Journaling Guidelines

Hist 314 > Assignments > Journaling Guidelines

All of the assignments in this class are meant to foster your learning. Instead of merely assessing whether or not you have done the assigned work, they are designed to be part of the learning process. Moreover, they are structured to give you a large amount of control over this process. Instead of reading, memorizing, and repeating history, you will be reading, thinking about, asking critical questions of, and synthesizing history. In short, you will be learning how to ask historical questions and construct historical narratives yourself. Journaling is central to this activity.

Reasons for Journal Assignment

  • Working regularly with your journal will afford you regular writing practice. This is positive in its own right, but it will also help you when it comes time to write essays for the class.
  • Journaling will help you to synthesize the diverse materials you encounter, make connections among them. It will help you to master the material in a deep and meaningful way, insofar as you will be making it your own, so to speak.
  • Journaling will help you identify historical problems and generate historical questions, which can enrich your own work and also contribute to the class as a whole.

Journaling Tips

  • To get the most out of your journal, make writing in your journal a regular habit. (Do not wait until the last minute. Also, make sure you have a way to make journal entries no matter where you are because sometimes ideas will come when you are least expecting them.)
  • Write clearly, following basic rules of English, but do not waste time proofreading for good grammar, etc.
  • Read your old journal entries regularly and try to make connections between those entries and the material you are currently engaging with.
  • Assume that the material will be challenging. Indeed, make sure you challenge yourself. (If it seems easy, you might be doing it wrong.)
  • Do not write simply to fill up space. You want productive thinking, not merely pixels on a screen or ink on paper.
  • Try to move beyond simple summaries to actual analysis. What are the implications of a thing you have read, for example? How does it relate to other historical phenomena you see?
  • Remember that your personal feelings about a lecture or an assigned book are irrelevant because this is not a diary and it does not matter what you like or dislike personally.
  • On the other hand, know that problems with the logic or evidence presented in a lecture or a reading are very relevant and should be analyzed.1

Practical Matters

  • Keep your journal in a format that works for you, whether electronic or paper.
  • You will give me electronic copies or photocopies of your journal on March 28 21 and May 2nd. Prior to submitting this material, I will be asking you to identify the most important parts for me. (I will provide guidelines for this markup closer to the actual submission dates.)
  • Keep back-up copies of your journal, whether electronic or photocopies.
  • Journal in such a way that there is room (or an electronic method) for you to revisit old pages and engage with the ideas there.
  • Date each journal entry. Date any comments you add to an old page too. Doing so will help keep you on track, as you explore the history.

Posted: January 28, 2017


Featured image: Diaries written bu Jakob Unrau while serving as a medic in the First World War, in personal archive of Walter Unrau, photograph from 2007 and shared on Wikimedia Commons.


  1. This and the previous set of bullet points draw heavily on Molly Soule and Andresse St. Rose, “Journal Writing,” Writing Center, Hamilton College, https://www.hamilton.edu/academics/centers/writing/writing-resources/journal-writing