Tag Archives: Historiography

Teaching Historiography to Undergraduates, Part 2

In my last post (I know, 9 months ago…but give me a break because I was on sabbatical and finishing my book manuscript!) I discussed the new approach I had taken to teaching historiography.

On my end of term survey, one student’s comments summarize those of all students: “I understand how and why historians employ certain research methods. The note-taking template was very helpful to learn how to dissect an article. However, it is very repetitive, and it feels a bit like a chore at this point in the semester. Overall, I have really improved my ability to understand, identify, and write historiography.”

Not a full-throated endorsement, but I’m pretty happy. The “negative” remark is actually gratifying. The note-taking templace became “repetitive” and “a bit like a chore” because the students no longer felt that they needed to walk through the template step-by-step. They had gained confidence and competence in dissecting secondary sources during a semester of practice. If we compare the data from the mid-term and end-of-term evaluations, we can see marked gains in the students’ self-reporting.

Midterm Survey End of Term Survey
Q1 – Please answer the questions below. 0= “absolutely no”, 4=”absolutely yes”
# Field Mean Std Deviation Variance Mean Std Deviation Variance
1 Are you better able to distinguish between historical facts and interpretations? 3 1.18 1.4 3.56 0.5 0.25
2 Are you better able to recognize the chief points of disagreement and debate among historians within a specific field or topic? 3.33 0.67 0.44 3.11 0.57 0.32
3 Are you better able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to the past within a specific field or topic? 3 0.82 0.67 3.33 0.47 0.22
4 Are you more familiar with genres and historiography and historiographical schools and approaches? 3.22 0.79 0.62 3.33 0.82 0.67
5 Has the historiography in three acts helped you to understand historiography and how to write it? 3.22 0.79 0.62 3.56 0.5 0.25
6 Has the note-taking template helped you to read secondary sources more effectively? 3 0.82 0.67 3.33 0.94 0.89
7 Have you improved your ability to read and think critically? 2.89 0.57 0.32 3.11 0.74 0.54
8 Have assignments allowed you to begin to explore historiography on your chosen country? 3.22 0.79 0.62 3.33 0.67 0.44
9 Have you learned to write and communicate more effectively? 3 0.82 0.67 3.11 0.74 0.54

In general, there is a positive narrowing in the standard deviations and variance. In all but one question there is an improvement in the mean. The outlier, question 2 ( Are you better able to recognize the chief points of disagreement and debate among historians within a specific field or topic?), is a bit baffling. This might be explained by some students’ over confidence during the mid-term survey. As the course progressed, they might have realized that what they perceived as obvious or simple was more complex than they had imagined.

The gains on question six (Has the note-taking template helped you to read secondary sources more effectively?) seem to justify the method I employed in teaching them how to read secondary sources. Gains on question five (Has the historiography in three acts helped you to understand historiography and how to write it?) suggest that the multi-stage writing in the early semester paid dividends when they wrote their final historiography paper (and my assessment of their papers support their self-reporting). Questions one, three, and four were key targets for me in the course re-design, and student self-reporting suggests that we achieved some degree of success.

Overall, I am quite pleased with this experiment. I am the course again starting in two weeks, and I plan to revisit these questions with you in the coming months.

Happy teaching, and please ask me questions or leave feedback.

Teaching Historiography to Undergraduates

I’m taking a break this week from discussing video production to write about historiography. I am heading to the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) conference next week to  speak on a pedagogy panel. If you can’t make it, this post will summarize my thoughts. If you are able to attend our panel, this post can serve as a refresher.

I teach at Dickinson College, an undergraduate-only liberal arts institution. My department consciously opens all our courses except the senior seminar to all students (first-year to senior) of all majors. This creates particular challenges that those of you teaching historiography in graduate school will not have to face. The two key issues I would like to address here is how to explain historiography and how to get students to write historiography.

What is Historiography? Continue reading Teaching Historiography to Undergraduates