HIST 5104

HIST 5104: Historical Methods I: Historiography and Theory

Contact Information:

Dr. Robert Stephens
Office: 1319a Ambler Johnston Hall
Office Phone: 231-5326
Email: rosteph2@vt.edu
AIM: rosteph2
Web page: http://www.history.vt.edu/stephens/

Office Hours: by appointment


This course is designed as an introduction to the historical profession: that is as an introduction to what historians actually do. The focus of this class is not content, but rather process. How do historians work? What methods to the employ to interpret the past? How have divergent historical traditions emerged and developed? What are the standards and norms of the profession? And how do historians practice their craft in and out of the classroom?

The goals of this course include:

1.  Creating a sense of cohesion among incoming students.
2.  Introducing students to faculty members both within and outside of class so that students may begin thinking about an appropriate committee.
3.  Familiarizing students to a number of historiographical currents with particular emphasis on current trends.
4.  Notable improvement in students’ prose, facilitated by weekly written responses and two longer papers.
5.  Increasing students’ critical skills through the weekly criticism of the second year students’ thesis proposals in the second half of the course.
6.  Clarifying professional standards, norms, and ethics.
7.  Allowing students’ to begin thinking about an appropriate research project to be undertaken in the second semester.


The following books are required reading and are available at the bookstore or online:

Required Books:

1. Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton University Press, 2010).
2. James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Harvard University Press, 1988).
3. Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Vintage, 2009).
4. Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Vintage, 1995).
5. Georg G. Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge, 2nd ed. (Wesleyan, 2005).
6. Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models For A Literary History (Verso, 2005).
7. Andrew Shryrock and Daniel Lord Smail, Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present (University of California Press, 2011).
8. Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Temple University Press, 2001).

Course Requirements:

Your grade in the course will be based on:

1. Weekly essays, 20%
2.  A faculty bio, 7%
3. A 10-page forum paper, 20%
4.  Thesis proposal reviews: 13%
5.  A final 10-page thesis pre-proposal: 20%
6.  Attendance and participation, 20%

Some Policy Matters:

1.  Completion of all assignments is required, even if you are taking the course pass-fail.
2.  Late papers will be accepted only with an official, documented excuse.
3.  Attendance is mandatory.
4.  Participation means actively participating in discussion in every class. I take this part of the evaluation very seriously. Learning is an active process, and discussion is one of the key ways of learning in graduate school.

Honor Code:

Virginia Tech has a stringent honor code. The honor pledge states: “I have neither given nor received unauthorized assistance on this assignment.” If you are not familiar with the honor code system, I strongly encourage you to do so immediately; by attending this university you tacitly agree to be governed by this set of rules. The honor code constitution is available at the following URL:


The honor code will be strictly enforced in this course. This includes all assignments. Any infractions will be reported to the Honor System Review Board and could lead to a failing grade in the course, community service, probation, or even expulsion from the university.

Social Media:

Blogging: For this course, you’ll be required to set up a blog and use it for your weekly assignments (and for anything else you would care to post about).  The future of higher education will be suffused with media platforms. Not only will you need to learn to use them deftly in the classroom, but you need to start building your own “digital” presence and learning to manage that presence.  I won’t go into great detail here on the conceptual reasons for why to use blogging; instead, I’ll point you to this thoughtful piece by Gardner Campbell.

You can set your blog up immediately here (https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/). Feel free to personalize them in any way you choose.  They are really a sketchpad for you to lay out ideas and think through your education.

In this course, we’ll have a blog that will use the RSS feeds from each of your blogs to create a “mother blog” where you (and others) can follow the discussion in the class, where you can post on each others essays, and where, most importantly, we can keep the conversation going.  Please send me your URL as soon as you have it, and I’ll add you to the feed.  This isn’t about judgment, but about collective learning in a supportive environment; keep that in mind.

I’ll also be using Twitter and suggest that you do so as well.  Twitter, in my estimation, only does some things well, like sharing links and short ideas.  But it does that very well.  When I run into something that I think would help the class, I’ll tweet it with the hashtag #HIST5104.  And I challenge you to do the same.  There are so many moments in the day when we run into something that sparks an idea: let’s share those!


1. Weekly Reviews: Each week you will post a 500 to 750-word essay about that week’s readings. These thought pieces ought to give you the opportunity to reflect upon the readings before discussing them in class. They will also give you weekly practice at writing about historical topics. You should focus on developing two skills in these essays: concise summary of other writers’ arguments and careful explication of your own ideas.

2. Faculty Biography: Interview a member of the history department faculty, read some of their writings, and construct an intellectual biography that your peers can consult when looking for thesis advisers.  This project develops your understanding of the relationship between the author and the history he/she writes.

3. Forum Paper: As you will see from the syllabus, this course is largely organized around conversations within the historical field. Many of the readings are taken from recent forums in prominent journals. In these forums, historians are asked to write on a specific theme, often a response to a certain trend in historiography or on a particularly influential book. In the middle of the semester, we will take two weeks to produce our own forums. You will be asked to form groups. The groups will then pick a recent article from a major journal upon which all members of the group will write a position paper. There will be some research involved in supporting each individual position, but this should not be considered a major research project. During the two weeks of in-class discussion, the members of the group will act as a panel, presenting their individual arguments and taking questions from the remainder of the class. You may turn in drafts of these papers at any time before the due date for feedback.

4. Thesis proposal reviews: During the latter part of the semester, the second year students will formally present their thesis proposals. You will be asked to read these proposals and write a review of each proposal. These should act as an aid to the second year students in undertaking their project, offer helpful suggestions, and point out weaknesses. You will need to turn in two hard copies of these reviews: one for the instructor and one for the thesis writer.

5. Final paper: Your final project will be to develop an idea about what you might pursue as a thesis next year.  This will let you utilize the skills you have developed over the course of the semester and will give you a jump on next semester, when you will be writing a formal thesis proposal.  You may decide the topic you develop this semester is not the one you ultimately pursue for your thesis, and that is fine.  The skills it takes to think through a suitable question, methodological approaches, and preliminary digital searching will serve you well whatever topic you eventually rest on.

Schedule of Lectures, Readings, and Assignments:

Week 1, August 27: Introductions

Week 2, September 3: Historiography
1. Iggers, all.
2. Gabrielle M. Spiegel, “The Task of the Historian,” The American Historical Review 114, no. 1 (February 1, 2009): 1-15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/ahr.114.1.1

Week 3, September 10: History Today
Readings: AHR Forum: Historiographic “Turns” in Critical Perspectives http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/667190
1. “Introduction,” The American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (June 1, 2012): 698–699.
2. Judith Surkis, “When Was the Linguistic Turn? A Genealogy,” The American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (June 1, 2012): 700–722.
3. Gary Wilder, “From Optic to Topic: The Foreclosure Effect of Historiographic Turns,” The American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (June 1, 2012): 723–745.
4. James W. Cook, “The Kids Are All Right: On the ‘Turning’ of Cultural History,” The American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (June 1, 2012): 746–771.
5. Durba Ghosh, “Another Set of Imperial Turns?,” The American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (June 1, 2012): 772–793.
6. Julia Adeney Thomas, “Comment: Not Yet Far Enough,” The American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (June 1, 2012): 794–803.
7. Nathan Perl-Rosenthal, “Comment: Generational Turns,” The American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (June 1, 2012): 804–813.

Week 4, September 17: Social History
Faculty Bio Due
1. Fernand Braudel, “Personal Testimony,” The Journal of Modern History 44, no. 4 (December 1972): 448-467.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/1876804
2. E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past & Present, no. 50 (February 1971): 76-136. http://www.jstor.org/stable/650244
3. Hans-Ulrich Wehler, “Bismarck’s Imperialism 1862-1890,” Past & Present, no. 48 (August 1970): 119-155. http://www.jstor.org/stable/650484
4. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, “The Political Crisis of Social History: A Marxian Perspective,” Journal of Social History 10, no. 2 (Winter 1976): 205-220. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3786680
5. Lawrence Stone, “The Revival of Narrative: Reflections on a New Old History,” Past & Present, no. 85 (November 1979): 3-24. http://www.jstor.org/stable/650677

Week 5, September 24: Post-structuralism and the “Linguistic Turn”
1.  Foucault, all.
2.  Gareth Stedman Jones, “The Determinist Fix: Some Obstacles to the Further Development of the Linguistic Approach to History in the 1990s,” History Workshop Journal, no. 42 (Autumn 1996): 19-35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4289465

Week 6, October 1: Gender & Sexuality
1. Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” The American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (December 1986): 1053-1075. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1864376
2. John D’Emilio, “Capitalism and Gay Identity,” in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, eds. Henry Abelove and Michèle Aina Barale (Psychology Press, 1993), 467-476.
3. Chauncey, George. “Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and the Construction of Sexual Boundaries in the World War One Era.” Journal of Social History 19, no. 2 (December 1, 1985): 189–211. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3787467

Week 7, October 8: Forum 1

Week 8, October 15: Forum 2

Week 9, October 22: The New Military History
Thesis Defenses
1. Gilpin, all.
2. Wayne E. Lee, “Mind and Matter–Cultural Analysis in American Military History: A Look at the State of the Field,” Journal of American History 93, no. 4 (March 2007): 1116-1142. http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/93.4/

Week 10, October 29: Historical Anthropology 
Thesis Defenses
1. Clifford, all.

Week 10, November 5: Empire and Global History
1. Burbank and Cooper, all.

Week 11, November 12: Big History and the Return of Science
1. Shryock and Smail, all.

Week 12, November 26: History’s Future
1. Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, “Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web,” http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/exploring/
2. Moretti, all.
3. Jo Guldi, The Spatial Turn in History.

Week 14, December 3: Teaching History
1.  David Pace, “The Amateur in the Operating Room: History and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,” American Historical Review 109 (2004): 1171-1192. http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/109.4/pace.html
2. Wineburg, all.

Week 15, December 10:

Final Paper Due

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *