Sunday, August 28, 2011

Theory and Practice of History

Here is my syllabus for "Theory and Practice of History," the gateway course for history majors at Shippensburg University.

HIS 203-002: Theory and Practice of History
202 Dauphin Humanities Center, TR 12:30 p.m.
Dr. Brian J. Ulrich

Office: 201 Dauphin Humanities Center, ex. 1736
Office Hours: TR 2:00-3:30; W 11:00-1:00, also by appointment

Required Texts:

The Pursuit of History, 5th Edition, John Tosh
A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses and Dissertations, 7th Edition, Kate L. Turabian, et al.

James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle, After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection, (New York: Knopf, 1982) – on reserve in Lehman Library

Electronic reserves found on Blackboard

This course is designed to introduce you to the theory and practice of history while developing basic skills to both work as professional historians and succeed in the academic study of history. It will both introduce history as an academic discipline and provide students with hands-on research experience. The most important element will be a project of original research based on primary sources, resulting in both a high quality oral presentation and a paper suitable for publication. Assignments are designed to develop critical reading, writing, and research skills as well as analytical ability.


Research Project – 35% (25% paper, 10% presentation)
Peer Review – 5%
Short Assignments and Quizzes – 20%
Participation – 20%
Career Development – 10%
Light Final Exam – 10%

Research Project

Students will, based on original research in primary sources, produce both a publication-quality research paper of at least eight (full) pages and give a presentation to the class of a length to be determined based on de facto class size late in the semester. Students may select their own topics subject to the approval of the professor. Finding appropriate primary sources will be the most important limiting factor in topic choices. The course D2L site includes links to in-line primary source collections and archives in the area. We will also spend a day in Lehman Library for orientation to sources available on campus. Because a key aspect of this class is to mentor students in the production of such a project, internal deadlines for specific project elements will be rigorously enforced by a penalty of 10% of the possible research project grade (or 3.5% of the possible final grade). As noted, that penalty is doubled for the rough draft of the paper.

These internal deadlines are:

1.) October 11, 11:59 p.m. – Submit via e-mail a one paragraph project proposal that includes a topic, possible research questions, primary sources and an example of how you plan to use them, and relevant secondary sources.
2.) October 18, class time – Bring two sources to class for detailed work on using sources.
3.) October 27, class time – Bring to class an introduction that sets up the historical problem, your method for solving it, and your tentative solution (thesis).
4.) November 10, 15 – Prior to an individual meeting with the professor, you must produce a two page précis, or summary of your paper.
5.) November 22 – Bring to class a rough draft for purposes of peer review. This deadline carries a double penalty of 20% off the total project grade.
6.) December 8 – Research papers are due at class time. Final submission instructions are forthcoming.

Peer Review

On November 22 in class, students will do a peer review of another students’ paper. The student will provide oral feedback in class, as well as a more formal, written version submitted to both the student and the professor on-line by class time on November 29. The peer review assignment cannot be made up without a documented university-sanctioned excuse.

Short Assignments and Quizzes

As noted on the syllabus, students will frequently be asked to do short written assignments prior to each class. The professor also reserves the right to add short assignments and to give pop quizzes. Short papers must be typed and properly cited using Turabian-style footnotes unless otherwise noted. Nothing in this category can be made up. Because of legitimate excuses for missing class, the lowest grade in this category will be dropped from the final grade calculation.

The most common type of short assignment is the article review. Each of these is to be exactly three paragraphs. In the first paragraph, you will explain the author’s argument and any historiographical context. In the second paragraph, you will summarize how the author made this point, paying attention to both argumentation and how he or she used primary sources. In the third paragraph, you will provide an overall evaluation of the article, possibly using ideas from Tosh.


This class will be conducted seminar style, which means the onus is on you to prepare and participate. This also means attendance is critical at all times. Every missed class above two will result in a penalty of 15% off the maximum total participation grade (or 3% off the maximum total grade). This does not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences. Note that perfect attendance alone will not earn an A.

Career Development

Another goal of this course is to make sure you have some clue what you want to do after graduation and how to go about giving yourself the best chance to do it. Because of this, you will complete two career development assignments. By September 13, you must complete the Focus-2 Assessment at the web site of the Shippensburg University Career Development Center. You will need to log-in to the Focus-2 site on the Career Development Center (CDC) webpage, and then work through the site’s sections. At the end, the program will summarize your results in a personal “Career Portfolio.” As the syllabus is being finalized, the professor has realized he has no clue whether there is an option to e-mail yourself the results so that you can then forward them to him to turn in.

In addition, on September 27, you will hand in a career exploration executive summary. This should be three paragraphs, including 1.) the nature of the job, including employment possibilities and salary information 2.) the training, knowledge, and experience necessary for entry-level positions in this field and 3.) what you need to do to get that training, knowledge, and skills, including the identification of specific possible intern sites or graduate programs. Be aware that especially in the third paragraph, this assignment will probably require on-line research, and even telephone calls or e-mails.

In order to get the most out of these assignments, please discuss the results with the Career Development Center, your advisor, or the History-Philosophy Department’s undergraduate internship coordinator, Dr. Allen Dietrich-Ward.


Plagiarism is bad, and all work must be cited. The minimum penalty for plagiarism will be a zero on the assignment in question and, if it is a step in the research project, application of the appropriate late penalty.

Disability Accommodation

If you feel you may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability, you should contact me privately to discuss your specific needs at least 72 hours prior to the activity which requires the accommodation. If you have not already done so, you must contact the Office of Disability Services. This office is responsible for determining reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities on a case-by-case basis, and more generally, for ensuring that members of the community with disabilities have access to Shippensburg’s programs and services. They also assist students in identifying and managing the factors that may interfere with learning and in developing strategies to enhance learning. I cannot approve an accommodation without you registering.

Schedule of Readings and Major Assignments

August 30 – Course intro
Come to class with a 1-2 page, potentially hand-written uncited paper in which you consider how aspects of history are portrayed in at least three examples drawn from contemporary popular culture (movies, novels, that sort of thing).
September 1 – Tosh, 1-25 (historical awareness and social memory)
Hand in a 2-page, now typed and properly footnoted paper in which you identify which of the “distorting effects” discussed in the reading affect the presentation of the past in those cultural sources you chose, as well as how. (See Turabian, Chapter 17 for citation formats)

September 6 – Tosh, 29-55 (uses of history, career center speaker)
September 8 – Turabian, 3-23 (conceiving the project)

September 13 - Tosh, 58-65 (political and diplomatic history, Focus-2 assessment due)
Read also the following articles from the “Political History Today” special in the May 2011 Perspectives:

“Political History Today: Plural Perspectives on a Protean Creature,” Pillarisetti Sudhir
“The Interdisciplinarity of Political History,” Julian Zelizer
“The Business in Between: U.S. Foreign Relations and Domestic Politics,” Christopher Dietrich
“Searching out the Sacred in U.S. Political History,” Darren Dochuk
“Research Resources for Diplomatic History,” Carl Ashley
“Political Resources Waiting to be Mined,” Donald Ritchie
“Revisiting the Early American Republic: The New Nation Votes Database Enables a New Political History,” Rosemarie Zagarri
September 15 – Tosh, 65-73 (social history, history and social sciences)
Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 (survey “On this day in…” case on left sidebar, which will hopefully be interesting)
Rebekah Nathan, My Freshman Year, selection
Mary Beth Sievens, “Divorce, Patriarchal Authority, and Masculinity: A Case from Early National Vermont,” Journal of Social History 37 (2004), pp. 651-661.
Hand in an article review on Sievens

September 20 – Tosh, 74-9 (economic and religious history)
Patricia Lopes Don, “Franciscans, Indian Sorcerers, and the Inquisition in New Spain, 1536-1543,” Journal of World History 17 (2006), pp. 27-49.
Chris Evans, Owen Jackson, and Goran Ryden, “Baltic Iron and the British Iron Industry in the Eighteenth Century,” The Economic History Review 55 (2002), pp. 642-665.
Read and hand in an article review on either of the above articles
September 22 – Tosh, 88-93, 108-16 (sources)

September 27 – Turabian 24-35 (sources continued, meet at library)
Complete career exploration executive summary
September 29 – Tosh, 93-98 (narrative sources)
J. Michael Farmer, “The Three Chaste Ones of Ba: Local Perspectives on the Yellow Turban Rebellion on the Chengdu Plain,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 125 (2005), pp. 191-202
D.O. Morgan, “Ibn Battuta and the Mongols,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 11 (2001), pp. 1-11
Hand in one page reflection on things to consider when using literary sources, based on readings

October 4 – Tosh, 98-107 (documentary sources)
Davidson and Lytle, “Declaring Independence”
October 6 – “Background on Archaeological Methods” (archaeology)
Kent R. Weeks, “Archaeology and Egyptology,” Egyptology Today, ed. Richard H. Wilkinson, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 7-22
Pam Crabtree, “The Archaeology of Medieval Europe,” History Compass 7 (2009), pp. 879-893

***Note deadline for proposed topic and sources***

October 11 – FALL BREAK
October 13 – Mary Kay Quinlan, “The Dynamics of Interviewing,” The Oxford Handbook of Oral History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 23-36
Davdison and Lytle, “The View from the Bottom Rail”
look at oral history interviews (oral history)

October 18 – Tosh, 119-43 (using the sources – bring to class at least two sources you plan to use for your research paper)
October 20 – Tosh, 147-71 (historical writing)

October 25 – Tosh, 175-210 (philosophy of history, historians’ roles)
October 27 – Turabian, 62-81 (planning the paper, bring paper introduction to class)

November 1 – Tosh, 214-42 (history and theory)
November 3 – Tosh, 246-71 (cultural history)

November 8 – Tosh, 274-85 (gender history)
Ann M. Little, “Gender and Sexuality in the North American Borderlands, 1492-1848,” History Compass 7 (2009), pp. 1606-15
November 10- Individual meetings on two page précis

November 15 – Individual meetings on two page précis
November 17 – Tosh, 285-99 (race and postcolonialism)
Carl H. Nightengale, “Before Race Mattered: Geographies of the Color Line in Early Colonial Madras and New York,” American Historical Review 113 (2008), pp. 48-71
Hand in article review on Nightengale

November 22 – Rough drafts due, peer review of rough drafts (double late penalty!)
November 24 – THANKSGIVING

November 29 – Turabian, 98-126 (revisions and oral presentations)
December 1 – Presentation of Student Research

December 6 – Presentation of Student Research
December 8 – Presentation of Student Research (research paper due)

Tuesday, December 13, 1 p.m. – Light final exam

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