GRADUATE STUDENTS KNOW THE RITUAL WELL. BULKING up on historiography for qualification exams is a time-honored tradition. Who argued what, when, where, and why? What are the contours of the field or subfield? What did the transition from the orthodox position to the revisionist and then post-revisionist schools look like? Graduate students pore over books in dusty libraries and stare, red-eyed, at digitized articles.
Those who train historians pay a great deal of attention to arguments and counterarguments, theses and antitheses. In graduate and undergraduate research seminars professors also stress the importance of analyzing evidence, applying theoretical models, and making a plausible case. But is the same amount of energy and study devoted to the writing of history? “Without the imaginative insight which goes with creative literature,” wrote English historian C.V. Wedgwood, “history cannot be intelligibly written.”
In the roundtable that follows, Stephen Pyne discusses the importance of teaching historians how to write and offers useful examples of pedagogy. His remarks are followed by reflections from Michael Kammen, Jill Lepore, and John Demos.