E10.2135: Historical Research - FALL 2002

Dr. Jonathan Zimmerman


Office: 246 Greene St., 3rd floor

Office Hours: Tuesday, 2:30-4:30 and by appointment

Office Phone: 998-5049

E-mail: JLZIMM@aol.com


     This course will explore and apply the central methods and theories of modern historical research. In weekly readings and discussions, we will probe how historians choose topics, frame questions, gather evidence, and draw conclusions. Throughout the semester, meanwhile, each student will practice these skills via an original piece of primary research. The goal is to expand history, not simply to “examine” it.



1. Reading: For each week, I will assign several short readings. About half of these will come from three books, all available in paperback at the bookstore and on reserve at Bobst Library:


Joyce Appleby, et. al., Telling the Truth About History

Michael Kammen, In the Past Lane: Historical Perspectives on American Culture

Lawrence W. Levine, The Unpredictable Past: Explorations in American Cultural History


The other readings are from a variety of publications, which I have collected in a “packet” for sale at the bookstore. On the course schedule below, these readings are marked with a “P.”

2. Responses: Each week, I will ask you to hand in a BRIEF (1-2 pages, maximum) response to the assigned readings. As my questions on the course schedule should indicate, I hope this exercise encourages you to apply the readings to your own historical research. Please note: I do not accept late responses.

3. Attendance: In this course, I want us all to learn from each other. So it is imperative that you prepare for--and attend--every class, on time. If an emergency forces you to be tardy or absent, I would ask that you please notify me (by phone or e-mail) beforehand.

4. Classroom Presentation: During the last three classes, each student will present their key historical argument. To illuminate it, please use at least one visual or aural aid (photograph, film, music, etc.).

5. Final Essay: In lieu of a final exam, I will collect your essays on December 19. My prime criteria in evaluating them will be the originality and clarity of your argument. So as you research and write, ask yourself: What is the state of current knowledge on my subject? How will my project alter or augment it? Have I demonstrated how my own claims differ from other historians’ work? Please note: I do not accept late essays.



Weekly Responses: 25%

Classroom Presentation and Participation: 25%

Final Essay: 50%




September 5: Course introduction


September 12: The Historical is Personal: Choosing a Subject

Kammen, In the Past Lane, ch. 1.

Response: How do historians choose their subjects of study? Which subject have you selected? Why?

Presentation: Dr. Nancy Cricco, University Archivist


September 19: Framing a Question, I: Probing the Secondary Literature

Levine, Unpredictable Past, ch. 2.

Anne Meyerowitz,  “Beyond the Feminine Mystique: A Reassessment  of Postwar Mass Culture, 1946-1958,” Journal of American History 79 (March 1993), 1455-1482 (P).

Response: How do historians use other scholars’ work to ask new questions about their subject? What secondary literature do you expect to address in your own research?

Presentation: Jennifer Schwartz, U.S. History Librarian


September 26: Framing a Question, II: Identifying Primary Sources

Levine, Unpredictable Past, ch. 3

Amy Bentley, “Islands of Serenity: Gender, Race, and Ordered Meals During World War II,” Food and Foodways 6 (1996): 131-56 (P).

Brett Gary, “Communication Research, The Rockefeller Foundation, and Mobilization for the War on Words, 1938-1944,” Journal of Communication 46 (1996): 124-48 (P).

Response: How do historians select and employ primary sources? Which primary sources will help you frame and answer your own question?

Presentation: Dr. Amy Bentley, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, School of Education, New York University

Presentation: Dr. Brett Gary, Department of History, Drew University


October 3: Theories of History

Appleby, et. al., Telling the Truth About History, chs. 2, 4, 6

Response: How have historians’ dominant theories about their own discipline changed over the past century? Which of these theories might influence your own project? How?


October 10: “New” sources, I: Oral Histories

Jack Dougherty, “From Anecdote to Analysis: Oral Interviews and New        

Scholarship in Educational History,” Journal of American History 86 (Sept. 1999), 712-23. (P).

Jonathan Zimmerman, “Beyond Double Consciousness: Black Peace Corps Volunteers in Africa, 1961-1971,” Journal of American History 82 (1995), 999-1028 (P).

Response: How does oral-history evidence differ from other sorts of primary data? How might you use oral histories to further your own project?


October 17: “New” sources, II: Photography, Film, Architecture, Art

Levine, Unpredictable Past chs. 12-13

Kammen, In the Past Lane, ch. 3, 6

Response: How do historians draw conclusions from so-called “visual” sources?

How might these sources improve your own project?


October 24: Historical Scholarship on the Internet

Charles Hardy III and Alessandro Portelli, “I Can Almost See the Lights of Home--A Field Trip to Harlan County, Kentucky,” Journal for  Multimedia History 2 (1999): http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/

Response: How does scholarship on the Internet differ--in its sources, its methods, and its style of argument--from scholarship in print? What are the special advantages and perils of Internet history? How might your own project change or benefit if you presented it on the Internet rather than in the traditional print format?

Presentation: Dr. Charles Hardy, Department of History, West Chester University


October 31: NO CLASS; please prepare tentative introduction and outline, to

share with the group on November 7.

November 7: Truth and “Objectivity” in HistoryAppleby, et. al., Telling the Truth About History, ch. 7

Levine, Unpredictable Past, ch. 1

Jonathan Zimmerman, “Tell truth about Thanksgiving and other distortions of history,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 25, 1994 (P).

Molefi Asante, “Calling ancient Egyptians black isn’t myth-making,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 17, 1994 (P).

Response: Do you agree with these authors’ remarks about historical truth and objectivity? How has your own historical research influenced your views on these issues?



November 14: Whose History? Hiroshima and “Heritage”

David Thelen, “History After the Enola Gay Controversy: An Introduction,” Journal of American History 82 (1995), 1029-35 (P).

Richard H. Kohn, “History and the Culture Wars: The Case of the Smithsonian Institution’s Enola Gay Exhibition,” Journal of American History 82 (1995), 1036-63 (P). Kammen, ch. 9.

Response: What is the difference between “history” and “heritage”? Who should determine how our past is written and commemorated? Which “side”--if any--would you have taken in the Enola Gay dispute?

Presentation: Dr. Robert Cohen, Department of Teaching and Learning, School of Education, New York University

Presentation: Ms. Delia Rios, Newhouse Publishing Company, Washington, D.C.


November 21: NO CLASS


November 28: Presentations, I


December 5: Presentations, II


December 12: Presentations, III