Course Syllabus

HISTORY 204:  Introduction to Historical Methods
Matthew Pinsker
Dickinson College
Fall 2016
Tue / Thu 3pm
Denny 211 / 61 N. West St.

“I get curious about a problem and start reading up on it.”

–William H. McNeill

Required Books

  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Featured Resources

Dickinson College


Additional Articles & Studies

  • Allison, Graham and Niall Ferguson. “Why the US President Needs a Council of Historians.” The Atlantic (September 2016). [WEB]
  • Bombaro, Christine and John M. Osborne. Forgotten Abolitionist: John A.J. Creswell of Maryland. Smashwords E-Book, House Divided Project, 2015. [WEB]
  • Editorial Board. “The Case Against Woodrow Wilson.” New York Times. 24, 15 [WEB]
  • Gerenscer, James. “Ask The Archivist: Denny Hall and My Favorite Items,” Dickinson Magazine, January 11, 2013 and October 28, 2013. [WEB A] [WEB B]
  • Grossman, James. “History Isn’t a Useless Major.” LA Times. May 30, 2016. [WEB]
  • Kimball, Roger. “College Formerly Known As Yale.” Wall Street Journal. 8, 16 [WEB]
  • Pinsker, Matthew. “Lincoln Theme 2.0.” Journal of American History 96 (2009) [WEB]
  • Sellers, Charles Coleman. Dickinson College: A History. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1973. [WEB]
  • Slotten, Martha C. “The McClintock Slave Riot of 1847,” Cumberland County History17 (2000): 14-35. [WEB]

Research Journal

Starting on Friday, September 16, students will be required to post a total of four research journal entries at the course website (by Friday of each week), describing their experiences in seeking information about a graduating class of students at Dickinson during the years between 1840 and 1880. Each student will be assigned a graduating class from that period and then will be required to examine different types of historical sources in order to find out information that might be useful in crafting historical insights about those students. The first entry (9/16) should cover selected reference material and census records from The second entry (9/23) should describe the search for academic or personal documents from within the College Archives. The third entry (9/30) should detail research efforts within digitized and microfilmed newspapers. Finally, the fourth entry (10/7) should provide an annotated bibliography of at least eight (8) secondary sources (including academic journal articles and monographs) that might be helpful in providing broad historical context for the study of that graduating class. Each journal entry (except for the final one on secondary sources) should occupy about 600-800 words (or 3-4 pages), written in a narrative style and should include properly credited images and (where relevant) hyperlinks. The final entry on secondary sources should be presented in text form only, following standard guidelines for an annotated bibliography in the Chicago style. Late entries will be penalized 5 points per day.

Historical Thinking Essay

By Friday, November 18, students will submit an 8-10 page historical thinking essay that uses compelling insights from John Lewis Gaddis’s book, The Landscape of History (2002) to explain how history students might best visualize or “map” the story of their assigned Dickinson college class (1840-1880) for a possible public presentation. The goal of this essay will be to demonstrate a high degree of creativity in historical imagination through the power of a short, well-written essay. Such essays will offer neither a comprehensive narrative of the assigned class, nor a full critical review of Gaddis’s theories, but will instead rely upon well-selected examples to illustrate key points from his collected Oxford lectures. Essays should be formatted in a Word document with a title page, and Chicago-style footnotes. Late essays will be penalized 5 points per day.

Multi-Media Exhibit

At the semester’s end (due 12/17), students will be required to build an online multi-media exhibit inspired by their assigned Dickinson College class. Exhibits may approach the topic from almost any perspective, but students should detail their plans in a proposal sent by email to Prof. Pinsker no later than Wednesday, December 7th. Exhibits should incorporate revised work from earlier in the semester, including research journal entries and historical thinking essays, but now in a format designed for engaging public presentation. The goal of the exhibit should be to offer high school or undergraduate classrooms an effective and thought-provoking vehicle for studying some aspect nineteenth-century American culture. Students may build their exhibits inside the course site, or at their own free website platform (such as WordPress, Weebly or Wix). Each website should include at least one image-based exhibit with captions, one custom-made map or timeline (using free platforms such as Google Maps, Timeline JS or Storymap), and one embedded multi-media effort, such as a short video documentary or a well-produced podcast. All exhibits must acknowledge and properly credit their sources. The best exhibits will provide well-written and well-produced multi-media content that illustrates an important nineteenth-century theme or topic and inspires high-level historical thinking. Late projects will be penalized 5 points per day.

Grade Distribution

Class Participation                   30 percent

Research Journal                      20 percent

Historical Thinking Essay        20 percent

Multi-Media Exhibit                   30 percent

Day Date Discussion Topic Reading Assignment
Tuesday 8/29 Methods & Expectations
Thursday 9/1 History from a Dickinsonian Perspective Digital Museum // 150 Alums
Tuesday 9/6 Getting Started: Reference Isle of Wikipedia
Thursday 9/8 Getting Started: Genealogy // Who?  —Deschanel, Goldwyn // Lincoln household in 1860
Tuesday 9/13 Into the Archives, Part 1 (Archives Classroom) Slotten + Favorite Items
Thursday 9/15 Databases, or Search v. Research Spradley video (with journal)
Friday 9/16 Research journal: By 5pm (via post)
Tuesday 9/20 Into the Archives, Part 2 (Archives Classroom) Denny Hall
Thursday 9/22 Thinking Big: Honors in History Solnit journal
Friday 9/23 Research journal:   Archival documents By 5pm (via post)
Tuesday 9/27 Into the Archives, Part 3 (21 N. Pitt Street) Cumberland County Hi Soc
Thursday 9/29 Secondary Sources & the Value of Annotation Note-taking & Sources
Sunday 10/2 Research journal:   Newspapers By 5pm (via post)
Tuesday 10/4 NO CLASS
Thursday 10/6 Introducing Historiography Definition with Do’s & Don’ts

Pinsker on Lincoln Theme 2.0

Sunday 10/9 Final journal:   Annotated Bibliography By 5pm (via post)
Tuesday 10/11 NO CLASS
Thursday 10/13 Historical Thinking // Finding History Gaddis, chap 1 // Bombaro & Osborne
Tuesday 10/18 FALL PAUSE
Thursday 10/20 Time & Space // Openings & Finding a Thesis Gaddis, chap 2 // Grossman
Tuesday 10/25 Methods & Metaphors // Organizing Gaddis, chap 3
Thursday 10/27 Theory & Practice // Using Quotations Gaddis, chap 4
Tuesday 11/1 Complexity // Framing Questions Gaddis, chap 5
Thursday 11/3 Causes & Effects // Citing Sources Gaddis, chap 6
 Sunday  11/6  REPLACEMENT SUNDAY (1 new journal entry –optional)
Tuesday 11/8 On Empathy // Proofreeding Gaddis, chap 7
Thursday 11/10 Historical Imagination // Historians & Plagiarism Gaddis, chap 8
Tuesday 11/15 Using (and Abusing) Political History Politico History Dept, HNN & Council of Historians
Thursday 11/17 Hollywood v. History Warning: Artists at Work
Friday 11/18 Historical Thinking essays due By 5pm (via email)
Tuesday 11/22 NO CLASS  
Thursday 11/24 THANKSGIVING
Tuesday 11/29 Crowdsourcing and the Modern Museum Decoding Civil War and More on Decoding Project
Thursday 12/1 History Wars in the Classroom APUSH & Creativity
Tuesday 12/6 The Problem of Memory Colleges and Slavery Colleges and Slavery // Case Against Wilson
Wednesday 12/7 Exhibit proposals due By 5pm (via email)
Thursday 12/8 Lessons & Legacies
Saturday 12/17 Multi-Media exhibits due By 5pm (via post or link)