Historians do not always agree about how to interpret the events and people that they study; this leads to multiple explanations, which at times, are diametrically opposed to each other. As students progress into upper-level courses in the Department of History, they must move from the mastery of facts and analysis of primary sources encouraged by lower-level courses to a richer and deeper understanding of how history is written and the fact that events and ideas are open to interpretation. Within History 420 (Readings in History), students then move into another level of explanation, where they read intensively on a topic and provide their own historiographical explanations for a series of events/ideas.
A historiographic essay thus asks you to explore several sometimes contradictory sources on one event. An might come in handy as you attempt to locate such sources; you should also consult the footnotes and of any text you read on a certain event, as they will lead you to other texts on the same event; if your research is web-based, follow links - always bearing in mind the pitfalls of the - and if you are researching in the library, check out the books on nearby shelves: you'll be surprised by how often this yields sources you may otherwise never have found.
How to Write a Historiographical Essay
Let us assume that the subject of your historiographic essay is the Rape of Nanking, an event discussed in some detail in the section. There, we examine the event as it is described and analyzed by Iris Chang in her bestselling book The Rape of Nanking. To this we now add several other sources, all of which are listed in the section at the end of this page, and cited in the text immediately following, which exemplifies, in brief, some of the basic strategies of a historiographic essay.