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Historiography: Overview

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What Is a Historiography?

There are two common uses of the term "historiography."

Historiography as a General Descriptor

In this case, the historiography of a topic is the sum total of the interpretations of a specific topic written by past and current historians. This allows historians and scholars to talk about "the state of the historiography" at a point in time, or to "add historiography" to a paper to make it more complete.

Historiography as a Noun, or a Historiographical Paper

In this usage, a historiography or historiographical paper is an analysis of the interpretations of a specific topic written by past historians. Specifically, a historiography identifies influential thinkers and reveals the shape of the scholarly debate on a particular subject.

  • The major purpose of writing a historiographical paper is to convey the scholarship of other historians on a particular subject, rather than to analyze the subject itself.
  • A historiography can be a stand-alone paper, in which case your paper examines the work completed by other historians. 

Alternately, a historiography can act as an introduction to a major research paper, in which you will go on to add your own analysis. As an introduction, a good historiography does the following:

  • Points out influential books and papers that exemplified, shaped, or revolutionized a field of study.
  • Shows which scholars were most effective in changing the scope of the debate.
  • Describes the current trends in the field of study, such as which interpretation is currently in the mainstream.
  • Allows the writer to position themselves in the field for their analysis.

An example of historiography as introduction

"The historiography of the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima changed over the years as new research questioned the former consensus view that the decision to drop the atomic bomb was predicated on the necessity to save American lives."


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