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Introduction to History and Historiography (HIST 231.02)

"One thing that we learn from history is
that people seldom learn from history."

- Eugen Weber

Fall 2003, Truman State University
BH 348, TR 3:00-4:20
Office: KB 225A

Marc Becker
Office Hours: W 1:30-3:30
Phone: x6036


HIST 231 (Introduction to History and Historiography) is the introductory class to the history major at Truman. We have designed this course to achieve three main goals:

  1. understanding the nuts and bolts of historical practice, including an analysis of secondary and primary sources; documentation, organization, and style; and use of library resources
  2. understanding of historiography as interpretation, debate, or "conversation" among historians, including gaining practice in writing historiographical papers
  3. learning about the basic constituents of research.


You are expected and required to attend every class session, and you are responsible for the material covered in the lectures, readings and films, and for any announcements made in class. Unexcused absences will negatively affect your grade. Please drop me an email note if you are sick or otherwise unable to attend class. If you have a disability or any conflicts which may affect your class performance, please bring this to my attention immediately so that we can make arrangements for this to be a positive learning experience for you. Please let me know if you have suggestions for improving the class.

My primary means of communication with you outside of class will be via the CourseInfo ( web page. To logon, enter your email id as the user name, and your social security number as your password (unless you have already changed this password for another class). Once you are logged on, click on "student tools" and then "change your information" to change your password. If you forget your password, email the administrator ( to reset it for you. Be sure the email address under "student tools" is set to an account that you regularly read. Please let me know if you need assistance in using these resources.


We encourage history majors to become familiar with H-Net (, the main website for historians. In particular, you may benefit from subscribing to H-Histmajor, a listserv discussion list for undergraduate history majors. The home page for H-Histmajor is You can subscribe to the discussion list through the home page, or by sending the following message

SUBSCRIBE H-HISTMAJOR [your name], [your institution]

To the address


Following are the required books for this class. Read the assignments before class so that you are prepared to carry on an intelligent discussion of the material in class. Do not wait until the last minute to buy these books since about half-way through the semester the bookstore will return unsold copies to the publisher.

The Apprentice Historian: A Collection of Student Essays Compiled by Phi Alpha Theta-Nu Chi.

Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: New Press. Distributed by Norton, 1994.

Pickler Library Reference Staff. "Guide to Library Resources for Historical Research."

Rampolla, Mary Lynn. A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.

Stilman, Anne. Grammatically Correct: The Writer's Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, Style, Usage & Grammar. Cincinnati: F & W Publications, Incorporated, 1997.

Turabian, Kate L, John Grossman, and Alice Bennett. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Assignments and grades

Course grades will be based on the following assignments. Grades on late assignments will be penalized 10% for each day that they are late. There is a total of 1000 possible points in the class, with 900-1000 being an "A," 800-899 being a "B," etc. You can check your grade progress in CourseInfo.

Small assignments
Historical journals (Sept 2)
Primary document exercise (Sept 9)
Coffee Chronicle (Sept 16)
McNair Program's Research Presentations
Turabian documentation exercise (Sept 18)
Short historiographic essay (Oct 14)
Extended historiographic essay
Library exercise (Oct 22)
Proposal and annotated bibliography (Oct 29)
Draft (Nov 26)
Final version (Dec 10)


10 pts.


Schools of historiographic interpretation (Aug 28). Look up one of the following topics in Kelly Boyd, ed., Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing (D14 .E53 1999 Ref) and give a short presentation on it in class:

Art History

Cultural History
Demographic History
Diplomatic History
Economic History
Intellectual History
Jewish History
Legal History
Military History
Periods, Themes, Branches of History
Political History
Science, Medicine, Technology, and Ecology
Social History
Theories and Theorists
Women's and Gender History

Historical journals (Sept 2). Go to the stacks (not current periodicals) in the library, find an issue of the American Historical Review, and photocopy the table of contents. Be prepared to describe in class the type of history you think is in the journal. Locate a second historical journal of your choice and go through the same process. Bring the photocopies to class. Compare the historical journals with a magazine of your choice. How do they differ?

Primary document exercise (Sept 9). Find a primary document about an historical topic that interests you and, if possible, bring it or a copy to class. For help in finding such a source, see Is this a published or unpublished primary source? Be prepared to discuss how you found this source and why it is significant. Write and submit a one to two page paper (typed and double spaced) answering the following questions:

  • Who wrote it or created it? If we do not know, why not?
  • When was it written or created? If we do not know, why not?
  • What was the main purpose of the document or artifact? (You may have to make a conjecture.)
  • In what ways does the document shed light on the following aspects of society? Which aspect does the document shed the most light on?
    • Political
    • Military
    • Economic
    • Religious
    • Social

Turabian documentation exercise (Sept 18). In class, choose three books from a publisher's catalogue that I will provide and complete the following 4 tasks following Turabian:

  1. List the books in footnote form using the "N" format. Invent page references. The last book should have multiple authors (invent names, if necessary).
  2. Write footnote references from your list in the following order, inventing different page references each time:
  3. Source 1; source 1; source 3; source 1; source 3.

  4. Footnote an article from a journal that I will provide. Invent a page reference.
  5. Write a bibliography using the "B" format, including all books and the article.

Historiographic Essays

This course requires you to write two historiographic essays which compare the arguments of a variety of historians on a single historical debate. A historiographic essay is not simply a "story" which puts together all the material in the readings, as if these were merely sources for facts on a subject. That type of paper is not acceptable for this class. You will, of course, collect and coordinate some information, but that work is only the beginning of your task. This type of writing addresses an issue upon which historians have different viewpoints and then summarizes and critically analyzes the research of key historians (or, in some cases, contemporaries) involved in the debate. Particular emphasis is given to explaining how and why various scholars disagree. Your paper must deal, in a summary fashion but fairly and accurately, with interpretive views of, and methodological approaches to, a historic issue. Furthermore, your paper should accomplish some of these tasks:

  • compare and contrast authors' views
  • evaluate the validity of the authors' approaches
  • relate the authors' particular interests to some larger historical problem
  • discuss methodology
  • discuss source material

Your main task is to represent the viewpoints of the authors in question, as well as presenting your own arguments on this subject. Several questions should be considered as you examine the historians' arguments:

  • What is each historian's thesis?
  • What approach to the subject (social, economic, intellectual, etc.) does each historian emphasize, and how can you tell? Do the different authors use different approaches or methodologies in arriving at their conclusions? Can their disagreements be explained in part by the way they have approached the subject?
  • What types of evidence does each article emphasize?
  • What points of agreement/disagreement do you find? How do the various authors' viewpoints compare with each other? What are the similarities and differences between their conclusions about the particular issue you are investigating?
  • What are the authors' central conclusions?
  • Do any of the authors specifically point out their disagreements with other interpretations?
  • Which argument seems most credible to you and why? Which one seems most significant in terms of providing new ideas or insight that might be useful beyond this particular issue?
  • On balance, is there one interpretation that seems to be generally accepted by most historians? If not, what are the major causes of continuing dispute?
  • For the extended historiographic essay, what specifically can an analysis of a primary source contribute to this debate? What kinds of questions might it help to answer? What further questions (perhaps not addressed by the historians) does it raise?

Be sure that the essay follows proper Turabian style with respect to documentation. Notes should be either at the bottom of the page (footnotes) or collected at the end of the paper on a page entitled "Endnotes" or simply "Notes." The final page should be a bibliography listing all the sources. I will not accept papers that fail to include proper documentation.

Work hard to develop a clear and concise writing style. Clear communication is always important, but this type of paper will test your ability to explain a historian's essential argument so that your reader can comprehend it without having to refer to the original source. Finally, remember that this is a comparative analysis and not a "report," "summary," or "research" paper.

Short Historiographic Essay (Spanish-Cuban-American War) (Oct 14). For this assignment, you will examine the opinions of several historians who disagree as to the causes of the 1898 Spanish-Cuban-American War and United States expansionism in the late nineteenth century. The essay should be 5-8 pages in length (typed and double-spaced).

Extended Historiographic Essay

This paper is the major assignment for this course and will be developed in a series of stages:

  1. Choose an issue in history that interests you, and collect at least ten secondary sources (books and articles--not including encyclopedia entries) that relate to this issue. Identify some aspect of this issue about which the authors of your sources disagree; that is, find a debate among the historians who have written about the issue. Read over your sources and, for each one, identify the following: a) the approach used by the historian, b) the kind of evidence employed, c) the conclusions that the author comes to, the viewpoint he or she tries to put across. Having defined your issue and sifted through the secondary sources for various interpretations, locate one primary source that is relevant to the debate you are investigating.
  2. Complete the library exercise on this topic (due Oct 21).
  3. Submit a proposal for the extended historiographic essay (due Oct 28). The proposal should be typed, double-spaced, and include citations as appropriate. The prospectus should address the following issues (not necessarily in this order):
    • What is the historical debate you will discuss in your essay?
    • Briefly describe the historical period of your historiographic essay, indicating why you think your choice of subject is important.
    • Briefly define the various approaches the different historians use in their work, the kinds of evidence they use, and their conclusions. Can you define broad schools of interpretation?
    • Describe the kinds of problems you are encountering (if any) which relate to the data collection and organizational format of your project.
    • State a tentative hypothesis (or thesis statement) of what you expect your analysis of these historiographic debates to be.
  4. Hand in an annotated bibliography which explores the strengths and weaknesses of each source that you plan to use in writing your paper and its value in relation to your historiographic topic (also due Oct 28).
  5. Discuss the resources you have gathered and your ideas about the issue in a conference with your instructor.
  6. Write a paper (10-15 pages, plus bibliography) in which you clearly present the various historical interpretations you have encountered in your sources. The complete draft (with notes and bibliography) is due on November 20. One individual conference is required before the draft is due; another is required after the draft is returned to you. Additional conferences are always welcome.
  7. Present your historiographic essay to the class. Following are some questions to think about in presenting your paper include. These questions are intended to help you organize your thoughts; it is not necessary for you to try to address them in this form or in this order, as long as your comments relate to the questions. You are free to add whatever other comments you choose that might not be covered by these questions.
    • Had you realized before doing this paper the diversity of views that existed on your topic?
    • Do you think that having written this historiographical essay will make you a more intelligent and critical reader of historical writings?
    • Do you see a relationship between becoming familiar with the historiography on a subject and either doing research on that topic or directed reading in the area?
    • What did you get out of doing this historiographical essay, both in terms of learning about your topic and in terms of your understanding the work historians do and how historical research develops?
  8. The final, polished version of the essay is due on December 9.

Class Schedule

Week 1 (Aug 26-28) Introduction: history and historians
Read: Rampolla, ch. 1 "Introduction"
Assignment: Schools of historiographic interpretation (Aug 28)

Week 2 (Sept 2-4) Secondary sources
Read: Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me
Assignment: Historical journals (Sept 2)
Thursday, Sept 4: Tour of Writing Center

Week 3 (Sept 9-11) Primary sources
Read: Stilman, pt. one ("Spelling")
Assignment: Primary document exercise (Sept 9)

Week 4 (Sept 16-18) Turabian
Read: Stilman, pt. two ("Problem Words"); Turabian
Assignments: Coffee Chronicle (Sept 16); Turabian documentation exercise (Sept 18)
Wednesday, Sept 17: Attend at least one of the McNair Program's Research Presentations (in VH 1000 from 9:00 - 3:30) and report back on it to class.

Week 5 (Sept 23-25) Library resources
Read: "Guide to Library Resources for Historical Research"; Stilman, pt. three ("Punctuation")
Tuesday, Sept 23: Meet in library (Pickler 103)

Week 6 (Sept 30 - Oct 2) Computer literacy
Read: Stilman, pt. four ("Grammar")
Tuesday, Sept 30: Meet in library (Pickler 103)

Week 7 (Oct 7-9) Professional presentation
Read: Stilman, pt. five ("Style"); Rampolla; Apprentice Historian
Tuesday, Oct 7: Tour of Special Collections and & Violette Museum

Week 8 (Oct 14-16) Short historiographic essays
Assignment: Short historiographic essays (Oct 14)
Thursday, Oct 16: Tour of Still National Osteopathic Museum

Week 9 (Oct 21-23) Extended historiographic essays
Assignment: Library exercise for extended historiographic essay (Oct 21)

Weeks 10-13 (Oct 28 - Nov 25) Individual conferences (in instructor's office)
Assignment: Proposal and annotated bibliography for extended historiographic essay (Oct 28); Drafts of extended historiographic essays (Nov 20)

Week 14 (Dec 2-4) Presentations

Tuesday, Dec 9: Extended historiographic essays due

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