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HIS-101-90, Dynamics of History (SP13)

INSTRUCTOR: Alison J. Dray-Novey       

SCHEDULE/DAY/TIME: This is an on-line course that will extend over 14 weeks in the spring term. Each of seven units will be two weeks long and will be associated with an on-line discussion; five will include a short paper. One unit will address oral history, and another, history on film.


What is history? What are historical facts and interpretations, and how are they related? Can the human mind know the reality, not just the myths, of the past? What is the role of evidence?  Of theory? Of the professional historian? This course introduces students to analysis of primary sources and to major aspects of historical thought and writing. The skills that it teaches are highly relevant to general education goals in critical thinking and clear expression, as well as basic to everyday life and work. 


The course fosters the following skills:

(1) critical thinking; recognizing that arguments must be based on data;

(2) careful, skeptical reading; questioning the printed page;

(3) clear and logical writing;

(4) discussing ideas in a constructive manner;

(5) evaluating historical books and films;

(6) conducting an interview on a historical topic.


Group on-line discussion; readings; short on-line presentations by the instructor; viewing and discussion of the docudrama film “A Midwife’s Tale” (1997) and a few feature films on historical subjects.


Some exercises will require on-line research in the website www.dohistory.org, which contains the entire text of the Ballard diary (see book by Ulrich listed below) and many other interesting sources. In addition, there will be an end-of-term essay (5 pages) and an oral history interview to be transcribed (length open) and analyzed (2-3 pages).

Grading is based on a system of one thousand points. The five papers, gradually increasing in length, are weighted more heavily over time in the pattern 75, 100, 100, 150, 250. Seven graded discussions are worth 70 points (ten for each). The oral history project carries 200 points. The remaining 55 points are assigned to your journal, submitted at the end of the course.   


The following (all paperbacks) are required:

(1) James W. Davidson and Mark H. Lytle, After the fact: the art of historical detection (6th ed., 2010, with CD-ROM).  ISBN 978-0-07-338548-8. 

(2) Conal Furay and Michael J. Salevouris, The  methods and skills of history (3rd ed., 2010).  ISBN 978-0-88295-272-7. 

(3) Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A midwife’s tale; the life of Martha Ballard as told in her diary, 1785-1812 (1990).  ISBN 0-679-73376-0.


Please read Chapter 1 by Ulrich, pp. 3-35.