Research Skills ImageHST6801: Research Skills for Historians

15 credits (Semester: Autumn)

Module Leader 2017-18: Dr Andrew Tompkins 



Module Summary

This module is designed to equip students with the generic research skills necessary for independent investigation and further study in History. You will discuss in seminars the changing nature of the historical discipline as it has adapted to interdisciplinary impulses, transnational collaboration, and digitization.

In Masterclasses taught by specialists in the relevant domains, you will familiarise yourselves with the particular challenges and possibilities associated with different types of primary sources (e.g. maps, legal documents, press, oral interviews, etc.).

Additional classes will help you work more effectively with library collections and develop subject-specific as well as generic IT skills (search techniques, locating information in databases, using web-based resources, advanced bibliographical management).

Module aims

This module aims to equip new MA students with key skills necessary for advanced study in the humanities or social sciences and with the specific skills needed to undertake research in History. The generic skills will be of value to students when they seek employment; the subject-specific skills will enable students who wish to do so to proceed to doctoral research. The unit aims further to enhance students’ personal awareness of their capacity and motivation for pursuing further study in History.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you will be able to demonstrate:

  1. An understanding of methodological approaches to historical research, and an ability to reflect on these;
  2. The ability to use a wide range of bibliographical tools (on paper and in electronic form) for the location of primary and secondary source materials;
  3. The ability to locate and critically evaluate archival, printed or electronic source-material for the investigation of specific historical questions.
  4. The ability to locate and critically evaluate the scholarly merits of electronically available source materials for their own field of study.


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught through a variety of seminars, including Masterclasses, led by members of academic staff in History with specialist interest in the topics. You will be given preparation for each of the seminars, which though not assessed will form the basis of small-group discussion and will contribute to the achievement of the learning outcomes. The emphasis throughout is on the acquisition and enhancement of specific skills. You will be offered guidance about the preparation of the assessed tasks in individual tutorials.



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will have a choice of two types of exercise:

  1. A source commentary:

    This assessment exercise asks you to identify a particular document, object, or recording which you have found to be of interest and to write a commentary on its potential use to the historian.
    There are no restrictions on the kind of document, object or recording you choose. Possible examples: a newspaper article; the recording of an oral history interview; a teacup; a novel; a painting; a poster; a cartoon; a diary entry; a speech; a map; a chart or table.

    Questions you might consider in your commentary include: 
    • What is the document/source you have identified?
    • How did it come to be archived? Why has it been preserved? 
    • Why is it of interest to you as an historian? 
    • Does it uncover new information on a topic? Or does it allow you to find out more about attitudes or experiences in the past?
    • Are there problems associated with this genre of source? How might such issues affect your interpretation of this document or object?

    Please note that this is not a checklist. If you find that there is enough scope for exploring just one or two of the questions above (or even questions not listed altogether), you are welcome to do so.
  2. An essay examining the relationship between History and another discipline:

    Write a short essay in which you explain historical research approaches in relation to those of at least one other discipline. You should pay particular attention to both (a) how historical methods differ from those in other disciplines and (b) how approaches from other disciplines enrich historical inquiry. Factors to consider might include how historians use, identify, and critically engage with their sources as well as the role historians ascribe to theory, analysis, and interpretation.




*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it is current and relevant. Individual modules may be updated or withdrawn in response to discoveries through our world-leading research, funding changes, professional accreditation requirements, student or employer feedback, curriculum review, staff availability, and variations in student numbers. In the event of a material change the University will inform students in good time and will take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.