History Department Report on the Mellon Information Literacy Initiative Grant


Following the direction indicated by the initial discussions of the initiative, History has taken very seriously the idea of a disciplinary basis for the definition and exploration of information literacy; beginning by writing a fundamental outline of "Skills and Goals for Students of History" that has provided the basic structure for subsequent discussions. History then used the grant as an opportunity to review and improve the ways in which these skills are learned and taught at the various levels in the curriculum.

Activities Under the Grant

Skills and Goals Outline
The department's first project under the Mellon grant was to write the outline of "Skills and Goals for Students in History." Written by a sub-committee and approved by the whole department (and emended from time to time in subsequent years), the outline represents the department's understanding what skills and kinds of understanding of the discipline we expect a student of history to develop.

The History department focused a great deal of attention on a yearly workshop, funded by the Mellon grant, including:

  • 100-level courses (June 2001)

Discussed the need to create a collaborative relationship between librarian and students, the importance of focusing of "habits of mind" regarding research and disciplinary knowledge, and the use of the "Skills and Goals Outline."

  • 200-level courses and History 298 (June 2002)

Issues explored included: how students learn to frame and narrow topics, how and when they become acquainted with a sub-discipline of history and its literature, and how to relate teaching them to understand debates within the literature with teaching them to search for materials on their own.

  • 300-level courses, comps process, and assessment plan (June 2003)

Discussion of courses focused on the two major genres of historical writing that the department expects majors to be able to produce as seniors, the research paper and the literature review. Discussed the Information Literacy Questionnaire and Rubric for evaluating Comps Bibliographies.

Preparation of Materials
The history department identified several activities for continued, on-going sharing of materials and information.

  • Planned for the creation of a binder for the purpose of sharing assignments. Among the faculty, the sharing of assignments and ideas for teaching strategies was one of the most important aspects of all our meetings and discussions.
  • Planned for the creation of materials to introduce students to information literacy as a goal of the History Department, including a web- and student-friendly version of the "Skills and Goals Outline," and revising materials on the department website on citing sources.
  • Created "Information Literacy Questionnaire" and "Rubric for Evaluating Comps Bibliographies" and expect to use these on an on-going basis, with continuing revision as we learn more about the process.


The History department report highlighted four outcomes of the Mellon Information Literacy Initiative:

  • For all students, but especially for beginners or newcomers to a discipline or to a sub-discipline, explicit instruction in expectations and techniques is crucial.
  • Assignments that focus on teaching the methods of historical inquiry and research can be designed so that they are interesting for the students, accessible and helpful for both more and less experienced students, and closely integrated with the course material and projects. Sharing such assignments among the faculty helps to create a common teaching culture and sparks productive new ideas as commonalities and divergences are discovered and explored. The assignment - its creation and implementation - seems like an over-looked, but crucial, key to teaching information literacy.
  • A close working relationship with a librarian to whom the students turn readily is ideal in fostering a culture of library use and consultation with positive results for the students' work and work habits
  • The kinds of connections that are so present among the sub-disciplines within history will also be prove vital for creating connections among the disciplines more broadly. The labs for discovering new and creative exchanges of ideas will be interdisciplinary courses when the pressure to construct workable assignments will forge new connections and approaches.

Skills and Goals for Students of History

Revised June 2003
Revisions marked in Bold


I. Ability to formulate and answer historical questions on the basis of documentation from the period

A. Skills

  1. ability to read primary sources accurately and critically
  2. ability to ask and identify historical questions
  3. ability to assess the authority of primary source evidence in print and electronic form
  4. ability to present, orally or in writing, reasoned, documented arguments based on the understandings in #s 1-3

B. Implementation

  1. class discussion of primary documents
  2. reading responses (Caucus or hard copy)
  3. papers
  4. individual conferences
  5. modeling in lecture by faculty

II. Ability to use secondary sources to enlarge dossier of sources, perspectives, and questions

A. Skills

  1. recognize an argument in a secondary work
  2. distinguish evidence/fact/information from argument
  3. recognize historical contingency of "fact" (e.g. dates are "fact" in modern period but highly contested in ancient history)
  4. read a bibliography and find the works listed therein
  5. assess the authority of print and electronic secondary sources

B. Implementation

  1. class discussion
  2. papers and other written assignments
  3. modeling in lecture by faculty
  4. class and library instruction (esp. for II.A.4 and 5)

III. Understanding of concepts of intellectual honesty and proper crediting of others' works

A. Skills

1. use of footnotes:

  • know structure and production of scholarly materials in print and electronic forms
  • use and understand Chicago Manual of Style form for footnotes and bibliographies
  • know when and how to footnote others' works
  • be able to follow up ideas and questions using citations as doors

2. use of manuals and dictionaries

B. Implementation

  1. class and library instruction
  2. discussion
  3. papers and other written assignments

IV. Familiarity with library resources

A. Skills

  1. know major divisions of library collection (books, journals, reference works, ILS, Special Collections, microforms, College archives) and be familiar with physical locations
  2. know library staff available to help with different areas/aspects
  3. know basic finding aids: Muse, Sage, World Cat, a periodical database (course specific)
  4. have a basic vocabulary for finding aids (e.g. can distinguish database from catalog)

B. Implementation

  1. library tours/visits
  2. reference instruction
  3. specific assignments (designed in collaboration with library staff)
  4. brief presentations/comments in class

Advanced (= mastery of skills listed under "Basic" plus the following)

I. Move from concept to implementation (i.e., developing a research project)

A. Skills

  1. ability to narrow a broad topic through bibliographic research and reading
  2. ability to formulate an original thesis statement
  3. recognition of the limitations and possibilities of the available information for the topic

B. Implementation

1. staged research papers

  • sufficient background reading
  • annotated bibliography
  • individual conferences
  • discussions (especially in History 298, 395, Comps seminar)

II. Take responsibility for utilizing a greater body of historical knowledge (i.e. situating yourself in a pre-existing field or body of literature)

A. Skills

  1. thorough bibliographical search and reading, including familiarity with terminology of information storage and retrieval
  2. planning own work in dialogue with scholarship
  3. use of large electronic and text databases
  4. use articles/monographs and synthetic texts in their proper places (i.e., recognize different uses of scholarship)
  5. be aware of different voices in the text

B. Implementation

1. staged research papers

  • sufficient background reading
  • annotated bibliography
  • individual conferences
  • discussions (especially in History 298, 395, Comps seminar)

III. Achieve greater theoretical sophistication

A. Skills

  1. recognize and understand contribution of disparate fields of history to an area of history (e.g. comparative methodologies)
  2. understand contribution of other disciplines to an area of research

B. Implementation

  1. this is the special focus of History 298
  2. more advanced development of skills listed under "Basic" II