Historical Biography (HIST*4030) | College of Arts

Historical Biography (HIST*4030)

Code and section: HIST*4030*01

Term: Fall 2021

Instructor: Karen Racine



Face-to-face discussions; independent research; individual meetings with prof


The famous nineteenth century British historian Thomas Carlyle championed the “great man” theory of history; he once observed that all history can be reduced to the biography of great persons. In contrast, Karl Marx believed that deep structural economic
change was the actual motor force of history; in his view, the lives of individual people do not matter much. This course will examine the changing attitude of historians to the biographical project itself, and will consider the reasons why biography as a genre has come in and out of
favour over the generations. Students will learn to identify historiographical schools of thought related to biography as a genre, and will gain more practice identifying ideological biases in their sources. This course is also intended to showcase the senior student’s abilities as a historian. Students will select a subject for your biography, compile an extensive bibliography
of primary and secondary sources, write a persuasive essay, and then present the work to student-colleagues at the end of the semester.


  1. Improved skills: research, persuasive writing, critical analysis and oral communication.
  2. Achieved further insight into the discipline of history and its methodology.
  3. Able to discuss the complex issues involved in writing a historical biography.
  4. Gained familiarity with the experiences and significance of a specific person’s life


  • Description of topic and initial annotated bibliography 10 %
  • Journal article worksheet responses 5 %
  • First Draft of 8-10 pages 10 %
  • Peer Edit #1 and 2 10 %
  • In-class presentation; participation and preparedness 10 %
  • Final Research Paper 55 %


Textbook: Biography: A Very Short Introduction + articles and books from library for research

**Please note:  This is a preliminary web course description only.  The department reserves the right to change without notice any information in this description.  The final, binding course outline will be distributed in the first class of the semester.**