John S. Ott
Department of History
Portland State University
HST 453/553
Fall 2017



Response #1 due on or before 10/31; response #2 due between 11/2 and 11/30 (inclusive); response #3 submitted any time between 10/3 and 11/30


General guidelines - Please read carefully

The reading responses are designed to present you with a writing format conducive to your reflection on the sources as you read them.  Undergraduates are responsible for turning in 3 responses during the course of the term; graduate students must submit 2.
  • Responses should be about 3-4 pp., typed, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins.  Please make sure your name, the date, the response number (i.e., #1, 2, etc.), and page numbers appear on each response.  Do your best to come up with a title and indicate which source(s) you are responding to.
  • Responses should be crafted for the longer/more substantial assigned readings in any given day, not the 1 or 2-page short excerpts in the Medieval Towns reader.  In other words, responses should be made for the longer primary sources and the secondary sources (books and articles/essays).  You may certainly cite or refer to the shorter primary source excerpts contained in the reader; likewise, a response that bundles 3 or 4 shorter primary sources together is also acceptable.  If you have questions about what qualifies, please ask.
  • Responses will be assigned a letter grade based on several factors: (1) the evident effort put into them, as determined by the extent to which they engage the ideas in the texts in a manner that is cogent, lucidly argued, and intellectually productive; (2) the faithfulness with which your responses represent the authors' ideas, comments, descriptions, etc.; (3) the extent to which your responses succeed in weaving in elements from class discussion, and other assigned readings; (4) their grammar, syntax, spelling, and so forth--so take your time and proofread.  See below.
  • Your responses must be turned in on the day of the assigned readings which they treat.  In other words, if you plan to write a response to Krautheimer's chapter on Rome, which are reading for Tuesday, Oct. 3, you must turn in your paper in on that day.  Under no circumstances, barring serious physical infirmity or family illness, will late responses be accepted. You may, however, e-mail me your response if you have completed one and cannot come to class for some reason--but I have to have it in hand before the class ends.
  • When referencing or citing sources about which you are writing, please use in-text, parenthetical references which include the title and page number, if applicable.  For example: (Medieval Towns, 77). You are encouraged, of course, to use direct quotations from the sources in writing your responses.


For your responses, choose one (or more) text(s) from a given day, read it closely, and consider its historical (primary sources) or historiographical (secondary sources) significance.  For starters, you may wish to examine the details and nature of the source itself.

For all sources: Who wrote it, and who is the intended audience?  How do we know?  What does the source say?  What were its author's basic assumptions, beliefs, ideas, ideologies? Does the author have a discernible agenda? affinities? enmities?

For secondary sources: What is the author's thesis?  What evidence does the author draw on to make his/her points?  Where is it found?  Is it reliable?  Does it consist of primary sources?  Are there methodological issues that may attend its usage?  What larger historiographical questions or debates does the essay/chapter/article address?  Does the work address existing works?  If so, which one(s)?  Are the author's arguments persuasive, in part or in whole?  If yes, why?  If no, why not?  Does it make a major or minor contribution to its field?

For primary sources:  What is the work's structure or organization?  Is the source a historical narrative, biography, a sermon, a legal collection, a charter, a set of statutes, a treatise, a letter, or something else?  How do its genre, style, and format affect its purpose, audience, and reception?

Beyond these basic guidelines, this assignment is meant to be open-ended.  You are encouraged to reflect on the details in the readings that most interest you.  There are no "right answers" here, exactly, but venturing of "opinion" and idle speculation without demonstration from the text will result in a poor evaluation.  Rather, I am looking for you to analyze an issue, argument, or question from the materials that intrigues you.  You do not need to be comprehensive in your coverage of the text(s), but do not simply summarize the work's contents.  Think carefully about an aspect or aspects of the author's ideas or argument, and engage those ideas with a supported criticism of your own. Build an argument.

It may help to think of the reading responses as mini-essays or thought pieces.  Develop a thesis or argument, ponder or debate the ideas in the works, adding evidence as necessary, and write a brief conclusion about your findings.

Each response is weighted 100 points, or 10% of the final grade.