Home > Teaching > Teaching Tuesday: Readings for History 240: The Historians Craft

Teaching Tuesday: Readings for History 240: The Historians Craft

Over the past two semesters, I’ve been teaching a revised version of our department’s required undergraduate methods course — the historian’s craft.  I split the course into two parts: the first part is a historiographical survey of the development of the discipline. The class time is divided between a formal lecture and readings of primary sources central to the development of history.  Fortunately, most of these primary sources are easily found on the interwebs.  In fact, I’ve been able to teach the class without requiring a textbook or a primary source reader.

Here’s the basic reading list:

Homer, Iliad, Book 1-2
Herodotus, Book 1
Thucydides, Book 1
Plutarch, Life of Alexander, excerpts
Euseubus, Life of Constantine, excerpts
Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England, Book 1, excerpts
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, excerpts
L. Valla, Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine, excerpts
L. von Ranke, History of the Reformation, excerpts
T. Mommsen, “Rectoral Address,” University of Berlin (1874).
J. Michelet, The People (1846), excerpts
J.B. Bury, “The Science of History” (1903).
E. Emerton, “The Requirements for the Historical Doctorate in America,” American Historical Association Annual Report 1893
H.B. Adams, “Special Methods for the Study of History,” in G. Stanley Hall ed., Methods of Teaching History. 2nd ed. (1902), 113-148.
C. Beard, “That Noble Dream,” AHR 41 (1935), 74-87.
F. Braudel, The Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II, excerpts.
E. Said, Orientalism, “Introduction” (New York 1978).
H. K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, excerpt.

This past semester, however, I detected some fatigue with the sources.  Some were too long and the students did not read them carefully.  Others were too difficult to digest during a busy semester.  One of the key points of emphasis in our recent revisions of this class is to make it easier for students and more like other 200 level classes.  Students were enrolling in the class, finding it difficult, and dropping it and this made it difficult to move our majors through this course in a timely and efficient manner.  So, while the subject matter is demanding, we have discovered that the course itself cannot be.  As an added benefit to this more “realistic” approach to the course, I’ve discovered the more non-majors have enrolled and some of these are students who like history, but have been attracted into other majors. In other words, keeping this course accessible has the potential to attract prodigal students who have wandered from their one true love.

So, as I look ahead to teaching it next fall and spring, I am wondering whether there are some classics in the European or American historical tradition that are (1) accessible online and (2) easily excerpted into a 10-15 page section appropriate for a lower level history course.  The goal of the readings is to spur discussion of principles central to history as a discipline in either the past or present or to show some particular watershed in the development of history as a professional, academic, and intellectual pursuit. Any thoughts?

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