HIST 250 Syllabus


University of Waterloo
Department of History
HIST 250
Introduction to Historical Thinking
1:30-2:20pm Mondays and Wednesdays, EV1 350

Instructor Information

Instructor: Dr. Ian Milligan
Office: Hagey Hall 114
Office Phone: (519) 888-4567 x32775
Office Hours: Wednesday 3:00pm – 4:00pm, or by appointment (I am on campus a lot, but e-mail beforehand so you don’t waste a trip to Hagey)
E-Mail: i2milligan@uwaterloo.ca
Web: https://ianmilligan.ca/

Teaching Assistant: Sarah McTavish
Office: TBA
Office Hours: By appointment
E-Mail: smctavis@uwaterloo.ca

Course Description

Welcome to HIST 250! We want to do three, hopefully non-hokey, things in this course.

  • First, we will explore the idea of history. Topics covered include: what is history? What isn’t history? What is the history of history? Why is it useful? What makes it different from or similar to other disciplines? What are the limits of historical enquiries? Is history a science? What is the relationship between past and present? What kinds of history are there?
  • Second, we will explore how we can all think like historians. What is a primary source? What is a secondary source? This will help you build up a foundation of knowledge that will serve you well over the course of your future studies. In tutorial, we put all of this into practice through a series of workshops that will have you writing better, arguing better, avoiding pitfalls better, and finally, thinking more clearly about what it is we all do.
  • Finally, we’re going to have some fun. You’re all history majors for a reason (or want to be, right?), and it’s my hope that we can all share our passion for the topic with each other.

Course Goals and Learning Objectives

We have three goals for this course:

  • To introduce you to the field of history by socializing and professionalizing you into the main themes, debates, and issues that define the area. There is a common base of knowledge that historians should have: this course provides that.
  • To develop and hone your research and writing skills through the progressive delivery of three short papers.
  • To help you gain confidence in your oral speaking and small group discussion seminars.

These will give you a foundation for subsequent historical courses.

Required Text

There is one required textbook for this course.

  • Anthony Brundage, Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing, 5th ed. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

Otherwise, readings are available freely through the UW Library E-Reserves System.

Assessment in a Nutshell

Assignment Due Date Grade Weight
Participation Both in-class exercises and tutorial 20%
Wikipedia Exercise (3-4 pages) 5 October 2016 20%
Primary Source Exercise (2-3 pages) 26 October 2016 15%
Book Review (5-6 pages) 30 November 2016 25%
Final Exam Registrar scheduled 20%

Assignment Breakdown

The First Rule of All Assignments: If in doubt, ask.

You are all starting out on a long journey of becoming a historian (or, for some of you, cementing concepts you’ve learned elsewhere). In any case, as we all come into this course with varying levels of backgrounds, the important thing is to never feel lost.

All assignments should be submitted to LEARN, as a PDF, DOC, DOCX.


(1) Should I cite? How should I cite sources?

Yes you need to cite all primary and secondary materials that you use in this course. You should use the Chicago Manual of Style. You can find it here online. Fear not, we’ll talk about it in class! That’s the point of HIST 250.

(2) What if I am going to be late in handing in an assignment?

Oh no! Luckily, we are happy to offer a one-time only, no-questions asked, five-day extension to be used in HIST 250. This means that once a term, if something comes up – you have another class with a midterm or pressing deadline – just e-mail us and let us know that you’re taking your one-time only, no-questions asked, five-day extension.

This means two things, however:

  • We will be less generous with extensions in other circumstances;
  • Five days means five days.

Of course, as always, if something critical comes up – illness, death in the family, mental health issues, physical problems, etc. – you should let us know. It’s best to keep your instructors in the loop. We’re human too.

(3) Do I need to print off a copy and bring it to class?

No! Please just use the LEARN Dropbox. That way we (a) save trees; (b) stop you from having to find a printer; and (c) lessen the opportunities for things to go wrong.

Assessment #1: Wikipedia Exercise (20%), Due 5 October 2016 by end of the day in the LEARN Dropbox, 3-4 pages

Wikipedia is controversial, no doubt about it. Many instructors and professors explicitly forbid the use of Wikipedia in their classes, while others may have a more relaxed attitude. Views have ranged from the idea that Wikipedia is killing our culture and dumbing down students (Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur) to utopian pronouncements that Wikipedia will revolutionize knowledge as we know it.

I want to know what you think, by writing an essay around the question Is Wikipedia a Good Source for Historians?

For this essay:

  • Choose a “historical” Canadian, American, Irish, or British figure that is found in an “official” biographical website, such as:
    • Dictionary of Canadian Biography
    • American National Biography Online
    • Dictionary of Irish Biography Online
    • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online
  • Read the “official” page as well as the Wikipedia page
  • Write a paper comparing the two, considering the following questions:
    • Who were the authors of the two sources?
    • How do you think the authors were chosen?
    • How are the entries written and edited?
    • Is the research high quality or not?
    • Does one read better or tell a better story than the other?
    • Do the sources draw from each other?
  • Make sure to have a conclusion that addresses your opinion of the relative merits of the two sources.

Assessment #2: Primary Source Exercise (15%), Due 26 October 2016 by end of day in LEARN Dropbox, 2-3 pages

This is the shortest assignment that we will be doing in this course. You will visit an archival collection held by the University of Waterloo Special Collections: you can easier visit a digital collection from the comfort of your home (http://www.lib.uwaterloo.ca/discipline/SpecColl/digital_collections.html) or you can visit the Archives in person. Both are equally valid for this course.

In your short paper, make sure you cover the following:

  • Briefly describe (in no more than a page) your source: What is it? What does it look like? Who wrote it?
  • Discuss how the source would be historically useful, drawing on course lectures and readings:
  • What could you learn from it?
  • What couldn’t you learn from it?
  • With your limited knowledge (I do not expect you to do any more research), in your concluding paragraph, try to explore what you think the artifact might have meant at the time.

Assessment #3: Book Review (25%), Due 30 November 2016 by end of day in LEARN Dropbox, 5-6 pages

Evaluating the work of others is a critical part of the historical profession, as well as almost every other profession! In this assignment, you will choose one book to review. This is the major paper for this course.

A short list of books will be made available, but you are welcome to choose a book that is not listed. In this case, please let me know. Books must meet the following criteria:

  • Written by an academic historian;
  • Contain references (footnotes or endnotes);
  • And be at least 200 pages long.

For your book review, you have to do two important things. First, provide an overview of what the book argues. Secondly, you then have to assess it. How well does it argue its case? What does it do well? What are its weaknesses?

For your convenience, here are some important points to make sure you cover:

  • Make sure you describe who the author is
  • Make sure you explain what the book’s thesis is
  • Make sure you have a sense of what evidence is used by the book to support that thesis
  • Make sure you have an understanding of what sources were used by the author
  • And make sure you have an ultimate scholarly assessment of the article.

In case you’re reading ahead and some of these points seem a bit tough – don’t worry! We’ll be covering this in class. As always, you are welcome to ask me if you have any questions. The review is due on our last day of class and should be 5-6 pages long.

Tutorial Information

While QUEST has us scheduled for four tutorials, there really is no sense in running one tutorial of say 12 students and then two of 4 students each. Trust me, a tutorial of two people is no fun for anybody. Accordingly:

  • During the first week, we will begin assembling timetable preferences from students;
  • We will consolidate down to two or three tutorial groups of roughly equal size;
  • To celebrate your flexibility, coffee and treats will be served in tutorial.

Week-by-Week Breakdown

Below, you’ll find the list of what we’re doing each week. Note that tutorial scheduling is a bit up in the air, as we will rebalance tutorials so that there are two roughly-equal groups.






PART ONE: An Introduction to History

1 12/14 September Course Introduction, What is History? N/A Tutorials have not started yet.
2 19/21 September A History of History Going to the Sources, Ch. 1. Tutorials have not started yet.
3 26/28 September Field trip to the library!

On each day, half the class will visit the archives and the other half will have a library tour; we’ll reverse groups the next day.

Going to the Sources, Ch. 3 Tutorial One: John Gaddis, “The Landscape of History.” Available in online course reserves.
4 3/5 October “The Idea of History”: What we Know and What we Don’t



Focus on assignment. n/a

STUDY WEEK (in theory, a Wednesday schedule is on the Thursday (!), but class canceled that day – my partner and I are due to have a child on 14 October anyways)

5 17/18 October Being a Good Historian: Sources, Archives, Librarians, and the thorny question of Academic Honesty Going to the Sources, Ch. 2, Ch. 4. TUTORIAL TWO: Writing

3 February: “Getting Started,” read Marius/Page, Chapter One

(available online)  and “Evaluating Sources,” read Storey/Jones, Chapter Two (available online)

6 24/26 October Doing History

(In Class Primary Source Exploration – What we can Learn, what we Can’t)



Going to the Sources, Ch. 5 n/a
7 31 October/2 November Social History and the Debate over Historians knowing How to do Math (fun, eh?) DeLottinville, “Joe Beef of Montreal.”

Fogel and Engerman, “Time on the Cross.”

Both readings available in course reserves.

TUTORIAL THREE: Social History, Numbers, etc.
8 7/9 November Making History for Diverse Audiences Going to the Sources, Ch. 6 and Ch. 7.
9 14/16 November Cultural History and Global History Peter Bailey, “Parasexuality and Glamour.” Available in course reserves. TUTORIAL FOUR: The “History War Debate.” Read Granastein, Who Killed Canadian History. Available in course reserves.
10 21/23 November Gender and Women’s History Focus on assignment #3. Tutorials have ended!
11 28/30 November Digital History and Video Games


Michel et al, “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books.” Available in course reserves. Tutorials have ended!
12 5 December Course Conclusion No readings. Tutorials have ended!


Rules and Important Course Policies


  • Late policy: 5% a day. The clock stops when you hand in the assignment via LEARN Dropbox.
  • One Time Only No-Questions Asked Extension: Once a term, you get a no-questions asked five day extension. Use it wisely. With great power comes great responsibility: I give this privilege to you, but in return, it means that you can’t be late on the other assignments unless you have a really, really good reason.
  • E-Mail Policy: I will attempt to answer all e-mails within one business day. (most Saturdays as well, but Sundays I try to turn my e-mail off). Make sure I know who you are – i.e. sign your e-mails. Please also include a greeting (i.e. “Hi Professor Milligan”) and a salutation, (i.e. Thanks, Jane Smith).
  • Technology in the Classroom: Appropriate use of laptops, smartphones, etc. is acceptable as long as it dovetails with our objectives of respectful and comprehensive learning. You’re all adults. However, do not disturb your classmates: if you’re the sort of person who needs to check Facebook, Twitter, etc. constantly, please sit at the back of the room.
  • Note for students with disabilities: The Office for Persons with Disabilities (OPD), located in Needles Hall, Room 1132, collaborates with all academic departments to arrange appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities without compromising the academic integrity of the curriculum.  If you require academic accommodations to lessen the impact of your disability, please register with the OPD at the beginning of each academic term.


Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity: In order to maintain a culture of academic integrity, members of the University of Waterloo are expected to promote honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility. See the UWaterloo Academic Integrity webpage and the Arts Academic Integrity webpage for more information.

Discipline: A student is expected to know what constitutes academic integrity, to avoid committing academic offences, and to take responsibility for his/her actions. A student who is unsure whether an action constitutes an offence, or who needs help in learning how to avoid offences (e.g., plagiarism, cheating) or about “rules” for group work/collaboration should seek guidance from the course professor, academic advisor, or the Undergraduate Associate Dean. When misconduct has been found to have occurred, disciplinary penalties will be imposed under Policy 71 – Student Discipline. For information on categories of offenses and types of penalties, students should refer to Policy 71 – Student Discipline. For typical penalties check Guidelines for the Assessment of Penalties.

Grievance: A student who believes that a decision affecting some aspect of his/her university life has been unfair or unreasonable may have grounds for initiating a grievance. Read Policy 70 – Student Petitions and Grievances, Section 4. When in doubt, please be certain to contact the department’s administrative assistant who will provide further assistance.

Appeals: A decision made or penalty imposed under Policy 70 – Student Petitions and Grievances (other than a petition) or Policy 71 – Student Discipline may be appealed if there is a ground. A student who believes he/she has a ground for an appeal should refer to Policy 72 – Student Appeals.

Accommodation for Students with Disabilities

Note for students with disabilities: The AccessAbility Services office, located on the first floor of the Needles Hall extension (1401), collaborates with all academic departments to arrange appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities without compromising the academic integrity of the curriculum. If you require academic accommodations to lessen the impact of your disability, please register with the AS office at the beginning of each academic term.