HIST 6684

Historiography Paper and Supplementary Assignments


Length: 12-15 pages (double-spaced)

Topic and Supplementary Essay Due: August 31.

Source List Due: September 14.

First Draft Due: November 9.

Statistical Review Due: November 16.

Paper Due: November 23.


A historiography paper is an essay that examines the different ways in which various historians have approached a historical topic.  Unlike a research paper, a historiography paper is not a study of a historical subject; instead, it is an analysis of the way in which historians have interpreted that topic.  A historiography paper should give readers a detailed overview of the major works of scholarship on a topic, and it should summarize, evaluate, and critique the arguments of each of those works.  After reading your paper, a person should be able to list the major schools of historical interpretation of your topic, and should have a good understanding of the reasons why scholars have adopted each of those approaches.


After choosing a topic, you should compile a bibliography of scholarship on the subject.  Try to make the bibliography as complete as possible.  For example, if you decided to look at the historiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s understanding of Christian political activity, you should try to compile a list of the significant biographies of King, the histories of the twentieth-century African American church, and any works that address the specific topic of King’s political theology.  After doing that, you should choose the five books that most directly address your topic and that are most significant in the field.  Make sure that the five books that you choose are written by reputable historians.  If possible, choose books that take different (and, in some cases, perhaps contrasting) approaches to your topic.  While it is useful to examine some books that are older, make sure that you read at least one or two books that represent the most recent scholarship on your topic. 


While your paper will probably be a book-by-book comparison of the historiographical approaches to your topic, make sure that your paper is not simply a compilation of mini-book reviews.  Your essay needs to make an argument, and it should be organized around a strong, central thesis.  Your essay should discuss the ways in which the historical scholarship on your topic has changed over time, and the factors that might account for these changes.  You should conclude your paper by summarizing the current state of the field and suggesting possible approaches that future students of your topic may want to take.  What research remains to be done in the field?  What should the next student of your topic consider in order to differentiate his or her approach from previous research in the field?


You may want to view your historiography paper as a preliminary essay for a research project.  Most master’s theses and doctoral dissertations in history begin with historiographical essays that discuss the works of scholarship that have been produced on a topic and suggest ways in which the graduate student’s own work will build upon those earlier studies and go beyond them.  Imagine that you are writing such an essay for a research proposal or graduate thesis.  What do you need to tell readers about the state of the field?


For examples of good historiographical essays, you may want to look at some of the recent historiographical articles in Reviews in American History or other historical journals that publish such essays regularly.  I would recommend that you look at: Jon Butler, “Jack-in-the-Box Faith: The Religion Problem in American History,” J. of American History, 90 (March 2004); Mia Bay, “In Search of Sally Hemmings in the Post-DNA Era,” Reviews in American History, 34 (2006); and David Steigerwald, “All Hail the Republic of Choice: Consumer History as Contemporary Thought,” J. of American History, 93 (September 2006), in order to find structural models for your essay.  Click here for a graduate student’s essay of historiography on Jacksonianism that was written for an assignment very similar to yours.


Footnotes are a key component of historiographical essays, so needless to say, they are required for this assignment.


Please number and staple the pages of your essay.  Do not submit your paper in a plastic binder or folder.



Supplementary assignments:


Brief essay regarding your research topic (due August 31): When you submit the topic for your historiography paper on August 31, it should be accompanied by a short essay (approximately 2 pages long) listing the historiographical fields related to that topic that you would need to study if you were to write an M.A. thesis on that topic.  To the extent that space permits, the essay should give a short rationale for the importance of these subfields to your research, and should prioritize them in order of their importance to your topic.


For example, if you were writing a historiographical paper on the Scopes trial of 1925, your historiographical essay would obviously need to focus on the scholarship regarding that trial.  But your essay on your research topic would point out that in addition to mastering the scholarship on the trial itself, you would also need to look at the literature in a variety of subfields, including, but not necessarily limited to, biographical studies of William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, histories of the creationist movement, histories of fundamentalism and American religion, regional studies of the American South in the early twentieth century, and the history of science.  The specific approach that you take to your topic might also suggest other subfields to examine.  In this hypothetical scenario, you might want to look at studies of American media if you planned to focus your research on media coverage of the trial, or histories of American education if that were the focus of your research. 


For each of the research fields that you list, you should briefly discuss the priority of that research topic relative to your broader research program.  For example, if you plan to title your thesis, “God v. Darwin in Dayton: Reexamining the Scopes Trial as a Catalyst for Southern Fundamentalism,” you might want to indicate that studies of religion, especially southern religion, will be highly important for your study, but that studies of education might be less important.  On the other hand, if you plan to title your thesis, “Evolution in the High School Classroom: Before and After Scopes,” you would probably want to spend a great deal of time studying the history of twentieth-century high school curricula, and perhaps less time studying the history of fundamentalism. 


When I read the essay on your research topic, I will look for evidence that you have considered the necessary fields of scholarship that you will need to examine for your research topic, and that you have a clear understanding of their relative significance.



Comprehensive bibliography (due September 14): The comprehensive bibliography on your historiographical topic should list every important work of scholarship directly related to your field of historiographical inquiry.  The bibliography needs only to include works on your primary topic, not the related subfields, but it needs to be comprehensive in its listing of resources on that topic.  You will lose points if you omit important works in that field.  For example, if your topic were the Scopes trial and you neglected to include Edward J. Larson’s Summer for the Gods in your bibliography, that would be a serious omission.  After listing all of the relevant works in the field, your bibliography should identify the five books that you intend to examine in your historiographical essay.  As stated in the guidelines for this assignment, you should try to choose a representative cross-section of books that includes the most important works in the field and that will allow you to discuss change over time in scholarly approaches to your topic.


Your bibliography’s format should be based on the Chicago Manual of Style.  For example:

Larson, Edward J.  Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing

      Debate over Science and Religion.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.



Statistical review of current historical literature (due November 16): For your final supplementary assignment of the semester, you should take one category of book reviews from a recent issue of American Historical Review and provide a statistical tally of the number of books that correspond to each of the major categories of historical analysis that we have discussed in this course.  The AHR’s book categories are: Comparative / world, Asia, Canada and the US, Caribbean and Latin America, Europe: Ancient and Medieval, Europe: Early modern and modern, and Middle East and Africa.  Because of the limited number of book reviews for some of the world history categories, you should combine the Middle East / Africa with Asia if you choose to cover either of these categories. 


Your statistical tally should list the total number of books for the AHR category and should then list the number of books that might reflect one of the following historiographical approaches: cultural history, intellectual history, social history, environmental history, gender history, history of race relations, religion, military history, and political history.  You may cross-list a book in multiple categories.  Your tally sheet should list one representative book title for each category.  For example:


AHR, June 2008:

Canada / US

Total number of books: 68.

Cultural history: 16.  Example: Helen Sheumaker, Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hairwork in America.

Intellectual history: 9.  Example: Rick Tilman, Thorstein Veblen and the Enrichment of Evolutionary Naturalism.

Social history: 29.  Example: Timothy J. Gilfoyle, A Pickpocket’s Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York.

Environmental history: 1.  Example: Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr, The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century.

Gender: 8.  Example: Joshua R. Greenberg, Advocating the Man: Masculinity, Organized Labor, and the Household in New York, 1800-1840.

Race relations: 16.  Example: Jennifer Ritterhouse, Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race.

Religion: 10.  Example: William J. Baker, Playing with God: Religion and Modern Sport.

Political history: 17.  Example: David L. Stebenne, Modern Republican: Arthur Larson and the Eisenhower Years.