Historiographic Clues

Historiographic Clues

SOME THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN BOOKS AND ARTICLES

1) WHAT’S THE DEBATE? Use the author’s discussion of other works to define the historiographic debate.

2) WHAT’S THE AUTHOR’S PERSPECTIVE? Is he/she a Marxist? A conservative? A feminist? Trying to be middle of the road? (Seehere for a brief review of the idea of historical perspective.)

  • TIP: Try to find 5 key words that clue you in to the author’s perspective.
  • How does the author compare his/her perspective to others?

3) WHAT’S THE AUTHOR’S METHODOLOGY? Is the author an economic historian? An intellectual historian? A political historian?

  • TIP: Analyze the primary sources which the author uses; they should give you some idea of his/her angle of study.
    How does the author compare his/her methodology to others?

4) WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF THE WORK? WHAT’S ITS THESIS?

  • TIP: Usually discussions of the purpose of a work (to look at some neglected topic, to study a topic from a new angle, etc.) are prime indicators of its thesis (i.e., the author’s conclusions after looking and studying).

5) WHAT SOURCES DOES THE AUTHOR USE? Does he/she rely on original documents? On the works of other historians? On the works of nonhistorians?

  • TIP: Sometimes authors discuss their sources in their preface or introduction. Some provide not only a bibliography but information abut sources in a “preface” to the bibliography. If a book or article lacks a bibliography, check the endnotes or footnotes.