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Clio's Battles

Historiography in Practice

Jeremy Black

To write history is to consider how to explicate the past, to weigh the myriad possible approaches to the past, and to come to terms with how the past can be and has been used. In this book, prize-winning historian Jeremy Black considers both popular and academic approaches to the past. His focus is on the interaction between the presentation of the past and current circumstances, on how history is used to validate one view of the present or to discredit another, and on readings of the past that unite and those that divide. Black opens with an account that underscores the differences and developments in traditions of writing history from the ancient world to the present. Subsequent chapters take up more recent decades, notably the post-Cold War period, discussing how different perspectives can fuel discussions of the past by individuals interested in shaping public opinion or public perceptions of the past. Black then turns to the possible future uses of the then past as a way to gain perspective on how we use the past today. Clio’s Battles is an ambitious account of the engagement with the past across world history and of the clash over the content and interpretation of history and its implications for the present and future.

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Closer to the Truth Than Any Fact

Memoir, Memory, and Jim Crow

Jennifer Jensen Wallach

Although historians frequently use memoirs as source material, too often they confine such usage to the anecdotal, and there is little methodological literature regarding the genre's possibilities and limitations. This study articulates an approach to using memoirs as instruments of historical understanding. Jennifer Jensen Wallach applies these principles to a body of memoirs about life in the American South during Jim Crow segregation, including works by Zora Neale Hurston, Willie Morris, Lillian Smith, Henry Louis Gates Jr., William Alexander Percy, and Richard Wright.

Wallach argues that the field of autobiography studies, which is currently dominated by literary critics, needs a new theoretical framework that allows historians, too, to benefit from the interpretation of life writing. Her most provocative claim is that, due to the aesthetic power of literary language, skilled creative writers are uniquely positioned to capture the complexities of another time and another place. Through techniques such as metaphor and irony, memoirists collectively give their readers an empathetic understanding of life during the era of segregation. Although these reminiscences bear certain similarities, it becomes clear that the South as it was remembered by each is hardly the same place.

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Collective Courage

A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice

By Jessica Gordon Nembhard

In Collective Courage, Jessica Gordon Nebhard chronicles African American cooperative business ownership and its place in the movements for Black civil rights and economic equality. Not since Du Bois’ 1907 Economic Cooperation among Negroes has there been a full-length, nation-wide study of African American cooperatives. Collective Courage extends that story into the twentieth century. Many of the players are well-known in the history of the African American experience: W. E. B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph and the Women’s Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Jo Baker, George Schuyler and the Young Negroes Cooperative League, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party. Adding the cooperative movement to Black history provides a retelling of the African American experience, with an increased understanding of African American collective economic agency and grassroots economic organizing. To tell the story, Gordon Nembhard pores over newspapers, period magazines and journals; co-ops’ articles of incorporation, minutes from annual meetings, newsletters, budgets and income statements; scholarly books, memoirs and biographies to reveal the achievements and challenges of Black co-ops, collective economic action, and social entrepreneurship. She also uses mixed methods economic analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, theoretical analysis and applied theory to understand the effectiveness of the particular practices and/or strategies documented. Themes of economic independence, the critical role of women and youth in the African American cooperative movement, and the use of cooperatives by Black organizations for community economic development are interwoven into a linear treatment of the development of cooperatives among African Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Gordon Nembhard finds that African Americans, as well as other people of color and low-income people, have benefitted greatly from cooperative ownership and democratic economic participation throughout the nation’s history.

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Committing the Future to Memory

History, Experience, Trauma

Sarah Clift

Whereas historical determinacy conceives the past as a complex and unstable network of causalities, this book asks how history can be related to a more radical future. To pose that question, it does not reject determinacy outright but rather seeks to explore how it works. In examining what it means to be "determined" by history, it also asks what kind of openings there might be in our encounters with history for interruptions, re-readings, and re-writings. Engaging texts spanning multiple genres and several centuries from John Locke to Maurice Blanchot, from Hegel to Benjamin Clift looks at experiences of time that exceed the historical narration of experiences said to have occurred in time. She focuses on the co-existence of multiple temporalities and opens up the quintessentially modern notion of historical succession to other possibilities. The alternatives she draws out include the mediations of language and narration, temporal leaps, oscillations and blockages, and the role played by contingency in representation. She argues that such alternatives compel us to reassess the ways we understand history and identity in a traumatic, or indeed in a post-traumatic, age.

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Confessing History

Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian's Vocation

edited by John Fea, Jay Green, and Eric Miller

At the end of his landmark 1994 book, The Soul of the American University, historian George Marsden asserted that religious faith does indeed have a place in today’s academia. Marsden’s contention sparked a heated debate on the role of religious faith and intellectual scholarship in academic journals and in the mainstream media. The contributors to Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation expand the discussion about religion’s role in education and culture and examine what the relationship between faith and learning means for the academy today. The contributors to Confessing History ask how the vocation of historian affects those who are also followers of Christ. What implications do Christian faith and practice have for living out one’s calling as an historian? And to what extent does one’s calling as a Christian disciple speak to the nature, quality, or goals of one’s work as scholar, teacher, adviser, writer, community member, or social commentator? Written from several different theological and professional points of view, the essays collected in this volume explore the vocation of the historian and its place in both the personal and professional lives of Christian disciples.

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The Craft of International History

A Guide to Method

Marc Trachtenberg

This is a practical guide to the historical study of international politics. The focus is on the nuts and bolts of historical research--that is, on how to use original sources, analyze and interpret historical works, and actually write a work of history. Two appendixes provide sources sure to be indispensable for anyone doing research in this area.

The book does not simply lay down precepts. It presents examples drawn from the author's more than forty years' experience as a working historian. One important chapter, dealing with America's road to war in 1941, shows in unprecedented detail how an interpretation of a major historical issue can be developed. The aim throughout is to throw open the doors of the workshop so that young scholars, both historians and political scientists, can see the sort of thought processes the historian goes through before he or she puts anything on paper. Filled with valuable examples, this is a book anyone serious about conducting historical research will want to have on the bookshelf.

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A Crooked Line

From Cultural History to the History of Society

Geoff Eley

Eley brilliantly probes transformations in the historians' craft over the past four decades. I found A Crooked Line engrossing, insightful, and inspiring. --Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers' Republic "A Crooked Line brilliantly captures the most significant shifts in the landscape of historical scholarship that have occurred in the last four decades. Part personal history, part insightful analysis of key methodological and theoretical historiographical tendencies since the late 1960s, always thoughtful and provocative, Eley's book shows us why history matters to him and why it should also matter to us." --Robert Moeller, University of California, Irvine "Part genealogy, part diagnosis, part memoir, Eley's account of the histories of social and cultural history is a tour de force." --Antoinette Burton, Professor of History and Catherine C. and Bruce A. Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies, University of Illinois "Eley's reflections on the changing landscape of academic history in the last forty years will interest and benefit all students of the discipline. Both a native informant and an analyst in this account, Eley combines the two roles superbly to produce one of most engaging and compelling narratives of the recent history of History." --Dipesh Chakrabarty, author of Provincializing Europe Using his own intellectual biography as a narrative device, Geoff Eley tracks the evolution of historical understanding in our time from social history through the so-called "cultural turn," and back again to a broad history of society. A gifted writer, Eley carefully winnows unique experiences from the universal, and uses the interplay of the two to draw the reader toward an organic understanding of how historical thinking (particularly the work of European historians) has evolved under the influence of new ideas. His work situates history within History, and offers students, scholars, and general readers alike a richly detailed, readable guide to the enduring value of historical ideas. Geoff Eley is Professor of History at the University of Michigan.

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A Cultural History of Causality

Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought

Stephen Kern

This pioneering work is the first to trace how our understanding of the causes of human behavior has changed radically over the course of European and American cultural history since 1830. Focusing on the act of murder, as documented vividly by more than a hundred novels including Crime and Punishment, An American Tragedy, The Trial, and Lolita, Stephen Kern devotes each chapter of A Cultural History of Causality to examining a specific causal factor or motive for murder--ancestry, childhood, language, sexuality, emotion, mind, society, and ideology. In addition to drawing on particular novels, each chapter considers the sciences (genetics, endocrinology, physiology, neuroscience) and systems of thought (psychoanalysis, linguistics, sociology, forensic psychiatry, and existential philosophy) most germane to each causal factor or motive.

Kern identifies five shifts in thinking about causality, shifts toward increasing specificity, multiplicity, complexity, probability, and uncertainty. He argues that the more researchers learned about the causes of human behavior, the more they realized how much more there was to know and how little they knew about what they thought they knew. The book closes by considering the revolutionary impact of quantum theory, which, though it influenced novelists only marginally, shattered the model of causal understanding that had dominated Western thought since the seventeenth century.

Others have addressed changing ideas about causality in specific areas, but no one has tackled a broad cultural history of this concept as does Stephen Kern in this engagingly written and lucidly argued book.

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The Demise of the Inhuman

Afrocentricity, Modernism, and Postmodernism

Ana Monteiro-Ferreira

Employs a critical Afrocentric reading of Western constructions of knowledge so as to overcome the dehumanizing tendencies of modernity.

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Demon of the Lost Cause

Sherman and Civil War History

Wesley Moody

At the end of the Civil War, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman was surprisingly more popular in the newly defeated South than he was in the North. Yet, only thirty years later, his name was synonymous with evil and destruction in the South, particularly as the creator and enactor of the “total war” policy. In Demon of the Lost Cause, Wesley Moody examines these perplexing contradictions and how they and others function in past and present myths about Sherman.


            Throughout this fascinating study of Sherman’s reputation, from his first public servant role as the major general for the state of California until his death in 1891, Moody explores why Sherman remains one of the most controversial figures in American history. Using contemporary newspaper accounts, Sherman’s letters and memoirs, as well as biographies of Sherman and histories of his times, Moody reveals that Sherman’s shifting reputation was formed by whoever controlled the message, whether it was the Lost Cause historians of the South, Sherman’s enemies in the North, or Sherman himself.


With his famous “March to the Sea” in Georgia, the general became known for inventing a brutal warfare where the conflict is brought to the civilian population. In fact, many of Sherman’s actions were official tactics to be employed when dealing with guerrilla forces, yet Sherman never put an end to the talk of his innovative tactics and even added to the stories himself. Sherman knew he had enemies in the Union army and within the Republican elite who could and would jeopardize his position for their own gain. In fact, these were the same people who spread the word that Sherman was a Southern sympathizer following the war, helping to place the general in the South’s good graces. That all changed, however, when the Lost Cause historians began formulating revisions to the Civil War, as Sherman’s actions were the perfect explanation for why the South had lost.


 Demon of the Lost Cause reveals the machinations behind the Sherman myth and the reasons behind the acceptance of such myths, no matter who invented them. In the case of Sherman’s own mythmaking, Moody postulates that his motivation was to secure a military position to support his wife and children. For the other Sherman mythmakers, personal or political gain was typically the rationale behind the stories they told and believed.  In tracing Sherman’s ever-changing reputation, Moody sheds light on current and past understanding of the Civil War through the lens of one of its most controversial figures.

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