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Writing in the Discipline

1. Why or in what ways is writing important to your discipline/field/profession?

Writing is fundamental to the study of history. Without writing, there is no history. In order to learn from the past, historians are dependent upon writing and fully engaged with it at all times. The analysis of written documents and the clear communication of what is found in them are essential to the discipline. We make full use of other sources (the oral tradition, the remains of material culture), but writing is the only medium through which those who can no longer speak can still impart to us their thoughts, feelings, and the facts of their time as they were aware of them.

Writing is not only fundamental to historical research, it is also the means by which we communicate with professional colleagues, students, and members of the public. Effective and clear writing is basic to historical studies.

Simon Schama, the noted art historian, said that historians deal with “the past in all its splendid messiness.” It is up to historians to study that messy past and present in written form a more ordered and understandable view of historical events and peoples.

RIC students writing

2. Which courses are designated as satisfying the WID requirement by your department? Why these courses?

The History Department has designated History 281, History 282 and History 389 as its WID courses.

History 281 introduces students to the history of history as a profession, the sub-fields of history such as social, political, economic etc. while at the same time having them write various assignments typical of a history course: synopses, precis, and book reviews to name a few.

History 282 introduces students to a historical topic and then each student chooses a theme within that topic on which to conduct research and write a paper. The first two courses provide the building blocks for the kind of writing the History Department expects at the 200 and 300 level.

History 389 allows students to build on the skills they’ve learned in earlier courses in order to self-design a research project.

3. What forms or genres of writing will students learn and practice in your department’s WID courses? Why these genres?

History students will learn to write narratives, analyses, and interpretations of historical sources—the essential building blocks of the discipline.

4. What kinds of teaching practices will students encounter in your department’s WID courses?

History department WID courses are conducted as workshop/seminars. There will be virtually no lecturing by professors. Rather, students will be assigned readings and/or short written materials that will serve as discussion points during class meetings. (In preparation for such meetings, students are asked to bring in worksheets relevant to the day’s assignment—low stakes writing). Students will also do group work, for example the interpretation/dissection of a historical source (e.g. The Petition of Right from 1628).

5. When they’ve satisfied your department’s WID requirement, what should students know and be able to do with writing?

Students who have completed the History Department’s WID courses should be able to analyze and interpret historical materials, whether they are historians’ writings, articles, monographs, textbooks, or primary sources (material from the historical period under study). They should be able to formulate research questions and then research and write a history essay that has a strong thesis statement and that provides evidence that supports the paper’s thesis.

Page last updated: April 27, 2020