Historiography Review Essay

There are two common uses of the term "Historiography."


The historiography (general descriptor) of a topic is the sum total of the interpretations of a specific topic written by past and current historians.

  • For example: "The historiography of the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima changed over the years as new research questioned the former consensus view that the decision to drop the atomic bomb was predicated on the necessity to save American lives."

Thus you can talk about "the state of the historiography" at a point in time, or you can "add historiography" to a paper to make it more complete.


A historiography (noun) or historiographical paper is an analysis of the interpretations of a specific topic written by past historians. 

  • Specifically, a historiography identifies influential thinkers and reveals the shape of the scholarly debate on a particular subject. 

The major purpose of writing a historiographical paper is to convey the scholarship of other historians on a particular subject, rather than to analyze the subject itself.

  • A historiography can be a stand-alone paper, in which case your paper examines the work completed by other historians. 
  • Alternately, a historiography can act as an introduction to a major research paper, in which you will go on to add your own analysis.

Thus, a good historiography does the following:

  • Points out influential books and papers that exemplified, shaped, or revolutionized a field of study.
  • Shows which scholars were most effective in changing the scope of the debate.
  • Describes the current trends in the field of study, such as which interpretation is currently in the mainstream.
  • Allows the writer (that's you!) to position themselves in the field for their analysis.

And now, some ways to mess up the research for your senior thesis:

  • Procrastinate. After all, how long can it take to do the research for an 80-page paper?
  • Choose a topic for which the primary sources are inaccessible to you – they are in a language you can’t read, in an archive you can’t get to, or are still classified by the government that created them.
  • Start (and end) your research by googling your topic. After all, all those expensive books, microfilm and digital collections the university paid for can’t possibly have anything useful in them.
  • Don’t worry now about keeping track of what you’ve read or about formatting your bibliography. You’ll be able to find all the information you need easily when you’re writing the final draft.
  • Assume that whatever you need – obscure journal articles, books, photocopies of manuscript material from archives in Europe -- can be delivered to you at the last minute. That's what Borrow Direct is for, right?

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