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HIS 420: Historiography

Writing a Historiography

Step 1: Find a topic

There are several useful strategies for coming up with a topic. The easiest method is to use one of your assigned readings; adopt the topic that the author covers as your own. You can use their bibliography as the starting point for the historiography (especially if they critique previous positions), and branch out from there.

Alternately, you can brainstorm a topic from scratch. If you take that approach, try using concept mapping to narrow down your topic to a specific area or field within the overall framework of the class.

Choose a topic that interests you - it will make reading and writing easier.

Step 2: Develop an annotated bibliography

Once you have a topic, start looking for works on your subject. A mixture of articles and books can be useful, depending on the subject and time period:

  • Generally, books tend to be more influential and widely referenced than articles for most older subjects.

  • For more modern subjects, articles will be more available, but books will still cover more ground than most periodical articles.

Step 3: Evaluation of Authors' stances

This is the major part of the historiography work and what really makes it different from a regular paper. Rather than analyzing your topic, you'll be analyzing how historians analyze your topic, what controversies exist, and how this topic has been studied.

There are different strategies you can use, depending on the type of source that you are using.

  • Book Reviews: An excellent way to figure out the point of an author's work is to read book reviews. This will also provide insight into how the reviewers (usually other historians) respond to the author's thesis or argument. This is a great strategy for creating the annotated bibliography.

  • Books: Watch the structure of the book; how does the author build their argument and what do they imply is the most important part?

    • Once you get a feel for the general arguments in the field, you will be able to skim through books searching for key terms. This means you may need to go back and revisit many of your sources.

  • Periodicals: These generally are easier to process; the trick is to figure out the importance of the article to the field as a whole. Look to see if the article is frequently cited by other authors writing about a similar subject.
Step 4: Organize your sources and write your historiography

There are a number of ways to organize your historiography:

  1. You can report your writers in chronological order, tracking changes in the field over time.
  2. You can talk about major schools of thought regarding your topic, and discuss each one separately.

Adapted from the University of Rhode Island Libraries

Who can help me write my paper?

Librarians are here to help you get started with your research, find resources while you are researching, and help you identify the information you need to complete your citations.  We can also provide some guidance on how to structure your paper or format your citations, but the tutors at the Academic Success Center are the best people to help you with your writing.

Writing tutors are able to read your paper and help you edit it, both at the word/sentence level and to improve flow and structure.  They can also help you proofread your citations and ensure they are properly formated. 

No matter the size, topic, or scope of your paper you should consider having a writing tutor read it and provide feedback before you turn it in (allow time for editing!).  Every paper benefits from a second opinion!