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HIS 335: American Colonial History to 1763: Historiography: Definitions

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What is a Historiography?

There are two common uses of the term "Historiography."


 

The historiography (general descriptor) of a topic is the sum total of the interpretations of a specific topic written by past and current historians.
  • For example: "The historiography of the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima changed over the years as new research questioned the former consensus view that the decision to drop the atomic bomb was predicated on the necessity to save American lives."
Thus you can talk about "the state of the historiography" at a point in time, or you can "add historiography" to a paper to make it more complete.

 


A historiography (noun) or historiographical paper is an analysis of the interpretations of a specific topic written by past historians. 
  • Specifically, a historiography identifies influential thinkers and reveals the shape of the scholarly debate on a particular subject. 

The major purpose of writing a historiographical paper is to convey the scholarship of other historians on a particular subject, rather than to analyze the subject itself.

  • A historiography can be a stand-alone paper, in which case your paper examines the work completed by other historians. 
  • Alternately, a historiography can act as an introduction to a major research paper, in which you will go on to add your own analysis.

Thus, a good historiography does the following:

  • Points out influential books and papers that exemplified, shaped, or revolutionized a field of study.
  • Shows which scholars were most effective in changing the scope of the debate.
  • Describes the current trends in the field of study, such as which interpretation is currently in the mainstream.
  • Allows the writer (that's you!) to position themselves in the field for their analysis.

Why is it Important?

The process of writing a historiography shows you the research that has been done on your topic in the past.

  • This keeps you from having to reinvent the wheel.

 

A historiography can give you new angles to research and new interpretations to dispute.

 

Most importantly, a historiography shows you which interpretations have been challenged.

  • This keeps you from championing an interpretation using arguments that have already been countered.

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Created and Updated

Created by Alan Witt, 02/2012. Updated by Alan Witt 04/2012. Updated by Michaela Keating 11/2013.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.