Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Training Graduate Students in the Writing of History

Randall Stephens

In the Chronicle of Higher Education Stephen J. Pyne writes: "History is a book-based discipline. We read books, we write books, we promote and tenure people on the basis of books, and at national meetings we gather around book exhibits. But we don't teach our graduate students how to write books."

Pyne concludes: "Before writing can be taught seriously to graduate students in history, their professors will have to agree on what good writing means, decide that it matters, and accept themes as well as theses."

Pyne's essay is based on his recent Harvard University Press book on the same topic. In Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction he argues that literary considerations should enhance the writing of history. Pyne looks at how setting a scene, creating suspense, and shaping the narrative arc all improve works of history.

Pyne has summarized his arguments in a piece that will appear in an upcoming issue of Historically Speaking. His essay will serve as the starting point for a roundtable on the subject. Other historians will weigh in and speak about their experience in and outside of the classroom.

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