Fall 2015 - HIST 300 D100

Historiography (4)

Class Number: 5807

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 8 – Dec 7, 2015: Mon, 1:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Instructor:

    Jennifer Spear
    Office: AQ 6013
  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including 9 units of lower division history.



Examines the conceptual problems involved in the historian's attempt to apprehend the past. Focuses on the nature of historical knowledge and explanation, and to the broad systems and patterns in which history has been conceived.


What is history?
   "History is philosophy teaching by examples." Attributed to Thucydides (ca. 460-395 BCE) by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (ca. 60-7 BCE)

   "History . . . is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind." Edward Gibbon, 1776

   "You have reckoned that history ought to judge the past and to instruct the contemporary world as to the future. The present attempt does not yield to that high office. It will merely tell how it really was." Leopold von Ranke, 1824

   "Each age tries to form its own conception of the past. Each age writes the history of the past anew with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time." Frederick Jackson Turner, 1891

   "History is not another name for the past, as many people imply. It is the name for stories about the past." A.J.P. Taylor (1906-1990)

As these quotations from prominent historians throughout the ages demonstrate, there is no universally accepted definition of what history is and thus of what historians study. Historiography takes as its subject, not the past, but the ways in which historians have researched, reconstructed, and written about the past. This course will offer an introduction to some of the theoretical and practical dimensions of historical research and writing and will evaluate the intellectual and ethical responsibilities that historians regard as critical to their profession. We will survey a variety of approaches to the past that historians have taken, engaging questions of scale, causality, methodology, theoretical frameworks, and the very organization of the discipline.

Please note this is a preliminary syllabus: reading materials and assignments are subject to change.


  • Three papers due October 26, November 23, and December 7 60%
  • Tutorial participation 20%
  • Contributions to class wiki project 10%
  • Report on a department colloquium or lecture 5%
  • Class presentation 5%
  • NB This course is a requirement for the honours program in history and one of its primary objects is to assist students in developing a theoretical framework for their honours thesis. Students not in the honours programme are welcome but should be aware of that this is a demanding high-level seminar.



Donald Grant Creighton, The Story of Canada (Toronto: Macmillan, 1959). [any edition will do]

Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980) [any edition will do]

Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).

Additional readings will be distributed via Canvas. You should expect to read between 100 and 200 pages each week.

Please note this is a preliminary syllabus: reading materials and assignments are subject to change.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html