Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Structure of the Seminar:
The Masters Seminar is designed to introduce students to our graduate program and to discuss aspects of historiography and historical research. All MA students are required to complete the seminar, which is graded as a pass/fail course.

To pass the course, students must attend classes, participate in discussions, and present their thesis proposal to the seminar. Please keep in mind that all graduate students are expected to attend the Stokes Seminar, which meets on Fridays during the academic year.

During the Fall semester, the seminars will comprise two types of discussions: 1) general themes related to the historians' craft, e.g., scholarly and theoretical frameworks, logic and fallacies, ethics and politics, and writing and rhetoric; 2) specific discussions of issues related to your program, e.g., teaching assistantships, library research, SSHRC applications, and the MA thesis proposal.

During the Fall semester, we will meet from 1:00 to 3:00 on most Mondays, in room LSC 208. In the Winter semester, we will switch to room LSC 234. The sessions in January will be devoted to preparing the MA thesis proposal: students will be required to present their draft proposals to the seminar and participate in peer-review discussions of all the drafts. Students will then present the revised thesis proposal to the Graduate Committee for approval.

MA thesis proposals should be about 1500-2000 words in length. They should meet three basic criteria: present a particular historical problem and research question; identify and discuss relevant secondary and primary sources; and outline a research methodology and schedule for completion. When developing your thesis proposal, keep in mind this five-point checklist:
1) Does the proposal show a good understanding of the secondary literature?
2) Does the proposal identify a significant and testable thesis, or a specific, concrete research question?
3) Is the method of testing the thesis well-conceived and logical?
4) Are there adequate primary sources and are they accessible within the timeframe proposed for the project?
5) Are the sources and methodology manageable within the timeframe proposed for the project?

Attendance is mandatory, so please email me if you have to miss a seminar for some reason. My office hours in the Fall semesters will be 11:00-1:00 on Mondays, and by appointment. The schedule for January will be posted later in the Fall.

Required Readings:
The readings for the Masters Seminar will follow our weekly discussions and will draw on a mixture of sources: the required textbook, Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research (University of Chicago Press); blog enties and online comments posted by others; online readings linked to weekly topics; and institutional web sites.

I have ordered copies for everyone enrolled in the seminar via Outside the Lines, an independent local bookstore. The owner assures me that the book will be available for purchase by 21 September at the absolute latest (hopefully earlier). You can check in with them directly via their web site.

Please check the blog regularly. If you have not done so already, please open a google account, which will enable you to post comments. It only takes a few minutes and the instructions can be found here.

The first law of history is the law of selection: in order to cover a sufficient range of topics in a short period of time, I've had to be eclectically choosy. I've selected the following readings and web sites based on criteria such as accessibility and length: in no way are they meant to represent an authorized list or some sort of potted canon. My hope is simply that the readings will offer a good starting point for your graduate studies.

I think it's important to read authors with whom one disagees, and I certainly don't agree with all of the readings we'll cover this semester. For those of you looking for a quick start, you might want to check out this list of history quotations.

Fall Schedule:

September 14th: Introduction to Historiography and Academic Culture
1) Jill Lepore, "Just the Facts, Ma'am: Fake memoirs, factual fictions, and the history of history."
2) Jill Lepore, "Our Own Devices: Does technology drive history?"
3) Louis Menand, "The Historical Romance." [excerpt]
4) Anthony Grafton, "The Nutty Professors."

September 21st: Debating the Nature of Historical Knowledge
1) Arthur Marwick, "The Fundamentals of History"
2) Alan Munslow, "Where Does History Come From?," History Today 52 (March 2002): Available online via Killam Library Subscription.

Supplemental Reading: For those of you interested in reading more on this debate, see the "What is History?" web site, particularly the sharp exchange between Munslow and Marwick.

September 28th: Teaching and History. Suzanne Le-May Sheffield from the Centre for Learning and Teaching will join us to discuss teaching. Please review the CLT's resources, including their page on teaching tips.
1) Neil Postman, "The Educationist as Painkiller."

October 5th: Historical Questions and Research Problems. Phyllis Ross from the Killam Library will join us to discuss resources and research methodologies.
1) Booth, The Craft of Research, parts I-III.

October 12th: No Class -- Thanksgiving Holiday

October 19th: SSHRC Workshop -- Students not preparing a SSHRC application are not required to attend this workshop

October 26th: The Craft of Research and Your Thesis
1) Booth, The Craft of Research, parts III-IV

November 2nd: Rhetoric and Writing
1) Strunk and White, The Elements of Style
2) George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language."

November 9th: Ethics and Scholarship
1) AHA "Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct"
2) David Gates, "No Ordinary Crime."
3) Doris Kearns Goodwin, "How I caused that story."
4) Timoth Noah, "Historians Rewrite History."

Supplemental Reading: University of Colorado, "Report on Conclusion of Preliminary Review in the Matter of Professor Ward Churchill."

November 16th: Politics and History
1) Gershom Gorenberg, "The War to Begin All Wars."

November 23rd: Historians' Fallacies
1) Excerpts from David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies.
2) Excerpts from "Fallacy Files"

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