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Historiography: Background, Context, and Assessment (Single-Honours History Venice Stream Students)

Introducing the module

This is a core module counting for one 30-CAT unit in Finals. 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.

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. Historiography provides an overview of ‘doing History’ from the period of the Renaissance onwards for Venice-stream students and from the later eighteenth-century onwards for modern-stream students. It examines the ideas that have underpinned historical research and writing, and 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 syllabus is divided into two parts. The first part, followed in Venice, runs from week one of the autumn term through to week nine. Here you will follow the evolution of historical writing between the Renaissance and the early-twentieth century. The second part, which runs during the spring term, focuses on later twentieth- and twenty-first-century developments in the theory and practice of history.

The main differences between the Venice and Modern versions of Historiography modern stream students is that the latter do not study the medieval chroniclers and humanists historians; that is, they do not study Machiavelli, Guicciardini, Sarpi, and so on. There is a week in which the eighteenth-century historical enterprise in European and colonial contexts is studied; but unlike Venice-stream students, the modern stream does not encounter the Enlightenment historians per se. The seminar reading for topics studied by the Modern Stream can be found in the Modern Stream programme. Venice Stream students are encouraged to follow them up.

Teaching and Learning

As in the modern stream, there are 20 weekly 1-hour lectures, attached to 20 x 90 mins seminars. Students are required to write 3 non-assessed assignments over the course of the year. Seminar tutors will set deadlines for these essays. At the discretion of the tutor, students may substitute mock exam answers for the third and final essay. There will be individual tutorials to discuss feedback on assignments.

Lectures and Seminars

Seminars follow the lectures and are 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. The perspectives of the lecture and the reading assigned by your tutor make up the material discussed in the seminar. You are therefore expected to read in advance the basic texts set for that week.

Seminar Preparation

On the online programme 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 on the website). 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.

Reading: General Surveys

  • Bentley, Michael, Modern Historiography: An Introduction (1999). Focuses on broad trends in largely European history-writing from the Enlightenment period onwards.
  • Berger, Stefan, H. Feldner and K. Passmore (eds), Writing History: Theory and Practice (2003)
  • Burrow, John, A History of Histories. Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus … to the Twentieth Century (2007)
  • Carr, E.H., What is History? (1961). A core text that you should read in full at the start of the year.
  • Claus, Peter and John Marriott, History: An Introduction to Theory, Method and Practice (2012)
  • Collingwood, R.G., The Idea of History (1946). A classic.
  • Ermath, Elizabeth Deeds, History in the Discursive Condition: Reconsidering the Tools of Thought (2011). Examines the state of history-writing in the light of the postmodern challenge.
  • Green, Anna and Kathleen Troup (eds), The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-century History and Theory (1999). This is particularly useful for the way it introduces a theoretical and methodological vocabulary for studying twentieth-century historiography.
  • Hughes-Warrington, Marnie, Fifty Key Thinkers on History (2008). Provides short essays on fifty mainly European and US historians, historiographers, and thinkers who have had an impact on history-writing.
  • Iggers, George G. and Q. Edward Wang, A Global History of Modern Historiography (2008). Examines history-writing as a global phenomenon, getting away from the Eurocentricity of much of the existing literature on historiography. Focuses on the period covered in this module (in contrast to Woolf, below).
  • Lambert, P. and Schofield, P, Making History (2004), (note you can access this whole book online at
  • Rochona Majumdar, Writing Postcolonial History (2010)
  • Bonnie Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women and Historical Practice (1998). Provides a particularly useful account of nineteenth-century developments in historical thinking and writing, and the professionalization of the discipline.
  • Southgate, Beverley, History: What and Why: Ancient, Modern, and Postmodern Perspectives (1996).
  • Stunkel, Kenneth R., Fifty Key Works of History and Historiography (2011). Provides short introductions to key writings of fifty historians and thinkers who have had an impact on history-writing, from all over the world.
  • Walker, Garthine (ed.), Writing Early Modern History (2005). Provides a really helpful discussion relevant to all historians, not just early modernists.
  • Woolf, Daniel, A Global History of History (2011). Takes a broad sweep, with chapters on the different historical epochs of the past three millennia.

Books to Buy?

We suggest you buy books for highly practical reasons, as the university library cannot (under copyright legislation) digitalise more than one chapter or one-fifth (whichever is the shortest) of a book. Many of the books on the ‘General Survey’ list are appropriate in this respect. Most focus on broad historiographical trends rather than the particular historians and theorists that provide the focus for this particular module. Such figures will however be covered in these books in more or less depth in passing (use the content-list and index). You will get your money’s worth out of purchasing books such as Troup and Green’s Houses of History, Hughes-Warrington’s Fifty Key Thinkers in History (2000), Bentley’s Modern Historiography (1999), Claus and Marriot’s History: An Introduction to Theory, Method and Practice (2012), and, for a more global spread, Iggers and Wang, A Global History of Modern Historiography (2008).


You may encounter some unfamiliar sociological and philosophical terms in your reading. Allan Bullock and Stephen Trombley (eds), New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (London, 2000) provides a useful glossary. You could retrieve Raymond Williams’ Keywords. A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976; 1984) from your ‘Making of the Modern World’ archive, though probably far more useful will be Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg, Meaghan Morris (eds), New Keywords. A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society (2005). NB Alan Munslow, The Routledge Companion to Historical Studies (2005) aims to provide the same kind of conceptual help for students of history and historiography. The on-line version of the Oxford Dictionary of Social Sciences (ed. Craig Calhoun, 2002) was found useful by students taking Historiography last year. Find it at

Keeping Up with Developments in Historiography

Get into the habit of running the names of historians through the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on-line (for British and former-Commonwealth historians only). Other national dictionaries of biography can often be located by simply searching the internet with the name of the historian you are interested in. Make it a habit to regularly check the Bibliography of British and Irish History to discover recent publications on the topics of historiography and history-writing. As with Historical Abstracts and the MLA Index (Modern Languages Association of America) this is a good way of discovering how much recent attention the historian you are interested in has received.

An important internet source is the Institute of Historical Research’s (IHR) website ‘Making History’. Find it at: It is dedicated to the history of the study and practice of history in Britain over the last hundred years or so, following the emergence of the professional discipline in the late nineteenth century. It contains cross-referenced entries for interviews with historians, journal articles, projects and debates. Its statistical pages allow you to analyse the profession as a historical enterprise within society. Also become familiar with ‘Making History’s’ host site, the IHR, at Here you can watch the IHR’s attempt to move out from the Anglocentric focus of ‘Making History’, and globalise historiography.

It is often said that historians leave thinking about history to the philosophers. The module team profoundly disagrees with this proposition! But if you want to see what philosophers of history are saying about history and historians, make it a habit to check (and browse the back issues of) History and Theory (available ONLINE and in hard copy in the Library).

Otherwise, there is the bookshop, Library, SLC, connection to journals on-line (Blackwell-Synergie, Project-Muse, JSTOR …), digitalised course extracts …

Many of the basic texts studied in seminars are available in both the bookshop and the Library. Many of the key book-sections and articles listed below will also be found in the Photocopy Collection: always check there if you cannot find the journal on the shelf. The back issues of most journals are available ONLINE. Type the journal title into the Library catalogue search box, searching ‘Journals’. You will be taken to all electronic portals for the journal in question.

When a book extract has been scanned and is available online it is listed at:

Every Historiography extract that can be legally digitalised, has been digitalised. You should check this list regularly, as new extracts may be added throughout the year.

You can read seventeenth- and eighteenth-century (English-language) histories in their original form in Early English Books On-line and Eighteenth-Century Collections On-line (Library pages -> Resources -> Electronic Resources -> Books.) When a text is available in this easily-accessed form it is indicated in this Handbook by EEBO or ECCO. Literature On-line (LION) will give you access to full text versions of ‘English literature’, including histories. The Making of the Modern World (MMW) is a data-base of social and economic texts from the fifteenth- to the nineteenth-century. Much history-writing has ended up here. Access it, as above, via the Library pages.

Non-assessed Essays

All students submit three non-assessed essays of about 2,000 words each during Terms Two and Three. The Questions in each seminar section can be reformulated as essay topics. You are encouraged to negotiate essay titles with your seminar tutor; the final title must have been approved by him or her. Your seminar tutor may agree to your substituting a mock exam question or questions for the third and final essay. Seminar tutors will establish deadlines for their tutees, and assignments should be handed to him or her.


Formal assessment is by a three-hour examination. You will answer three questions, at least one from Section A of the paper, which includes gobbets from the particular historians/historical thinkers/historical writing studied, and at least one question from Section B which contains general questions about the nature, practice – and history - of History.

Aims, Objectives, and Expected Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module it is intended that students will have:

  • Developed their ability to assess critically historical analysis and argument, past and present.
  • Gained an understanding of the development of the history-writing since the Renaissance.
  • Gained an awareness of recent and contemporary debates in the theory and practice of historical writing.
  • Gained insight into current methodologies, theories, and concepts, currently in use within the historical discipline.
  • Gained insight into how historical arguments have been and are made.
  • Become aware of historiographical traditions outside the Westhad the opportunity to think reflexively about the nature of the historical enterprise within society.