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Research Faculty of Media and Communication, Hokkaido University

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History I (Introduction to Historiography) 2017

Welcome to the page for my course Introduction to Historiography, which is taught in the spring term 2017.

Photo: The Statues of Horace Capron and Kuroda Kiyotaka in Odori Park, Sapporo



Syllabus and Course Outline

Course Goals: To learn the skills of being a historian through conducting a research project on a historical theme. The syllabus is here. The Academic Writing video series, which describes the formatting you should use for your end of term report, is here. And here’s a tip … Taking handwritten notes.

Week 1 (17 April): Course Introduction, Chronologies

Course Introduction:

What you need to do to pass: Submit a 2,500 word essay in an academic style that demonstrates you have understood the key aspects of the historian’s craft.



History is more than “listing facts”. Let’s discuss some of the issues through critical analysis of two timelines: Japanese History, A Chronological Outline and BBC’s Timeline of Japanese History.


The Course Text The Pursuit of History (Sixth Edition):

Let’s read the Preface to the Sixth Edition.

Discussion points:

What are historical facts? Why is history contested? Is there “truth”? Was there ever truth, and if not, why do we bother talking about a “post-truth” world?



Buy a copy of the course text, The Pursuit of History (Sixth Edition) by John Tosh at Seikyo. Read Chapter 1 “Historical Awareness” before the next class. Also, have a look at the book’s homepage on the Routledge Website.

Week 2 (24 April): Ch. 1 “Historical awareness”

In Class:

1) Let’s discuss these keywords which appeared in Chapter 1: Historiography Wk 2 2017. Let’s also tackle the questions for Chapter 1 on the textbook’s homepage.

2) Tell the members of your group about your planned research topic. How will these key terms and concepts be part of your study? Announce your research project topic to the class.

3) Last week we discussed chronologies. Tell members of your group a) the period of the chronology for your research project, b) why you have chosen this period, and c) the projected number/distribution of dates and events within that time period.

Homework: Read Chapter 2 “The uses of history”. Think of answers to the questions for Chapter 2 on the website. Start working on your chronology. We will discuss it in class on 8 May.

Week 3 (1 May): Ch. 2 “The uses of history”

Questions for Class Discussion:

1) Tosh recommends seeking a middle road between metahistory and the rejection of history (pp. 23-26). Using a concrete historical case study (Japanese history, an example from your own country etc.) discuss a metahistory approach, a rejection of history approach, and find that middle ground.

2) Give one possible example of a way in which humans can learn much from the past because the patterns repeat themselves; give one possible example of how the past offers no useful precedent (pp. 26-29).

3) Hobsbawm has asserted that comparisons between the Nazis and present day situations are “pretty pointless” (p. 32). Nevertheless, we do often see people compared to the Nazis. Let’s think of examples of such comparisons, and why they are problematic.

4) Can you think of an event in the future for which we can make a reliable prediction based on history? Explain your reasons for choosing that prediction.

5) Nations are not organic but “imagined communities” (p. 35). What are the practical implications of this for either the study of Japanese history or your own country’s history?

6) Why might conservatives be “disproportionately represented” (p. 39) in the historical profession?

7) Name some advantages of the idea that history should not be relevant today. If this is the case, when should the line be drawn between “history” and “contemporary society”?

8) Think about your research project: How “relevant” is it, and should this be an issue to consider as you continue your research?


For next week, prepare a first draft of your chronology. Bring 3-4 copies to class for use in class discussions and 1 for submission to Philip Seaton (it will form part of your assessment for “class participation”, 5% out of the 50%). During class it will be subjected to critical feedback by your classmates. NB: Students who are absent from class must submit the chronology by email (or they get 0% for this assessment exercise).

Week 4 (8 May): Refereeing Class 1

Students bring a chronology to class that presents an overview of the key period they will study in their project.

Homework: Read the next two chapters of the course text.

Week 5 (15 May): Chs 3 & 4 “Mapping the field” and “The raw materials”

Today we fill in this table and think about what approaches we can use in research projects. 2017 Historiography Chs 3 and 4

Week 6 (22 May): Chs 5 & 6 “Using the sources” and “Writing and interpretation”

Chapter 5

What are the relative merits of “content analysis” vs “problem-solving” approaches to history writing (p. 99)?

Using ideas on pages 100-112, prepare a 5-point manual of the five most important rules when using open access websites as sources for your essays at university.

Will you use statistics in your research project? What possible problems will you encounter with the reliability of those statistics?

Chapter 6

Will your essay be descriptive, narrative, or analytical writing? Why and how?

What is the balance in your essay between the grand sweep of history and investigating a narrow field?

What are some of the problems of comparative history?

How do the qualities of a historian prepare you for what you want to do in the world of work after graduation?

Homework: Prepare materials to bring to class next week (books, papers to read for your project). You will have much time to read/work on your own. Be prepared to answer questions about how these sources will be used in your essay.

Week 7 (29 May): Reading Week 1

Students bring materials to class that they have been reading for their research projects and introduce them to their classmates/teacher.

Week 8 (5 June): Refereeing Class 2

Students bring a first draft of their essay (not necessarily complete, but at least 500-1000 words). Classmates will read the drafts and provide critical feedback.

Week 9 (12 June): Chs 7 & 8 “The limits of historical knowledge” and “History and social theory”

Chapter 7

What are facts? How does this affect our views of positivism vs idealism?

Using the photocopies, discuss how the different history books present the facts relating to Hiroshima. A bonus point for finding a “fact” which is clearly an error (there’s at least one …)!

Why is the distinction between the “facts of the past” and “facts of history” useful (p. 154)?

“Historians can never accurately recreate the past (i.e. achieve historicism) because they have hindsight.” Discuss.

How has postmodernism challenged the history profession?

Chapter 8

“Historians do not need theory. They only need method.” Discuss.

Let’s read the “crude simplification” of Marxism on page 190. What has been the contribution of Marx to historical study?

Is Marxist history past its sell-by date?

Week 10 (19 June): Chs 9 & 10 “Cultural evidence and the cultural turn” and “Gender history and postcolonial history”

Chapter 9

What does the word “culture” mean to you?

How can historians distinguish “high” and “low” culture? Is the distinction useful?

“Photographs are accurate records of moments of the past, but only until the digital age.” Discuss.

“Documentary films, like academic research, are reliable secondary sources for historians.” Do you agree?

How do psychology, literary and anthropology theory contribute to the study of history?

Chapter 10

How do we differentiate women’s history and gender history? What are the achievements and challenges of both?

“The feminist point of the 1960s and 1970s has been heard. So, we no longer need ‘women’s history’. The history of ‘people’ suffices.” Discuss.

What underpinned the rise of postcolonial studies?

Who are the subaltern?

Is ‘asymmetric ignorance’ (p. 249) a major problem in Japanese history or Japanese studies?

What can we learn about postcolonial history by living and study in Hokkaido?

Week 11 (26 June): Reading week 2

Students bring materials to class that they have been reading for their research projects and introduce them to their classmates/teacher.

Week 12 (3 July): Refereeing Class 3

Students bring a complete draft of their essays to class. Classmates will read each others’ drafts and offer advice/criticism.

Week 13 (10 July): Chs 11 & 12 “Memory and the spoken word” and “History beyond academia”

Chapter 11

What is collective memory and how is it different from “history”?

What is the difference between “oral tradition” and “oral history”?

What might some of the differences be between “local” and “national” memory? Give a specific example (e.g. Hokkaido and Japan, or one from your own country).

Why are “sites of memory” important?

What are some of the benefits and problems associated with oral history?

Chapter 12

What role(s) do academic historians have in “public history”?

Give some examples of ways in which “non-professional historians” have a greater impact on popular understandings of history than “professional historians”?

How has the Internet affected the history profession?

Week 14 (24 July): Short Presentations

Students will make a short oral presentation in which they will summarise the key findings of their research projects. This will form the basis of the abstract at the beginning of their research papers.

Week 15 (31 July): Conclusions

Conclusions and submission of term papers.

Reading List

Other general resources.