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Historical Research & Historiography


A historiography is a survey of the historical research conducted on a certain topic, for example the history of midwifery in the United States. Historiography is often called "the history of history," because they assess what research has been conducted on the topic, what was said and how primary sources were analyzed, and how certain arguments compare and contrast to one another within the broader context of the scholarly record.

To use our example above, a historiography of the history of midwifery in the United States would discuss which historians have researched midwifery in the US, what analytical lens did they use, what argument did they make, and how their argument sits against others' and in the scope of the research on the topic.

Historiographies will:

  • identify the various debates and approaches that have influenced study of the topic
  • identify the important scholars and works in relation to the topic
  • identify the past and current arguments about the topic
  • identify potential areas for more study

The purpose of a historiography is to discuss the research conducted by other historians on the topic, not to perform original research or commentary on the subject itself.


When Starting Research for a Historiography Paper

You are creating a survey of the research that has been conducted on a topic, so you will, of course, need to discover and become familiar with the notable scholars and arguments on that topic. There are a couple strategies you can use to find these figures and perspectives:

  • Use what you have learned in class as a starting point.
    • Are there any scholars that your professor has identified as important to the topic? In the books or articles you have read for assigned readings, look through their bibliographies, references, and/or footnotes for other scholars to investigate on the topic.
  • Search for your topic in the library's catalog and in our digital databases. 
    • Using what you know, create a list of keywords you believe will be relevant to your topic. When you search these within the database, you will undoubtedly find more key words to add to your search strategy, so do not worry if your lists starts out small.
    • You can add the term "Historiography" as a key term to your search strategy. Using one of the field limiters, you can separate "Historiography" to be searched as a Subject Heading (DE Historiography) or within the abstract. This may help you find historiographies or historiographical essays on the topic.
      • For example: in a database, you may search (DE Historiography) AND citizenship AND women to look for historiographies on the history of women and citizenship. 
  • Look within the References
    • When you find a book or article on your topic, search that resource's reference list to see what scholars they cited when constructing their argument.
    • In certain databases like Scopus or in Google Scholar, you can also see what other articles have cited a particular resource. 


Preparing to Organize and Write the Historiography

As you search for and collect resources related to your topic, make note of common themes or analyses that the scholar's are making. A historiography should not only identify the prominent scholars and arguments on a topic - they need to set those arguments in context with each other and with scholarly trends over time.

  • Identify the perspective from which an author is writing and their approach (for example, postmodern, feminist, structuralist, Marxist, etc.)
  • Identify the type of history they have written (for example: cultural, social global, economic, etc.)

Once you have pinpointed the approach and type of history, you can then compare and contrast with your sources:

  • What scholars are using the same overall approach? What specific argument are they making, and how do those arguments intersect?
  • Does the argument of one scholar seem in response to the other? How so?
  • What trends can you identify in the research? Has the focus or type of analysis on the topic changed over time?

When you have found commonalities in perspective, approach, or type, then you can use these to help organize your paper.


Historiography: Examples and Additional Resources

Examples of Historiographies


Additional Resources