Graduate Historiography

Fall 2015 • HIST 664-001
info | readings

Fred Gibbs (
Mesa Vista Hall, 1077
Office Hours: M 10:15-11:45; W 3:15-4:45; by appointment

Course Description

This course explores some of the most prominent and influential approaches and analytical frameworks that historians have used in creating historical accounts and interpretations. It addresses various philosophies of history (the underlying assumptions of how we can access and understand the past), as well as various interpretive lenses that have shaped the professional practice of history (ways of considering place, culture, labor, communities, identity, etc). The course focuses on developments after the mid nineteenth-century professionalization of history. This course is required of history graduate students, but should be accessible and indeed beneficial to graduate students of any humanistic discipline.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Understand how and why historians have taken different approaches to their craft over time, and what intellectual and cultural changes precepitated new practices.

  • Demonstrate the ability to compare and contrast different processes, modes of thought, and modes of expression from different historical time periods and in different geographic areas.

  • Recognize and articulate the diversity of human experience, including ethnicity, race, language, sex, gender, as well as political, economic, social, and cultural structures over time and space.

  • Formulate a clear argument, support the argument with appropriate and thorough evidence, and reach a convincing conclusion.

  • Provide accurate references to historical sources used in research projects

General Expectations

  • In taking a graduate seminar, you make a committment to attend (punctually) every scheduled meeting. You get one free absence. After that, your grade goes down by one level (A to A- to B+, etc). Medical emergencies beyond your control are the one exception to the attendance policy. You should let me know about these ASAP and we’ll figure out what to do.

  • I expect that you’ll participate actively in all class discussions, presentations, and activities. This means contributing insightful questions and comments (and having carefully prepared to do so), not just listening to your colleagues. Sitting silent in class will not only decrease the benefit of the course for you, but also significantly lower your grade.

  • If you run into personal problems during the semester that make school difficult for you (including, but not limited to attendance difficulties), please talk to me about what adjustments we can make to help you succeed in the course.

  • This course should be a lot of fun. But each week we all have to prepare ourselves for fun by putting in the hard work of digging into the assignment.

Work Requirements and Grading

With a few exceptions, this seminar is more or less a standard book-a-week graduate seminar. Although most weeks we are limited to one author’s point of view, our (usual) focus on a singular text affords us a broader and deeper analysis of the text than we would otherwise. One of the goals / challenges of the course is to learn how to “read” and absorb information more quickly than you can already. That skill is hard-earned, and only comes with practice.

Most weeks, a different pair of classmates will take primary responsibility for leading our dicussion. This is an important skill to develop. Discussion leadership should have an agenda and learning outcome so that everyone feels like they got smarter during class rather than just put in the time. You’ll do this twice over the semester. Each class will have 2 short breaks, creating 3 roughly equal segments of class. Discussion plans should work within these contours.

Each week, roughly half the class (groups will alternate throughout the semester) will post a ~500 word reflection to our course repository by 6am the day of class. This comment should offer critical questions and/or commentary that shows your careful reading of the assignment and how it relates to other course assignments. Don’t let the relatively short length fool you into treating these too casually (HINT: don’t try to write these at the last minute). Your writing style should be informal, but smart. Your are heartily encouraged to develop your own voice and avoid boilerplate academic prose. Dicsussion leaders do not have to post comments, but they must post their discussion notes after class for reference (NOTE: this implies you must have preparatory notes), which can be quite informal but should be intellgible to everyone else.

Your grade reflects my subjective evaluation of the quality of your contribution to class meetings (40%) and the quality of the weekly blog assignments (40%). I grade on perceived effort as well as the final product.

As a final project each student will produce a ~10 minute video on the historiography of a certain topic of thier choice. Ideally you can use something you’ve written on before, but you can pick anything you’re interested in. We’ll be developing these over the course of the semester, so there will be plenty of time for learning how to do this. (20%)

Ways to aggrevate me and lower your grade

I’ve tried to sketch out things you should do in the course. Here’s a quick summary of things not to do:

  • Post your comments after the deadline
  • Post over-simplified, over-generalized, or sloppily-written comments
  • Be late to class
  • Be silent in class
  • Dominate dicussion and overtalk your classmates
  • Routinely repeat comments or questions that someone said two minutes ago when you weren’t paying attention (we all miss things from time to time, and that’s fine)
  • Complain that you don’t like or understand technology
  • Subjectively complain about the reading (NOTE: critical disagreement is not only welcome, but expected!)

Required Texts

Some of these books are more well known than others (though all are recognized as excellent work in some way). Some are staples in historiography courses, others not at all. I have chosen these deliberately to range widely over various approaches to historical research and writing. I have not chosen any of these because you should necessarily like them, agree with them, or emulate them. But I do believe we can learn from them, and that’s what I hope to see you doing throughout the course, even if you don’t care for a particular approach or style.

Again, the sheer quantity here should be exciting, not off-putting. Being able to ingest complex and nuanced material (especially extended arguments spanning a monograph) hones general information processing skills that will help you along any career path.

  • Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Cornell University Press, 1989; 978-0801497605)

  • Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (Verso 1983/2006 (2nd ed.); 978-1844670864)

  • Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft (1949/Vintage, 1964; 978-0394705125)

  • Burdick, et al., Digital Humanities (MIT Press, 2012; 978-0262018470)

  • Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge, 1990/2006; 978-0415389556)

  • Michel de Certeau, Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press, 1984/2011 (3rd ed.); 978-0520271456)

  • Elizabeth Clark, History, Theory, Text (Harvard University Press, 2004; 978-0674015845) Keith Jenkins, Rethinking History (Routledge, 1991/2003; 978-0415304436)

  • Michele Foucault, Birth of the Clinic (Presses universitaires de France, 1963/Vintage 1994; 978-0679753346)

  • Carlos Ginzberg, The Cheese and the Worms (Giulio Einudi, 1976/Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992; 978-0801843877)

  • Thomas Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1962/2012 (4th ed.); 978-0226458120)

  • Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, The Peasants of Languedoc (CRH, 1966/University of Illinois Press 1976; 978-0252006357)

  • Miles Ogborn, Spaces of Modernity: London’s Geographies 1680-1780 (Guilford Press, 1998; 978-1572303652)

  • Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978/1986; 978-0801827419)

  • Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge University Press, 1991/2010; 978-0521183444)


View the Schedule of Readings