Understanding Historiography through an Annotated Bibliography: Scaffolded Learning for a Capstone Research Project


Jennifer Duncan

Head of Collection Development and Liaison to History Department

Utah State University

Kacy Lundstrom

Coordinator of Library Instruction

Utah State University


Duncan, J., & Lundstrom, K. (2014). Understanding Historiography through an Annotated Bibliography: Scaffolded Learning for a Capstone Research Project. Utah State University.


Designed by librarians who support the senior capstone course for history majors, this sequenced set of mini-assignments is intended to provide the structure and support to help students develop the research skills they need to complete the original research project/paper required in the capstone course. There are three parts: the development of a bibliography, a presentation, and an individual reflection.

Background and Context

At Utah State University, all history majors take the capstone course, HIST4990, before they graduate, which is taught by numerous faculty with variations in overall theme and in teaching methods used to support the final project. All students, however, are expected to complete an original research project that both engages the secondary literature as well as uses primary sources. This series of assignments proposed here, designed by the librarians who support the course, would help provide structure and scaffolded opportunities to teach the research skills students need to effectively complete the final project. Below are the DQP proficiencies the assignment is intended to assess:

Use of Information Resources Bachelor’s Level

  • Incorporates multiple information resources presented in different media and/or different languages, in projects, papers or performances, with citations in forms appropriate to those resources, and evaluates the reliability and comparative worth of competing information resources.
  • Explicates the ideal characteristics of current information resources for the execution of projects, papers or performances; accesses those resources by delimiting terms and syntax; and describes the strategies by which he/she identified and searched for those resources.

Analytic Inquiry Bachelor’s Level

  • Differentiates and evaluates theories and approaches to complex standard and non-standard problems within his or her major field and at least one other academic field.

Communication fluency Bachelor’s Level

  • Constructs sustained, coherent arguments and/or narratives and/or explications of technical issues and processes, in two media, to general and specific audiences.


Prior to this assignment, students in the course would be introduced to the concept of historiography and the research methods historians use (other history departments may have specific courses preparing students for these concepts). These sequenced mini-assignments would support the final, capstone project, which is a final paper relating a broad historical theme (i.e., race and slavery, culture and politics, etc.). These activities would be integrated at sequenced, targeted points in the beginning of the semester to help students through the research process as they prepare for their final paper.

*This assignment would be easily adaptable to other subject areas by changing the terminology of historiography to literature review.

Any history faculty who require a final project focusing on the same learning outcomes would find this assignment useful, as well as any librarians supporting an array of disciplines, particularly in the humanities. It can easily be adapted to suit the other research related learning outcomes. At our institution, we have a number of history and non-history faculty seeking out ways to integrate the library more effectively into their curricula in order to help students meet research-oriented learning outcomes. This assignment would serve as a model for meaningful library integration and help students learn how to effectively conduct research within a discipline.

While many faculty members have historically required capstone students to produce annotated bibliographies, the emphasis has generally been on the skill of summarizing arguments. We have noticed that history students often focus on narrative rather than argument (history as story rather than debate). This iteration of the assignment would seek to better place the secondary sources in conversation with one another and to force the students to further interrogate several authors about methods, sources, and theoretical framework prior to beginning writing.

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