Spring 2018 • HIST 491-001
info | readings

Prof. Fred Gibbs (fwgibbs@unm.edu)
Mesa Vista Hall, 1077
Office Hours: M 2:30-4; W 10-11:30; almost anytime by appointment

Course Description

This course introduces some of the most influential approaches that historians (from antiquity through the present) have taken in writing about the past. It also addresses various meta-questions about history: What is history? What is it for? Who is it for? It addresses various philosophies of history (the underlying assumptions of how we can access and understand the past), as well as various historical interpretive frameworks that have shaped the professional practice of history.

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Please be aware that this course shares some of the SLOs for the History Major Capstone courses, and pursues others unique to historiography. The SLOs listed below will motivate and guide our work together.

  • 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.

  • Understand how and why historians have argued about philosophical and methodological approaches to their craft over time, and what cultural changes precipitated new views.

  • Recognize and articulate the diversity of human experience, including ethnicity, gender, language, as well as political, economic, social, and cultural structures over time and space—and how that is reflected in historical writing.

  • 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

  • As a senior-level seminar, active engagement is crucial to your success. Simply showing up to class counts for very little; I expect that you’ll actively participate in all discussions. If you are shy about speaking in class, don’t worry. You will become much more comfortable and fluent by the end of the semester. But it is an essential skill that much be practiced, and this is the perfect place to do so. Please come see me if you’d like to discuss how we can make this easier for you.

  • You cannot make up missed classes and I will not summarize them for you via email. Please DO NOT email me asking what you missed or how to make it up (feel free to ask your class colleagues for notes). Medical emergencies beyond your control are the one exception to the attendance policy, and you should let me know about these ASAP.

  • I consider it extremely rude and disruptive to walk into class late, especially in our small room. Tardiness greatly aggravates me. Everyone makes mistakes, and I understand you might be (barely) late once or twice. Repeatedly being late will negatively impact your grade.

  • If you run into personal problems during the semester that make school difficult for you, please talk to me about what adjustments we can make to help you succeed in the course.

Work Requirements and Grading

Although I do not calculate grades strictly mathematically, I have provided percentages to indicate how much relative weight each component of the course receives in my evaluation of student performance.

  • Active and thoughtful participation in class discussions (40%)

  • Because most of your participation in this course is not assigned a specific letter grade (and because many intangible factors go into a grade), what follows is my functional approach to evaluating your participation in this upper level history course. Basically, everyone starts with a B, and you gradually move it up or down depending on the consistency and quality of your class participation. If you are contributing to discussion, but unevenly, your grade moves to a B+. If you are asking good questions (I’ll let you know if you are) and highlighting important points from the readings on a regular basis, your grade moves to A-. If you are actively engaging in the conversation each day and your comments are clearly based on the readings (not just your opinion at the time), your grade moves to an A. Conversely, you can also move your grade down by not participating in class, or with consistently superficial comments. Not showing up lowers your grade very quickly. I assign a final participation grade at the end of the course, not one for each class meeting.

  • Preparation work for each class (40%)

We’ll divide the class into 4 groups, as equally as possible. Each group will be responsible for one of the following roles; everyone’s role will change each class (by adding 1 to your role number–that is, Commenters for Monday will be Discussion Guides on Wednesday, and so on). All posts are due by 9am the day of class.

  1. Commenters: The commenters will post a 400-word critical comment on the readings. These should be high quality but informal writing, like you were writing for a literary magazine. Have an opinion, a specific point to make, and have fun writing about it. You must resist the urge to summarize the readings (we have summarizers to do that!).

  2. Discussion Guides: The discussion guides will post questions that will help guide discussion for that class. Of course I will help guide discussions each day, and I have my own ideas about what’s important, but I try to follow your lead as much as possible. We will explicitly talk about why some questions are better than others, and pursue the most interesting ones. Don’t ask questions that actually have an obvious answer, but questions that help us think critically about the readings. Coming up with good questions is much harder than it sounds, which is why it’s good to practice it in class.

  3. Summarizers: The summarizers will prepare a ~8 bullet-point summary of the assigned reading, of what they took to be the significant points. I expect all summarizers to make contributions at the beginning of class as a way of reminding everyone what they’ve read. Be sure that you prepare enough to have something original to say.

  4. Slackers: Enjoy your day off.

On your assignments, I will assign and post to your assignment a numerical score as follows:

  • 3: fulfilled minimum requirements (word count and coherence)
  • 5: basic effort, but underwhelming (C)
  • 7: solid work (B)
  • 9: excellent work (A)
  • 10: truly outstanding (A+)

  • FINAL ESSAY: Write a ~1500-word essay explaining how you can use historiography in your future career. If you don’t believe it, make it up. This is your big and final chance to show off what you learned in the course. While some summary is necessary, of course, your essay should focus on the practical application of the course, not simply historiography knowledge for its own sake. The more sophisticated your analysis (drawing widely from course sources and ideas), the higher your grade. This is due the last day of finals! (20%)

Please feel free to talk to me about your individual performance at any time during the semester, and as often as you’d like. Please do not email about this; a conversation is far more useful and efficient and avoids misunderstandings. Right before or after class is a good time, as well as office hours. Other appointments welcome.

Submitting Work

We will store our work at https://github.com/unm-historiography/2018-spring. We’ll talk more about this in class, but instructions are here.

Required Texts

Although I have kept the reading load to a reasonable level (kind of low for an upper-level history course), the readings can quite dense and conceptually challenging, and you will be turning in work before 3 out of 4 classes. This emphasis on thinking and writing is by design, as a capstone course for the history department. Be honest with yourself about whether you have time to fit this course into your busy schedules. One of the goals of the course is that you will learn to read, absorb, and think critically about information more easily and quickly than you can already. That skill is hard-earned, and only comes with practice.

  • Anna Green and Kathleen Troup (eds.), The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-Century History and Theory. New York University Press, 1999. ISBN: 978-0814731277.

  • Alun Munslow, Narrative and History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN: 978-1403987280

  • Jeremy D. Popkin, From Herodotus to H-Net: The Story of Historiography. Oxford University Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0199923007

  • Beverley C. Southgate, What Is History For?. Routledge, 2005. ISBN: 978-0415350990

  • To access all other articles and book chapters on the syllabus, you will need to subscribe to the course Zotero library. Please see the instructions for doing this at fredgibbs.net/courses/etc/zotero.html. The URL for the group library is https://www.zotero.org/groups/632527/items, but you must have clicked on the link in your invitation to access the library!


Accessibility Resources Center (Mesa Vista Hall 2021, 277-3506) provides academic support to students who have disabilities. If you think you need alternative accessible formats for undertaking and completing coursework, you should contact this service right away to assure your needs are met in a timely manner.


View the Schedule of Readings