HIST 491: Historiography


  • Fall 2021
  • 3 Credit Hours
  • MW 12:00 – 1:15, Ortega 115
  • Prof. Fred Gibbs (fwgibbs@unm.edu) @ 1077 Mesa Vista Hall
  • Student Hours: Via Zoom, Wednesday 8:30–10:30am, and by appointment. Office hours Zoom link. Discussions after class are most welcome!

Course Description

The course introduces the various approaches that historians (from antiquity through the present) have taken in writing about the past. Our survey also identifies and discusses some 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 historical writing. It focuses, however, on various meta-questions about history: What is history? What is it for? Who is it for? How should we be writing it?

Course Objectives and Learning Outcomes

  • Compare and contrast different processes, modes of thought, and modes of expression from different historical time periods.

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

  • Articulate how analytical perspectives and research skills from this class can be applied to any kind of persuasive writing and data analysis.

  • 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.

General Expectations

  • As an undergraduate seminar, active engagement is crucial to (y)our 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. 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 it easier for you to jump into the discussion. To ensure the discussion isn’t dominated by the most outgoing students, I will call on people who aren’t speaking up. The point isn’t just to put people on the spot and create anxiety, but to help everyone hear as many perspectives as possible. Diversity of opinions and viewpoints is a key feature of this course. Please be prepared to contribute!
  • Coming in late is a really annoying disruption. I understand that weird random things happen that might make you a little 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 (30%)

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 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 clearly paying attention but hardly ever speaking up, you stay at a B. If you are generally contributing to discussion but only occasionally have an original comment to share or a good question, your grade moves to a B+. If you are generally asking good questions 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 consistently making superficial or repetitive comments (which suggests you’re not actually paying attention). Spotty attendance lowers your grade VERY quickly. I assign a final participation grade at the end of the course, not for each class meeting.

Preparation work for each class (30%)

  • Everyone will post a ~400-word reading reflection by 10AM BEFORE CLASS 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. Resist the urge to just summarize the readings—we’re all reading the same thing.

  • All posts are due by 10am the day of class. I use these posts to guide our discussion plan for our meetings, so these need to be posted at least very close to on time. Don’t get anxious over the EXACT time—a few minutes or even 15 minutes late is fine. But posting after 10:30 is definitely too late. Consistently late posts will negatively impact your grade (a few over the semester won’t matter).

Historiographical Essay (25%)

Previous iterations of this course have created a public history website with essays on historiographical topics for a lower-division historiography course. Each student will contribute revisions to an existing essay and create a new essay on a topic of their choice.

Final learning reflection (15%)

Your final learning reflection allows you describe what you learned in the course and boost your final grade.

Submitting Work

For various reasons I’ll explain in class, you will post work on a non-UNM platform that we will ultimately use for the Historiographical Essays, which is at https://github.com/unm-historiography/2021-fall. We’ll talk more about this in class, but instructions are here. This is a REQUIRED, not optional, way of submitting work and is part of the public history component to the course.

Required Readings

Although I have kept the reading load to a reasonable level (kind of low for an upper-level history course), some readings can quite dense and conceptually challenging. 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 schedule. 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.

  • There is one required book for the course: Mary Fulbrook, Historical Theory (Routledge, 2002). This is at the UNM Bookstore and you can find copies online. You can also rent an eBook through Amazon (and possibly other places, too). I don’t care what format you use, but we do read the whole book and it’s an essential aspect of the course.

  • To access all other articles and book chapters on the syllabus, we use a tool called Zotero to manage and provide access to articles and chapter scans.

Connecting to Zotero

Step 1: Create a Zotero account

If you don’t have one already, sign up for a free account at zotero.org. Creating a Zotero account requires only that you specify a username, password, and email address. You will not get any spam from Zotero or anyone else because of your Zotero account. Use your UNM email address!

Step 2: Make sure you are logged in at zotero.org

You should see your username or a “Log Out” link on the top nav bar. If you see a “Log In” link, you need to log in. Pretty straightforward.

Step 3: Request to Join our group library

Once you know you are logged in to zotero.org, visit our Zotero Group homepage, and click the red “Join” button off to the right, which will send an email to me. As soon as I see it (usually within the hour unless you’re doing this late at night), I’ll approve your request to join the group. There is nothing else you need to do at this point.

Important UNM Announcements


Perhaps you’ve heard of it. You should be aware of and follow the Bring Back the Pack guidelines and requirements. Most notably, until told otherwise, we all have to wear masks ALL THE TIME in class.

I’m adding one additional rule: Drinks are fine but FOR NOW, PLEASE MINIMIZE EATING IN CLASS. I know we meet at lunchtime, but our own safety (and comfort about our safety) have to come first. Later on, especially after the vaccine deadline has passed in late September, we can reevaluate.

If you are not feeling well, DO NOT COME TO CLASS! Just let me know via email. There is no grade penalty for misssed classes due to illness of any kind. If you need to quarantine, and miss several classes, that’s fine. We’ll work it out and I’ll help you stay caught up. You will still be expected to post reading reflections and submit other work (except for serious illnesses, of course).


Our classroom and our university should always be spaces of mutual respect, kindness, and support, without fear of discrimination, harassment, or violence. Should you ever need assistance or have concerns about incidents that violate this principle, please access the resources available to you on campus, especially the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center and the support services listed on its website . Please note that, because UNM faculty, TAs, and GAs are considered “responsible employees” by the Department of Education, any disclosure of gender discrimination (including sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual violence) made to a faculty member, TA, or GA must be reported by that faculty member, TA, or GA to the university’s Title IX coordinator at the Office of Compliance, Ethics, and Equal Opportunity.


UNM is committed to providing courses that are inclusive and accessible for all participants. As your instructor, it is my objective to facilitate an accessible classroom setting, in which students have full access and opportunity. If you are experiencing physical or academic barriers, or concerns related to mental health, physical health and/or COVID-19, please consult with me after class, via email/phone or during office hours. You are also encouraged to contact the Accessibility Resource Center at arcsrvs@unm.edu or by phone 277-3506.

In accordance with University Policy 2310 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), academic accommodations may be made for any student who notifies the instructor of the need for an accommodation. It is imperative that you take the initiative to bring such needs to the instructor’s attention, as I am not legally permitted to inquire. Students who may require assistance in emergency evacuations should contact the instructor as to the most appropriate procedures to follow. Contact the Accessibility Resource Center at 277-3506 or arcsrvs@unm.edu for additional information.

Get additional help

Students who ask for help are successful students. I encourage students to be familiar with services and policies that can help them navigate UNM successfully. Many services exist to help you succeed academically, such as peer tutoring at CAPS and http://mentalhealth.unm.edu. There are plenty of ways to find your place and your pack at UNM: see the “student guide” tab on my.unm and students.unm.edu.

Academic Honesty

Please ask for help in understanding and avoiding plagiarism (passing the work or words of others off as your own) or other forms academic dishonesty. Doing something dishonest in a class or on an assignment can lead to serious academic consequences, including failing grades and expulsion from the University. Come talk with me about your concerns or needs for academic flexibility or talk with support staff at one of our student resource centers before you do something that may endanger your academic career.

Land Acknowledgement

Founded in 1889, the University of New Mexico sits on the traditional homelands of the Pueblo of Sandia. The original peoples of New Mexico Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache since time immemorial, have deep connections to the land and have made significant contributions to the broader community statewide. We honor the land itself and those who have been and remain stewards of this land throughout the generations.