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HIST 450 The Seminar (Spring 2018)

Journalists often like to say that they write “the first draft of history.” In this seminar, the historians get to write the next draft of journalism. More specifically, this seminar will examine news as a social, cultural, and political phenomenon and look both at the events and people that have become part of the news and the people who have literally made the news. By exploring the forms through which news has been conveyed, the decision making processes for what has counted as “news,” and the development of events through the news, the seminar will focus attention on an often unseen aspect of our study of the past. The seminar will focus on the era since about 1600, when mass production and distribution of news through the medium of print began, and will utilize the many databases which have catalogued and made available news in written, print, and visual form from around the world.

This course is the capstone of your experience as a history major. You have taken courses in a variety of time periods and practiced a range of skills. Now you will put together all of the pieces to research and write your own piece of scholarship, an article-length (about twenty to twenty-five pages) essay in which you make an original contribution to our understanding of a historical topic. It will require you to engage extensively with primary sources, understand a body of historiography, construct an original argument, and as always properly cite your sources. You have practiced all of these skills before, but rarely all at the same time or at the high level expected at the conclusion of the major.

In other words, this course should be the most challenging experience you have in the major. The course accounts for that by walking you through the steps of the research and writing process and offering ample opportunities for feedback and engagement. But more than any other course you have taken, Seminar requires you to be diligent, manage your time with great care, and seek help when you need it. As the instructor, I will support you as best I can, and I encourage you to support your classmates as everyone goes through the same process together.

Course Schedule




Required Text

Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 9th ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017). ISBN: 978-1-319-11302-5

Course Objectives

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Identify, analyze, and evaluate the uses of different types of primary sources
  • Identify, analyze, and evaluate the arguments of secondary sources and place them within the larger historiographical conversation to which they contribute
  • Locate and access primary and secondary sources using footnotes, online databases, libraries, and archives
  • Formulate viable research questions and revise them as necessary in response to attainable data
  • Craft an argument based upon original analysis of primary sources
  • Format and employ citations according to the standard conventions of the historical profession
  • Complete a research paper of 5,000-7,000 words that proposes a novel argument, situates it within the relevant historiography, and substantiates it through the use of both primary and secondary sources

Catalog Description

A course in which a small group of students engages in advanced study and original research under the direction of a member of the faculty. In addition to their individual research projects, the students may be expected to produce and to discuss such assignments as book reviews and bibliographic essays. The course is open only to students who are junior, senior, or post-graduate history majors. No transfer course can fulfill this seminar requirement. Topics vary with the instructor, and are announced for a two-year period. Students may take the Seminar multiple times for 300-level credit. However, in no case may a student take two seminars on the same topic. Prerequisites: HIST 250 Historical Research and Writing, and three (3) 300-level history courses; or permission of instructor.