History 203
Dimensions of History
Roger Williams University
11:00-12:30, T, Th
CAS 222
Fall Semester, 2002
Michael R. H. Swanson, Ph. D.
Office:  CAS 110
Hours:  T, Th, F 9:00-10:00
M, 12:00-1:00
Phone 401 254 3230
E-mail: hist203@tiac.net
Examines the basic concerns of historians in the modern world, focusing on the development of history as an academic discipline, philosophies of history, and elements of historical method (research, writing, and analysis) 3 credits.


Davidson, James W., and Lytle, Mark H.
After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection
New York: McGraw Hill College Division, 2000

Rutherfurd, Edward
New York: Fawcett Books

Fisher, David Hackett,
              Historian's Falacies:  Towards a Logic of Historical Thought
              New York:  Harper Perennial, 1970

Some Opening Remarks

The world of knowledge has changed dramatically since I began teaching 30 years ago.  The major change ("revolutionary" is not too strong a word) is the explosion of access to information of all sorts.  Regardless of who "invented" the information highway, we're all on it, or at least on its shoulder, and I don't believe we can survive doing the "same old, same old" much longer.  Consequently, I've requested a special room with computer access for all, and information retrieval, evaluation, and dissemination will be central to this experience. 

Integrating new techniques with old ones is a risky business.  I think this is a good course to use to stretch our capacities: it is a requirement only of the history major, and elective for everyone else.  This means that those of you who are not majoring in history don't have to be here unless you want to be here.  Those of you who are majoring in history should find the research techniques and methodologies very useful for the upper level courses.  Hopefully, the rest of you will find them useful, too.

Expectations of the Course

The catalogue description I've reproduced above is a good summary of what we'll be doing in this course.  In addition, I want to explore some of the ways non-academic history interacts with the lives of people outside the bounds of a campus like our own.  Large numbers of people who never have enjoyed studying history find experiencing it enjoyable and interesting.  Popular fiction and movies on historical themes draw large audiences (Brave Heart, for example, or The Madness of George III, which we'll watch in class), and historical tourism is a booming business. 

Each of the three main books in this course is designed to give us opportunities to experience academic history and explore its connections with life in general.  After the Fact will introduce us to a number of the problems of historical method and to a wide variety of theoretical approaches to the study of the past. Its 15 chapters provide a chronological exposure to American history, but they are independent of each other and each tells its own story.  Those of you who have had U. S. History I and II will have some advantage in background, but I am confident you won't find it the story repetitive.  Those who have not had those courses will not be at a disadvantage.  We will read most of this book, with class discussions led by teams of class members.

London narrates the adventures and misadventures of about a half dozen fictitious English families through nearly 2,000 years of the development of the English Nation.  We'll make this book central to an ongoing exercise involving research and class presentations by teams of investigators.  It will also sit at the core of a paper each student will write.  These presentations and papers will build upon the factual elements in this novel, based on internet research conducted as part of the process.  The book is a fascinating exposition of fairly ordinary people caught up in fairly extraordinary events.  It is also VERY long.  I want to encourage people to get to, and through, the book in an expeditious fashion, reading it casually before returning to it with a greater eye for detail.  In order to encourage you and to apply a wee bit of the whip, there will be a series of quizzes on a regular basis between now and mid October, by which time everyone should have completed a preliminary reading.

Finally, I've added a classic study of the issues and difficulties involved in thinking historicall:  David Hackett Fisher's Historian's Fallacies.  Novelists like Rutherfurd have the god-like faculty of arranging things the way they want.   While historians might like to have the same faculty, they don't, and have an obligation to writing as truthfully as they know how to do.  On the surfact, this would seem easy enough, but as Fisher will show us, there are a million doors through which error can creep in.  This is a difficult book, as I wrote you over the summer.  But you're bright folk and I think you'll do just fine with it after you've thrown it at the wall a few times.

The Internet Component

We will be spending part of most class periods doing some internet work, and a significant part of your work outside of class will be internet based.  I have begun a website for this class: you can locate it at http://hist203.homestead.com.   After today, this site will be the controlling authority for this class.  I do not plan to hand out any more written materials except in the case of unforseen circumstances.  Having said that, I have to say that I am certain that there will be a number of unforseen circumstances: the technology of the internet is relatively new and growing by leaps and bounds.  In its history, it is about as well developed as the model T was in the history of the automobile.  We can expect machines not to work, systems to crash, websites to appear and disappear, and all sorts of other instances of Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong, will).  We'll just roll with the punches and do our best.  UNFORTUNATELY, I have not been able to secure a computer-equipped classroom for this class, though our space is internet wired.  This means I will have to do more demonstration and there will be less hands-on time for us.  I am going to try to establish a place and time where I can offer tuturials.

Grading and Evaluation

People will be graded on a combination of written and oral presentations, plus possibly a quiz or two.  There will be an additional requirement for a "research log," in which your daily work is faithfully and accurately recorded.

Oral work in the classroom.

1.    Class Discussions on the essays in Davidson will be led by panels of  three students. Each student will be responsible for participating in a panel. Students will list essays in order of preference, and I will do my best to ensure that students get their higher choices in each case.  Students will be evaluated on how well they have mastered the material and how well they encourage the class to enter into the discussion.  I will encourage each group to meet with me at least once in the planning phase and perhaps a second time immediately before it presents.  (Everyone needs to be aware that this is a reciprocal obligation: the more you participate as a member of the class the more you have a right to expect from the class when you're in a leadership position).  The discussion should count approximately 20% of your final grade.

2.    Group Research and presentation of information relating to one of the units involved in studying Rutherfurd.  The class will be apportioned equally among the units (see the website for how these units are divided).  The group is responsible for conducting internet research on selected people, places, events, movements, objects, etc., mentioned in the chapters for which they are responsible.  Each group will be responsible for a 45 minute (minimum) presentation and a "webliography" of pertinent websites.  Part of this will be devoted to presenting a summary of that part of the book itself.  The presentation will count about 15% of each student's final grade.

Written work:

1.   A paper, based on some aspect of your work using Rutherfurd.  This paper should be the equivalent of between 5 and 10 pages in length, documented informally (more of that later), but written grammatically with some attention to a pleasing literary style.  This paper must be posted to a website of your own making.  This will count approximately 25% of your final grade.

2.    A short reaction paper (2-3 pages maximum), based on either of the two articles from Davidson and Lytle for which you will be responsible to lead  class discussion.  This will count approximately 15% of your final grade, and is due one week after your class discussion occurs.

3.    Quizzes on Rutherfurd.  These will be short answer, general, rather than specific, and designed to reward diligent and timely reading.  These will count approximately 15% of your final grade,

Other Work

1.    Students will keep a detailed log of the work they do for this course.  This log will record regularly the date, activity, and time spent.  It will include a record of the URLs of the websites visited during each study period. This log will count approximately 10% of your final grade.  Logs kept exceptionally and faithfully will be granted additional weight to the point where they may boost a student's grade by 1/3 or 2/3 of a letter.  I may call the logs in for periodic evaluation without prior notice.

2.    Attendance and Participation.  This course will only work if everyone gives it his or her best.  Attendance will be taken on a regular basis, and excessive absences penalized.  The quality of participation and preparation for class will be evaluated and constitute approximately 10% of your grade. Three unexcused absences will lower a grade by 1/3.  Coming, but coming unprepared is the equivalent of an absence.  Excuses will be granted for illness, a family emergency, or a scheduled activity for another class if the teacher of that class notifies me directly.  Seven unexcused absences will result in the assignment of the grade of F. Exemplary attendance and participation will boost grades.

Assignment for Thursday, September 5, 2002.

1.      Visit the Class Website at http://hist203.homestead.com.

2.     Click on the button which leads to Resources (left column) and then on button which leads to Tutorials.

3.     Locate the tutorial provided by HUMBUL (HUMBUL Humanities Hub is a collaborative service of the Oxford University Computing Services and the Oxford Library Services.)  You'll find it with the icon saying The Internet for Historians.  Over the next several weeks I want you to take this tutorial  Begin with the "tour" section, and try to have that completed by Thursday (by Tuesday at the latest).

4.     Visit the website http://www.murl.com.  MURL stands for My Universal Resource Locator. It is a site which allows you to create a file of bookmarks or favorite places on the internet which you can reach from any computer you happen to be using at the time.  Log in, and make yourself a free account. Alternaternately (or additionally, which is kind of the belt and suspenders approach), visit a similar site at http://www.blink.com.  Sign up for a bookmark account at one or both of these sites.

5.     Look over After the Fact and London, if you haven't already begun to read it.  You will lead the class in a discussion of one of the chapters in the former and conduct research on some aspect of the latter. If there are people with whom you'd like to work start discussions with them as soon as possible.