"What is History?"

JHU 100.193

Section 1: Wednesdays, 10 a.m.- 12 noon
Section 2: Wednesdays, 2 p.m.- 4 p.m.

202 Shaffer Hall

Seminar Roster


How do historians evaluate evidence and draw conclusions about the past? How persuasive is the thesis of Simon Schama's Dead Certainties that "the asking of questions and the relating of narratives need not ... be mutually exclusive forms of historical representation," and that history ultimately must be "a work of the imagination"? After probing these and other issues, and writing their own 'histories' based upon the document packets, students focus on Allen Weinstein's Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case to discuss whether historians can ever determine "the truth" no matter how rich the evidence. For the reference to the above graphic click here.

Students are required to read and analyze two books and two document packets:

Simon Schama, Dead Certainties New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991,

"Captain Berry's Will, 1784" a document packet,

"Is Baltimore Burning?" a document packet on the meaning, legality, and consequences of rhetoric, 1964-1968,

Allen Weinstein, Perjury. The Hiss Chambers Case. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.

All reading should be completed according to the schedule and in advance of class discussion. A short (3-4 page) essay based upon the assigned reading is due the class following the last class in which the book or Document Packet is discussed. Critical essays on the two books should include your reactions to the arguments in the book and your reflections on how convincing the author is. For the first assignment, book reviews by other authors will be provided, but for the second book, students will be expected to seek out reviews at the library and to include in their essay any criticisms found to be relevant.

The essay for Dead Certaintieswill be due on Wednesday, October 18 . The essay for Perjury is due on Wednesday, December 13. Essays based upon the document packets are meant to be your own efforts at writing what you conclude (from our reading and discussion of Schama) is the most effect and persuasive manner in which history ought to be written. Essays on the Document Packets are due as noted on the schedule: Wednesday, November 1, for "Captain Berry's Will" and Wednesday, November 22, for "Is Baltimore Burning?."

In addition, each member of the class will be expected to submit a final paper of no more than 20 pages in length in which the Hiss case will be examined and argued from the perspective of one of the key players in the story (i.e. Alger Hiss (see: Recollections of a Life,1988), Donald Hiss, Whittaker Chambers (see Witness, 1952), Priscilla Hiss), or from the perspective of one of four contemporary observers, Earl William Allen Jowitt (The Strange Case of Alger Hiss,1953), Alistair Cooke (A Generation on Trial,1952), Meyer Zeligs (Friendship and Fratricide,1967), or John Chabot Smith (Alger Hiss: The True Story,1976). I also would be amenable to students assuming the perspective of any other person directly connected with the case if the choice is made and discussed before we end the discussion of Perjury. The final paper will be due the last night of class (Wednesday, December 20). At that class, as a final exam, students will be expected to present their conclusions orally, engage in a spirited defense of their assumed points of view, and rate each other's presentations anonymously. Because the Weinstein book is out of print and hard to find, it will be available in searchable text format in the academic computing lab beginning October 11. Students should commence reading Weinstein after that date according to the suggested schedule and are expected to submit a 1-2 page abstract of the argument of the final essay on November 29.

The abstract and all papers are to be submitted on disk as well as on paper. The syllabus and most reading materials are available on WEB and locally on the network in the academic computing lab, 170 Krieger Hall. This course is intended to be an introduction to the resources and tools for history available on the internet and the World Wide Web. Students are expected to own a copy of The Mosaic Handbook for Microsoft Windows which includes a license to use EMOSAIC. Although any wordprocessor that can export to a simple text file can be used to prepare papers, they must be submitted on disk in a basic HTML format readable and printable by the EMOSAIC browser.


  • Wednesday, September 13 Distribution & discussion of syllabus; distribution and discussion of

  • Wednesday, September 20 The tools and the uses of the World Wide Web. Meet in the computer lab in 170 Krieger Hall. Read (on screen) Sven Birkerts "MahVuhHuhPuh," from The Gutenberg elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (1994)

  • Wednesday, September 27
  • Wednesday, October 4 meet in the computer lab, 170 Krieger Hall, to resume computer orientation, briefly examine methods of finding reviews of books through Wilson and UNCOVER, briefly examine selected reviews of Schama which are to be read before the next class. At break return to classroom to continue discussion of Schama and the Webster Case, pp. 171-273.

  • Wednesday, October 11 meet in the classroom, 202 Shaffer, to review access to, and reading of, Weinstein'sPerjury. Reading of Weinstein should be completed by November 29 when abstracts of the proposed argument(s) in the final papers are due. Continue discussion of Schama, pp. 274-326, and discuss reviews.
  • Wednesday, October 18 Essay on Schama due; begin discussion of Captain Berry's Will.

  • Wednesday, October 25 Continue discussion of Captain Berry's Will

  • Wednesday, November 1 Essay based upon Captain Berry's Will document packet is due; begin discussion of Is Baltimore Burning?

  • Wednesday, November 8 Continue discussion of Is Baltimore Burning?

  • Wednesday, November 15Complete discussion of Is Baltimore Burning?

  • Wednesday, November 22 Essay on Is Baltimore Burning? is due. Begin viewing John Lowenthal, The Trials of Alger Hiss 165 min., released 1980, ISBN -1-55974-239-9.

  • Wednesday, November 29 Finish viewing Lowenthal & Begin discussion of Weinstein, parts 1 & 2, pp. 1-266. A one page summary of the thesis of your final paper is due.

  • Wednesday, December 6 Continue discussion of Weinstein, parts 3 & 4, pp. 267-502.

  • Wednesday, December 13 Complete discussion of Weinstein, part 5 & Appendix, pp. 503-592. Critical essay on Weinstein due.

  • Wednesday, December 20 Last class. Final paper due. Final exam consists of short (5-7 minute) oral presentations of the argument in the final essay.


    Each of the two review essays will be worth up to fifteen points each; each of the two 'narrative' essays based upon the documents will be worth up to fifteen points each; the final paper will be worth up to thirty-five points of which up to five points will be based upon the oral presentation at the final. Up to five points of the total grade will be based upon over-all class participation. Five points will be deducted for every day an assignbment is late.

    A=90-100 points; B=80-89 points; C=70-79 points; D=60-69 points; F= anything less than 60 points.

    NOTE: The direct quoting of someone else's work (anything more than a phrase or two) without using quotation marks and citing the specific source of the quote (author, title, edition, and page) will not be tolerated and will result in an automatic 'F' on the assignment. Adopting an author's point of view is not considered plagiarism as long as the source is identified by some form of annotation of your text (i.e. footnotes, Turabian short form; note on sources at the end of your essay or review, or some other format approved in advance by the instructor).

    ęDr. Edward C. Papenfuse (instructor)
    State Archivist

    Office Hours by appointment
    Phone: (o) 410-974-3869; (h) 410-467-6137

    Internet Address: Sallie@access.digex.net

    Graduate Assistant: Eric Abrahamson
    7670 Blueberry Hill Lane
    Ellicot City, MD 21043

    voice: 410-796-5953
    fax: 410-796-5189
    e-mail: eabraham@jhunix.hcf.jhu.edu

    Last update: 13 September 1995