This assignment for the core module HI992 requires you to write a review of not more than 1500 words (excluding footnotes and bibliography) of a significant monograph dealing with some aspect of early modern history, c. 1450-1800. The expectation is that you will read the selected book carefully, engage critically with its contents and arguments, and offer some assessment of its historiographical or methodological importance and influence.
The first step is to select a suitable text. This could be a book from the illustrative bibliography, from one of the seminar reading lists, or another work of your own choosing. It might be a book you are already familiar with, or one you have chosen to engage with for the first time. ‘Monograph’ is a flexible category. It implies a focused study of some specific aspect of the period. It will usually have a single author (though a few monographs are co-authored), and should not be an edited collection of essays. It should be a work of original research and/or interpretation, rather than a text-book summarising and synthesising the work of other scholars. Most importantly, it should be a work that has made, or seems likely to make, a significant mark on the field, whether a ‘classic’ or a more recent publication. You should check the suitability of your choice with the module convenor before starting on the essay.
Your review should be written in continuous prose and divided into paragraphs. There is no set format for the review, though you might want to begin with a descriptive overview of the work and its main arguments, before proceeding to discuss its scholarly reception and to offer reflections on its achievement, significance, and possible shortcomings. You will be writing a ‘critique’, but this does not necessarily mean you are required to be critical of the book – the word implies a focused assessment, which might well be a favourable one.
The full bibliographical details of the book should be placed at the top of your review. For any quotations from the book itself, an in-text page reference – in the form (pp. 12-34) – will suffice and it is not necessary to give a footnote. Quotations from or reference to other published works should be footnoted. It is expected that you will consult at least three other items of secondary scholarship which can help to provide context and perspective on your text. These should be listed alphabetically by author in a bibliography at the end of your review. It is perfectly permissible to look at published journal or newspaper reviews of your book, both to familiarise yourself with how scholars approach the task of reviewing, and to help with your understanding of how your text was received by the academic community. But the assignment is not intended to be simply be a summary or synthesis of earlier reviews; you should offer your own critical appraisal of the text, informed by your knowledge of the subject and wider reading.
When reading the book and preparing your Review Essay, you might want to consider:
- The main argument of the book - what is the main point and focus of the discussion? What is the author trying to convey?
- Is there a particular methodology or approach the author is using?
- What sources and ideas does the author use and how they contribute to historical knowledge and understanding?
- The strengths and weaknesses of the monograph.
- The work’s position in relation to earlier (or indeed later) scholarship on the topic – how influential has the book been, or can we expect it to be?
The aim of this assessment is not simply to familiarise yourself with a particular monograph relating to the module. It is also to develop your skills in critical reading, which will be crucial to the entire MA. Whenever you read a book for a seminar or a written assessment, you need to try to avoid getting bogged down into the detail (you can always go back to this later if you need a particular “fact”) but instead to be thinking about the main argument, the theoretical approach, the contribution to a historiographical debate. And this is what you should be focusing on when you take notes on your reading.