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Historiography I: Methods and Theories in their Historical Context, 1750-c.1990 (HI2E1-15)

Module Convenor: Dr Aditya Sarkar

This 15 CATS second-year module is compulsory for all single-honours History students, and is not available to students of other courses.


Historiography, taught in the Department since 1968, has been designed to complement the learning which students will have done so far in their work in the Department, both in core and optional modules. For all students taking it, Historiography provides an overview of ‘doing History’ from the later eighteenth-century onwards, the ideas that have underpinned historical research and writing, and of recent methodologies and theories of history (many of them drawn from other disciplines), as they have been used by historians. It provides students with an opportunity to think reflexively about the nature of the historical enterprise. You are encouraged to link your studies in Historiography with your other second- and third-year modules.


The 15 CAT module introduces students to some of the central ideas about the purpose and practice of history writing since the 18th century to the 1990s. It is important to this module that such theories and methodologies did not float in ‘empty’ space but were expressions a specific wider socio-cultural and political context at a particular moment in time. The central message of this module is: methodologies and theories of academic history writing always reflects the values, morals and norms of the specific society in which it is written. They did not float in 'empty' space but were expressions of wider socio-cultural and political concerns.


Teaching and Learning

The module runs in Term 1. There will be 9 x 1-hour lectures. The lectures will be delivered online and made available via Moodle at the start of each teaching week. There is no fixed time for the lectures since they will not be live-streamed: students will be able to access them on Moodle whenever they need to. The lectures are followed by weekly 1 hour seminars, which will take place in person. Seminar groups will normally consist of 12-16 students. Times and venues for the seminars will be arranged before the beginning of term and the first lecture.


Lectures and Seminars

Seminars follow the lectures and are always connected to them. Lectures will provide the historical context for a specific methodology/theory discussed and will introduce into the method/theory itself. The narrative and perspectives of the lecture and the weekly reading assigned on the Historiography website make up the material to be discussed in the seminar. You are expected to read in advance the basic texts set for that week.

PLEASE NOTE: In week 1, in order to ease participants into the module, there are no texts to discuss in the seminar sessions. The seminar for week 1 will be an introductory session where tutors can introduce the module to students, and indicate the path that subsequent weeks should follow.

If you require assistance for taking lecture note taking, please arrange this through the relevant University services.


Seminar Preparation

For each seminar (EXCEPT week 1) you should prepare the readings mentioned in 'Texts/Documents/Arguments/Sources’ and ‘Seminar Readings’ for each seminar. For each seminar there is a list of questions to guide your reading and note-taking. Your seminar tutor may also assign additional or alternative readings from the ‘Further Reading’ lists, if you wish so.

The seminar webpages for each week also contain a list of 'significant quotes' associated with the historical thinkers studied in that week. These quotes serve as a (very loose) indication of the key aspects of these thinkers' ideas, and are meant to help you identify some of the key themes, 'biases' and contributions associated with them.

We shall also discuss essays in the seminars. Please note that academic history writing is no longer ‘school’ history! To mention the ‘correct’ facts is not enough to achieve a high mark. The ability to express your views in comprehensible prose, a fluent writing style which follows a logical argumentation is equally important.

All the compulsory weekly readings for the module can be found on Talis Aspire.


Core Textbook for Module

There are many textbooks on historiography. We think that Lloyd Kramer and Sarah Maza, eds., A Companion to Western Historical Thought (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002) is most useful for our purposes. The library has an electronic copy and several hard copies.

See Resources for further surveys and resources.



Formal Assessment

Deadlines here.

Assignment 1: Oral participation/engagement (10%). For marking criteria, 'Seminar Contribution Guidelines'.

Seminar participation will be assessed across all classes according to the following criteria:

            • Preparation - Evidence shows preparation for the seminar (has prepared notes and/or recalls the readings without the use of the open text).
            • Engagement and Initiative - Quality of engagement is active, respectful and inclusive; participation in discussions; engagement with others; taking own initiative ask questions
            • Response and Discussion - Quality of response reflects knowledge, comprehension and application of the readings; Quality of response extends the discussion with peers and reflects analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

 Self-Evaluation form


Assignment 2: short essay (30%): a short answer (1500 words): Imagine and convey an argument between two historical thinkers about how to approach history.

Imagine that two historical thinkers you have encountered so far in the module are sitting at a café or pub and having a heated argument about how history should be understood. Assume that they are familiar with each other’s interpretations and perhaps those of the other historians we’ve encountered in the seminar. How might their discussion go? Perhaps a Warwick student enrolled in the Historiography module overhears their discussion from a nearby table and joins in at the end with some opinions. You can write this in the form of a dialogue if you wish, or as a report, or in any other format which takes your fancy. (Use your imagination freely.)

You should adopt the form of a dialogue. Eg.

Ranke: A true historian must......

Marx: On the contrary. In order for history to have any meaning, it must....

Student: How can you think that, when......?

These thinkers are unlikely to have texts with them, so they are more likely to paraphrase than quote. But you (the author) should footnote any specific points so that it is possible to identify where you derived them. (You don’t have to footnote overarching views, which run throughout their texts -- just specific points and details.) While your dialogue should focus primarily on the debate, feel free to embroider the episode with the reference to their immediate surroundings or current events. Stay focused, though - the point of the essay is to bring out key points of different perspectives on history.

The aim of the dialogue is to show that you can grasp and compare core historiographical arguments. To what degree do your characters offer different answers to the same question? To what extent do they actually disagree about what the key questions should be? Since the dialogue must be short (1500 words), your characters will probably focus on one area of debate. Be sure to avoid ‘academese’, i.e., turgid and wordy prose. Remember: they’re chatting in a café or pub.

Assessment is based on the depth and nuance of your understanding of major interpretive currents in Historiography and your ability to identify points of tension.

Assignment 3: Long Essay (60%): a long answer (3000 words)


Frame your own question (you may consult your seminar tutor about this). You may base your question on any one or more currents in historical thinking you have encountered during the module.


Answer any one of the following questions:

1. How can the historical approaches we have studied in the module help you understand the history of our present? You may focus on any one or more approaches you find most interesting. Be as specific as possible when you explain how this might relate to the present, i.e. which aspects of our present you would analyze through these approaches.

2. Has modern Historiography been irredeemably Eurocentric since the Enlightenment?

3. Historian Arnold Toynbee once criticised those historians who approach history as ‘one damned thing after another’. Based on your reflections of the readings this term, do you think history is really nothing more than ‘one damned thing after another’? If not, what underlying patterns or dynamics should we be looking for? Which ones should we not look for?

4. Has History writing been an empowering and liberating practice since the Enlightenment? If so, for whom? You might conclude your essay with a short reflection on what ‘empowering’ and ‘liberating’ there remains to do.

5. Do you see the post-modern historians as entirely rejecting prior modes of historical writing or building on them?

6. Examine some of the ways in which modern history-writing and historical thinking has been transformed over the last two centuries. Discuss some of the possible reasons for these transformations.

7. How did historical thinking change after World War II?

8. Do you see historical materialism as a form of 'economic determinism'?

9. Discuss the possible connections between modern historical thinking and modern ideological/political currents.

10. What was new about Thompsonian history-from-below? How would you assess its strengths and weaknesses?

11. Is a 'total history' possible or desirable?

12. Discuss the potentials and limits of 'micro-history' as a form of history-writing.

13. Discuss the impact of second-wave feminism upon historical writing.



Coursework and Assessment Regulations

For guidance on format, footnotes, quotations, and bibliography refer to the style guide in your history undergraduate handbook, or see the online style guide.

Written feedback on formative work will be received within 20 working days of submission (unless submitted late). Seminar tutors will provide individual feedback tutorials to support written feedback.