The first assignment for Europe in the Making is to write a 1000-word (exclusive of footnotes) critical review of an article included in the Essential, Recommended or Further Reading section for one of the seminars in Term 1. This should normally be an article in a scholarly journal, though in some cases a chapter from an academic monograph (not a textbook or introductory survey) may be suitable – speak to your seminar tutor if you feel you need further guidance about the distinctions here.
The main aim of the historiographical review is to show that you can reflect critically on a piece of academic historical writing, and demonstrate some understanding of how it fits within a wider historiographical field.
Your review should be written as a piece of continuous prose, divided where appropriate into paragraphs. It can include footnotes in order to reference quotations or specific points of information, though there need not be too many of these, and quotations from the article under discussion can be identified by bracketed page numbers in the main text of your review in this form: ‘quotation, quotation’ (pp. 23-4). You are expected to read not just the article itself but at least another two articles / chapters / parts of books that you think are important for understanding the article that you are reviewing. Where appropriate, you can also use online resources. Remember to include, at the top of your review, the author, title, article/chapter title, journal (if relevant), year of publication and date of publication. The review will be assessed by the standard assessment criteria (see here).
In writing your review, you may find it helpful to think about the following points:
- What is the subject matter of the article? What question or questions does it raise, and what is the main argument being put forward? Remember that your readers might not know the article, so you need to explain to them what is at stake.
- How does the article situate itself in a broader literature? Does it refer to an existing debate in the field, and if so, how does it seek to change or challenge the way other historians have understood the issue?
- How does the argument work? Does the author use primary sources, and if so, which sources? Are these sources actually helpful to answer the question the article raises, and why (or why not)? Does the article use the sources in an effective manner; that is, is the argument supported by the evidence the article presents? You might find it help to cite one particularly persuasive example to highlight the argument the article is making.
- Which are the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s argument? How would you critically evaluate the argument? Does the argument itself perhaps raise questions that need to be addressed?
The inspiration for this assessment are the reviews of historians’ work that constitute regular features of many (though not all) academic journals: for example, in English Historical Review, History or Renaissance Quarterly. These are nearly always reviews of complete books, rather than of articles or chapters, though the basic principles and aims of the exercise are much the same .