Fall 2021 - HIST 300 D100

Historiography (4)

Class Number: 3916

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 8 – Dec 7, 2021: Tue, 2:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units, including six 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-after 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

“We do NOT know the past in chronological sequence. It may be convenient to lay it out anesthetized on the table with dates pasted on here and there, but what we know we know by ripples and spirals eddying out from us and from our own time.” Ezra Pound, 1938

"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, 1978

"History is how the secular world attends to the dead." Saidiya Hartman, 2007

"History plays an important role in reconciliation; to build for the future, Canadians must look to, and learn from, the past." Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015

As these quotations 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.

Course format

This course is being offered as a “blended” one, combining both remote and in-person learning. Each week, there will be about one hour of content to be consumed asynchronously online before our Tuesday meeting when we will meet in person for three hours.

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


Upon the successful completion of this course, you will:

  • Be familiar with several major approaches to historical thinking and writing from ancient societies to the present;
  • Develop your critical thinking and analytical skills as a reader of historical argument, interpretation, methodology, and debate;
  • Develop your writing skills through a variety of different types of writing assignments;
  • Work on your oral communication skills through group discussion and seminar presentations.


  • Analytical Writings 50%
  • Presentations and Participation 25%
  • Public Engagement 25%


The assignments in this course are grouped into three clusters: analytical writings (totaling 10-12 pages double spaced, 50%); presentations and participation (25%); and public engagement (25%). Although you must complete assignments in each of the three clusters, you will set your own goal (the grade you are trying to achieve in this course) and will commit to a contract negotiated with the instructor about which assignments you will complete to achieve this goal. If you satisfactorily complete all the assignments you committed to, you will receive the grade you contracted for.


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 that this is a demanding high-level seminar.




Hazel V. Carby, Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands (New York: Verso Books, 2019). [please note: the paperback edition of this book is due to be published in October 2021; you do not need to buy the hardback before then].

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]

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/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


Teaching at SFU in fall 2021 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with approximately 70 to 80 per cent of classes in person/on campus, with safety plans in place.  Whether your course will be in-person or through remote methods will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the fall 2021 term.