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History in Practice: Fury, Folly and Footnotes - 20 credits (HS1107)

Module convenor: Dr Tracey Loughran

Course Description

History is everywhere, and it is used by everyone. It is on television and in novels; heritage organizations rely on the appeal of history to sell tickets to castles; politicians use history to justify different (and often contradictory) policies; and last but not lease, history is also found in universities, and it is also used by historians in all kinds of different ways. What are the differences between all these different types of history, and why do academic historians attach more value to some than others? This module will help you to answer these questions, as well as a question which you will probably start to ask very soon in your undergraduate career: why can’t historians stick to the facts and keep it simple? Why do they have to disagree about everything? By the end of the module, you will not only understand why historians disagree, but you will have developed a set of practical skills that will enable you to participate in these debates, and to disagree with the historians you are reading (and perhaps with your tutors as well!)

History in Practice introduces you to the different frameworks which underpin historical research and the many different ways of writing history, while providing training in the skills necessary to practice history at undergraduate level. The module is taught through a range of case studies from different chronological periods, stretching from medieval life-writing through to Nazi Germany and up to uses of history in the media today. It draws on different types of historical writing, such as national histories and biographies, and explores different types of source material, such as art, literature, and oral history. Lectures and seminars not only instruct you in study skills, but encourage you to make connections between undergraduate and professional practice – to see how writing a good essay involves essentially the same skills as writing a good book. By the end of the module, you will be a practising historian: History in Practice does what it says on the label.

Credits: 20

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures and seminar discussion of major issues. The syllabus is divided into a series of major course themes, then sub-divided into principal topics for the study of each theme.

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures aim to provide a basic framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

The primary aim of seminars will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants. Seminars for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students to analyse and further discuss key issues and topics relating to lectures.


There is no formative assessment on this module. Summative assessment takes the form of:

  1. Four VLE pass/fail multiple choice tests. (10%);
  2. 1 x research portfolio consisting of research questions, preliminary bibliography and commentary on constructing the bibliography, essay plan and commentary on essay plan (25%);
  3. 1 x contribution to essay workshop discussion board;
  4. 1 x 2,500-3,500 word research essay, to be accompanied by a 500 word reflective commentary. A set amount of marks are deducted from the research essay for flaws in referencing and presentation (65%).

The VLE tests are designed to reinforce practical skills (using module handbook, using the library, referencing, and written style) which will also be discussed in course literature and in lectures and seminars where appropriate. The research portfolio will further assess students’ ability to employ a range of information retrieval skills and research methods, to compile a bibliography, and to prepare for and understand the purpose of seminars. The research essay, which focuses on the issue of historical debate, requires students to research and write an essay which draws upon the lecture and seminar content, and employs case studies, to explain general and specific reasons for historical disagreements.

Summary of course content

  • the different frameworks which underpin historical research and writing;
  • concepts of the nation, periodization, comparative histories, and macro- and micro-level study;
  • different ways of writing history through an examination of sources, methods and interpretations;
  • consideration of the nature of archives;
  • the process of historical research from the outline of a project to a published article;
  • ethical and unethical historical practice;
  • reputable and disreputable sources for student essays;
  • different types of historical writing, such as biography;
  • various types of source material, such as oral history interviews and visual sources;
  • the differences between academic and non-academic history;
  • history in schools;
  • history and the heritage industry;
  • historical film and fiction;
  • acquisition of study skills;
  • analysis of scholarly articles;
  • writing an abstract;
  • comparing primary sources within published historical work;
  • marking an essay;
  • designing a seminar.

Learning outcomes

  • demonstrate, as a necessary foundation for more detailed analysis in Years Two and Three, an understanding of concepts such as  periodization, comparative approaches, the nature and use of archives, as well as a more general appreciation of the reasons for historical disagreement;
  • draw general conclusions about historical practice from the use of particular case studies of historical debate;
  • use a range of techniques to initiate and undertake analysis of information;
  • critically reflect on his/her own learning process.

Discipline Specific (including practical) Skills:

  • identify strengths, weaknesses, problems, and or peculiarities of alternative historical/historiographical interpretations;
  • understand that historians draw on a range of different sources in their work, and identify the problems and potentialities of using different source material;
  • distinguish between popular and professional histories;
  • develop causal explanations of historical processes;
  • demonstrate skills in comparative historical analysis;
  • deepen their understanding of the broad themes and developments considered in the course through a case study of an event or historical source.

Skills that will be practised and developed

  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in class discussion or in written form, in an accurate, succinct and lucid manner.
  • formulate and justify arguments and conclusions about a range of issues, and present appropriate supporting evidence
  • an ability to modify as well as to defend their own position.
  • an  ability to think critically and challenge assumptions
  • an ability to use a range of information technology resources to assist with information retrieval and assignment presentation.
  • time management skills and an ability to independently organise their own study methods and workload.
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions. 

Suggested preparatory reading

John Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 5th edn (2009).
Peter Lambert and Phillipp Schofield (eds), Making History: an introduction to the practices of history (2004).
Mary Fulbrook, Historical Theory: ways of imagining the past (2007).
Ludmilla Jordanova, History in Practice, 2nd edn (2006).
Jeremy Black and Donald Macraild, Studying History, 3rd edn (2009).