Mapping Out the Historiography
January 31, 2010 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Is there a William and Mary Quarterly for nineteenth century American history?

I'm pretty new to studying history, and I'm still trying to get the historiography organized in my head for a couple of fields. I figure finding the relevant journals will be the fastest way to do that. I'm interested in nineteenth century America in general, and in the environmental history of the American West, immigrants in America, and American intellectual and cultural history.

I got my M.A. from a small department last year, and I had some lovely mentors, but they couldn't give me many recommendations because because they had different, although related, specialties. Can you give me either some specific recommendations, or some more general suggestions for good places to start looking?
posted by colfax to Education (4 answers total)
You might check in with the American Antiquarian Society. I don't know anything about them because I'm not a historian, but some of the scholars I've worked with have spoken very highly of them and their holdings.
posted by Madamina at 12:57 PM on January 31, 2010

Best answer: Ask a librarian. They're surprisingly nice people, and often very pleased when someone asks them for help with the subject they know best (because so few students or professors do so).

The university library at your institution is likely to have a history subject specialist, or someone who is responsible for history among other things. You can often find these people directly through the library website (as at my current institution); otherwise, most university libraries will have a 'Helpdesk' e-mail address, and you could ask them to put you in touch with the relevant person. They'll likely be happy to do it even if you're no longer a student there, though in that case there's no harm in mentioning that you're a recent graduate.

If by any chance they don't have a history subject specialist, or it's a small library and the relevant person is responsible for a dozen other subjects as well, look for someone at the nearest big 'research' library, or the nearest big city library, or just go straight to the Harvard/Princeton/Bodleian/Library of Congress website and find someone there. Research libraries like these expect to get questions from outside their local area/own student body.

Another thing: check out articles in (and perhaps special issues of) History Compass that address some of the subjects you're interested in. These articles are almost always to some extent historiographical surveys, so they'll help you map out the literature--and you'll also get an idea from their bibliographies of which journals are being cited most, i.e. where the most interesting work is currently being done.

On a more 'meta' kind of level: I learned about a book called The Oxford Guide to Library Research, by Thomas Mann, from the most favorited AskMetafilter thread of all time. It's great. I wish I'd read it at the start of my PhD rather than at the very end; now that I'm doing another project, and teaching, I've had a chance to put many of Mann's suggestions into practice. In fact, both the suggestions I've just made are basically drawn from it.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:46 PM on January 31, 2010

Best answer: I can't help with the general question, but can offer some suggestions for some of the topics you're interested in.

There's not a journal specifically devoted to 19th century environmental history or the history of the American west. However, the Western Historical Quarterly will have a lot of articles on the 19th-century west, particularly the further back you go (Western history as a whole still has a problem with the 20th century, in my opinion, which I find continually frustrating. For environmental history (which has more of a 20th century bias, since the field originated in the study of the conservation/environmental movements and federal land policy in the United States), try Environmental History.

However, I'm not entirely sure that going through journals is the best way to get a handle on the historiography of certain fields. When I was trying to get a handle on environmental/Western history in my first years of grad school, I was told that review essays and bibliographies were a better way to go - historians, as a whole, tend to focus more on books than articles. Things I found really helpful for this include the bibliographies at the end of each chapter of The Oxford History of the American West, Historians and the American West (a bit dated -- it won't have any environmental history in it, but I still found it useful to get a sense of how the field of Western history had evolved), and Writing Western History: Essays on Major Western Historians. For environmental history, American Environmental History: An Introduction has a good summary of the field's historiography. Also, the historiographic resources at the H-Environment website can be helpful.

If you want, memail me -- I can probably come up with more suggestions (and it will give me a reason to not get work done!)
posted by heurtebise at 7:59 PM on January 31, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers, all. You've given me a bunch of new ideas for where to go looking.
posted by colfax at 1:01 PM on February 1, 2010

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