0641 (Fall 2005)

Professor Bruce Venarde

Office hours: Tuesdays, 3:30-5, WWPH 3522

Email: bvenarde@pitt.edu

Office phone: 624-8437


Purpose and Goals

 How do historians come to know what they claim to know about the past?  The aim of this course is to shine a bright light on the artisanal, painstaking, highly personal, and sometimes semi-occult work with primary sources that is the fundamental basis of all historical knowledge. 

This course proposes that it is helpful to think about this issue in terms of a “golden triangle” of historians’ questions, sources, and methods.  Many questions are appropriate to historical inquiry, but not all questions can be answered by all sources or through the application of all methodologies.  Almost any material trace of the past is a potentially useful historical source, but not all primary sources can be used to address all possible questions.  The validity of any given methodology will always depend on the sources to which it is applied and the questions it is used to answer.

In this course we will read a series of historical monographs and scholarly articles, which range in topic from gender and narrative in the Ottoman Empire to Atlantic merchant communities to Jews in eighteenth-century France to twentieth-century Argentine immigration.  Readings around a series of key methodologies: social history via demographic reconstruction; microhistory; institutional history from institutional archives; social, cultural, and political history using judicial records; the uses of visual and material artifacts; oral history; and close textual reading and discursive analysis.  For each monograph or article, we will analyze the sources the author has chosen to use, the methods he or she has chosen to apply, and the questions he or she intends to answer on the basis of this method applied to these sources.


Readings and Discussions

 You are expected to come to each weekly meeting having mastered the assigned reading and prepared to offer thoughtful commentary and evaluation on its approach, source use, methodology, and other characteristics as historical scholarship.  A guide to reading and discussion of this sort (“Reading Historians,” of which you have a copy) will help you get started in thinking about what any given book or article does and does not do, and why, and how, and with what degree of success.  Active participation in discussions is essential.

In one week during the first two months of the semester when the assignment is a single book, you will examine in detail the notes of at least one chapter.  During that week’s discussion, you will be a kind of “super-expert” to whom we will all turn for answers that only a minute examination of documentation can produce.  We’ll decide in advance who will be responsible for this duty in which weeks (through November 1st).  Authors will join us on three occasion: Lara Putnam on September 27th, Maureen Miller on November 8th, and Ronald Schechter on December 6th.

Writing Assignments

Between now and November 15th, you will write three brief analytical commentaries of 300-600 words only, due the day before class at 5PM.  Everyone will write a paper due at 10AM on September 6th (since the Monday is a holiday) commenting on the following question: based on the readings you did this week, what are the implications for research practice of the theoretical controversies over the cultural turn? The other short two papers, on readings and subjects chosen by you, will be submitted as your schedule permits.

The major writing project for the semester is a primary source analysis.  You will identify a body of sources, consider what questions you might answer of them, and finally propose a research project with an explicitly stated methodology that you think will allow the sources to answer an historical question.  To make this more manageable, the work will be in three stages:

*Identification and two-page description of source material(s), due around October 1st

*Discussion of approximately three pages about the various questions that could be asked of this source base, due around November 1st

*Final report, including revised versions of the first two assignments plus a detailed description of one potential research project based on the sources, including explicit discussion of methodology, a total of eight to ten pages, due December 9th

 The first two dates (but not the third) are flexible; do the work as your schedule permits.  However, procrastination is strongly discouraged and I will not be able to read and comment on any draft material submitted after November 15th


Grades and Grade Weighting


What matters in graduate work is not grades per se but hard work, intellectual growth, and the ability to make potential mentors eager to work with you.  However, we are also required to give grades.  These will be calculated as follows:

*approximately 40% classwork

*approximately 60% written work: 20% for short papers, 40% for the source analysis

 If you come each week with something interesting to say, you are well on your way to at least an A-.  Conversely, it will be impossible to get an A, and difficult to get an A-, without solid discussion participation. 



 Starred titles are available for purchase in the Book Center.  All books to be read in their entirety are on reserve in Hillman Library.  Articles and book chapters will be on reserve for duplication in WWPH.

August 30th: Introduction

Introductory meeting; presentation in Hillman Library by Dr. Phil Wilkin et al. on history sources available in the University of Pittsburgh collections.

September 6th: Historians and Others on Doing History

Stephen Haber, “Anything Goes: Mexico’s “New Cultural History,” Hispanic American Historical Review 79, no. 2 (1999): 309-330

William H. Sewell, Jr., “The Concept(s) of Culture,” in Beyond the Cultural Turn: New Directions in the Study of Society and Culture, ed. Victonia E. Bonnell and Lynn Hunt (University of California Press, 1999), 35-61

AHR Review Essays: What’s Beyond the Cultural Turn?  American Historical Review 107 (2002): 1475-1520

September 13th: Social History via Demographic Reconstruction, I

*Tamara K. Hareven, Family Time and Industrial Time: The Relationship Between the Family and Work in a New England Industrial Community (Cambridge University Press, 1982)

September 20th: Social History via Demographic Reconstruction, II

*Jose C. Moya, Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850-1930 (University of California Press, 1998)

September 27th: Microhistory

Giovanni Levi, “On Microhistory,” in New Perspectives on Historical Writing, 2nd edition, ed. Peter Burke (Penn State UP, 2001), 97-119

Edoardo Grendi, “The Political System of a Community in Liguria, Cervo in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries,” in Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe, ed. Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero (Johns Hopkins UP, 1991), 119-58

Rebecca J. Scott, “Small-Scale Dynamics of Large-Scale Processes,” American Historical Review 105, no. 2 (2000): 472-79

Martha Hodes, “The Mercurial Nature and Abiding Power of Race: A Transnational Family Story,” American Historical Review 108, no. 1 (2003): 84-118.

Lara Putnam “To Study the Fragments/Whole: Microhistory and the Atlantic World,” Journal of Social History (forthcoming)

 October 4th: Institutional History from Institutional Archives, I

*David Hancock, Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735-1785. (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

October 11th: Institutional History from Institutional Archives, II

*Kathryn Burns, Colonial Habits: Convents and the Spiritual Economy of Cuzco, Peru (Duke UP, 1999)

October 18th: Social, Cultural, and Political History using Judicial Records, I

*Matthew H. Sommer, Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China (Stanford University Press, 2000)

 October 25th: Social, Cultural, and Political History using Judicial Records, II

*Laura Gowing, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996)

 November 1st : The Uses of Visual and Material Artifacts, I

*Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (Knopf, 2001)

 November 8th: The Uses of Visual and Material Artifacts, II

*Maureen Miller, The Bishop's Palace: Architecture and Authority in Medieval Italy (Cornell University Press, 2002)

           Monique Scheer, “From Majesty to Mystery: Change in the Meanings of Black Madonnas from the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries,” American Historical Review 107, no. 5 (2002): 1412-40

 November 15st: Oral History

Alessandro Portelli, “The Death of Luigi Trastulli,” in The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History (State University of New York Press, 1991)

Luise White, “True Stories: Narrative, Event, History, and Blood in the Lake Victoria Basin,” in Luise White, Stephan F. Miescher, and David William Cohen, eds., African Words, African Voices: Critical Practices in Oral History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001)

Luise White, “Cars out of Place: Vampires, Technology, and Labor in East and Central Africa,” in Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, ed. Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 436-60

Rebecca Scott, “The Provincial Archive as a Place of Memory: Confronting Oral and Written Sources on the Role of Former Slaves in the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1989),” New West Indian Guide/Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 76, nos. 3 and 4 (2002): 191-210

November 29th: Close Textual Reading and Discursive Analysis, I

*Leslie Peirce, Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab (University of California Press, 2003)

December 6th: Close Textual Reading and Discursive Analysis, II

*Ronald Schechter, Obstinate Hebrews: Representations of Jews in France, 1715-1815 (University of California Press, 2003)