Historiography

Historiography is the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline. Briefly, it is the history of history.

When you study historiography, you are not studying the past directly. Instead, you are studying the changing interpretations of past events through the works of historians. For example, you wouldn't study the First Crusade, but the way the First Crusade was interpreted by individual historians.

What are the "schools" of history?

Every historian falls into a particular category or "school" of interpretation.  There are many different schools. For a list, see this website: The Different Schools of Historiography: A Reference

Where do I start?

  • Settle on a topic. You don't need to have your topic completely worked out, but you need to know the general way you want to go about the assignment. Your thesis will probably change as you read—don't worry, but you will eventually need to know where and when to start your research.
  • Collect your sources. Collect a wide-range of sources. Since you're writing about the history of history, it is probably a good idea to make sure you get a multitude of different sources. However, this also will depend on what you're focusing on.
  • Begin to read. (You will have to gut some books). It will take you a long time to read all of the works by all of your sources. You will have to read for information. To do this, read the introduction and then the conclusion. Then, go chapter by chapter and read the first and last sentence of every paragraph. You should be able to get the general idea of what they are saying. If a source seems to be extremely relevant to your paper, you will want to take a closer look.
  • Take notes. You won't remember everything you read. The easiest way to keep track of all of your information is by taking notes. Make sure you write down the author, the year it was written, and either his "school" of history or his general stance. Doing this will help you when you're organizing your paper, and might even reveal some trends in history you didn't even notice before.
  • Organize your notes. Decide how you want to approach your historiography. Is it going to be by date the source was written? Their "school" of history? Their ethnicity?
  • Write your paper.

Tips

  • Don't just list historians and what they have written about a given topic. Instead, make sure that you compare and contrast the arguments of all of the major scholars in the field,
  • You must have an argument. Ask yourself what you're trying to say about in your historiography. Why is it relevant that there was increased sympathy for a certain ethnic group during a certain time period? How have our interpretations of Christopher Columbus changed over time?
Organize your historians! Place your historians in specific categories, including their approaches and historical conclusions. It is also appropriate to categorize them by date, if you are making an observation about the period and what people were saying about a topic during that time.