Historiographical Essay on the Civil War

Below please find several examples of historiographical essays. What they share in common is an effort to chart changes in the questions asked by historians of a particular topic or field, or the sort of sources they consult; they also usually seek to explain why new questions have emerged (causation) and to assess the implication of these developments. Historiography is the history of the history of a particular topic. Most of these examples are much larger and more extensive in scope than I am expecting of you. Most are, in fact, historiographical essays assessing the state of a field, such as family history, or a big topic, such as Reconstruction. You could pick some small part of a topic–say immigrant families in 19th c cities–and say you were going to assess how the study of this topic had changed since Ryan’s 1982 RAH essay. But mostly I offer them so that you can see how you need to pick a topic that has enough literature for you to analyze (that is, look for patterns within, and take a stab at explaining why those patterns exist). I am not expecting you to read them word for word, nor will I quiz you on them in class or elsewhere.

Here’s an example of a thesis statement for a historiographical essay:

Nevertheless, many professors will ask you to include a critical bibliography at the end of your essay. Such a bibliography will do more than provide publication information, but will include a critical assessment of each book: it will describe each book’s thesis and ways in which the author supports that thesis; the position and role of the work vis-a-vis the historiographical debate on the subject it addresses; and the relevance of the work to the particular theme of your historiographical essay.


Historiographical Essay (20%):

Historiographical Essay on Slavery

Another type of bibliography is a book that documents all the sources written on a particular topic (at the time the book was published).These sources can be very useful when writing a historiographical essay because they can point to various secondary sources on a topic and list them in chronological order.