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THIST 475 Twentieth Century British History - Sundermann: Assignment

Historiographical Essay

Final Research/Writing Assignment

1.  By this time you have read and analyzed secondary sources on your research topic and identified the thesis, point, and source base for each in your annotations (see course Canvas site for Annotations assignments and additional information on writing a historiographical essay.)

b.  In addition, you should have started (at least) to identify how and why each author placed themselves in the existing historiography (scholarly literature on the topic.)

c.  You also should be thinking about “who the author is” and if this isn’t clear from their book (read the introduction!) you should read reviews of the book by other scholars for this analysis and history of the author.[1]

Assignment:  Write a historiographical essay using at least 5 secondary sources This historiographical essay should be 5-7 pages in length, using Chicago style, including footnotes, a bibliography; a title, and a thesis (argument) about the historiography under question. Use Times New Roman, 12 pt., and insert page numbers.

      Questions to consider:[2]

  • What is the “main point” or argument made by each work regarding your specific topic? Think particularly about whether or not the author is trying to reinforce an earlier perception of history or argue for a re-interpretation of the past.
  • What kinds of sources are used, how and why? How does the author deal with counter-evidence, i.e. information that seems to weaken or contradict the thesis?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses in terms of argument, analysis and conclusions of the work?
  • How does this work relate to earlier readings, i.e. do they present similar or dissimilar ideas and how/why?
  • How do these authors or works, as a group, contribute our understanding of this series of historical events and their outcome?

3.  Questions to consider as you write your historiographical essay: The Big Picture

  • How has the historiography of your topic evolved over time?  What has changed in terms of interpretation of events and ideas?  What was the initial interpretation of this event, idea or person?  How has it changed and why?
  • How have ideological shifts had an impact on your topic?  Are the authors under study wedded to a particular “historical school” i.e. Marxist, Feminist, Neo-Conservative, Liberal, and/or how does the author’s main lens of analysis (cultural, political, military, social, etc.) have an impact on his/her interpretations?
  • Have the “discovery” or re-interpretation of sources caused historians to ask new questions or take their research in new directions? 
  • Have historians used different methodological approaches (e.g. quantitative, linguistic) in their work and how was this had an impact on conclusions?


4.  Bring these works together in an integrated analysis (in other words, you need a thesis!) that incorporates and explains the different arguments, conclusions and evidence of various authors in order to build your own explanation of a central theme.  An integrated analysis is one that not only draws on different books/articles but also explains how the works agree and disagree with each other.  A particularly strong historiographical essay will do this by considering multiple points of view within discussion of a sub-topic, all in one well-crafted paragraph or series of paragraphs, which is then connected back to the overall argument. Then you would move on to the next connected sub-topic, again linking back to the overall argument.  You want to avoid the temptation to simply discuss one work, then the next, and then another, with little explanation or analysis of how they fit together. 


[1] Ibid.

[2] These questions, and subsections 3 and 4 from “What is -- and How to Write -- a Historiographical Essay.”