Fall 2016 • HIST 491-002
info | readings

Prof. Fred Gibbs (fwgibbs@unm.edu)
Mesa Vista Hall, 1077
Office Hours: M 10-11:30; W 11:30-1; almost anytime by appointment

Course Description

This course introduces some of the most influential approaches that historians (from antiquity through the 21st century) have taken in writing about the past. 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 precepitated new views.

  • 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—and how that is reflected in the writing of history.

  • 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, attendance is crucial to your success. However, 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), and it greatly aggravates me. Everyone makes mistakes, and I undertstand you might be (barely) late once or twice. Repeatedly being late will negatively impact your grade by at least a third letter 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 calcuate grades mathematically, I have provided percetages 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%)

  • Preparation work for each class (25%)

We’ll divide the class into 4 groups (as equal as possible). Each group will be responsible for 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 midnight the day before 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–you should have an opinion 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, but I expect the examiners to do the bulk of the work. Don’t ask questions that actually have an obvious answer, but questions that help us think critically about the readings.

  3. Summarizers: The summarizers will prepare a ~6 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.

For this component, you will be evaluted on the extent to which your comments, summaries, and questions show your engagement with that assignment and its relationship to the course. It’s not practical for me to assign specifc letter grades to each of these individually, so I make general comments about them each class, highlighting excellent work and nudging those with more superficial work to step it up.

  • ~5-minute video book review. We will discuss this much more in class, both the historiographical and technical components. No experience required! For more on this, see the video book review page. (15%)

  • OLD: WE ARE NOT DOING THIS ANYMORE FINAL ESSAY: Pick a book off the shelf of the historiography section of Zimmerman Library. Write a 1500 word book review, drawing primarily from course readings and sources they reference. 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 situating the book in its historical and especially historiographical context. 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%)

  • NEW FINAL ASSIGNMENT: We will be collaborating to create an online introduction to historiography. Our goal, as we collectively formulated it, is to “improve” our key text for the early part of this course, Faces of History, to better highlight historiographical changes, excise unnecessary detail, and add more historical context. Each student will contribute, (possibly individually or jointly with 1 or 2 other students) a section (probably a webpage). The research and writing workload will remain approximately the same as the original final essay assignment. Hopefully it will be much more fun and contribute more directly to the student learning objectives.

  • FINAL GRADES: Because most of your work in this course is not assigned a specific letter grade (and because many intangible factors go into a grade), here’s my functional approach to grading 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 work. If you are contributing thoughtfully to discussions, your grade moves to a B+. If you are consistently putting work into the preparation assignments (not merely completing them), your grade moves to an A-. Conversely, you can also move your grade down by not participating in class, or with consistently superficial preparation work. Not showing up and/or turning in work late lowers your grade very quickly.

The video does get a specific grade attached to it, and it will raise or lower your grade depending on how much higher or lower it is from what you’ve earned by the end of the term (usually not more than 1/3 of a grade).

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.

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.

Required Texts

  • Keith Jenkins, Rethinking History, Routledge, 1991 (repr. 2003). ISBN: 978-0415304436.

  • 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.

  • Donald R. Kelley, Faces of History: Historical Inquiry from Herodotus to Herder. Yale University Press, 1999. ISBN: 978-0300075588.

  • 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!
  • We will store our work at at https://github.com/unm-historiography/491-fall2016. We’ll talk more about this in class, but instructions are here.


View the Schedule of Readings