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Welcome to HIST300A – Historical Thinking. The History Department’s Historical Thinking classes are meant to provide students with an introduction to the professional study of history. The class will be taught as a series of paired historical methods case studies, each of which focus on a particularly destructive, expensive and deadly American disaster. This approach introduces students to the history of particular kinds of disaster events. It also provides opportunities to discuss the different approaches that historians have taken to similar topics.


Much of this course will be student-driven. Class participation and written work constitute its most important elements. We will move deliberately through the various stages of historical thinking and writing, from the identification of a topic through the assembling of sources to the framing of historical questions and formal presentation to the public (in this case, the class).



By the end of the course, you should be able to answer:

  • What is the practice of history?
  • Why might scholars take different historical approaches to similar topics?
  • What kinds of sources do historians use?
  • How do historians construct arguments?
  • How can we critique historical arguments?
  • How can we understand the practice of history through American disaster history?



Historical skills – by the end of the course you should be able to:

  • Understand current events in light of events and themes from history.
  • Clearly express ideas and arguments through writing and speech.
  • Read, digest and analyze scholarly historical work.
  • Evaluate the reliability of secondary sources
  • Identify the author, audience and intent of primary sources.
  • Use and critique others’ use of primary sources in making historical arguments.


Command of information – by the end of the course you should have:

  • Knowledge of the context for the disasters we discuss in class. This includes major political, social and economic events, movements and turning points during America’s “Gilded Age”
  • Familiarity with the most expensive, deadly and destructive disasters in American history.
  • Awareness of the different explanations and interpretations of American disaster history.