Instructor: Professor Kerry Abel

And now for something completely different…

HIST 3810A is a course unlike any you have done so far.  It is an opportunity to step back and think about some of the practices that we take for granted.  Why do we use footnotes?  Why do many professors tell you never to use “I” in an essay?  Why was there a riot outside a museum exhibit in Toronto a few years ago?  The answers may surprise you!

This course is about the history of history as a field of study.  We will consider the many ways that “history” has been defined and presented over the generations.  We will dig into the underlying assumptions about human experience and human knowledge that have shaped the discipline.  What is the purpose of historical writing?  Should (or can) the historian be objective?  Is there such a thing as truth in history?

While the instructor is a specialist in Canadian history, the course material draws on a wide range of historical sources from different national, cultural, and intellectual traditions.

Historical theory is a fascinating study with applications to any of the work that you do.

Class Format: We will meet once a week for a two-hour lecture, then the class will be divided into discussion groups in which the ideas explored in the lecture will be applied to an assigned reading.

Aims and Goals: The course will give you an appreciation of the assumptions and ideas that underlie historical writing, and equip you to analyse critically the work of historians in whatever field interests you.  It will help you to decide how you want to approach history in your own work.  Of course, as with all history courses, it will also provide an opportunity to develop both written and oral communications skills, and build on your abilities to think critically and analyse what you read, hear, and see, both in formal study and in everyday life.

Assessment: There will be one short writing assignment and one longer essay, plus a final take-home exam.  A grade is also assigned for participation in the discussions.

Text:  There will not be a textbook in the traditional sense; rather, there will be a set of readings for discussion purposes, all of which are available electronically through the Carleton library or the course cuLearn site.

Questions?  Please contact me by email:

Question: How many historians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Answer: We don’t know – they can’t agree on what type of bulb, how many hands, what tools, or even whether the concept of electrical lighting is useful.  Does that mean we are left in the dark?  Take this course and decide for yourself.