How to be a historian

I’ve been reading about moral reform in the nineteenth century the past week or so.  For my class on the Gilded Age in the US, I have one short paper, a long paper, and approximately 7 more classes to go.  My long paper will center on the nexus of moral reform, sex, and women…something like that. I am delving into abortion, contraception, and pornography as they relate to the female sex and the working class.

This is not a new area for me, I wrote my MA thesis for the degree in Demography on the topic of fertility, although that paper concerned female fertility and labor force participation, and was based on current (1970) US statistics.  After I do all this, I will be through with my program.   

Prof gave me an A on my first paper with an admonition increase my development of the “historiographical context’ in the next paper.  Historians worry a lot about historiography.  This, according to Prof, involves not what happened but how the author describes what happened.  In other words, even well-written and researched history is written by someone, and every someone has a particular POV.  Not all POV are equal, however.  

The definition of historiography below comes from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

historiography, the writing of history, especially the writing of history based on the critical examination of sources, the selection of particular details from the authentic materials in those sources, and the synthesis of those details into a narrative that stands the test of critical examination. The term historiography also refers to the theory and history of historical writing.

Wiki defines historiography thusly (partial):

Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic. Scholars discuss historiography topically – such as the “historiography of Catholicism,” the “historiography of early Islam,” or the “historiography of China” – as well as specific approaches and genres, such as political history and social history.  

Allegory on writing history by Jacob de Wit (1754). An almost naked Truth keeps an eye on the writer of history while Wisdom gives advice.

I am the writer, but I intend to wear more clothes.

13 thoughts on “How to be a historian

  1. With my interest in birth control politics, your post sent me to look for precise title of Linda Gordon’s book, “Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right,” published 1976– important in my intro to the new women’s history. Discovered it “completely revised” [Gordon’s website] in 2002, re-published as “The Moral Property of Women.” Intriguing, will have to find that one.


  2. Congratulations on your well deserved A! Gosh! My son’s partner grew up as a Catholic and we were all just discussing what you covered in your post. We also discussed the necessity of separation of church and state. It’s because people sometimes take their religions to extremes thinking all others don’t deserve the consideration of the day.


  3. Wonderful stuff….and only 7 more classes.

    Wonderful news from here too. My writing class, canceled for lack of funds a year ago, is up and running again starting next week. I am a very excited old lady and will take my last essay on Fascist architecture to read. I’m not balanced when new information isn’t going in to my ears.


  4. I am still baffled by the difference between history and historiography. I suppose it is like music and musicology?

    Glad you got an A for your first paper. You are an excellent writer, Diane, with a fine mind, to boot.


  5. This, of course, is the center-point of much debate about the bible. How much of it is fact and how much is POV. I, for one, believe it is almost exclusively POV but that does not mean it does not have a lot to live by, at least not the New Testament.


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