For?|
|30Jan||Argument & Evidence: Evaluating Sources|
|1 Feb||Words: In the Library/Primary v. Secondary
|3 Feb||Argument & Evidence: Thesis-Hunting|
|6 Feb||Close-Reading||Davis, vii–x, 1–34|
|8 Feb||Still close...||Davis, 35–61|
|10 Feb||Closer...||Davis, 62–93|
|13 Feb||Closer still...||Davis, 94–125|
|15 Feb||Martin Guerre: the Debate||Finlay versus Davis|
|17 Feb||History& Historiography: Introductions
|20 Feb||History in the Ancient World|
|22 Feb||History in the Ancient World (cont.)||M.I. Finley, “Myth, Memory, and History”|
|24 Feb||Assignment Due||Writing: Outline exercises & essay on German Letters (Prim. Doc. Analysis)|
|27 Feb||Paper-Writing: the Research Question||Cullen, 72–91|
|1 March||Medieval Historical Writing
|3 March||Medieval Primary Source|
|6-10 March||Spring Break|
|13 March||Von Ranke|
|15 March||The Modern Turn||Hamerow, “The Professionalization of Historical Learning”|
|17 March||Paper-Writing: Building your Argument
|20 March||Marx and History
|22 March||Workshop: Citations|
|24 March||Workshop: Plagiarism
|27 March||Paper-Writing: Revising|
|29 March||Annales : Macrohistory & longue durée|
|3 Apr||New Social History / Geertz|
|5 Apr||Letting the Internet back in...|
|7 Apr||Assignment Due||
|10 Apr||Other Disciplinary Toolboxes||Sharpe, “History from Below”|
|12 Apr||Non-textual Sources|
|14 Apr||Workshop: Outfoxing Search Engines
|Writing: Revision of Bibliographies (due in class)|
|17 Apr||History & Gender|
|19 Apr||Oral History|
|21 Apr||Public History||“Defining Public History”|
|24 Apr||Environmental History|
|28 Apr||Assignment Due||Historiography Paper Due by 5pm|
|1 May||History & Postmodernism|
|5 May||The Historical Future||Burke, “History of Events and the Revival of Narrative”|
|FINAL EXAM||Per University Schedule|
Dr. Steven Isaac
Office: Ruffner 226A
Office Phone: 395-2225
Office Hours: 1:00 MWF
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