HST 206: Introduction to Historical Inquiry (Syllabus)

Course Description

The purpose of this class is to prepare you for the history major by introducing you to the methods and assumptions of historians. How do historians read, think, and write? How do they question the past? How do they use evidence to construct an argument that speaks to the questions they ask? These are essential skills for investigating and interpreting the past. We will read and discuss different approaches to, formats of, and genres of history. Finally you will spend time learning how to develop a research project. HST 206 and your History capstone (400) together fulfill the CAS Writing in the Discipline requirement so the assignments speak to various types of writing used by historians.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Analyze multiple forms of primary evidence, draw inferences from them, and use them to understand historical problems and questions.
  • Analyze and evaluate historical arguments, identify historiographical debates, and explain different approaches to historical research.
  • Formulate historical questions.
  • Explain historical concepts of context, causality, change over time, contingency, and the historicity of ideas and categories.

This is a writing intensive course that fulfills the Global Miami Plan Advanced Writing Requirement. In order to help you become an effective writer, you will be asked to write often and to revise often after getting feedback from me and from your peers. Helping other people revise their work helps to train you to be a better writer yourself and that is an important part of your participation in this course.

Course Texts


  • John Arnold, History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 8th Edition (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015)
  • Selected essays and excerpts that will be posted on Canvas under the File tab by author’s last name


  • Williams, Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, 5th edition (Longman, 2014)
  • Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 8th Edition (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Course Requirements and Structure

Attendance and Participation

I expect you to attend class regularly and participate actively. Unexcused absences will lower your final grade for the course and may result in a failing grade.


Come to class having completed the reading by the dates listed on the syllabus. Read actively—take notes, ask and answer questions, draw connections between readings, and analyze texts. Reading assignments provide the basis for discussions, debates, in-class writing, and essays. If you have trouble keeping up with the reading, or you’re not sure what to focus on, please come meet with me. I am more than happy to discuss strategies for reading and mastering the material.

Discussion and Debate

Be ready to participate in class discussions by speaking, listening attentively to others, encouraging others to comment, arguing respectfully, asking questions, and clarifying others’ points. If you are not comfortable speaking in class, please come see me so we can develop strategies to help you participate.

Writing Assignments

To help you develop your skills in historical reading, writing, and research, there will be many writing assignments in this class, including informal in-class reflective assignments, three formal essays, a research paper proposal, and a research paper prospectus. We will be workshopping your essays and your research prospectus together in class so that you can get feedback and make revisions. I will be giving you additional substantial feedback on drafts of your first two essays and on your research prospectus. You are also very welcome to bring a draft of your third essay to office hours to get feedback from me. Your final grade for the research prospectus will include your performance on both the first and the second complete drafts that you will be turning in, so treat the first draft as seriously as you do the second.

  • In-Class Written Reflections. I will begin many classes by asking you for a written reflection on the day’s reading assignment. This will encourage you to learn to use writing for thinking, instead of just for communication. You will have 10 to 15 minutes to write each time.
  • Research Paper Proposal. In preparation for your research paper prospectus, I will ask you to write a brief proposal of a research project that you will present to the class. The full description of the assignment can be found under week 11. (500 words)
  • Essay 1: Writing History with Primary Sources. You will write an essay based on your analysis of primary sources that I will provide in class. (1000 words)
  • Essay 2: Historical Arguments. You will write an essay identifying, summarizing, evaluating, and responding to a historical argument. (1000 words)
  • Essay 3: Approaches to History. You will write an essay analyzing historical approaches. (1500 words)
  • Research Paper Prospectus. The major assignment in this course is a research paper prospectus. You will develop a research question, find appropriate primary sources to answer the question, find relevant secondary sources with which to engage, and write an essay. There will be many intermediary assignments due throughout the semester to help you complete the prospectus. You will be evaluated on the quality of your research, writing style, and insights, as well as your progress throughout the semester. (4500-5000 words)

Writing assignments are due on the dates listed on the syllabus. Late essays will be penalized. If you need an extension, you must contact me and explain the reason you will be unable to complete the work on time.


The History Department supports that faculty members create different types of assignments, written and/or oral, depending on the goals of the class, differing methodologies, and differing styles of teaching. Within this variety, we agree on the following criteria:

  • A = Overall: Superior performance; consistent excellence in both written assignments and class participation. Essays (exams, papers, reviews): Answers the question directly or states and explains a thesis. The argument is clear, coherent and complete, with a structured analysis and clear explanations of analytic points along the way. Presents a synthesis of the ideas and the details. The evidence used to support the analysis is accurate and appropriate to the point it is illustrating. The best essays demonstrate mastery of class themes and materials but go beyond them to readings and knowledge gained elsewhere. Few or only minor errors.
  • B = Overall: Good performance in both written and oral work. All assigned work is completed accurately and well; both written and oral work demonstrate knowledge and understanding of principles in spite of occasional errors. Essays (exams, papers, reviews): Answers the question directly but lacks depth of analysis of some aspect of the theme or clear support. Writing is clear and generally shows logical organization, but may not answer the question entirely or integrate the material as well as an A essay. Evidence is used to support the analysis but not as effectively or directly as in an A essay. May be strong on analysis with factual inaccuracies or contain weaker arguments with only minor inaccuracies.
  • C = Overall: Adequate performance in both written and oral work. Shows understanding of many of the basic concepts of the course but there is frequent inaccuracy or error. Essays (exams, papers, reviews): Doesn't answer the question, has a weak thesis, contains many errors or simply presents undigested facts—student has demonstrated that he/she has learned from the class but not understood the historical context of that knowledge. Could also be written work which is generally good, well-argued but containing crucial factual errors, or lacking supporting details.
  • D = Overall: Poor performance in both written and oral work. Work demonstrates some familiarity with basic concepts but is only barely acceptable. Essays (exams, papers, reviews): Barely shows new knowledge or understanding of that knowledge. Few facts, little evidence, little coherence or many mistakes. Doesn't answer the question or address the theme. Writing skills prevent understanding of the argument.
  • F = Overall: Unacceptable performance in written and oral work. Work is missing or fundamentally deficient. Essays: No effort shown, totally inaccurate or showing minimal relation to class goals. Plagiarized work.

Grade Percentage Breakdown

  • In-class Writing and Participation: 10%
  • Research Paper Proposal: 5%
  • Essay 1: 10%
  • Essay 2: 10%
  • Essay 3: 15%
  • Research Paper Prospectus: 40% total
    • 20% for your first draft
    • 20% for your second draft

Academic Integrity

On all assignments, you must follow Miami University’s academic integrity policies. Violations of academic integrity include cheating, fabrication (inventing facts), submission of another’s work as your own, and multiple submission (submitting the same paper for more than one class). Please visit these websites to make sure you do not unknowingly commit academic dishonesty:


Miami University is committed to ensuring equal access to students with disabilities. Miami's Office of Student Disability Services (SDS) assists students with determining eligibility for services and accommodation planning. Students who are entitled to disability-related academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, etc., must register with SDS to receive accommodations in university courses. Please understand that formal communication from SDS must be presented prior to the coordination of accommodations for this course. For more information, students may contact SDS at (513) 529-1541 or via email at sds@miamioh.edu


Writing assignments in bold throughout.

Week 1: Introduction

  • August 31—Why Does History Matter?
  • September 2—What Will You Do With a History Degree?
    • CANVAS: William Deresiewicz, “The Neoliberal Arts,” Harper’s (September 2015)
    • In-class written reflection on Deresieqicz’s essay

Week 2: What Is History?

  • September 7—Historical Problems
    • John Arnold, History: A Very Short Introduction, p. 1-14
    • Mary Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, p. 1-7
  • September 9—The History of History
    • Arnold, History, p. 15-57
    • In-class written reflection on Arnold reading

Week 3: How Do Historians Know?

  • September 14—Writing Workshop for Essay 1
    • Essay 1 due: bring two hard copies with you to class. We will spend the class doing peer reviews and talking about revisions. I will hand back my own edits on your papers to you on September 16th.
    • Before you come to class, read Thesis Statements, Revision Strategies, and Editing for Clear Style
  • September 16—Archives and Sources
    • Arnold, History, p. 58-79 and Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, p. 8-23

Week 4: What Is Historiography?

  • September 20—Second draft of Essay 1 due on Canvas by 11PM
  • September 21—Special Collections
    • Meet at the university’s Special Collections, 321 King Library
    • Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, p. 31-41
  • September 23—From Political History Through the Cultural Turn
    • Arnold, History, p. 80-123
    • In-class written reflection on Arnold reading

Week 5: What Is a Historical Argument?

  • September 28—Identifying Historical Arguments
    • Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, p. 24-29, including 3b-1 “Summaries” (Read this first)
    • Robin Kelley, “We Are Not What We Seem: Rethinking Black Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South,” Journal of American History, Vol. 80, Iss. 1 (June, 1993), p. 75-112.
    • In-class written reflection on Kelley’s article
  • September 30—Identifying Historical Debates
    • David Hackett Fisher, Historians’ Fallacies (excerpt) AND Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments (excerpt) AND Goldhagen/Browning PDF

Week 6: How Do You Respond?

  • October 5—Writing Workshop for Essay 2
    • Essay 2 due: bring two hard copies with you to class. We will spend the class doing peer reviews and talking about revisions. I will hand back my own edits on your papers to you on October 7th.
  • October 7—Making and Revising Your Own Argument
    • CANVAS: Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing (excerpt)
    • In-class written reflection on Graff and Birkenstein

Week 7: Approaches to History

  • October 11—Revised version of Essay 2 due on Canvas by 11PM
  • October 12—Histories of the Environment and Food
    • Visits from Prof. Osaak Olumwallah and Prof. Peggy Shaffer
    • Olumwallah essay and Shaffer essay
  • October 14—Fall Break
    • No class

Week 8: Approaches to History

  • October 19—Histories of Gender and Frontiers
    • Class visit by Prof. Erik Jensen and Prof. Andrew Offenburger
    • Jensen essay and Offenburger essay
  • October 21—Histories of Capitalism and the Senses
    • Class visits by Prof. Lindsay Regele and Prof. Wietse de Boer
    • Regele essay and de Boer essay

Week 9: Finding Your Own Approach

  • October 26—Writing Workshop for Essay 3
    • Essay 3 due: bring two hard copies with you to class. We will spend the class doing peer reviews and talking about revisions.
  • October 28—Individual Meetings with me about your research prospectus idea

Week 10: Beginning Your Prospectus

  • November 1—Revised version of Essay 3 due on Canvas by 11PM
  • November 2—Library Day
    • Meet at King Library to gather materials for your prospectus
  • November 4—Writing Research Proposals
    • Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, p. 51-154

Week 11: The Research Proposal

  • November 9—Research Proposal Presentations
    • Research Proposal Due: Imagine that you are requesting funding for your proposal from a panel of fellow scholars. You must make the case that you have a good idea worth supporting. The proposal should be about 500 words, and you must bring one hard copy to class. To persuade the panel, your proposal should include the following:
      • A statement of the research question. What will this project help you learn or discover?
      • A brief explanation of the project’s significance. Why is this project significant? Why would this project be interesting to other people? What major historical problem will this research project help us understand?
      • A statement of the kind of primary sources you will look for.
      • One secondary source (either a journal article or book) that appears relevant to the topic. (JSTOR is a good place to look for journal articles.)
    • You will present your proposal orally to the class as if they were the panel in a 5-minute presentation and then the class will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your argument.
  • November 11—Research Proposal Presentations Continued

Week 12: Writing Your Prospectus

  • November 16—Writing Workshop on your Historiography
    • Bring a draft of the historiography section of your research prospectus to class.
  • November 18—Writing Workshop on your Methodology
    • Bring a draft of your methodology section with you to class.

Week 13: Thanksgiving Week—No class

Week 14: Writing Your Prospectus

  • November 30—Writing Workshop on your Evidence
    • Bring a draft of your evidence section with you to class.
  • December 2—Writing Workshop on your Complete Prospectus
    • Bring two hard copies of a complete draft of your entire research prospectus with you to class.

Week 15: Final Revisions

  • December 7—Individual meetings with me about your draft
  • December 9—Individual meetings with me about your draft
  • December 14—Final version of Research Paper Prospectus due on Canvas before 11PM

HST 206 Essay 1: Writing History with Primary Sources

Due Dates

The first complete draft of your essay is due on September 14 at the beginning of class. You must bring two copies of your paper to class where you will give and receive feedback from your peers. You will also get feedback from me. The second complete draft of your essay is due on Canvas by 11pm on September 20.


Please write an essay based on your analysis of primary sources.

The topic of the essay is the New York Conspiracy of 1741. After a series of fires in Manhattan in 1741, some English colonists feared that the city’s slaves might be rebelling. Of the city’s 11,000 inhabitants, perhaps 20 percent were enslaved people, some born in Africa, some born in the Caribbean, and some born in the British colonies that would later become the United States. After extensive investigations and trials, 34 people were executed—thirteen black men burned at the stake and seventeen black men, two white men, and two white women hanged. In addition, 72 people, both black and white, were deported or sold into slavery in the Caribbean and Madeiras.

The lead investigator, Daniel Horsmanden, left behind a report that is our primary source to understand the New York Conspiracy. We also have a letter from a resident of Boston who criticized the trials.

In this essay, please offer your interpretation of the sources. What happened in New York in 1741? Do you think there actually was a conspiracy among slaves and some white people to launch a slave revolt? Do you think Horsmanden and his colleagues made the whole thing up? Do you think we have enough evidence to decide one way or the other? If not, what can we understand about the trials and colonial New York, based on the evidence we have? What do you feel confident asserting?


This paper assesses your abilities to analyze and interpret primary sources. Your grade will be based on the following criteria:

  • Taking a position. In the essay, do you offer an argument about how the primary sources should be interpreted? Is the thesis statement clear and precise?
  • Explaining your position. In the essay, do you explain the reasons why you believe what you believe? Why should the reader accept your interpretation of the primary sources?
  • Offering evidence for your position. In the essay, do you support the argument with evidence drawn from the primary sources? Do you quote the sources appropriately? Do you analyze the sources critically, considering the perspectives of the people who created the sources?
  • Addressing your doubts. In the essay, do you consider gaps in the evidence? Do you anticipate possible objections to your interpretation? Do you recognize the limits of your primary source base?

Style and Citation

Use Chicago Style/Turabian citation. Chicago/Turabian is the standard for historical writing. Use footnotes rather than parenthetical citations. Refer to guides for citation in the A Pocket Guide to Writing in History and on the Howe Writing Center Chicago handout.


The paper should be at least 1000 words, double-spaced, using a normal 12-point font, such as Times New Roman, with normal margins.


For tips on historical analysis and reading, see Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. For a model of a historian working their way through the primary sources, see Arnold, History: A Very Short Introduction.