Historiographic Essay Definition Examples

What is Historiography? 

A historiography is a summary of the historical writings on a particular topic - the history of eugenics in America, or the history of epidemics, for example.  It sets out in broad terms the range of debate and approaches to the topic. It identifies the major thinkers and arguments, and establishes connections between them. If there have been major changes in the way a particular topic has been approached over time, the historiography identifies them.

Unlike a research paper, a historiography paper is not a study of a historical subject; instead, it is an analysis of the way in which historians have interpreted that topic. 

How to Write a Historiography?

The most important step in writing a historiography is to become familiar with the history of your topic in broad terms. A good historiography is written from a position of authority on a topic.

A historiography is best situated early on in an essay, preferably in the introduction in order to familiarize the reader with the topic and to set out the scope of previous work in broad terms.

Your historiography should establish:

  • the major thinkers on the topic, and
  • their main arguments (or theses).

Your historiography may also explain:

  • the perspective from which the authors are writing (e.g. Marxist, feminist, postmodernist, structuralist, etc.)
  • the type of history they have written (e.g. political, social, cultural, economic, etc.)

A good historiography will present this information in a way that shows the connections between these major works. For example, does one work respond to an argument set out in another? Does it expand on that argument or disagree with it? A good historiography will also situate the author's work within the dialogue, explaining whether his or her thesis builds on or rejects the work that has come before.

Still a little unsure of what a historiography is? Check out these great examples or get help. 

Adapated from: http://www.trentu.ca/history/workbook/historiography.php

There are two common uses of the term "Historiography."


 

The historiography (general descriptor) of a topic is the sum total of the interpretations of a specific topic written by past and current historians.

  • For example: "The historiography of the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima changed over the years as new research questioned the former consensus view that the decision to drop the atomic bomb was predicated on the necessity to save American lives."

Thus you can talk about "the state of the historiography" at a point in time, or you can "add historiography" to a paper to make it more complete.

 

A historiography (noun) or historiographical paper is an analysis of the interpretations of a specific topic written by past historians. 

  • Specifically, a historiography identifies influential thinkers and reveals the shape of the scholarly debate on a particular subject. 

The major purpose of writing a historiographical paper is to convey the scholarship of other historians on a particular subject, rather than to analyze the subject itself.

  • A historiography can be a stand-alone paper, in which case your paper examines the work completed by other historians. 
  • Alternately, a historiography can act as an introduction to a major research paper, in which you will go on to add your own analysis.

Thus, a good historiography does the following:

  • Points out influential books and papers that exemplified, shaped, or revolutionized a field of study.
  • Shows which scholars were most effective in changing the scope of the debate.
  • Describes the current trends in the field of study, such as which interpretation is currently in the mainstream.
  • Allows the writer (that's you!) to position themselves in the field for their analysis.

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