Teaching Thursday: A Historical Perspective on Teaching Research Methods with Kate Turabian
Elwyn B. Robinson provides some interesting comments on teaching a research methods class in the 1950s. His careful documentation of the books that he used over his career at the University of North Dakota is one of the most valuable aspect of his autobiography.
Of particular interest to me this semester is that he notes his adoption of Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, which first appeared in 1955. This has remained the standard guide for advice on footnotes, bibliographies, and other technical aspects of formal writing in our department. The book’s organization is obscure to today’s students and even the best students find the complexity of her citation style almost impossible to replicate.
“The diary shows that I was apparently preparing to teach a course on research methods, for a diary entry shows that I was memorizing portions of Sherman Kent, The Writing of History, on scholarly style in footnotes. I later used the book, an excellent one, in my course on Introduction to Research in History. Kent was a professor at Yale. His book was, I believed, by far the best on the subject. I learned a good deal from it. I also had the copy of Homer C. Hockett’s book that I had used while a graduate student. I believe its title was something like Introduction to Research in History that I chose as the title of the course. Kent’s book had much good advice on writing as well as on note-taking and scholarly style. I believe that Hockett’s book had more on bibliographical aids and government documents. I believe that some years earlier I had purchased a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, the most respected and substantial book of the sort. It detailed the practices of the University of Chicago Press and was followed, perhaps with some modifications, by many university presses and by the journals of learned societies such as the Americn Historical Association. I suppose that it was about this time that I bought a copy of Kate Turabian’s style manual (I don’t recall the title). Miss Turabian worked at the University of Chicago Press, and her small, paperbound book was an adaptation of the Chicago Manual of Style to the practical uses of graduate students. It became the standard and authority for the Graduate School at the University of North Dakota. I may have had a hand in that step, for I was then a member of the university graduate committee, elected to that committee by the faculty of the College of Science, Literature and Art. I don’t believe that I required members of my course to buy a copy of Turabian’s book, but graduate students in history did so. The students in the course were both seniors majoring in history and graduate students in history. I enjoyed teaching the course very much and learned a great deal in doing it – both on writing and scholarly style. I gradually became a semi-authority on the contents of Turabian among my faculty associates who noe and then asked a question on some point that puzzled them. I also bought about this time a copy of the pamphlet issued by the Modern Language Association and entitled The MLA Style Sheet. Some of the usages described in it differed from those recommended in Turabian. I believe that in 1956,1957, or 1958 I gave Steve a copy of the Turabian book.”
I teach the undergraduate version of this class almost every semester. Alongside Turabian I also assign Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, which appeared in its present format almost 50 years ago. I add to these classic works J. Presnell’s The Information Literate Historian and, next semester, G. Graff’s They Say/I Say. It’s hard to imagine that either of those works will have the staying power of Turabian and Strunk and White.
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