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Historiography: Background, Context, and Assessment (Single-Honours History Students and Joint-Degree History Students)

Introducing the module

This is a core module counting for one 30-CAT unit in the Final year. It is compulsory for all single-honours History students, optional for joint degree and other advanced students. As a core module it complements teaching in specialised History modules, by providing a broad context for understanding developments in the discipline of history during the modern period. It asks students to consider what form of thinking and writing (what kind of human endeavour) ‘history’ is, and to relate the historiographical developments discussed during the course, to the works of history they study on Advanced Option and Special Subject modules. The more recent concepts and methods encountered in the module may be helpful in crafting dissertations.

Historiography is also intended to develop students’ abilities in study, research, and oral and written communication, through a programme of seminars, lectures and essay work.


Historiography 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 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 third-year modules.


The module introduces students to some of the central thinkers on history writing since the 18th century, the period in which modern history writing was first conceptualised and practiced. The lectures engage closely with the ideas these men and women had on how history should be pursued and what they believed its purpose was. However, ideas do not float in empty space, and, therefore, the lectures take great care to locate these changing ideas and practices within the specific socio-cultural environment in which they were voiced.

Teaching and Learning

The module runs in Terms 1, and 2, and three weeks in Term 3. Teaching is through 20 x 1-hour lectures (9 in Term 1, 9 in Term 2, and 3 in Term 3). In term 1 all lectures take place on Tuesdays at 10-11am in Woods Scawen (Arts Centre) The Tuesday lectures is followe by 20 x 90 mins seminars. Seminar groups will normally consist of 12-16 students. The majority of the seminars will take place on Tuesday afternoon. However, due to the great increase in students numbers this year, there will be a group on Monday. Times and venues for the seminars will be arranged before the beginning of term and first lecture; they will be found on the History Department Third Year Notice Board, and on the Historiography webpage. There are two written assignments (formative, non-assessed essays) over the course of the year. Students may draw questions for the website but are encouraged to formulate their own questions in consultation with their seminar tutor.

Lectures and Seminars:

Seminars follow the lectures (there is one seminar exception this year) and are always connected to them. Lecturers on this module aim to provide both an introduction to the topic in hand, and a series of propositions about it. They will provide the historical context for a specific methodology/theory discussed and will introduce into the method/theory itself. The perspectives of the lecture and the reading assigned by your tutor make up the material discussed in the seminar. You are expected to read in advance the basic texts set for that week.

Seminar Preparation

In this online Handbook each seminar is described in terms of reading Texts/Documents/Arguments/Sources which, with the guidance of your seminar tutor, you should complete as preparation for the seminar. It is important that you always read the set text reading for the week, as familiarity with these texts forms one of the criteria in the awarding of marks in the summer examination. For each seminar there is a list of Questions to guide your reading and note-taking (some of these may also be adapted as short-essay titles; an extended list of possible titles will be also found at the end of this Handbook). Your seminar tutor may also assign additional or alternative readings from the Background Seminar Reading lists. Additional readings are listed under different headings to provide you with Bibliographies for essay-writing. Sometimes, these additional or further readings and the questions they raise may be the focus of your seminar group’s discussion. The summer examination paper is composed by the course team that conducts the lectures and seminars, bearing in mind the experience of each seminar group, as well as the lecture series.

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 hardcopies.

See Resources for further surveys and resources.

Formal Assessment:

There is a choice of two assessment patterns:



  • Two 2,000 word essays in term 1 and 2 + an optional mock exam (all formative)
  • 3 hours / 3 questions summer term exam (worth 100% of the module mark);

Note: full exam script will be circulated a week (this means: 5 working days) in advance of the actual exam taking place (fully-seen exam).

Note: Seminar participation will be unassessed but will be marked and feedback will be provided to all students selecting this option.



  • one formative 2,000 word essay in term 1 + an optional mock exam (both formative)
  • one assessed 3,000 word essay (worth 40% of module mark)
  • seminar contribution (worth 10%)
  • 2 hours / 2 question summer term exam (worth 50%).

Note: full exam script will be circulated a week (this means: 5 working days) in advance of the actual exam taking place (fully-seen exam).

You will be asked by the department to decide which pattern you wish to follow in the course of the autumn term.

Seminar assessment:

All students will be assessed and feedback given, though the mark will only carry forward towards the final mark for those who take the second option. Seminar participation will be assessed across all classes according to the following criteria:

  • Attendance - Marks will be deducted for unauthorized absences.
  • Preparation - Evidence shows preparation for the seminar (has prepared notes and/or recalls the readings without the use of the open text).
  • Engagement - Quality of engagement is active, respectful and inclusive. Initiative - Questions asked focus, clarify and summarize discussion.
  • Response - Quality of response reflects knowledge, comprehension and application of the readings.
  • Discussion - Quality of response extends the discussion with peers and reflects analysis, synthesis and evaluation.


Option A:

  • 1st formative essay (via Tabula): Monday Week 7, Term 1, 5pm
  • 2nd formative essay (via Tabula): Monday Week 7, Term 2, 5pm
  • You may submit an optional two-question mock exam answer by Friday noon of week 3, term 3. This should not be by Tabula but given directly to your seminar tutor.

Option B:

  • 1st formative essay (via Tabula): Monday Week 7, Term 1, 5pm
  • Assessed 3,000 word essay (via Tabula): Wednesday Week 1, Term 3, noon
  • You may submit an optional two-question mock exam answer by Friday noon of week 3, term 3. This should not be by Tabula but given directly to your seminar tutor

Coursework and Assessment Regulations

All students (except visiting exchange students) MUST complete the relevant formative assessment(s).

Students can take seminar questions and there are further questions here; or you could adapt any of these, or invent your own, so long as you have the approval of your seminar tutor.

Students taking option B: although they can convert their formative essay into a long essay if they wish, we caution against doing this. It might look easier at first sight but is making it harder for the exam because you cannot use material in the exam that you have already used in an assessed piece of work. The assessed essay should aim to explore a theme more deeply than a 2,000 word essay, in terms of usage of a broader range of secondary sources, greater conceptual sophistication and/or greater use of primary materials.

Mock exam: This is optional and past exam papers for this module can be accessed here. (Remember that these past exam papers were based on a differnt assessment model!)

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.