UMD Historiographical Essay

Historiographical Essay: In this assignment, you will write a historiographical essay based on a survey of eight or more of the secondary sources you found in the Library Project (Searching Exercise).

Think of historiography as akin to geography. As geography is a survey of the landscape, so historiography is a survey of what historians have said on your topic.

This paper must be a survey of the secondary source materials related to the topic of your own major research paper. Every field observes the practice of a survey of secondary sources. In some fields, this is called the literature review. In our field, this practice is called Historiography. See the Historiography reading in the Week 6 Readings.

The goal of a historiographical essay is to show what others have argued about your topic. You must develop a new approach for your own research paper, so a survey of what others have written about your topic is crucial to establishing what is new about your research. This assignment should be about 1,500 to 2,000 words long (six to eight pages).

You need to produce an overview of what other historians have written about your topic.

  • What were their theses (not your thesis)?
  • What were their main arguments?
  • What sources did they examine and how did that influence their arguments?

Your Historiographical Essay should be about 6 to 8 pages long. All of the secondary sources you summarize must be cited with endnotes (not footnotes). You may expand your Historiographical Essay to as long as eight pages, but no longer than eight full double spaced pages. I want you to be able to plug your Historiographical Essay into your final paper in History 495 as your historiography section.

By doing a Historiographical Essay, you learn what other historians’ have argued about your topic, which will help you avoid simply repeating what has already been said. You will then better understand how your thesis adds to our examination of your topic. Are you taking a new approach, using new sources, and/or a new focus? After doing your Historiographical Essay, you should have gained a basic understanding of how your paper is adding something unique because you have seen what other historians have argued about your topic (and related topics).

Here is what should not be in your Historiographical Essay.:

  • Do not put forward your argument about the subject at all. Historiography is about what other scholars have written about your topic. This paper is to show the reader what other scholars have argued about your topic. It is not your argument.
  • Do not include your assessment of other scholars’ arguments. You should only tell what they have argued, not critique their arguments or challenge their assumptions. You will be doing that later in your HIST 495 paper.
  • Do not include primary sources. This is not a mini-version of your capstone paper.

Nowhere in your Historiographical Essay should you indicate what your arguments are. Do not put your own thesis of your paper. You will write your own paper with your argument and primary sources research in History 495.

Instead the goal of this assignment is to learn what other historians have written about your topic. This will give you a solid idea of what has already been written about your topic. This allows you to see where your ideas will fit in to what has already been written about your topic. If you have any questions about what should or shouldn’t be in your Historiographical Essay ask me.

In organizing your Historiographical Essay, you should introduce your topic and the general arguments you found about your topic by other historians in the first paragraph (the thesis paragraph). Again, do not describe your views about the topic. Then try to organize your paper around the different interpretations you have found. You will need a thesis paragraph in which you give an overview of what other historians have argued about your topic. Then summarize each secondary source. You can do that by devoting one paragraph to a summary of each secondary source. In your summary of each secondary source include the author’s name, the title of their work, their thesis, their main supporting points, and the sources they used. Then finish with a conclusion paragraph that sums up the major arguments you have just summarized in your supporting points.

When you write your final paper in History 495, you will take your Historiographical Essay and use it as your historiography section. You can correct any errors that I noted when I grade your Historiographical Essay and simply insert it into your final History 495 paper. The reader can then see what others have argued about your topic from your historiography section. They can then see what existing interpretations you are arguing against or how your ideas are new compared to what has already been written about your topic. Having a historiography section allows the reader to compare your approach/argument with others who have looked at the same or similar topics so that they can understand what is new about your project.

Here are two example Historiographical Papers. Note how they just summarize what other historians have argued about the author’s topic rather than putting forward the author’s argument (also note how they are not term papers): Circleville Massacre, A Tragic Incident in the Black Hawk War | History to Go (

Editorial: Little known Circleville Massacre is very much worth remembering – The Salt Lake Tribune ( The Circleville Massacre · Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive (

New monument to honor Paiutes slain in Circleville Massacre – Deseret News

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