HIS 3380-01 (Texas Wesleyan, Spring 2017)

Instructor: Chris Ohan

Workshop in Historical Methods

Office: PMC 244

Phone: 817-531-4913

Monday/Wednesday 12-1:15

Office Hours: Mon & Wed 10-12, 1:30-4,

Tues 3-6,

or by appointment

EJW 217

Web: http://www.historymuse.net

E-mail: cohan@txwes.edu  


History is a shifting, problematic discourse, ostensibly about an aspect of the world, the past, that is produced by a group of present-minded workers (overwhelmingly in our culture salaried historians) who go about their work in mutually recognizable ways that are epistemologically, methodologically, ideologically and practically positioned and whose products, once in circulation, are subject to a series of uses and abuses that are logically infinite but which in actuality generally correspond to a range of power bases that exist at any given moment and which structure and distribute the meanings of histories along a dominant marginal spectrum. –Keith Jenkins, Rethinking History (Routledge, 1991)


Course description and objectives: Designed as a workshop in historical methods for history majors, this course will guide students through the different type of critical analyses used in the discipline of history.  Students will learn how to critically examine and write about an historical film as well as read and write a critical book review.  They will also work through the research process by completing a formal research paper using primary and secondary sources.  Students will gain knowledge in and apply the Turabian documentation style (Chicago Manual Style) and learn the uses of informational technology in history.


Students will demonstrate their understanding and ability to express the following reading comprehension and cognitive skills: evaluate, contextualize, closely read, corroborate and cite sources. They will be able to identify the thesis of an argument and the evidence an author uses to support that thesis.

            Students will demonstrate their understanding and ability to express the following historical thinking skills: multiple causation, historical contingence, and change over time.

            Students will demonstrate written communication skills by synthesizing multiple historical accounts and creating their own historical narratives using evidence-based argumentation.

            Students will demonstrate oral communication skills by presenting and defending their analyses of historical documents orally in class.

            Students will demonstrate both their research and computer literacy skills by finding, evaluating, and properly documenting sources using print and web-based platforms as well as appropriate software such as MS Word.


The above student learning objectives correspond to the following History Program Goals: 3. History majors will demonstrate a satisfactory command of the skills associated with the craft of history, including reading comprehension and cognitive skills; historical thinking skills; research skills; written communication skills; oral communication skills; and computer literacy; 4. Students completing a major in the Department of History will be prepared to enter graduate programs in History, teach History in secondary or middle schools, or enter other careers open to graduates with degrees in the Liberal Arts.


Required Texts:

Machiavelli, The Prince


Jules Benjamin, A Student’s Guide to History (13th ed., Bedford, 2015)


Supplemental (Optional) Resources:


Kate L. Turabian, Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations

     (8th ed., Chicago, 2013)





Source Analyses


Film Analysis

Book Review



Research Paper





Grades will be assigned according to the following percentages: 90-100=A; 80-89=B; 70-79=C; 60-69=D; 0-59=F


Please note that I submit midterm grades only for those students who appear to be failing.


Class Format.  As this is a small class, we will utilize inquiry-based methods in either a class or smaller group format where historical problems will be presented.  Students will be expected to evaluate source material (and complete readings) to practice their historical thinking skills.  Occasional short lectures will be presented based on the learning needs of the class. 

History is essentially a conversation about the past, so do not hesitate to bring up relevant questions and comments.  It is assumed that you will complete the assigned reading for each week.  It is also assumed that you will attend all classes.


Writing Assignments


Short source analysis papers.  As we move thought the term, you will be responsible for completing short, one-page critical analyses of source material using the iRead Worksheet. These short analyses will be submitted to Turnitin via Blackboard by the posted due dates.


Film Analysis. Students will watch, discuss and write a critical review of the film The Liberator (2013). The Analysis is due on 15 February at noon.


Book Review.  Students will read and the class will discuss Machiavelli’s The Prince so that they can produce a critical book review (see guidelines below). The review is due on 6 March at noon.


Research Paper.  The largest chunk of your grade is the research paper.  You should have an idea of what you’d like to research by 1 March and the beginnings of a thesis by 8 March.

You may choose almost any topic but you must first clear the topic with me.  Stop by my office during regular office hours, or make an appointment to talk about your topic.  Before coming, explore your possible topic a bit.  Think of some historical period or event that interests you and do a bit of investigation.  Do not come by and say, “I don’t know what to do for my research.”  Take the initiative. 

You must meet with me before 8 March to discuss/finalize your topic and working thesis.  The class will be divided into 2 person reading groups.  These groups will read each other’s paper proposals and final drafts, providing critique and constructive feedback for each.  (This aspect of collaboration at the beginning of a research project and then at the end is common among academics.)  Students will submit their proposals as a shared document with their partner and me on One Drive by 12 pm (noon) on 8 March.  Group members will read each other’s proposals and provide substantive feedback on the document by 10 March.  With this feedback, you will submit a final proposal in Blackboard by noon on 20 March.

A draft of your final paper will be shared with group members and me on OneDrive by noon on 24 April.  Group members will submit constructive feedback on the papers by noon on 28 April.  The final paper is due 2 May, to be submitted in Blackboard by noon.  See more formal guidelines below. (Keep in mind that this paper is the focus of the course and will demonstrate your mastery of the learning objectives above.)

**Please note that your critique and feedback on your partner’s work will determine half of your participation grade in this course. (See Benjamin, “Guidelines for Peer Reviewing,” page 37.)


Class Participation.  The majority of class time will be devoted to discussion.  Discussions will draw primarily on the readings.  Your class participation grade will consist of my evaluation of your preparedness and the level of your participation in these discussions.  Obviously, if you are consistently absent or don’t speak, your participation will not be very effective. 


Attendance is mandatory.  This is not a lecture class, so you can’t just “read the textbook” to catch up.  Should you miss more than 2 classes (the equivalent of a week for us), please do not offer excuses, notes or request special consideration.  Simply consider the effect on your grade and decide whether you should drop.  Withdrawal from a course is a viable and acceptable option when unforeseen circumstances arise.  Do not ask me to accommodate your circumstances when those circumstances prevent you from achieving the learning objectives of the course.

You are responsible for all class assignments regardless of attendance.  Quizzes covering assigned readings may be given at any time and factored into the course grade at the discretion of the instructor.  If you are unable to complete this course, you must withdraw from it.  The last date to withdraw with a W is 15 November.


Internet/Blackboard:  Feel free to send email to the address above.  Keep in mind that I will not entertain discussion about grades, missed classes & etc. over email or any other electronic medium.  In addition, this syllabus, the class/reading schedule, some of the course readings and any other class handouts will be posted on the above web address.  All outside of class assignments will be submitted via Blackboard.


Academic Integrity:


Familiarize yourself with Wesleyan’s Student Code of Conduct.  Academics are not only devoted to learning, research, and the advancement of knowledge, but also to the development of ethically sensitive and responsible persons. By accepting membership in this class, you are joining a community characterized by free expression, free inquiry, honesty, respect for others, and participation in constructive change.  All rights and responsibilities exercised within this academic environment shall be compatible with these principles. 


Academic Dishonesty is a breach of the Student Code of Conduct.  Dishonesty includes:

  1. Plagiarism, representing the work of another as one's own work;
  2. Preparing work for another that is to be used as that person's own work;
  3. Cheating by any method or means;
  4. Knowingly and willfully falsifying or manufacturing scientific or educational data and representing the same to be the result of scientific or scholarly experiment or research;
  5. Knowingly furnishing false information to a university official relative to academic matters;
  6. Soliciting, aiding, abetting, concealing, or attempting conduct in violation of this code.


Academic Dishonesty will not be tolerated in this course. Any offense will result in an F in the class (not simply on the assignment) and be referred to the appropriate academic officials for adjudication. If you have any questions regarding this subject please see me.  For a detailed description and further clarification, please see the link for “Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty” on my website, the 2015-2017 Wesleyan Catalog (p. 74), or the Student Handbook.


Writing for this course will employ standard academic formatting—double spaced, typed—with citations following Turabian (Chicago) style.  The Benjamin text is your guide in this regard.  Correct use of source information and citations is assumed.  Grammatical proficiency is fundamental in history as ours is largely a writing discipline.  No one are taken seriously if they do not employ good grammar.  See Grading Guidelines on the class webpage for specific grading criteria regarding written work and the grading rubrics on the Wesleyan History Program page.


Please note that any late work will be penalized at the rate of one letter grade per day.  If an assignment is due at 12 and it is submitted at 12:15, it is a day late.  No assignments will be accepted more than 4 days late.


Statement of Understanding:


As a professional, I follow the American or western model of higher education.  According to this model the instructor encourages the students to think critically.  This is not merely the expression of an opinion, but well-thought, structured and supported arguments.  Do not be surprised if I voice an unconventional argument—particularly as we relate much of the course content to current events.  My purpose is not to express my own opinion but to challenge you to think critically about the discipline as well as the topics being considered.  If you find yourself offended by something said in the classroom, consider than in the Humanities and Social Sciences “Truth” is at best elusive and tolerance essential. 


A valid method of instruction that has been used in the east and west for centuries, since 500 BCE, was founded in Greece; the Socratic method is based on rhetorical argumentation.  Rhetorical argument, in the classical sense, means the following: to inform, to convince, to explore, to make decisions, and even to meditate, as odd that may sound.  Although arguments may at times “pique” you emotionally, as an educated person you must learn to weigh ideas and use logic and not emotion to counter the argument.  Scholars of pedagogy agree that we learn best when we are confronted with a problem or, put another way, when we are humbled.  Therefore you should not consider a critique from me or anyone else in the class to be a negative attack or an occasion for anger and vengeance, but an opportunity for critical thought and reflection.  Moreover, and most importantly, education requires us to be tolerant of ideas that we may not understand and to consider values that we do not embrace.  Tolerance means that we allow others to believe a certain way even though we do not believe it; it does not mean that we have to embrace that belief.  If, however, we do not open our minds enough to understand ideas that we might disagree with, then we all will live in shallow, ignorant worlds of like minds and never come to agreement about anything except among people who thing just like us.  The latter is not characteristic of a university and as a member of Wesleyan’s academic community, I assume that you agree. 


I respect students who respect learning, so please do not show disrespect to me or your fellow students by asking to submit papers late or by asking for extra credit when you couldn’t meet the credit standards laid out in this syllabus.  Also, if you turn in writing that does not meet the standards set for class, you will receive the grade you deserve.  That grade does not reflect anything personal; it is strictly a professional assessment of academic work.  I have many years of experience on the university level, so I am fully aware of how to score historical writing.  Although I am always happy to explain why you earned a particular grade on an assignment, please think carefully before asking me to change a grade; to do so is tantamount to asking me to undermine the integrity and professional standards to which I try to adhere.  It is also an insult to the students who earned a higher grade.  I will protect the students who earned those grades.  I’m happy to explain a grade to you, but keep in mind that if you ask for a re-evaluation, and I’ve made an error, your grade could change positively or negatively.


What I Expect from You:

That you be punctual for every class.

That you do not receive or make telephone calls/text messages.

That you respect what I and your fellow students have to say.

That you come to class ready to ask and answer questions of substance on the day’s readings.


What You Can Expect from Me:

That I will be punctual for every class.

That I will give everybody a fair share of my attention.

That I will work to ensure you achieve the student learning objectives.

That I will grade the quality of your work rather than the amount of time and effort you spent on it.


Small Print:


Texas Wesleyan Policies: Students should read the current Texas Wesleyan University Catalog and Student Handbook to become familiar with University policies. These policies include, but are not limited to academic integrity, grade appeal, sexual harassment. Student access to records, and others; policies specified in the current catalog are applicable unless otherwise stated in this syllabus.


Disability Policy:  Texas Wesleyan University adheres to a disability policy which is in keeping with relevant federal law. The University will provide appropriate accommodation as determined by the Director of the Counseling Center, Dr. Michael Ellison.  Students must notify instructors of any permanent or temporary disabilities and must provide documentation regarding those disabilities prior to the granting of an accommodation.  For assistance, students should consult with Dr. Ellison.


Repeating Courses: Any course taken at Texas Wesleyan University and repeated for a grade must be repeated at Texas Wesleyan University. Any course taken at another institution may be repeated at Texas Wesleyan, and the most recent grade on the course will be counted. When a course is repeated, the grade point average will be computed using the most recent grade achieved.


Syllabus Disclaimer: Note: Course syllabi are intended to provide students with basic information concerning the course. The syllabus can be viewed as a “blueprint” for the course; changes in the syllabi can be made and students will be informed of any substantive changes concerning examinations, the grading or attendance policies and changes in project assignments.


Unified Discrimination and Harassment Reporting (Including Title IX):

As noted in the catalog under the Unified Discrimination and Harassment Policy, Texas Wesleyan University is committed to providing an environment free of all forms of prohibited discrimination and sexual harassment.  If you have experienced any such discrimination or harassment, including gender- or sex-based forms, know that help and support are available from the following resources:

                       Complete online incident report at https://txwes.edu/student-life/report-a-concern/

                       Contact Campus Conduct Hotline (24 hours a day): (866) 943-5787

                       Campus security (24 hours a day): (817) 531-4911

                       Dean of Students: deanofstudents@txwes.edu OR (817) 531-4872

Please be aware that all Texas Wesleyan University employees, other than designated confidential resources (i.e., Community Counseling Center) are required to report credible evidence of prohibited discrimination or harassment to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, or to one of the Title IX Assistant Coordinators.  If you wish to speak to someone confidentially, please contact the Community Counseling Center at (817) 531-4859 to schedule an appointment.


Book Review Format


1.             4-5 pages typewritten, double-spaced.  Title page, if used, does NOT count.  Observe the normal rules of writing such as standard one-inch margins, page numbering, etc. 

2.             Full bibliographic citation on the title page or at the top of the first page.  (Consult an MLA or Chicago style guide if you’ve forgotten how to do this.  Do NOT make up your own form.)

3.             Brief introduction to the topic or subject of the book.  Why is this topic or subject important to the period of history being covered?

4.             Summarize the author’s thesis (argument) and main points concisely but fully.  (What do you think the author is trying to accomplish by writing the book?)

5.             Critique the book.  (What you’re doing is analogous to what happens in a courtroom. Consider yourself the judge and the author a lawyer who has presented an argument/case.  It’s up to you, having listed to his argument/case to decide whether or not her claims have validity.)  Based on your answer to #4 do you find his/her arguments and conclusions convincing?  How does s/he do in terms of accomplishing his purpose for writing?  Do not walk fences or resort to elementary tactics such as pleading ignorance.  (This should be about one-half of your paper.)

(5a. If the book is a work of literature, you’ll still consider what the author is trying to accomplish, but you’ll need to think about what the work says about the time period or place in which it’s set, the characters, the environment, etc.)

6.             While a review does not usually include the readers own opinion, you may provide a brief personal evaluation of no more than one paragraph.  Be sure to explain and support your opinion carefully and coherently.  At this point in your academic career, you ought to have an informed opinion. 

7.             This is not a research paper, so formal footnoting is not necessary.  If you do quote or draw on information that is not your own, simply use a parenthetical reference according to Turabian/Chicago style. 

8.             Papers which are turned in after the time they are due will be penalized one letter grade for each day.  No papers which are more than four days late will be accepted.  If you or someone close to you is looking like they’re coming down with the latest disease or that they might need emergency surgery, turn it in early.  If you want mercy, pray.


Film Evaluations


Unfortunately, most of us understand history based on what we are told in the popular media (i.e. the movies).  It is important, therefore, to understand how to look at a movie based (however loosely) on the past and how to critique it as “history.”  This assignment will help you accomplish that goal.  


You will be reviewing the film The Liberator (2013).


PART I:  Watching your film:

As you watch a film for evaluation or critique, consider and discuss as many of the following points as possible—if they seem relevant.  These are not the only kinds of questions you should consider; depending on the film, there may be many more.  Be sure that you keep in mind that you are evaluating this film not as a general reviewer but as a way of understanding the past.


  1. What general topic and time period does the film cover?  What does the film have as its purpose?  Does it examine a particular or unusual aspect of Western history?  Does the film primarily present factual information, or does it also present a particular interpretation or new way of understanding the topic?


  1. Is the film impartial and objective or does it seem to be biased in any way.  Does it sympathize with one particular group, person, or point of view?  If it is a biography, is the film basically critical or favorable toward the person it is about?  How can you tell?  Can you detect the writer/director's own ideas and feelings about the topic:  what the film says "between the lines?"  Does the time at which the film was made help explain its point of view on the topic?


  1. If the film is a biography, what, briefly, were this subject's greatest accomplishments and greatest failures?  Why is the person whom the film is about important?  What is his/her significance?  How did his/her actions change her own times and future history?  If the film is about an event, why is the event important.


  1. How does this film contribute to our knowledge about English history?  What contributions does it make to our knowledge about history in general?  Do the film's views on this topic make you reevaluate your own thinking about it?  Why or why not?  Do you see any broader implications for other areas?  Does this film help give you new insights into other problems, issues, time periods, or into present-day events?  Why?
  2. What evidence does the film use to support its views?  Remember, you are analyzing the film as history and evidence is always essential.
  3. Does the organization of the film and the style in which it is presented make it understandable.  Is point of view clear?  Is it precise or vague?
  4. Who is (or was) the screen writer and/or director?  Does she/he indicate any particular reasons for making this film.   Why is she/he interested in this subject.  Might the writer/director have some ulterior motive in mind, some particular ax to grind or some bias when writing about this topic?  Does it have any particular training, experience, or qualifications for writing a film of this sort?  (You may not be able to find answers to these questions.)


  1. What is the film's general perspective about the particular historical period covered?  What conclusions does the film draw after relating all the information?  What final viewpoint or interpretation does it arrive at?  What, in your opinion, are the main points, arguments, or theses that it is trying to get across to the viewer?


  1.   After watching this film what is your reaction now to this topic?  Do you agree or disagree with the film's views?  What is the most important thing you have learned from this film?  What else would you like to know about the topic that the film doesn't tell you?


PART II:  Writing your film analysis: 

A.     The film review should begin with a bibliographical heading, such as:


The Little Foxes. Written by Lillian Hellman.  Directed by WilliamWyler.  166 mins. Columbia Pictures, 1941.


B.      Suggested approach for writing the paper:


  1. The first part of the report should be a brief survey of the contents of the film. Do not go into lengthy detail.  Take it for granted that the instructor or the person reading your report has already seen the film, and that you are going to discuss it on the basis of this common knowledge. [1-1 1/2pages]


  1. In the second part you should discuss the significant contribution of the film to a specific part of English history.  Use your answers to the questions in Part I as a guide.  What is the theme or message that the film is trying to get across?  You might ask yourself such questions as: Is the film attempting to refute some idea about women that has long been accepted but that it is convinced is untrue?  Or is the film simply portraying women in stereotypic terms? Or is it presenting something that has been overlooked but which changes considerably the interpretation of women's experience? [2-3 pages]


  1. The conclusions should be an assessment.  This can be both personal and scholarly in nature.  These are some things that should be considered here:  What do you think of the method of approach, style, accuracy, and fairness of the film?  Is the film convincing in its treatment of the subject.  What is the film's approach--humor, satire, realism, romanticism?  Is the film biased?  As often as possible, you should cite statements in the film that help answer these questions.  For instance, do not say that a film is biased without giving an example or two of this bias.  Do you find it accurate? [2-3 pages]
  2. Did you like the film?  In answering this do not write something like "I liked the film very much:  I think every college student and adult should see it."  Or, "This was a very interesting film." Such statements mean absolutely nothing.  Instead, tell why you like the film and why it was interesting or not. [1/2 page]


C. The length of the report will depend you the nature of the film and how you decide to approach the analysis.  I would think 5-6 pages would be about right.



Research Paper Format


8-10 pages typewritten, double-spaced.  The title page does NOT count.  Observe the normal rules of writing (using Turabian (Chicago) style) such as standard one inch margins, page numbering, etc.  (Also, please do not use folders or plastic covers.  A staple will suffice.

1.       Begin with an overview of your specific topic.  Then move into a discussion of your argument/thesis.  Explain it carefully and concisely.  This should be about 1-2 pages.

2.       The bulk of a research paper is a discussion of your supporting sources/evidence.  Specifically, which of the documents will you be using to support your argument and how?  Remember that while secondary sources are important, the strongest arguments are based on primary sources.  You should also consider which of the other sources might possibly refute your thesis and how you will address such conflicts.  6-8 pages should be about right.

Regarding sources, in this course we consider a variety of source material: primary and secondary; and coming from journals, monographs, and the internet; as well as sources that are non-textual.  Your paper should employ a variety of those discussed and at least one non-textual source.

3.       Next you will want to consider if your argument/thesis has already been considered by historians.  (Don’t be discouraged if you can’t come up with something original.)  Who are these historians, when did they write, and what were their conclusions?  How does your thesis differ from theirs (if at all)? This should be 1-2 pages.

4.       Conclusion. 1 page

5.       When you quote or draw on information that is not your own, use Turabian (Chicago) style.  (DO NOT make up your own style of formatting.)

6.       Late papers are penalized one letter grade per day after the due date. No papers which are more than three days late will be accepted.



Tentative Class Topic and Reading List

Jan 11

Introduction to the History Workshop



Jan 18

What is History?

Readings: Keith Jenkins, “What History Is” in Re-Thinking History (pp. 6-32) https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/48111098/Jenkins%20%27What%20History%20Is%27%20in%20Re-thinking%20History%20-%20Routledge.pdf; Benjamin 1, 2

Jan 23

Historical Questions and Writing an Historical Argument



Jan 25

Critical Analysis



Jan 30

Intro to Examining Sources: iRead

Subject-World War I

Readings:Wilson’s Address to Congress, 1917 http://www.historymuse.net/readings/wilsonaddresstocongress.html



Feb 1

Contextualizing Sources: iRead

Borderlands/Mexico: El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez or “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” (1901)

Readings: Benjamin 3; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtE_bSr0uO4 (iRead assignment instructions)



Feb 6

The Critical Film Analysis



Feb 8, 13

Taking Notes, Citing Sources, Avoiding Plagiarism

Readings: Benjamin 4



Feb 15, 20

Close Reading of Sources: iRead

Subject-European Renaissance: “Problems of Medical Research” from De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius (1543)

Readings: Benjamin 5



Feb 22, 27

The Critical Book Review

Readings: Machiavelli, The Prince




March 1, 6

Historical Research/Using the Library/Determining a Topic

Readings: Benjamin 7



March 8

Using the Internet: iRead

Subject-US Revolutionary War: Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March 1776  http://founders.archives.gov/?q=Abigail%20Adams%20john%2031%20march&s=1311311111&sa=&r=1&sr=



March 20, 22

Corroborating Sources: iRead

Subject-19th Century American West: Butterfield Overland Mail Route (1858)

“Journalist Waterman L. Ormsby Describes His Trip Through Texas on the Butterfield Overland Mail, 1858” and “The Overland Mail Company’s Through Time Schedule Between St. Louis, Memphis, and San Francisco,” (1858)


March 27, 29

Secondary Sources: journals iRead

*Student will analyze a journal source related to their own research



April 3, 5

Secondary Sources: monographs iRead

*Students will analyze a monograph source related to their own research

April 10, 12

Using Non-textual Sources iRead

*Students will analyze a non-textual source related to their own research



April 17, 19, 24

Organizing and Writing the Research Paper

Readings: Benjamin 8



April 26

Historiography: What to do when historians disagree



May 1