Choosing books

From The Mason Historiographiki

Jump to: navigation, search

Your instructor can suggest books, but you are encouraged to find books on your own. Here are some tips:

  • Read reviews
Online databases such as America: History and Life, Project Muse, and JSTOR have made it easier than ever to find scholarly works on any subject in American History. Reviews in American History, available through Project Muse, gives good examples of critical reading, though some of the reviews may be too critical. If you have particular methodological interests, consider the reviews in a journal devoted to that methodology. For example, if you are interested in business history, look for works reviewed in Enterprise and Society.
  • Emphasize scholarship
Journalists, popular historians, and memoir writers all write fine books, but directed readings are designed in part to fill you with the values of history as written in the academy. Look for works written by PhD-holding scholars, or works by non-scholars that have stood the test of time. In general, at least one book for each topic should be a scholarly monograph.
  • Read catalogs
All university presses have online catalogs, in some cases featuring reviews and excerpts. If you find yourself enjoying several books from one press, it's worthing seeing what else they publish.

Books are often published as parts of series on a more general topic. For example, Princeton publishes Politics and Society in Twentieth Century America, Columbia publishes Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History, and Chicago publishes Historical Studies of Urban America.

  • Consider length
If you choose a very long book on a subject, look for very short books to complement it.
  • Think about themes
Ideally, you will find two or three books that engage one another. Read review essays for examples of such groupings.
  • Think about your research
Even if you are planning a research project in one century and doing readings in another, some books will be better than others at providing models of methodology or background material you need.
  • Buy when you can
It is much easier to read a book you own. You can make notes in the margins, then refer to them for future projects, such as preparing written comprehensive exams or lectures. If you plan ahead, you can often find discounted copies of scholarly texts through Bookfinder or other websites.
Personal tools