HY 1301 Book Dissection Exercise
INTRODUCTION AND OBJECTIVES
Scientists perform much of their research in laboratories. The library is the historian’s laboratory, and
books are often the tools of our research. Part of succeeding in a history course is learning how
historians work. The single most basic skill for any historian is to know how to read a historical
*monograph* critically and thoroughly. That means knowing the parts of a book, grasping the
arguments of its author, and understanding other historians’ criticisms and analyses of that book. It
also means that historians must be able to explain to others efficiently where they found the
information or interpretations they use in their own work. Since historians are entrusted with the past,
they carry a lot of responsibility for getting it right. They must check their sources for bias, confirm
their information from as many sources as possible, try as hard as they can to be objective in their
own work, and make sure someone else has checked their work before they publish it. This exercise
is designed to help students develop some of those skills. Everyone is an historian to some extent. It’s
important to be a good one.
CHOOSING A BOOK
Choose a book from the Further Readings Section in the Appendix at the end of the textbook. The
original edition of the book you choose must have been published since 1990, and it must be a
monograph. What is a monograph? It is a book written on a specific subject by a single author. It is
not a collection of essays edited by an author, not a memoir by someone who took part in the events,
not a collection of documents (primary sources) edited by an author, and not a general history of
America in any given period. Choose your book carefully, and clear it with the professor before you
start reading it! The book you choose also must have numbered footnotes or endnotes and it must
concern a subject in your American history course, either HY 1301 Before 1877 or HY 1302 After
Once you have tentatively chosen your book, you must locate one scholarly review of that book
before you begin reading it. Your review must be complete, and it must be at least three paragraphs
in length. Good sources for reviews of books are the American Historical Review, the Journal of
American History, The New York Times Book Review and The New York Review of Books. Many
book reviews are conveniently indexed in “America: History and Life” (available on-line or in paper
form at most college libraries. Ask the librarian at the reference desk.) The reviews in CHOICE come
out first but are too short (150 words) to be useful for this assignment. If you find an abstract that
looks interesting, order the entire book review on interlibrary loan!
DO NOT BEGIN READING A BOOK UNLESS YOU HAVE A REVIEW OF IT IN HAND
AND HAVE CLEARED IT WITH THE PROFESSOR.
The book is not yours until you can show the professor a photocopied review of it. The first person to
show him a review gets the book. Also, DO NOT HOARD BOOKS AND PLEASE, DO NOT
MARK IN LIBRARY BOOKS. There is a special place in hell reserved for people who mark up
library books right beside those who steal them.
The exercise is divided into three parts:
1. Citation and Acknowledgment,
2. Arguments, and
PART ONE: CITATION AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This portion of the assignment allows you to describe certain physical parts of the book and cite it
properly. Answer the following questions and perform the following:
1.Type out a bibliographical citation (not a footnote or endnote citation) for your book using the
form outlined in Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers, available in the library or on line at
http://www.eturabian.com/turabian/index.html. The form must be precisely correct.
2. What is the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) of your book? (look at the back cover of
the book or on the title page.)
3. Does it have an index? Is the index slightly or extensively cross-referenced or is it not crossreferenced
4. Is there a bibliography? Does it include secondary sources (other scholarly books and articles)?
Does it annotate or comment on them?
5. Since your chosen book must have footnotes or endnotes, approximately what percentage of the
sources the author cites in the notes are primary? What percentage are secondary? (Sample 30 notes
taken on random pages ending in the page number xx5.) Did your author consult archives or depend
entirely on printed works in a library?
5. Who read all or part of the book prior to its publication to check it for mistakes? What organization
if any supported the author with money to do the research and/or writing of the book?
PART TWO: ARGUMENTS
This part is the most involved. It requires a thorough reading of the book. It demands that you
comprehend your author’s “arguments.” Historians use that word to mean the author’s interpretation,
the case that is being made about the subject. When historians confront evidence, whether it’s a large
number of printed sources or archival records, they must try to make sense of those sources. The
“sense” they make is their interpretation. The purpose of their monographs is to present their
evidence and “argue” their interpretation of that evidence. Your purpose in this section is to
summarize the arguments of the author of your book and indicate some of the evidence used to
support those interpretations. Write three sentences–and only three–on each chapter of the book.
Begin all of your sentences as follows:
1. For the first sentence on each chapter, begin with the words, “The main subject of this chapter is”
but do not include any words from the chapter title in your description.
2. For the second sentence of each chapter, begin with the words, “The author argues in this chapter
3. For the third sentence of each chapter, begin with the words, “A specific piece of evidence that the
author uses to support his/her case is.” List only ONE piece of relevant evidence.
After you have written a trio of sentences for each chapter, write one single five-sentence paragraph
at the end of this entire section of your paper summarizing the author’s argument as a whole about the
subject of the book.
ANALYSIS AND CRITIQUE
In this section, you have two things to do. First, analyze the argument from the standpoint of the
course. What did this book teach you that you did not already know about American history? Was the
argument convincing? Was it well-supported? Secondly, analyze the review of the book. Did the
reviewer mostly summarize the book or did he/she evaluate it critically? Did he/she agree with the
author’s interpretation? Why or why not? Did he/she have criticisms? What were they? Do you find
the reviewer’s criticisms, if any, germane to the author’s arguments or peripheral? Do you agree with
the reviewer’s assessment? Why or why not?
All Parts of this project should be attached to an e-mail and sent directly to the instructor.
If you submit your rough draft along with the professional review one week before the due
date, I will review it and make suggestions for improvement so that you will receive full credit
for this assignment if you make the proper changes to your final draft.
You must e-mail a completed copy of this Check Sheet with your signature on the pledge along
with a copy of the professional book review with your Book Dissection Exercise.
Check Sheet: Book Dissection Exercise
____1. I have attached one book review, an older draft of this paper, and a copy of this check sheet.
____2. The right margin of my paper is not straight like the left.
____3. I have proofread and proofread and proofread the final draft to remove every single spelling
error I humanly can.
____4. I have purged my writing of sentence fragments and comma splices.
____5. I have typed this exercise on a computer and have used a computer spell-checker.
____6. I have not committed any of the four mortal sins (I like(d), I do (did) not like, “the people,”
____7. I have not marked up my book or mistreated it in any way, keeping it clean for the next
person to use.
I pledge, upon my word of honor and in full cognizance of the possible penalties, including an “F” in
the course and suspension from the university, that this review is my own work written by me and by
no one else, and that I have not resorted to plagiarism, *that I have read the whole book thoroughly
and have written the best paper I can*.
______________ Student Signature
Check Sheet for Choosing a Monograph
_____ 1. Does the book concern a specific subject in American history since 1865?
_____ 2. Is the original publication date (in any language) on or after 1965?
_____ 3. Does it have *numbered* footnotes or endnotes? (A bibliography or bibliographical essay
at the end is nice, but does not count as footnotes or endnotes. Neither do a few asterisked notes.
They must be *numbered*.)
_____ 4. Is it a monograph?
_____ 5. Can you locate a good review of it?
Your book is NOT a monograph if:
1. It is a collection of separate essays by one or more authors.
2. It is a textbook or general history of the US over a period of time.
3. It is a “popular” book for a general audience (most coffee-table and picture books fall into this
4. It is a primary source: a collection of letters, a memoir by someone who lived at the time, or a set
of documents about a subject.
5. It does not involve research into a specifically defined topic to answer some specifically stated
HY 1301 Book Dissection Exercise
HY 1301 Book Dissection Exercise