Some Suggestions For Approaching Books In The Class


Here are some generic questions that you should be asking yourself when you read each and every book in this course:


1. First, obviously, what is the book about, and what is its central theme or point?


2. Who published the book? What can we learn from this fact, for instance about its intended readership? Was it a commercial press aimed at a mass market, a specialized university press, or what? Was it a press with a particular political slant?


3. Check out the copyright page to see when the book first appeared. What does this tell us about the context in which the book appeared?


4. Does the author make his/her case well and clearly? Is the book well-written and well-argued? (the two points are not necessarily the same!) If not, why not?


5. The fact that the book was published indicates that somebody thought it made an important and innovative point – there’s no point in just rehashing old familiar arguments, or so we would think. What’s new about this book? Is it a controversial study?


6. What did the book tell us that was not previously known? What can we learn about how the book fits into the existing literature, yet advances beyond previous knowledge? What earlier or established position is it arguing against?


7. Why are people studying this kind of topic right now? What does this tell us about the state of historical writing and scholarship?


8. Does the author push the evidence to make it fit into contemporary concerns and obsessions? How?


9. What major questions and issues surface about the era we are discussing?


10. Is the book of any interest or significance beyond the immediate scope of the study addressed?


11.Are there questions that you would like to ask that the author does not deal with, or covers poorly?


12.What can we learn from the footnotes and acknowledgments about how the author went about his/her research?