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How to Create a Historiography

This is a guide to creating a historiography for any 400 level history course at URI

Step-By-Step Creation

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.

Try to choose a topic that interests you- it will make the 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

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 of 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.

  • Collections: With edited collections of articles or chapters, watch which topics were included and what the general theme of the book seems to be. The argument of the editor is shown by the scope of the combined articles.
  • 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: Write your historiography

One good tactic is to combine step 3 with step 4, plugging each source into the overall framework as you go and thus saving you from having to reread every source twice.

There are a number of ways to organize your historiography:

  1. You can report your writers in chronological order, tracing changes in the field over time.
  2. You can talk about major schools of thought regarding your topic, and discuss each one separately.
  3. If you are writing a larger paper, you can integrate your historiography over the course of the paper addressing the work of previous historians as they relate to your own analysis.

The first two methods are generally more what is expected of you when you are assigned to "write a historiography."

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