History 807: Historiography and Research Methods (Online, Fall 2017)

Prof. Jonathan Dresner
e-mail: jdresner@pittstate.edu
Phone: 620-235-4315
Office: Russ 406F
Hist 807-99
Fall 2017
Office Hours: MWF 12-1, 2-3

“Only reason can convince us of those three fundamental truths without a recognition of which there can be no effective liberty: that what we believe is not necessarily true; that what we like is not necessarily good; and that all questions are open.” — Clive Bell, Civilization (1928)


History is not a set of answers, but a fluid and argumentative process. Self-conscious awareness of the work of historians and the place of history in the wider culture are important tools for historians. The core of this course, as the title suggests is historiography, the study of how history has been and continues to be written: historical theory and methods, schools of thought, change over time, and different approaches to sources. In this context, we will also look at  history teaching and public history as forms of professional communication that need to be thoughtfully informed by good historical work.

Course Application

This is a requirement for the Masters in History. For more detail, see the History Masters Program Guide at http://www.pittstate.edu/department/social-sciences/graduate-program/index.dot

Course Goals

Students will gain a strong background in the theory and practice of history as done by professional historians.



  • Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft: Reflections on the Nature and Uses of History and the Techniques and Methods of Those Who Write It. Vintage, 1953. ISBN 9780394705125
  • Sam S. Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Temple UP, 2001. ISBN 9781566398565
  • John Tosh, ed., Historians on History. 2nd Edition, Longman, 2008. ISBN 9781405801683
  • Fitzpatrick, Ellen, History’s Memory: Writing America’s Past, 1880-1980. Harvard University Press, 2002. Axe ebook.
  • Edward T. Linenthal, Tom Engelhardt, eds., History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past, Holt 1996.  ISBN 9780805043877
  • Paul A. Cohen, History in Three Keys: the Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth, Columbia UP, 1997. Axe ebook.
  • Steven Hahn, A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910, Penguin, 2016. ISBN 9780670024681

Additional web-based readings as appropriate.

Recommended: Kate L. Turabian, Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 8th edition, U Chicago Press, 2013. ISBN 9780226816388


History is about real people, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly-held belief systems, complex situations, conflicts, and often-dramatic actions. In certain contexts, this information may be disturbing. Such is the nature of historical study.

Schedule and Schedule Changes

I reserve the right to change readings, test dates, due dates, grade weights and assignments as necessary throughout the semester. In the event of a disparity between the original syllabus and online schedule, the online schedule will be correct. Weather-related cancellations should not be an issue, but in the event of  interruptions, you should continue to follow the syllabus schedule of readings and homework until and unless I notify you of changes.

Canvas will have the most current and accurate information possible, as well as copies of course handouts. Students are responsible for ensuring that the uploads have succeeded, files are functional, etc. If you have technical problems, contact the Gorilla Geeks help desk.

I will be using Canvas for announcements and assignments, and anything assigned for class will be linked from Canvas. While I do use the Gradebook in Canvas to help you keep track of assignments and communicate feedback, it is not used to calculate your course grade. If Canvas is temporarily unavailable, https://dresnerworld.edublogs.org will be the backup for course materials, and feel free to browse it for other useful material. If Canvas becomes unavailable for an extended period of time, we’ll figure something out.

While there is no official schedule for online courses, I am treating this as a twice-a-week course, with assignments and discussions generally due on Mondays and Thursdays.

Reading Assignments and Discussions

For each book on the reading list, we will work through it in sections as indicated in the schedule with discussion boards based on questions that I suggest. These works are substantial and complex, so the boards are also for other issues that you notice and wish to bring up. There aren’t lectures in a course like this, but I will write introductions for each discussion board addressing some of what I consider interesting or important about the work, and you are more than welcome to respond to that as well.

Replies to at least two of your colleagues should be posted within 48 hours of the assignment deadline (but not before, so that everyone has a chance to post their initial thoughts). Comments must be substantive and civil. Questions are also permitted as comments, if there’s something unclear, or worth expanding on, but it helps if you explain why the question is important.


All assignments are due — posted or drop-boxed — before midnight of the date indicated (i.e., the end of the day) unless otherwise indicated. Since you have to complete the readings to do the assignments, you will want to make sure that you start doing them well before the deadlines.

Late work will be penalized, but late work is always worth more than no work.

Syllabus Exercise

Design a syllabus for an upper-division history course, including a schedule of readings, tests, and assignments. This will include a discussion of pedagogical choices, including texts and primary sources, and short descriptions of lecture topics and assignments. Include additional readings and assignments appropriate to graduate students. Topics will be up to the student, subject to approval by the instructor. Additional details will be available soon.

Final Review

The last reading of the semester is Hahn, A Nation Without Borders, a very recent work intended for general and academic audiences. In lieu of a final exam, students will write a review of A Nation Without Borders in light of the relevant theoretical, methodological, and historiographical readings from this course. The review will address the book’s strengths and weaknesses, its place in contemporary American historiography, and its suitability for use as a teaching text at undergraduate or graduate levels. Additional details will be available soon.

Grading: Writing grades are based primarily on the strength of your argument as an answer to the question: thesis, evidence (completeness and handling), logic. Be careful to address a question thoroughly: for example, it’s not enough to say what the positive argument for your thesis is without addressing relevant arguments or evidence to the contrary. Clarity is crucial; structure is essential to a clear and effective argument. I am expecting real essays, with introductions, thesis, paragraphs, conclusions, etc. as appropriate to graduate-level historical work. Other assignments will be graded primarily on timely completion, evidence of appropriate work, and responsiveness to constructive feedback.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism will not be tolerated in this course. Plagiarism is the use of the words or ideas of another person without proper acknowledgement. Plagiarism is intellectual theft; in an educational setting it is particularly repugnant. Plagiarism in my courses will be punished. It’s simple: Anytime you copy words into your own work, you must clearly mark them and acknowledge the source of those words. Anytime you use someone else’s ideas, you must admit it. There are three options: put it in quotation marks and footnote; paraphrase and footnote; or be original. If you have any questions or any concerns about citation format or necessity, ask someone who knows what they’re doing.

Other forms of academic misconduct will not be tolerated either, including the use of unauthorized aid on tests, failing to write one’s own papers, using papers for more than one course without permission. None of this precludes group study and discussion: those are actually really good ideas. Academic misconduct will result in zero credit for an assignment, and may result in professionalism penalties, failure of the course, or referal to the University Academic Honesty Committee.

For more detail, see the University Catalog: http://www.pittstate.edu/audiences/current-students/policies/rights-and-responsibilities/academic-misconduct.dot

Professionalism: Preparation, Attendance and Preparation

This is not just an online classroom: it is a work space, and you are adults. You are expected to be present and prepared, not only physically but intellectually, and to carry out your assignments in a timely and careful fashion. You are responsible for keeping track of assignments, due dates, and announcements made through the course website.

The earliest motto of Pittsburg State University was “By Doing, Learn.” The essence of scholarship is constructive engagement; the best learning comes from doing. It is very important that everyone keep up with the readings, and is prepared to think and talk and question and listen. The class should be a collaborative conversation, with a wide range of contributions; this requires respect and civility towards your classmates as well as your instructor. Specifically, students are responsible for responding in a timely fashion to each other’s postings with comments, arguments and constructive criticism. Asking good questions is an important form of participation. (Asking questions which can be easily answered by referencing the syllabus, course website or textbooks is not.)

Late assignments may be excused for illness or family-related problems, if I am informed in advance (email is fine) or you have documentation (such as a doctor’s note). Unexcused late assignments will affect your professionalism grade as well as assignment grades. Failure to complete assignments, or consistently sloppy or incorrect work, will also affect your grade.

There will sometimes be homework assignments which do not fall into the above categories which will be considered part of the professionalism grade. The first is that all students are expected to find the student information form in Canvas, complete it, and email it to the instructor before the next class.

You should check your email at least daily: if you don’t use a university email account regularly, set it to forward mail to your preferred address. I check email regularly: you should generally hear back from me within 48 hours.


Students are expected to behave respectfully towards their peers and instructor. Online comments must be constructive and reasonable. Disruptive behavior will result in participation penalties and may be subject to additional discipline. This does not mean that there can’t be lively discussions and disagreements, but personal attacks, vulgar or objectionable language, inappropriate behavior or displays, threats, and failure to give others a chance to speak and be heard are not acceptable.

Grade Distribution

Discussion 35%
Professionalism 20%
Syllabus Assignment 15%
Final Review 30%


“This I regard as history’s highest function, to let no worthy action be uncommemorated,

and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds.” — Tacitus


  • Assignment format, requirements and due dates will be included in the assignment instructions: read them carefully, and ask questions well in advance of the due date if there is anything you do not understand.
  • For assignments submitted on Canvas, it is the student’s responsibility to confirm that all files are properly uploaded and complete.
  • For assignments which are to be turned in by email, I will send a confirmation email; If you have not gotten one in a reasonable amount of time (a day or so), it is your responsibility to confirm that your assignment was received.
  • In the event of an excused absence on an assignment due date, the student is responsible for turning in the work no later than the next class, unless other arrangements have been made.
  • Unexcused late assignments, due to absence, technical problems, etc., will be penalized up to one grade level (B to C, etc) per class period late.
  • Even very, very bad (or very late) work will get partial credit, which is a lot better than a zero
  • Plagiarism or other violations of academic honesty will result in zero credit on that assignment and may result in an F or XF for the semester depending on circumstances.
  • Grades are recorded on a standard 4-point scale, but Canvas does not allow that as an option, so the Canvas Gradebook will show grades converted to a standard 100-point scale. This doesn’t mean that each assignment is worth 4 points, or 100 points: grades are weighted as indicated above for their effect on the final course grade.
  • NOTE: I do post grades on Canvas, but the Canvas gradebook will not include some portions of the course grade, nor does the overall calculation accurately reflect grade weights. I will be happy to go over your grades and let you know how you are doing in the course at any time. Come to my office hours, or email me.
  • I reserve the right to adjust assignment or class final grade scales upwards (to students’ advantage) to reflect the performance of the class as a whole; I do not “curve” grades towards a target distribution, nor do I adjust grade scales downwards.


Advising is designed to help students complete the requirements of the University and their individual majors. Students should consult with their advisor at least once a semester to decide on courses, check progress towards graduation, and discuss career options and other educational opportunities. Advising is a shared responsibility, but students have final responsibility for meeting degree requirements.

Student Accommodation

Any student with a documented disability who would like to request accommodations should contact the instructor as early in the semester as possible. For more information, contact the Center for Student Accommodations (235-4309, csa@pittstate.edu).

“Dead Week”

I am aware of the University policy regarding the final week of classes before final exams. As per that policy, I have scheduled, as noted in this syllabus, the syllabus assignment due in that week. Delays or interruptions in the semester may push reading/discussion assignments into this week as well. Students should plan accordingly.

Syllabus Supplement

For official PSU policies and information about campus resources, notifications, attendance, concealed carry weapons policy, financial aid, expectations, grades, etc., see: http://www.pittstate.edu/office/registrar/syllabus-supplement.dot (Fall 2017)


Administrative deadlines and holidays are in italics

Major assignment deadlines in bold

Discussion board responses and assignments are due before midnight (end of the day)


Date Readings and Deadlines
M (8/21) Introductions
Th (8/24) Academic life and Doing History.
Heather Richardson, “Richardson’s Rules of Order,” especially pt IV on reading and pt. IX on historiography
“How to Read For History” by Caleb McDaniel
John Minichillo, “What Your Professor’s Remarks on Your College English Paper Really Mean”
Harvard’s “GRADING”
Jonathan Dresner powerpoints: The Two Things and Good History Writing
M (8/28) Bloch, Historian’s Craft. Chaps. 1-3. (Mostly about evidence)

Last day to enroll or add without instructor permission.
Last day for online enrollment.
Tuition and fees must be paid by 3:30pm.
Last day for full tuition refund

Th (8/31) Bloch, Historian’s Craft. Chaps. 4-5. (Mostly about argument and causation)
M (9/4) Labor Day holiday
(9/5) Last Day to drop without ‘W’
Th (9/7) Wineburg, Historical Thinking, chap. 1, 9, 10 (Why study history, historical memory)
M (9/11) Wineburg, Historical Thinking, chap. 2-5 (history of pedagogy, pedagogy studies)
Th (9/14) Wineburg, Historical Thinking, chap. 6-8 (teacher case studies)
M (9/18) Fitzpatrick, History’s Memory, Prologue and Chaps. 1-2
Th (9/21) Instructor Absent
M (9/25) Fitzpatrick, History’s Memory, Chaps. 3-4
Th (9/28) Fitzpatrick, History’s Memory, Chap. 5, epilogue

Last day for half tuition refund

M (10/2) Linenthal/Engelhardt, History Wars, Intro, Chaps. 1, 5, 8 (Conflict and context)
Th (10/6) Fall Break
M (10/9) Linenthal/Engelhardt, History Wars, Chaps. 2-4, 6-7 (historiography and culture)
Th (10/12) Tosh, Historians on History: Intro, Parts I and VII. (History for its own sake, Beyond Academia)
M (10/16) Tosh, Historians on History: Part II (Political Histories)

Midsemester D/F Grades Due by Noon

Th (10/19) Tosh, Historians on History: Part III (The New Radicalism)
M (10/23) Tosh, Historians on History: Part IV (Learning From History)
Th (10/26) Tosh, Historians on History: Part V (History as Social Science)
M (10/30) Tosh, Historians on History: Part VI (The Cultural Turn)
Th (11/2) Advisement and planning: candidacy plans and final assessments.
Syllabus Assignment Topic Selection Due
11/3 Last day to apply for December graduation
11/5 Early Enrollment Begins
M (11/6) Cohen, Three Keys, part 1 (Event. World History.)

Last day to drop single course.

Th (11/9) Cohen, Three Keys, part 2 (Experience)
M (11/13) Cohen, Three Keys, part 3 (Historiography)
Th (11/16) Hahn, Nation Without Borders. Intro, Prologue, Chaps. 1-3
M (11/20) Hahn, Nation Without Borders. Chaps. 4-6

Last day for submission of thesis draft

Th (11/23) Thanksgiving Holiday
M (11/27) Hahn, Nation Without Borders. Chaps. 7-9

Last day to withdraw from entire term.

Th (11/30) Hahn, Nation Without Borders. Chaps. 10-12
M (12/4) Catch-up/Review

Last day for submission of thesis.

Th (12/7) Syllabus Project Due
Th 12/14 Final Review Due

Grade Distribution Recap

Discussion 35%
Professionalism 20%
Syllabus Assignment 15%
Final Review 30%

“To be excited by the same dispute even on opposing sides, is still to be alike.
This common stamp, deriving from a common age, is what makes a generation. ”
— Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft, p. 185.