Monday, September 13, 2010

James McPherson and Gordon Wood on Writing History

Randall Stephens

I've been looking here and there for good material to use in a Senior Thesis course I'm teaching this fall. I wanted to find ways for students to better understand the writing process. We have days set aside in the syllabus--which I borrowed shamelessly from my colleague Don Yerxa--for discussing research topics; history-writing standards; taking notes; proper citation; style; building an argument; etc.

But from the outset, I figured it would be useful to introduce them to some heavyweights in the field who have good advice to dispense. Lucky for me that Book TV includes many of its clips on YouTube. (Others streamed on the Book TV site haven't worked quite as well for me. Plus, the great thing about YouTube is that you can load the complete video before heading off to class, and still show it even if you don't have an internet connection.)

In the embedded and linked clips below, which I'll be showing in class tomorrow, Gordon Wood and James McPherson talk about the writing process, organizing research, and more. I would embed the Wood clip here also, but looks like that feature has been disabled. (Will like to see what my students think about McPherson's use of an electric typewriter.)

Book TV: Gordon Wood on Writing and Research, September 2010.

See also: John Fea's great live-blogging coverage of Wood's recent appearance on Book TV; Timothy L. Schroer, "Placing the Senior Capstone Course within the History Program," Perspectives on History, April 2009; and Heather Cox Richardson's series of posts on this blog concerning "Richardson's Rules of Order: Tips for Writing Research Papers for a College Course."


hcr said...

This is fascinating... but did anyone but me cringe at his comment that it took "several months" to write that book? Only "several months"?!

Still, I find it inspiring just to hear someone talk about producing, and how he does it.

BTW, I believe there's a copy of Richard Morris's Encyclopedia of American History on the shelf by his desk. A great quick reference, and fairly easy to find in used book stores.

Randall said...

That is a good source. (I liked seeing quite a few recognizable books on Wood's shelves.) I keep a copy of Foner and Garraty's Reader's Companion to Am Hist at an arm's length from my desk. Not so good on religious topics, but excellent on most everything else.