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HI 450 - Topics in Historiography

This course provides each student with the opportunity to think critically about the writing of history. It picalso allows each student to practice his or her communication skills, both verbally and in writing. Rather than reading simply for content, we will spend much of our time analyzing the various approaches to history. We will attempt to understand the assumptions, biases, and interpretive paradigms that underlie each of these approaches. In short, we will focus not on the "what" of history but on the "why" and "how." Each year the History Department accords the Joe Zaccano Award to the student who writes the best paper in HI 450. 


Shanise Marshall, '15 pic

The capstone course for history majors, “Topics in Historiography,” is a valuable way for future picpichistorians to understand the ways in which the study of history has grown and evolved over time. We,  as students in the course, were able to grasp a history  of the discipline itself, giving us a sense of being part of a grand tradition of scholarly research and achievement. Our research into topics in modern Chinese history gave us the opportunity to apply our skills in a meaningful way. My final paper, “The Measure of the Man: A Historiographical Exploration of Chiang Kai-Shek,” allowed me to recognize how time and perspective affect historical research. There are biases inherent in the study of history and ever-new approaches that convey a different angle on any given topic. I concluded, through my research, that every perspective offered something important to the bigger picture and that historiography demonstrates the historian’s interminable quest for historical truth, however it may present itself.

David Kenley

As a student in my capstone course, Shanise wrote a historiographical paper on China’s Nationalist Party leader, Chiang Kai-shek. American historians of the 1940s and 50s depicted Chiang as a selfless anti-communist warrior. By the time of his death in 1975, historians portrayed him as a corrupt, anti-democratic, and hapless pawn of American foreign policy. In the past ten years, however, historians have provided more nuanced analyses of Chiang, recognizing his sincere if misguided efforts in the face of nearly impossible challenges. Shanise’s essay explored the reasons behind these changing interpretations, ranging from new sources of evidence to shifting assumptions on the part of American academics. Throughout, Shanise shed important light on not only Chiang Kai-shek, but more notably on the changing values, methodologies, and perspectives of the American historical profession.


Bella D'Ascanio, '14 Bella D’Ascanio

The Capstone course, Topics in Historiography, provided a meaningful conclusion to my study of history at Elizabethtown College. The course allowed me to gain a deep understanding of different approaches to history and the biases that often characterize those approaches, thereby affording me the opportunity to fine tune my skills in historiography. These improved skills then facilitated research for my final paper. When conducting the research, I was much more critical in choosing sources, examining biases, and analyzing the different approaches to my subject than I had been previously. Presenting my paper on "The Enola Gay Controversy" at Scholarship and Creative Arts Day was beneficial because it allowed me to continue to work on my verbal communication skills, a valuable asset upon which I continue to draw long after graduation from Elizabethtown.

David Brown

Bella's essay, "The Enola Gay Controversy," explored the Culture War canon fight that shadowed America in the 1990s. She observed how the representation of history during this period – from the debate over how to display the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay to the struggle over how to apply "National History Standards" in textbooks – revealed deep divisions among Americans. Working effectively with both primary and secondary source materials, Bella demonstrated that those averse to the multi-culturalism and Rights Revolution that picked up steam in the 1960s were likely to oppose a critical recasting of the country's history. More than a look back, her work contextualized the struggle to define the past with contemporary concerns and questions about national identity. This thoughtful convergence of history and historiography, politics and culture offered a many-faceted perspective of change in the last decade of what many called the "American Century."

Elizabethtown College