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Senior Seminar in History (HIST 400.01)

Fall 2004, Truman State University
BH 163, TR 3:00-4:20
Office: KB 225A

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


This course is the capstone experience for all history majors at Truman State University; passing it proves that you have earned your degree in history. It is the course that caps off everything that you have learned, combining and building upon the knowledge of historiography and skills in research you have previously acquired, and culminating in a major research paper that is subject to rigorous academic standards. You are on the one hand to develop and demonstrate an awareness of the intricacies of doing history and being a historian and on the other hand to apply that awareness in your research paper.

Course structure

The course has two parts. During the first few weeks, we examine the debate among historians at present about the character of historical inquiry. What is at stake is the very possibility of telling the truth about the past. In the remaining months of the second part of the course, you are to apply the considerations in your research paper. Historical practice is not a solitary endeavor but a collective one that occurs within several sets of communities, only the smallest one being this class. Therefore, we work collectively and in small increments, following each step in the writing process together, from deciding on a topic, choosing sources and developing a bibliography to writing drafts and revising. You need, at a minimum, to keep the pace of the course to have a chance at all to write the kind of paper required in this course. We meet frequently to give progress reports, soliciting feedback and advice orally and in writing.


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.

The Apprentice Historian: A Collection of Student Essays Compiled by Phi Alpha Theta-Nu Chi.
Carr, Edward Hallett. What is History? New York: Knopf, 1961.
Elton, G. R. Return to Essentials: Some Reflections on the Present State of Historical Study. Cambridge England, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Jenkins, Keith. Re-thinking History. London, New York: Routledge, 2003.

In addition, you already should have the following items from HIST 231 or previous history classes:

Pickler Library Reference Staff. "Guide to Library Resources for Historical Research."
Rampolla, Mary Lynn. A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004 (or any other edition).
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. You can check your grade progress in CourseInfo (there is a total of 1000 possible points in the class). All work must be typed and turned in on time. Failure to do so will result in no credit for the class.

Participation plays a crucial role in the seminar and is a significant part in the evaluation of your performance. It does not mean showing up-a mere prerequisite for participating-or showing off, but to contribute to the learning of other students and hence yourself by engaging them and the matter at hand seriously, rigorously, and critically.

The primary product of this class will be a major research paper. The main criterion we will use in evaluating the papers is how clear and persuasive the argument is. This means, above all, that the author needs to advance an argument. An argument is an original, insightful, interesting, even bold, claim that is at once truthful and falsifiable. It also needs to be your argument. (Plagiarism of any kind means an automatic F in the course and is grounds for expulsion from the university.) That the argument is persuasive means that it is drawn from and supported by ample and appropriate primary sources while well grounded in existing secondary literature. That the argument is clear means that it is explicit, logical, and pursued in error-free prose in a structurally sound exposition with discrete sections and well-formed paragraphs. (We will, of course, discuss at great length how to achieve this; that is the very subject matter of the course.)


Writer profile (Sept 2)
Review essay (Sept 28)
Working bibliography (Oct 14)
Annotated bibliography (Oct 28)
First introduction (Nov 4)
Outline (Nov 11)
Full draft (Nov 23)
Peer review (Dec 2)
Portfolio (Dec 2)
Final paper (Dec 9)

100 pts.

Class Schedule

Week 1 (Aug 31-Sept 2) The Researcher
Assignments (due Sept 2):

  1. Write a two-page profile of yourself as a writer. What are your main strengths? Your weaknesses? Be prepared to share and discuss your profile and those of others.
  2. Prepare an informal oral statement on what general area of history-topical (e.g. gender, culture, politics, war, everyday life, diplomacy, famines, sexuality, historiography); geographical (a hemisphere, continent, area, nation, region, or city); and time frame (an epoch, era, century, decade, or year) you would like to work with in your paper.

Week 2 (Sept 7-9) The Modern Historian & Writer Typology
Read: Carr, Edward Hallett. What is History?
Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 39-42 ("Writing a research paper")
Assignment (due Sept 9): Although it may change, prepare an oral statement on what possible topic you would like to work with on your paper. A topic is more specific than the general area: try to be as specific as possible.

Week 3 (Sept 14-16) The Postmodern Historian & Your Subject
Read: Jenkins, Re-thinking History
Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 53-55 ("Following conventions of writing in history")

Week 4 (Sept 21-23) The Traditional Historian & The Review Essay
Read: Elton, G. R. Return to Essentials
Rampolla, Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 24-26 ("Book and film reviews")
Assignment (due Sept 28): Write a ca. 5-page review essay that (1) summarizes and interprets the texts by Elton, Carr, and Jenkins, and (2) takes a theoretical position of your own vis-à-vis those texts. You can agree with one or more of the texts, or parts of them, or advance an independent theoretical standpoint. Be prepared to share, discuss, and defend your position in class.

Wednesday, Sept 22: 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 on Thursday.

Week 5 (Sept 28-30) Doing Research & Progress Reports
Read: Rampolla, Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 5-22 ("Working with sources")

Week 6 (Oct 5-7) Doing Research & Progress Reports
Read: Rampolla, Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 42-51 ("Conducting research")

Week 7 (Oct 12-14) The Working Bibliography & Progress Reports
Read: Rampolla, Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 102-114 ("Models for bibliography entries")
Assignment (due Oct 14): Prepare and turn in a working bibliography to your paper. A working bibliography is like a reading list: primary and secondary sources (listed separately) that you will read as you develop your topic and argument; sources with which you think you will be working in the paper.

Week 8 (Oct 19-21) Writing & Critique

Week 9 (Oct 26-28) The Annotated Bibliography & Progress Reports
Read: The Apprentice Historian. Read critically the papers in The Apprentice Historian and think about what their strengths and weaknesses are. Be prepared to state the topic, problem, and argument of each essay.
Rampolla, Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 26-27 ("Annotated bibliographies")
Assignment (due Oct 28): Write and turn in an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography is one where each source for the paper is listed along with a brief explanation of its general content, argument (if any), and utility for making your argument. List primary and secondary sources separately.

Week 10 (Nov 2-4) Writing the Introduction & Progress Reports
Read: Rampolla, Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 53-58 ("Considering the whole paper")
Assignment (due Nov 4): Write and turn in a first introduction to your paper where you state the topic of your paper, its significance in terms of existing work on the topic, the sources that you will draw from, the problem that you are addressing, and the argument that you will be advancing.

Week 11 (Nov 9-11) Outlining & Progress Reports
Read: Rampolla, Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 51-52 ("Making an outline")
Assignment (due Nov 11): Write and turn in an outline of your paper. The outline should begin with a revised version of your introduction, the main parts of the paper (perhaps even topic sentences), and a description of what you will do in each paragraph.

Week 12 (Nov 16-18) Style & Progress Reports
Read: Rampolla, Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 63-103 (Grammar, plagiarism, documenting sources)

Week 13 (Nov 23) Peer Editing & The Portfolio
Read: Rampolla, Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 52-53 ("Revising your research paper")
Assignment (due Nov 23): Finish and turn in a full draft of your paper along with one for each of two peers. This full draft should, with the exception of an occasional flaw in structure and slip in formulation, read and look like a finished paper.

Week 14 (Nov 30-Dec 2) Copy Editing
Assignments (due Dec 2):

  1. Peer review two papers according to the rubric. Bring it and a marked copy of each author's paper.
  2. Complete and turn in your portfolio.

Week 15 (Dec 7-9) Conclusion

Assignment (due Dec 9): Final paper

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