History 200 Doing History: An Introduction

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Nancy K. Bristow Office Hours:

Office: 140 Wyatt Hall Mon./Wed./Fri. 9:00-11:00

Phone: Ext. 3173 and by appointment

Email: nbristow@ups.edu

History 200

Doing History: An Introduction

Spring 2016

The study of history is not a journey into a dead past but instead offers a way to understand and live in the present.”

--Jules R. Benjamin, A Student’s Guide to History

To study history one must know in advance that one is attempting something fundamentally impossible, yet necessary and highly important. To study history means submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning. It is a very serious task.

--Hermann Hesse, Magister Ludi

This is a different kind of history course.

--Professor William K. Breitenbach

This course will introduce you to the discipline of history. We will explore the nature of history from both philosophical and practical perspectives. We will begin our exploration by thinking and talking about how historians understand the nature of historical knowledge. In this preliminary investigation we will seek to answer the basic question "what is history?" and consider how historians have answered that question by developing different historical approaches. Following this initial introduction to the discipline we will concentrate our energies on the more practical task of defining and developing the skills essential to the work of the historian. In particular, we will focus on the techniques of reading and analyzing both primary and secondary sources, formulating and defending ideas, and conceptualizing, researching, writing and revising historical projects. In the final weeks of the semester you will have a chance to practice the techniques we have been exploring as you develop and complete a first and final draft of your own research paper. This course is designed to introduce prospective majors and minors to the discipline of history early in their academic careers. By the end of this course you will have had the chance to think and talk a great deal about the field of history. I am also hoping that you will have collected and polished your own set of the tools used by historians. Both of these experiences should leave you more fully prepared to meet the demands of your chosen major or minor in history. Hopefully they will also encourage your increasing engagement with, and excitement about, the study of the past. Because the instructor’s expertise is in American history, our readings and your writing will focus on the history of the United States, but our purposes will always be to think methodologically, rather than in terms of content.


Students in this course will have the opportunity to:

  • consider critically the discipline of history and its purposes and responsibilities in a democracy

  • gain command over the methods historians use to analyze the wide range of primary texts that are the central building blocks of their work

  • become skilled in evaluating secondary sources and to achieve a growing understanding of the place of historiography in the craft of history

  • to develop familiarity with the kinds of writing assignments that may be required in upper-division history courses such as close readings, source reviews and research papers

  • to gain skill in conceptualizing issues and questions that can serve as the focus of historical investigations

  • to learn about and practice the process of research that includes locating, assessing, reading and analyzing the sources necessary for a comprehensive exploration of a focused topic

  • to develop their skill in presenting their work to others and in offering effective responses to their peers’ work

  • to continue polishing their skills in cooperative learning


You will have considerable assigned reading in the early weeks of the course, less in the middle weeks of the course, and very little assigned reading by the final weeks, when you will be conducting and writing up your own research. Readings will be discussed on the day listed in the syllabus. In order to prepare for class, then, you will need to complete the reading assignments before you come to class on that day. You should bring your own copy of the reading with you to class to facilitate your participation in the discussion. In addition to a required COURSE PACKET, the following books are required, and are available at the university bookstore:

  • John A. Arnold, History: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

  • Jenny L. Presnell, The Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

  • Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012).

  • Timothy B. Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004).


You will do a great deal of writing in this course, both preparatory and formal. These assignments are intended to give you a wealth of opportunities to polish the skills this course is designed to teach. Below are brief descriptions of the assignments. Fuller explanations of the formal paper assignments will be distributed and discussed in class at appropriate times. The essay lengths listed below are not limits, but are intended to serve only as guides, giving you a rough idea of the scale of paper I am expecting for each assignment. Your papers in each case may be longer or shorter as needed.

Preparatory Exercises:

The syllabus provides guidelines for preparation for all class days. I will often ask you to write a paragraph or to complete a worksheet or some other assignment. After you begin your research projects, I will often ask you to bring to class materials related to that work. Some of these preparatory exercises will be turned in. These assignments are described in the syllabus, in bold print, as part of the preparation for the class day on which each is due. You are responsible for being aware of all assignments and for bringing them with you to class on the day they are due. These exercises are important because they offer us an opportunity for individualized communication about the principles and practices of history. You will find that completing them with care will facilitate your successful participation in class discussions as well. Please note, too, that these assignments constitute an important component of your final grade. To reinforce the pedagogical purposes of these exercises, the preparatory exercises must be turned in in class, and on the day they are due, except in cases of illness or emergency. Late assignments will not be accepted.

Preparatory Exercises: Due Dates

1. Jan. 22 What is History?

  1. Feb. 3 Smithsonian Advice

  2. Feb. 5 Introduction and Body Paragraph, Paper 1

  3. Feb. 12 Internal Criticism Form

  4. Feb. 26 Secondary Source Worksheet on Jacobs

  5. Mar. 7 Historiography Worksheet

  6. Mar. 9 “Gutting” Worksheet

  7. Mar. 25 Notes on Sources

  8. Mar. 30 Annotated Bibliography

  9. April 4 Working Hypothesis and Paragraph(s) using 3 “Telling Details”

  10. April 11 Point-based Outline and 3 Timeline Entries

  11. April 13 Draft of Introduction

  12. April 25 Peer-Editing Comments

14. April 27 Self-Evaluation Worksheet

15. May 4 Revised Introduction or Conclusion

Formal Papers:

More complete descriptions of each assignment will be distributed in class.

Paper #1: What is History? Analyzing Blood Done Sign My Name (3-4 pages)

Due in class on Monday, February 8

Paper #2: Using Primary Sources to Build a Paper (3-4 pages)

Due in class on Wednesday, February 24

Paper #3: Critiquing History--Secondary Source Review (3-4 pages)

Due in class on Friday, March 11

Paper #4: Research Paper--Preliminary Draft (roughly 8-10 pages and 3 digital timeline entries)

Due in class on Monday, April 18

Paper #5: Research Paper--Final Draft (roughly 10 pages of text plus 5-10 digital timeline entries)

Due in my office (Wyatt 140) by Friday May 13, by 2:00 p.m.

Grading Standards for Formal Papers:

  • A paper that receives a grade lower than “C” does not meet the standards of this course. Typically a “D” or “F” paper does not respond adequately to the assignment, is insufficiently developed, is marred by frequent errors, unclear writing, confusing organization, or some combination of these problems.

  • A typical “C” paper has a good grasp of the material on which it is based and adequately responds to the assignment, reflecting a solid understanding, a strong thesis, and meaningful insights. Yet such a paper may provide a less-than-thorough defense of the student’s ideas, or may suffer from problems in presentation such as frequent errors, unclear writing, or confusing organization.

  • A typical “B” paper is very good work that contains significant insights that demonstrate that the student has engaged in serious thinking and has developed an important and imaginative thesis as a result. A “B” paper also includes strong development of the main ideas of the paper, including substantial and well-explicated evidence. These papers are generally effective in their presentation as well.

  • A typical “A” paper is exceptional. Not only does an “A” paper include all of the strengths of a “B” paper, but it also has an exceptionally perceptive and original central argument that is cogently argued and supported by a very impressively chosen and developed variety of specific examples drawn from a range of sources. An “A” paper also succeeds in suggesting the importance of its subject and of its findings.


In addition to doing significant writing, you will also spend a great deal of time in this course talking about history. While attendance is important in all of your courses, recognize that in this case it is not only mandatory, but also fundamental to your overall success in this course and in other history courses in the future. Because this is a methods course, each class day is devoted to working through a particular skill important to the historian’s work. If you miss a day, you have missed the opportunity to talk and think about a particular component of the historian’s craft. Keep in mind, too, that attendance and contributions to discussions will make up an important part of your grade. You will notice that for almost every day of class there is a "prep" listed in the syllabus. Sometimes this involves doing some informal writing. Other times the preparation simply requires engaging in some careful thinking about questions introduced there. It will be vital to pay attention to these notations in the syllabus. They will help you prepare for the day's class discussion. The following suggestions will also help to make our discussions as fruitful as possible:

  • Prepare for class: This includes not only reading all assignments before class, but thinking about that reading and engaging with the suggested preparation, as well. It is generally useful to write down your responses to the preparatory questions, even if they are not going to be turned in. This not only forces you to think critically about what you are reading but will often make it easier for you to speak up in class.

  • Attend class: Unless you are in class, the rest of us cannot benefit from your ideas, and you will miss the opportunity to benefit from the ideas of your classmates.

  • Participate in discussions: Several minds are always going to be better than just one. For this reason, we will all benefit from this course to the degree that each of you participates in our discussions. Each of you has a great deal to contribute to the class, and each of you should share that potential with the other class members. In this class, too, you have a fundamental role to play as peer editors for your classmates.

  • Listen to your classmates: The best discussions are not wars of words, but are a cooperative effort to understand the issues and questions at hand. Listen to each other, and build on the ideas raised by others. While we will often disagree with one another, you should always be sure to listen to each other. Always treat your classmates, their work, and their opinions with the respect they deserve.

Grading Standards for Class Participation:

Following each class session I will record a participation mark for each class member for that day’s discussion. It is on the basis of those marks, then, that your participation grade is based. Recognize that absences count essentially as zeroes, and have a profound impact on your participation grade. While illness, emergencies, and obligations on behalf of the university count as excused absences, they can only be recorded in this way if you let me know the reason for your absence. Too many unexcused absences may lead to a student being dropped from the course (WF).

  • A student who receives a grade lower than “C” is consistently unprepared, unwilling to participate, refuses to engage with others, often seems distracted from the discussion, or is too frequently absent.

  • A student who receives a “C” for discussion typically attends every class and listens attentively, but rarely participates in discussion. Other “C” discussants would earn a higher grade, but are too frequently absent from class, or may not listen openly to the ideas and suggestions of others.

  • A student who receives a “B” for his or her participation typically has completed all the reading assignments on time, and makes important contributions to our discussions. This student may tend to wait for others to raise interesting issues, rather than initiating discussion. Other “B” discussants are courteous and articulate but do not listen to other students, offering their ideas without reference to the direction of the discussion. Still others may have a great deal to contribute, but participate only sporadically, or may not regularly connect their contributions to particular texts or specific examples.

  • A student who receives an “A” for his or her participation typically comes to every class with questions and ideas about the readings already in mind. He or she engages other students and the instructor in discussion of their ideas as well as his or her own. This student is under no obligation to change their point of view, yet listens to and respects the opinions of others. This student, in other words, takes part in an exchange of ideas, and does so on a regular basis. This student also makes use of specific texts and examples during the discussion.


  • Office of Accessibility and Accommodations. If you have a physical, psychological, medical or learning disability that may impact your course work, please contact Peggy Perno, Director of the Office of Accessibility and Accommodations, 105 Howarth, 253.879.3395. She will determine with you what accommodations are necessary and appropriate. All information and documentation is confidential.

  • Reference Librarian: Peggy Burge (pburge@pugetsound.edu) is the History Department liaison librarian. You will meet her when she conducts some library sessions for our course. She is also available to meet with you in individual appointments for assistance with your research. You will find she is a remarkably knowledgeable guide to research methods, our library and beyond.

  • Archivist and Special Collections Librarian: Katie Henningsen (khenningsen@pugetsound.edu) is the librarian who handles the university archives. She will have regular office hours as well as open hours at the archives. She, too, is remarkably knowledgeable and a great resource for this course.

  • The Center for Writing, Learning and Teaching is available to all Puget Sound students interested in developing their writing skills. Here you can meet with a writing advisor for help with every stage of the paper process. To make an appointment with a writing advisor you can stop by the center, in Howarth 109, or make an appointment by calling 879-3404 or emailing writing@ups.edu.

  • Harvard University’s Writing Center has a website loaded with useful advice on writing. To visit their site, go to: http://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/strategies-essay-writing.

  • Patrick Rael, Bowdoin College, Reading Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students is a wonderful collection of advice for the history student, available on the Bowdoin College website. The address is: http://www.bowdoin.edu/writing-guides/. I will ask you to read materials on this site for some of our class days.


  • Academic Integrity: It is assumed that all of you will conform to the rules of academic honesty and integrity. I should warn you that plagiarism and any other form of academic dishonesty will be dealt with severely in this course. Plagiarizing in a paper will be reported to the university, will result in an automatic F on that assignment and potentially in the course, and may lead to more substantial university-level penalties. Because academic dishonesty is such an egregious offense, the penalty is not negotiable. As a member of this academic community, your integrity and honesty are assumed and valued. Our trust in one another is an essential basis for our work together. A breach of this trust is an affront to your colleagues and to the integrity of this institution, and so will be treated harshly. Rest assured that I will make every effort to familiarize you with the rules surrounding academic honesty. If at any time you have questions about these rules, too, know that I am anxious to help clarify them. In the end, though, it will be up to you to know the rules and adhere to them.

  • Illnesses, emergencies, and approved, university-related activities: These are excused absences, provided you inform me about them as soon as possible. Beyond these, though, other absences are unexcused, and will count against your participation grade. In addition, too many unaccounted for absences may lead to your being withdrawn from the course, so please send me an email if your absence falls under an excused circumstance.

  • 48 Hour Rule: Recognizing that life happens, we will operate according to my “48 hour rule” in this course. This means that you can turn in one paper up to 48 hours late without penalty or explanation. Beyond this, though, late papers will be accepted only in cases of illness or emergency, or when prior arrangements have been made, and generally will be penalized except in cases of illness or emergency. You must contact me to make arrangements for any late assignments. The 48 hour rule cannot be used on the first draft of the research project or on preparatory assignments.

  • Course Completion: No late assignments will be accepted after 5:00 p.m. on Friday of final exam week. You must complete all formal papers in order to successfully complete this course. Students missing one of the five formal papers will receive a WF for the course.

  • Bereavement Policy: We all hope this policy will not come into play, but if this should occur, the University of Puget Sound recognizes that a time of bereavement can be difficult. Therefore, the university provides a Student Bereavement Policy for students facing the loss of a family member, which this course follows.
Students are normally eligible for, and I would of course grant, three consecutive weekdays of excused absences, without penalty, for the death of a family member, including parent, grandparent, sibling, or persons living in the same household. If you need additional days, you should let me know, and also request additional bereavement leave from the Dean of Students or the Dean’s designee. In the event of the death of another family member or friend not explicitly included within this policy, know that you can petition for grief absence through the Dean of Students’ office for approval, and I am very open to granting it for the course as well. To request bereavement leave, a student must notify the Dean of Students’ office by email, phone, or in 
person about the death of the family member. If you need any help with this process, please just ask and I will supply whatever support I can.


In assigning grades, both during the semester and at its end, I will use the following scale: A+: 97-100 A: 93-96 A-: 90-92

B+: 87-89 B: 83-86 B-: 80-82

C+: 77-79 C: 73-76 C-: 70-72

D+: 67-69 D: 63-66 D-: 60-62

F: below 60


Your final grade will be assigned according to the following weighting of the component grades:

Paper #1 (due Monday, February 8)………………………….…..5%

Paper #2 (due Wednesday, February 24)......………………...….12.5%

Paper #3 (due Friday, March 11)............………....…………......12.5%

Paper #4 (due Monday, April 18) ………………………….…...15%

Paper #5 (due Friday, May 13).............………………………....25%

Preparatory writing exercises…………………….……....…......15%

Class participation…………………………….……...…………15%

Schedule of class meetings,

readings, and writing assignments


* * * * *
This unit explores the nature of the discipline of history, forcing us to grapple with its interpretive quality. Historians share methodologies—a way of asking and answering questions—that are distinct to the discipline and on which most historians agree. They also engage, though, in frequent disagreements—over the content of historical interpretations, and even over the nature and purposes of the discipline. Beginning with an historian’s account of his own struggles to understand the past, this unit will give us a chance to develop an understanding of the historian’s work—its goals and its responsibilities. We will learn a bit about the history of history, the evolving assumptions that guide the discipline, and how historians wrestle with the task of knowing the unknowable.

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
--William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

The past can be used for almost anything you want it to do in the present. We abuse it when we create lies bout the past or write histories that show only one perspective. We can draw our lessons carefully or badly. That does not mean we should not look to history for understanding, support, and help; it does mean that we should do so with care.”

--Margaret MacMillan, Dangerous Games
To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”

--James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

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