Learning Outcomes - 400 Level Classes

These courses contain the most focused geographical, chronological, and thematic approaches in the curriculum.  They are offered in seminar format.  They meet the outcomes listed below.

  1. Use historical sources.  Students will combine sophisticated recognition and analysis of multiple forms of historical evidence with a sophisticated recognition and analysis of interpretations.
  2. Analyze history in a global context.  Develop the ability to examine other societies in a global context and to look at one's own society in the context of other societies.  Students have to take two courses in global perspectives at the 300- or 400-level.
  3. Demonstrate an ability to engage in historiography.  Students will formulate an historical question and make an historical argument out of it in narrative form; discuss, debate, and master central questions of historical methodology and theory.
  4. Write an historical essay.  Students will demonstrate the ability to historicize important ideas and categories.

Suggestions for written assignments:  Paper assignments should ask students to frame a question, do necessary research, and write an historical essay from class sources or research materials.  These assignments--which could take different formats--should also demonstrate that a student has mastered research and information literacy skills.

The typical assignment for a capstone (HST 400) is a research paper of 15-25 pages.  Students are asked to "do history" by developing a research question, finding appropriate primary sources to answer the question, finding relevant secondary sources with which to engage, and to write an historical essay.  A sample capstone assignment is below, along with the College of Arts and Science Writing Requirement rubric that will be used to evaluate the papers for assessment purposes.

There is no typical assignment for non-capstone 400-level courses.  The Undergraduate Studies Committees, as part of our CAS Writing Requirement, passed a motion that requires instructors teaching these courses to include one historiographical paper assignment.  A sample is below.

CAS Writing Requirement Rubric for Scoring Capstone Assignment

1.  Writes an historical essay for the right audience

  • Level 1 - Paper does not contain a clear statement of its purpose or thesis.  Paper lacks a clear organizational structure.  Serious problems with tone, organization, grammar or mechanics mar the meaning of the paper.
  • Level 2 - Paper contains or implies a purpose or thesis.  But the thesis is too broad or too narrow for the intended length of the paper.  Organization, tone and language are generally sound but lacking imagination.  Some errors may exist.
  • Level 3 - Writer presents a thesis but it is not phrased as clearly as it could be.  Or, it is a somewhat obvious thesis.  There are a few minor errors or gaps in tone, organization, or language.
  • Level 4 - The thesis or problem is framed clearly and reflects insight and originality.  Writer uses a sophisticated tone, organizational structure and language appropriate for the intended audience.  The paper is free of grammatical and mechanical errors.

2.  Use of historical sources

  • Level 1 - Paper contains few if any primary sources.  Multiple forms of primary sources are absent.  The sources used do not support an argument and do not demonstrate awareness of authorial context.
  • Level 2 - Paper contains some primary sources, but relies on only a few and not multiple kinds.  The sources used support an argument, but demonstrate little awareness of authorial context.
  • Level 3 - Paper contains multiple forms of primary sources.  The sources used help to support a historical argument and demonstrate solid awareness of authorial context.
  • Level 4 - Paper contains multiple forms of primary sources and uses a rich variety of examples to support claims.  The paper demonstrates sophisticated awareness of authorial context.

3.  Demonstrates an ability to engage in historical arguments

  • Level 1 - Paper contains few or no secondary sources.  Does not engage in historical debate.
  • Level 2 - Paper contains a few secondary sources.  They may be weakly analyzed or they do not help the writer make an historical argument.
  • Level 3 - Paper contains good secondary sources that address the historical argument.  There may be some minor errors in the review of secondary literature, organization, or language.
  • Level 4 - Paper demonstrates a sound understanding of the historical literature and uses it to develop a sound argument.



HST 400.2 - Your final assignment for this capstone will be an essay on a historical question about the Truman presidency that you develop.  Below I describe in detail the materials and the process that you will use to construct this essay.  Read each section carefully and make sure that you follow the directions.  Your final product will be relatively short (only sixteen pages), but dense.  You will not have space to waste on superfluous material; every sentence in your essay needs to matter.  To help you achieve that goal, I have broken the writing process down into separate, graded stages.  You will be able to get input from me and from your classmates at each step.  Your final product will be a 16-page, double-spaced essay (Times New Roman 12 point font, 1 inch margins), but your grade will be an accumulation of the separate sections of the writing process.  The number of points possible for each section and the evaluation criteria for each section are described below and total 100 points.


Your primary material for this paper will be the volume of Documentary History of the Truman Presidency that you select during our class visit to the library.  These are your options:

  • Vol. 1: The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan
  • Vol. 2: Planning for the Postwar World: President Truman at the Potsdam Conference
  • Vol. 3: United States Policy in Occupied Germany after World War II: Denazification, Decartelization, Demilitarization, and Democratization
  • Vol. 4: Demobilization and Reconversion: Rebuilding a Peacetime Economy Following World War II
  • Vol. 5: Creating a Pluralistic Democracy in Japan: The Occupation Government, 1945-1952
  • Vol. 6: The Chinese Civil War: General George C. Marshall's Mission to China, 1945-1947
  • Vol. 7: The Ideological Foundations of the Cold War: The Long Telegram, the Clifford Report, and NSC 68
  • Vol. 8: The Truman Doctrine and the Beginning of the Cold War, 1947-1949
  • Vol. 9: The debate over Labor Policy: President Truman's Battle with Congress over Passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, January-June 1947
  • Vol. 10: President Truman's Fight to Unify the Armed Services, 1945-1949
  • Vol. 11: The Truman Administration's Civil Rights Program: The Report of the Committee on Civil Rights, and President Truman's Message to Congress of February 2, 1948
  • Vol. 12: The Truman Administration's Civil Rights Program: President Truman's Attempts to Put the Principles of Racial Justice into Law, 1948-1950
  • Vol. 13: Establishing the Marshall Plan, 1947-1948
  • Vol. 14: Running from Behind: Truman's Strategy for the 1948 Presidential Campaign
  • Vol. 15: The Fair Deal: President Truman's Vision of the American Future
  • Vol. 16: Cold War Confrontation: Truman, Stalin, and the Berlin Airlift
  • Vol. 17: The Origins and Establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 1948-1952
  • Vol. 18: The Korean War: The United States' Response to North Korea's Invasion of South Korea, June 25, 1950-October 1951
  • Vol. 19: The Korean War: Response to Communist China's Intervention, October 1950-April 1951
  • Vol. 20: The Korean War: President Truman's Dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur
  • Vol. 21: The Development of an Atomic Weapons Program Following World War II
  • Vol. 22: The Emergence of an Asian Pacific Rim in American Foreign Policy: Korea, Japan, and Formosa
  • Vol. 23: The Central Intelligence Agency: Its Founding and the Dispute over Its Mission, 1945-1954
  • Vol. 24: The United States' Recognition of Israel
  • Vol. 25: President Truman's Confrontation with McCarthyism
  • Vol. 26: Preparing to Survive Atomic Attack: The Truman Administration's Civil Defense Program
  • Vol. 27: The Point Four Program: Reaching Out to Help the Less Developed Countries
  • Vol. 28: The Truman Scandals: The President Confronts a Political Crisis, 1951-1952
  • Vol. 29: Oil Crisis in Iran
  • Vol. 30: The Constitutional Crisis over President Truman's Seizure of the Steel Industry in 1952
  • Vol. 31: The Truman Administration's Civil Rights Program: The Desegregation of the Armed Forces
  • Vol. 32: The Emergence of an Asian Pacific Rim in American Foreign Policy: The Philippines, Indochina, Thailand, Burma, Malaya, and Indonesia
  • Vol. 33: Immigration Policy: President Truman's Veto of the McCarran-Walter Act
  • Vol. 34: The Truman Administration's Policy toward Native Americans
  • Vol. 35: The United Nations, 1945-1953: The Development of a World Organization

Although the extensive documents in the volume will provide the foundation of your paper, you are also required to utilize at least five additional forms of documentary evidence.  You will be introduced to multiple sources of additional primary documents during our class visit to the library and I will be looking for them in your essay.

You will also utilize at least five secondary sources from your historiographic assignment.  Before you begin working on your final essay, you will have to write a historiographic essay on the topic of your volume.  The knowledge that you gain from that activity will prove invaluable to the construction of your final essay, helping you use the historical literature of the topic to develop both a thoughtful question and a solid argument


1.  The Idea Map:  You will create an idea map during class that will give you a visual image of the points and connections that you want to make in your paper.  You will share your idea map with fellow students in a small group, where you will help each other further develop ideas.

Evaluation:  Up to 5 points.  Your grade will reflect your intellectual engagement in the mapping process.  Did you write down interesting points and make important connections between ideas?  Did you improve those points through revision?

2.  The Argument:  Bring a one-sentence argument to class, where you will fill out an argument worksheet that will ask you to do some critical thinking about the perspective and context that shape your work.

Evaluation:  Up to 5 points.  Your grade will reflect your engagement with the assignment.

3.  The First Two Pages:  You will write the first two pages of your paper, which will include your introduction and your thesis, and bring it to class.  You will share your work with your classmates in a small group and discuss it with me during office hours.  Beginning typing your paper will get you thinking about the language of your argument.  Talking about your ideas will encourage greater clarity.  Friendly editorial eyes will help you to fix any glaring grammatical issues early on.

Evaluation:  Up to 5 points.  Your grade will reflect the sophistication of your argument, the clarity of your thesis, the accessibility of your writing, and the quality of your prose.

4.  The First Draft and Peer Reviews:  You will bring a complete draft of your paper to class, where you will participate in a two-class intensive review workshop.  Your peers will review your paper--filling out a detailed worksheet--and you will review their papers.  The point is not simply to edit grammatical errors (although that is part of it), but to force you to confront the weaknesses in your paper so that you can alter them and make it stronger.

Evaluation:  Up to 25 points.  Your grade will reflect your completion of an acceptable rough draft and your thoughtful consideration of two fellow students' papers.  You can get up to 15 points for your rough draft and up to 5 points for each rough draft review.

5.  The Paper Portfolio:  The final stage of the process involves revising your draft into a final version, which you feel confident about turning in to me.  There should be significant changes between the rough and the final drafts.  In a folder along with that version, you must submit each of the above pieces of the process (the original "rough" versions), along with a one-page reflection statement that explains how your argument changed as you moved through the writing process.

Evaluation:  Up to 60 points.  Your final paper will be graded according to the rubric which I have already handed out in class, but remember that I am looking for an essay that is clear, thoughtful, and engaging.  As I read your reflection statements, I will be looking for an explanation of how your ideas about the prompt and your understanding of writing-as-learning changed as you moved through the various stages of the process.  To do this, it will be helpful for you to review your earlier assignments and plot a path from where your plan for the paper started to where it ended.  It might be the case that you simply refined your main argument as you went along.  It might be the case that you went through a number of possible definitions and arguments before you found the one that you really wanted.  The point is that your final paper does not exactly reflect your idea map.  Tell me how it is different and why it is different.

CAS Writing Requirement Rubric for Scoring Historiography Assignment

1.  Argument

  • Level 1 - Paper does not contain a clear statement of its purpose or thesis.  It is difficult to tell exactly what the writer is trying to do in the paper.
  • Level 2 - Paper contains or implies a purpose or thesis.  But the thesis is too broad or too narrow for the intended length of the paper.
  • Level 3 - Writer presents a thesis but it is not phrased as clearly as it could be.  Or, it is a somewhat obvious thesis.
  • Level 4 - The thesis or problem is framed clearly and reflects a high degree of insight and originality.

2.  Analytic Thinking

  • Level 1 - Paper contains little or no analysis; the individual arguments of historians are not identified.
  • Level 2 - Paper contains some analysis, but tends to read more like an annotated bibliography than a historiographical essay.
  • Level 3 - Paper contains good analysis.  Writers appropriately support generalizations, theories, and concepts with examples and identify most if not all of the arguments made by other historians.  The paper synthesizes historical arguments and makes a solid argument of its own.
  • Level 4 - Papers show a highly organized and sophisticated analysis.  They use a rich variety of examples to support claims and engage with the arguments of other historians well and develop a sophisticated and critical analysis out of them.

3.  Research Skills

  • Level 1 - Paper demonstrates that little or no research went into the writing.
  • Level 2 - The paper demonstrates some research, but it is very basic and does not necessarily contain the most representative historiographical examples.
  • Level 3 - The paper demonstrates that the writer conducted sound research.  Yet, some of the works analyzed may not be the most representative of the topic.
  • Level 4 - The paper demonstrates excellent research skills, reflecting the writer's selection of the most representative historiographical works to analyze.



HST/LAS 437 Environmental History of Latin America

Historiographical Essay

Historiography is the study of historical writing and methodology.  This assignment asks you to engage in historiographical study by writing an essay that reviews the existing scholarship on a topic of your choosing related to the environmental history of Latin America.  It is an opportunity for you to think about how people have historicized environmental change and given meaning to the physical transformation of this part of the world.


  1. Meet with me to discuss and identify a reading topic.
  2. Research the topic using varied research tools, including online databases and printed bibliographies (start with the "Suggested Further Reading" list in Shawn Miller's An Environmental History of Latin America).
  3. Create a working bibliography that lists your secondary sources and run it by me.
  4. Read the works in your bibliography with an eye towards summarizing and comparing them.
  5. Prepare an annotated bibliography that lists all the works you've read and your thoughts on the material.  You have to write a blurb (annotation) on each book or article (approximately 100 words) that summarizes the author's argument, sources, and the usefulness of the issues he or she raises.  You will submit your annotated bibliography as an appendix to your final essay.
  6. Think about how the authors you've annotated have contributed to your topic.  What are the main debates and concerns?  Use your summaries to identify possible discrepancies in the interpretations, as well as areas of wide agreement.  Which of their arguments emerges as the most convincing?
  7. Write a historiographical essay that discusses the works of at least eight historians (or scholars from other disciplines).  Do not simply cut and paste from your annotated bibliography - those summaries are simply meant to help you synthesize the scholarship and organize your thoughts on the material.  You need to discuss historians' ideas in relation to each other and organize their contributions thematically or topically.  Overall, the goal is to show that you have engaged their conversations and developed a significant understanding of the topic at hand.
  8. The final essay should be between twelve and fifteen pages long (12-font, double-spaced).

What does it show?

  • Research literacy
    • That you have researched the secondary scholarship using varied research tools
    • That you have read widely and identified the most relevant works on a given topic
  • Historical literacy
    • That you have understood the debates on a particular topic
    • That you have gained a critical appreciation of the scholarship and used it to articulate your own opinions about the past