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Historical Methods




Admission requirements

  • Class of 2017: Transnational History.

  • Classes of 2013-2016: Transnational History, or permission of instructor. The course fills a methods requirement for the HD/HI major.

Course description

This course introduces students to the theories and methods of history as a field of knowledge by guiding them through independent historical research projects on a selected topic within the broad theme of SOCIAL MOVEMENTS.

The most important thing to know is that this is a research seminar where students will be required to do substantial reading outside of the classroom. Short assignments will build incrementally towards a 4000+ word final essay WHICH WILL BE DUE AT THE END OF JANUARY, 2015. This will allow students ample time in which to carry out their research and complete their writing. It will also provide good training for students preparing to undertake capstone projects in their third year.

We will begin the block by reviewing classic texts in social movement theory. Next, we will examine the ways that historians have written about social movements. Working with a handful of example essays, we will consider such questions as: the words historians use; their narrative style, sources, methods, organization, and framing; their assumptions about historical causation and human nature; and their application (or avoidance) of social-scientific theory.

We will also analyze sample primary sources. What methods should we use to interpret documentary, visual, or oral evidence? Why, where, when, and how were various sources created—and why does it matter? How can we read for and interpret silences and omissions? How do the emerging tools of “Digital History” affect the historian’s craft?

Along the way, students will pursue independent projects in which they will apply historical methods and theories to their own research questions. They will gain experience in narrowing down a topic, devising a research question, synthesizing historiographical literature, identifying and interpreting a body of sources, keeping track of and organizing data, and putting it all into writing. In this respect, our seminar will function as a workshop, where students will present on their progress and share ideas about the challenges, joys, and frustrations of historical research. We will also be taking several field trips to area historical archives, and will host at least one or two visiting speakers who will tell us about their own research.

Finally, students can expect to write on a topic that is of genuine interest to them. The choice of time period, region, and social movement is open, provided that there are adequate primary sources available to answer the research question.

Learning objectives

After successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • identify, explain, and employ the major aims, philosophies, and methodologies of historians

  • skillfully analyze and synthesize both primary and secondary sources

  • gain a broad familiarity with major themes in social movement history and theory

  • devise a substantial independent research project and see it through to completion

Compulsory textbook

There may be one book to purchase. If so, the instructor will email enrolled students during Block 1 to notify them, and to share the plan for the first class session.

Contact information

Dr. Ann Marie Wilson