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! If the professor believes people are treating readings lightly, pop quizzes will occur as a consequence. (15% of course grade)

Weekly 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. 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: 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 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 three 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

19 Jan Introduction to Course; Begin Shooting the Past Go over syllabus
21 Jan Continue with Shooting the Past
  • Rampolla, 1-7
  • General “Mad Dog” Mattis
  • 22 Jan Assignment Due Writing: “History is...”
    26 Jan Conclude Shooting the Past; discussion
  • Wineburg, “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts”
  • 28Jan Words: Which to Read, Which to Ignore
  • Rael, “How to Read a Secondary Source” and “Predatory Reading
  • Rampolla, 8-21
  • 2 Feb Words: Ways (not) to Write Them
  • Rampolla, 24-50
  • 4 Feb Words: In the Library/Primary v. Secondary
  • Rampolla, 82–102
  • Writing: Worksheet #1
  • 9 Feb History& Historiography: Introductions
  • Burke, “Overture”
  • Writing: Outllines and Primary Doc. Analysis to be handed out in class (due 12 Feb)
  • 11 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!)
  • 12 Feb Assignment Due Writing: Outline exercises and essay on German Student Letters
    16 Feb History in the Ancient World (cont.)
  • M.I. Finley, “Myth, Memory, and History”
    • Halsall, 1-25
    18 Feb Medieval Historical Writing Halsall, 26-86
    23 Feb Medieval Primary Source
  • Jordan Fantosme: pp. 1-27
  • Roger of Howden, “The Revolt of 1173–1174”
  • 25 Feb Workshop: Plagiarism
  • Rampolla, 103–110
  • Isaac, “Plagiarism” and “Writing Guide
  • 26 Feb   First Book Review Due (5pm)
    1 Mar The Modern Turn Hamerow, “The Professionalization of Historical Learning” (via JStor)
    3 Mar Workshop: Citations
  • Bring several of your sources to class.
  • Rampolla, 111–125
  •     Writing: Prelim Bibliography (due by 5pm, Friday 4 March)
    7-11 Mar Spring Break Happy Studying/Writing ??
    15 Mar Marx and History
  • “Dialectical Materialism” at the Unnameable Site (Read Secs. 1-5)
  • Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 21, Chapters 1 and 2
  • 17 Mar Skills Workshop
  • Rampolla, 51–81
  • 18 Mar   Writing: Revision of German Student Letters Papers (by 5:15)
    22 Mar  
  • Sharpe, “History from Below”
  • 24 Mar Annales : Macrohistory & longue durée
  • Harsgor, “Total History: the Annales School”
  • Braudel Excerpt (esp. pp. 118–129)
  • 29 Mar Microhistory
  • Ginzburg, “Microhistory: Two or Three Things that I Know about It” (in JStor)
  • 31 Mar Other Disciplinary Toolboxes Levi, “On Microhistory”
    Writing: Revision of Bibliographies (due in class)
    5 Apr Letting the Internet back in...
  • Rampolla, 23
  • Evaluating Web Pages (at UC-Berkeley)
  • Last date to confirm 2nd Book Review Choice
  • 7 Apr History & Gender
  • Scott, “Women’s History”
  • Porter, “History of the Body Reconsidered”
  • 8 Apr   Writing: Second Book Review Due (by 5:15)
    12 Apr Workshop: the Devil in the Details
  • 14 Apr  
  • Prins, “Oral History”
  • 19 Apr Environmental History
  • Grove, “ Environmental History”
  • 22 Apr   Historiography Paper Due by 5pm
    26 Apr History & Postmodernism
  • Carr, “Narrative and the Real World”
  • 28 Apr The Historical Future Burke, “History of Events and the Revival of Narrative”

    Your Professor

    Dr. Steven Isaac
    Office: Ruffner 226A
    Office Phone: 395-2225
    Office Hours: 1:00 MWF / 2:00 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