Selecting a Topic
You may choose any topic from any historical era or any part of the world to begin — follow your interests! While you are asked to select a topic related to Arundhati’s Roy’s The God of Small Things, try to think as broadly as possible about the types of subjects with which the book deals. The topic does not have to be related to Indian or 20th century history. You will not be making your own argument about the topic in this paper but you should have a specific interpretive question in mind to guide your research into how other historians have answered that question. A question will also help you narrow the scope of your project appropriately for this assignment. A topic like “Colonialism” or “the Caste System” or “the British in India will be too broad. Better suited is a more carefully defined topic, like: What led to rise of communism in Kerala? How were gender relations organized and or framed in post-colonial Mexico? How was love understood during the time of Casanova? How do cultural attitudes in a particular place like the American West or the maritime provinces of Canada inform certain perceptions of the environment? If you hone in on such a question after reading Roy, it will make your research more efficient. But you may have to do some reading before you can articulate a specific enough topic. As a guideline, if you can imagine your topic as the title of an undergraduate course, it is too broad. Likewise, if you are finding many sources (over 15 books) very easily on your topic, it needs to have a sharper focus.
Your central argument in the paper should concern historians’ interpretations of your specific topic over time. You should instead connect the works of scholarship together, to create a dynamic portrait of the study of your topic over time. To make your case, you will analyze at least 5 of the sources on your preliminary bibliography, selected with the consultation of your prof. Your paper should consider several aspects of the books and articles you read:
· the parameters of the scholarship — What does each historical study deem important about the topic? What does it include and what does it leaves out? What narrative or chronology does it construct for the topic? How do the parameters of subsequent histories of the topic differ from their predecessors?
· the arguments made within the scholarship about your specific topic — What conclusions does each historical study reach, in relation to your topic? On what points of interpretation do the historians agree or differ? Has there been debate or consensus? How has understanding of the topic changed over time? How does each historian situate himself or herself in relation to other work on the topic?
· the methodology — what kinds of sources do the historians primarily use? How do the historians use those sources? Have the kinds of sources and/or the way they are used changed over time? Do any of the historians use an identifiable theoretical framework?
Again, your task is to identify how historical research, analysis, and writing on your topic has changed (or persisted) over time. Do not write a string of individual reviews of your sources; your paper should present a cohesive argument about historiography. You most probably will not be able to answer comprehensively why interpretations differed or changed, though you may feel tempted to speculate. Theories about personal perspective or motivation by the historians would require more in-depth biographical research than this assignment expects, so be cautious about attributing too much to individual idiosyncrasies. Rather, seek to situate works clearly in a wider historiographical tradition or transformation (like the rise of social history, or the linguistic turn) if possible. John Arnold introduced you to a basic chronology of history writing, and we will discuss several key historiographical shifts in greater depth as the semester continues. You should especially think about how the historians may reach different conclusions because of the questions they seek to answer, their different sources, their theoretical frameworks, and/or their methodological approaches (such as quantitative analysis, or close reading of language).
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