The Catholic University of America

History 387: Junior Seminar


This class is the first step toward a successful senior thesis and is divided into three units. In the first unit we will discuss the theoretical underpinnings of the discipline and study the essential tools of the trade along with the history of history itself. The second and third units will each replicate the senior thesis experience in miniature, reading three contrasting secondary works and multiple primary sources on a topic and then producing a paper that creates an original thesis out of the primary sources while situating its arguments in the midst of the historiographical debates of the secondary works.


For the second and third units, the professor will propose possible topics, which will be put to a vote. The topics proposed by the instructor are:


The English Reformation
The Italian Renaissance
Joan of Arc
The Thirty Years War
Native Americans and Colonials
Medieval Expectations of the Apocalypse
The Fall of the Roman Empire
The English Civil War
Islam and Europe

Update: The class chose the The Fall of the Roman Empire and Native Americans and Colonials.



Instructional Methods


Most classes will be composed of three parts: an in-class writing exercise on topics ranging from the philosophy to the practice of history; a lengthy discussion on the reading of the week; and a mini-lecture on some aspect of historical study, such as chronology, how to read an academic book, and the study of paleography.





Each week will have a writing assignment of at least two pages (double spaced, 12 point font for all text including punctuation marks). Many of these will be a book review, which should assess the main argument and sources of the author and should discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the book. You should at some point in your review consider how well the primary sources that you have read for the week agree with the argument of the historian.


There will be two papers (8-10+ pages) that will require you to create your own thesis about the topics of units three and four. Each paper should use the primary sources to defend your argument while demonstrating how your argument relates to those of the secondary works read. The first paper is due on Friday, November 11th at noon, and the second paper is due on Friday, December 16th at noon.


During the Eleventh Week we will have an in-class paper workshop. You should bring seven copies of your first paper to class. You will turn in one copy, which will be graded as part of your final paper grade. The other six copies will be read by and discussed with fellow classmates. The final paper is due on Friday and should include the copies of your previous draft with your classmates' comments, so that I can see how you responded to their comments in your final version. If you do not bring at least five pages of a rough draft to the paper workshop, your final grade will drop by one letter (e.g., from an A to a B).



Participation: 10%
Writing Assignments: 30%
First Paper: 30%
Second Paper: 30%



Course Schedule


Unit One: Tools of the Trade


Week One (8/31): Introduction


Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life
Daniel Woolf, A Global History of History

Assignment: Write a manifesto of historical practice.  This is your "declaration of purpose" as a historian: practices that you believe the historian should follow, ideals to pursue, rules to obey, etc. 

Also, by August 30st, email to your instructor a copy of your worst college paper.  Remove your name from the paper before you send it.  This paper will be anonymously shared and critiqued by the class.


Week Two (9/7): Fiction and Style



Jonathan Spence, The Question of Hu
Jim Cullen, Essaying the Past (selections)
The worst papers of your classmates

Assignment: Edit two of the worst papers (not including your own).  Your edits should include grammatical errors as well as suggestions to improve style, content, and organization.

Mini-Lecture: What Makes a Good Senior Thesis?




Week Three (9/14): Sources


Timothy Garton Ash, The File
Woolf, pp. 119-172

Thesis: Robert Coons

Assignment: Write a prospectus for a historical research project that you would like to undertake.

Mini-Lecture: Internet Research




Week Four (9/21): Primary Source Exercise


Primary Source Packet #1 (Blackboard)
Woolf, pp. 177-276

Thesis: Sean Phillips

Assignment: Write a short account of the event using only the sources in the primary source packet (3-5 pages).




Week Five (9/28): Argument and Logic


Andrea Lunsford and John Ruskiewicz, Everything's An ArgumentWoolf, pp. 281-340

Thesis: Stephen Borthwick

Assignment: Collect five examples of bad arguments.  These can be from any source--advertisements, books, casual conversation, etc. Copy them down, and then write a paragraph for each explaining why they are bad arguments. If there is a way to rework the argument to improve it, indicate what this might be.

Mini-Lecture: Logic and Rhetoric




Week Six (10/5): Decline of Spain Debate Day


J. H. Elliott, "The Decline of Spain"
J. H. Elliott, "Self-Perception and Decline in Early Seventeenth-Century Spain"
Henry Kamen, "The Decline of Spain: A Historical Myth?"
Jonathan Israel, "The Decline of Spain: A Historical Myth?"
Henry Kamen, "A Rejoinder"
Primary Source Packet #2
Woolf, pp. 345-395

Thesis: Brett Kline

Assignment: Summarize the arguments of the three historians, giving each at least a paragraph in which you explain the strengths and weaknesses of his argument.

Mini-Lecture: Footnotes and Abbreviations




Week Seven (10/12): Modern Historiography


Kathleen Troup and Anna Green, The Houses of History
Woolf, pp. 457-513

Thesis: Philip Donoho

Assignment: What will future historiographical trends include? Where do you expect history to go next?

Mini-Lecture: How to Read an Academic Book




Unit Two: Native Americans and Colonials


Week Eight (10/19): Antagonism


Peter Silver, Our Savage Neighbors

Primary Source Packet #3

Assignment: Book Review

Mini-Lecture: How to Take Notes




Week Nine (10/26): Cooperation


Richard White, The Middle Ground

Primary Source Packet #4

Assignment: Book Review

Mini-Lecture: Paleography




Week Ten (11/2): Environmental History


Cronon, Changes in the Land

Primary Source Packet #5

Assignment: Book Review

Mini-Lecture: Style




Week Eleven (11/9): Paper Workshop

Assignment: Seven copies of your rough draft of the first paper.


First Paper Due: Friday, November 11th at noon




Unit Three: The Fall of the Roman Empire


Week Twelve (11/17): Political Thought


Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (selections)

Primary Source Packet #6

Assignment: Book Review

Mini-Lecture: Oral History



Week Thirteen (11/30): Catastrophe


Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome

Primary Source Packet #7

Assignment: Book Review

Mini-Lecture: Material History



Week Fourteen (12/7): Revisionism


Brown, The World of Late Antiquity

Primary Source Packet #8

Assignment: Book Review

Mini-Lecture: Into the Archive


Second Paper Due: Friday, December 16th at noon


You can find earlier syllabi for this course: Fall 2008, Fall 2009, and Fall 2010.