History 590
Fall 1998
Historiographical Essays
 

1. In general, historiographical essays are designed to take a limited body of historical writings and offer comment and analysis on how those writings describe the past.

2. Since we will have dealt with so many books and articles in this course, it may not be possible for you to offer comment on everything or to find a way to integrate everything we have read into your essay. You should try to work as many of the books and articles into your essay as possible, but you should not worry that some are missing. I am far more concerned about quality than quantity alone.

3. The biggest mistake would be to simply summarize the contents of various works. You are analyzing a book's or article's evidence and conclusions, and then comparing and contrasting that evidence and conclusions with what you have found in other works.

4. The easiest approach might be to take the broader historiographical controversies we have engaged in this course and then comment on how works we have read either support or refute various positions within those controversies. These arguments include: intentionalism vs structuralism/functionalism; the special path (Sonderweg) idea; the idea of the Nazi era being an anomaly in the course of German history vs representing continuities with the periods before and after; the nature of Nazism (type of "totalitarianism," type of "fascism," or a unique phenomenon altogether); motivations for the participation of Germans in the violence and murder of the Nazi regime; the idea of Nazism as a "modernizing" force vs being a "reactionary" force; and the nature of Nazi foreign policy (planned expansion vs generalized expansion without specific goals). There are other controversies, but we have spent much time on these already, and presumably you will be more familiar with them.

5. You are writing this paper as the final exercise for the course, rather than as something designed to be comprehended by someone who did not take part in all our class sessions and readings. If you think of it as a polished take-home final, perhaps that will make it easier for you to start. In other words, the best way to start might be to offer a brief overview of the kinds of works we have been reading and discussing, and only then plunge into demonstrating how many of them stake out positions in the historiography.

6. Specific guidelines on page length and format will be distributed soon. In the meantime, these books on reserve for this course can offer further guidance:

John Hiden. Explaining Hitler's Germany: Historians and the Third Reich. Totowa, N.J. : Barnes & Noble, 1983.

Ian Kershaw. The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation. 2nd ed. London E. Arnold, 1989.

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