Adding a book entry

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The basic task of an individual book entry is to let other graduate students know under what circumstances they should consider reading the book themselves, and, if they choose not to, to give them the most important information from that book.


General information

NOTE: It may be prudent to type up your summary and commentary in a separate application and then paste them into the wiki. Otherwise, if the wiki editing session times out you could lose your work. Alternatively, just be sure to save frequently while editing the wiki.

  • The wiki page name for a book entry should be that book's main title (the part before the colon), capitalized as normal for titles. Thus, the page name for Suzanne E. Smith, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) would be Dancing in the Street. Avoid extraneous punctuation; there is no need to place a period at the end of the page name, though titles ending in question marks or exclamation points should probably keep them.
NOTE: Page names are case sensitive, so if one person creates a page called Dancing in the Street, the wiki will allow someone else to created a page called Dancing in the street, which would prevent us from keeping all the commentary together. To avoid this, please check the topic page and do a search on an keyword (e.g., "Motown"), before creating a new page.
  • Leave blank lines between paragraphs.
  • When possible, link to other pages, by enclosing those page names in double brackets. Consider linking to both topic entries and book entries.
  • Make sure you are logged in, then sign your entry using your real name and the signature/timestamp button.
  • Once you have completed the book entry, please update the corresponding topic entry. You need not write much; just select three or four sentences from your book entry and add them to the topic page. Or, if the topic page already has a mention of the book you read, edit it to reflect your contribution.


Book pages should be divided into three sections. The Summary and Commentary sections should be distinguished with second-level headings, i.e.:

==Summary== and ==Commentary==


(only one per book)

Book entries, like book reviews in journals, should begin with full bibliographic information, in the form used by the American Historical Review for book reviews. Please also list ISBNs, preceded by the description and the letters ISBN. Do not insert any characters between the letters ISBN and the number.

For example, Suzanne E. Smith. Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1999. pp. 319. $24.95. Cloth: ISBN 0674000633. Paper: ISBN 0674005465

If a book has gone through multiple editions, list the initial year, then the publication information for the most readily available paperback. For example, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years. 1991. Reprint, Texas A&M University Press, 2000. 398 p. $17.95. Paper: ISBN 0890969604

Note: The easiest way to enter the header information is to find a review in the American Historical Review via the History Cooperative and paste the header here. The Journal of American History, also on the History Cooperative, places the title before the author, but that is fine. As an added bonus, the JAH lists the ISBN.


(only one per book)

The first student to read a book for the wiki should write a brief summary of 3-5 paragraphs. Try to be as faithful to the author's intention and scope as possible.

Later students should look for opportunities to modify the summaries, which were, after all, written by graduate students with deadlines to meet. Many of the existing summaries fail to capture a book's whole argument. With luck, however, students will not find the existing summary so misleading that they need to write a wholly new one.

The Summary section should describe:

  • the events covered by the book.
  • the author's interpretation of those events.
  • the author's methodology and sources.


(many per book)

Each student who reads a book should add a commentary section to the bottom of the page. Begin your commentary with a new third-level header with your name and the semester, e.g.,

===Zach Schrag, spring 2006===

so future readers can distinguish one commentary from another.

The Commentary section should address

  • the strength and weaknesses of the work.
  • the work's relation to other works, especially other works in the historiographiki.

Support your assertions about all of these subjects with direct quotations or specific facts whenever possible. Include page numbers.

If a book has an existing commentary section, emphasize points that are different from previous commentaries, either because you disagree with earlier comments, or you feel that earlier comments neglected important sections of the book.


  • Another wiki of this sort is videri, with book summaries by Columbia University graduate students.
  • And there is no substitute for frequent reading of book reviews in scholarly journals.

Zachary Schrag

-- 16:13, 21 Nov 2005 (EST)

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