HIST 6687

Historiography Paper Assignment


Length: 15-18 pages (double-spaced)

Topic Due: September 11.

Source List Due: October 2.

Paper Due: November 13.


      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 six books that most directly address your topic and that are most significant in the field.  Make sure that the six 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.  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.