Historical Methods & Theory

For students in class HIST-290, or anyone who wants an overview of how to study historical methods

What is a Historiographical Essay?

A historiographical essay:

  • Is based on a broad, less focused topic or theme, e.g., Reconstruction in the United States)
  • Critically examines secondary sources written by historians
  • Puts emphasis on the historian, the historian's bias and how the writing of a particular topic has changed over the years
  • Examines and compares other historians' arguments in opposition to each other

Historiographical Essays

The purpose of an historiographic essay is threefold:

  1. To allow you to view an historical event or issue from multiple perspectives by engaging multiple sources;
  2. To display your mastery over those sources and over the event or issue itself; and
  3. To develop your critical reading skills as you seek to answer why your sources disagree, and what their disagreement tells you about the event or issue and the very nature of history itself.


Selected Titles About Historiography

Evaluating Secondary Sources

  • What information is given about the author? Is the author an historian?
  • Can you identify the historian's school of thought?
  • Read the table of contents, preface and other introductry material. Does the author set up his/her thesis (or point of view) in these sections? Who is the intended audience? Is it written for historians or for a general audience?
  • What is the date of publication? If the book or article is old, it will not highlight recent scholarship. Is this important? Is it a reflection of the histories of the time or does it deviate from the norm?
  • What primary source material does the author use? What primary source material may have been available to the author at the time?
  • Consider the bibliography. Do the sources listed indicate serious works that are relevant to your topic? You may want to consult works used by the author. 


All materials from: Historiography: Ramapo College, http://libguides.ramapo.edu/content.php?pid=429217&sid=3531554