The Art of History

The Perspectives on History “Art of History” column launched in December of 2009, offering senior historians’ thoughts and advice on researching, writing, and reading history.  Today, we roundup all the articles that have been a part of “The Art of History” so far, covering how to pick a dissertation topic, choose good sources, find the humor in history, and more.

Art of History December 2010

    • Teaching Scholarship (December 2009)
      By Caroline Walker Bynum
      In the first article in the “Art of History” series, Caroline Walker Bynum explains how she teaches her students hard work, integrity, putting history in context, making new discoveries, and an “unerring sense of what scholarship is.”
    • How Writing Leads to Thinking (And not the other way around) (February 2010)
      By Lynn Hunt
      Lynn Hunt admits that writing is stressful, hard, and time-consuming, but points out that it’s also “a magical and mysterious process that makes it possible to think differently.”
    • Crafting Histories: For Whom Does One Write? (March 2010)
      By Dipesh Chakrabarty
      To be taken seriously, does academic writing have to be done in an inaccessible style? Dipesh Chakrabarty delves into this question, pulling examples from academic debates in India and his own experiences as a teacher and researcher, and celebrating diversity in writing styles.

Art of History February 2010

  • In Defense of Academic History Writing (April 2010)
    By Gordon Wood
    Gordon Wood defends academics’ choice to write analytic history rather than narrative history, explaining that their primary goal is to expand our knowledge of the past, and not to entertain the masses.
  • The Poetics of History from Below (September 2010)
    By Marcus Rediker
    Marcus Rediker discusses storytellers, poetry, and the power of words in creating a “sympathetic understanding of the historical subject.”
  • The Ability to Recognize a Good Source (October 2010)
    By David L. Ransel
    Fascinating stories can lie undiscovered in the archives, read but not valued, until a historian comes along and realizes how good a source is. David L. Ransel points to examples of this with Carlo Ginzburg’s use of trial transcripts in The Cheese and the Worms, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s embracing of Martha Ballard’s dairy in A Midwife’s Tale, and Ransel’s own rediscovery of a Russian merchant’s diary. These historians didn’t discover these sources, rather they were the first to appreciate them.

 

Art of History October 2010

  • Reading, Writing, and the Art of History (November 2010)
    By David Harlan
    David Harlan explains that how you read affects how you write.
  • Lessons of History (December 2010)
    By Christopher Tomlins
    Christopher Tomlins examines “the conception of history” in three ways: narrative history;  scientific history that builds a coral reef of historical knowledge through cumulative accretions of Rankean investigations; and a complex accumulation of knowledge about the past seen as always indeterminate.
  • Writing between the Past and the Present (January 2011)
    By Laura F. Edwards
    Writing about the past allows us to make sense of it, asserts Laura Edwards in this article. She states that historical writing is a “conversation between past and present through which meaning is revealed.”
  • Where Is the Humor in History? (February 2011)
    By Dane Kennedy
    In this article by Dane Kennedy, he suggests ways to add humor and wit when writing “serious history.”
  • Wise Choices (April 2011)
    By Jane Caplan
    “How do graduates choose a dissertation project? And how should they?” Jane Caplan offers advice on how to make the weighty decision of a dissertation topic.
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