Methods and evidence in the history of the United States of America

(Convenor: Pekka Hämäläinen and others)

This course explores the development of American historical writing from the 1890s to the present and examines how successive generations of historians have addressed issues of method and evidence. The subject is pursued in a weekly class over two terms. For each session class members are assigned key texts relating to a particular topic; they take turns in leading the discussion. The first term covers the major developments in historical writing from the professionalization of the discipline at the end of the nineteenth century through to the 1980s. Topics usually covered in this term include: Frederick Jackson Turner and the frontier thesis; Charles Beard and the Progressive historians; the consensus school; the New Left; history from below and the new social history; cliometrics and quantitative history; and cultural approaches to political history. During the second term, which focuses on contemporary debates in historical writing, the topics usually covered include: the new western history; religion; the cultural turn and cold war history; conservatism; gender; new directions in political history; ethnicity, nationalism, and whiteness; and the grass-roots struggle for racial equality.

The structure of this paper allows students to pursue their specialised interests in particular periods and themes of American history while at the same time ensuring that they get a broad grounding in American historiography. Feedback questionnaires provide evidence that, whatever their intended specialism, students find the classes relevant and rewarding.

Syllabus and reading list