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College of Professional and Global Education · School of Information

Applied Research Methods - Historical Research Methods
INFO 285

  • Fall 2023
  • Sections 03, 12
  • 3 Unit(s)
  • 08/21/2023 to 12/06/2023
  • Modified 05/23/2023

Canvas Information

This course will be available on Canvas beginning August 21st, 6 am PT.

You will be enrolled in the Canvas site automatically.

Contact Information

Dr. Donald Westbrook
Office Hours: Virtual Office Hours By Email.

Course Description and Requisites

Covers fundamental principles, processes, values, and roles of research for professional application in information organizations. Students will become critical consumers of research products and learn the basic skills of evaluating, planning, designing, executing, and applying research. In addition to a general research methods class, which examines a variety of research methodologies, the iSchool offers a number of applied or specialized sections of INFO 285 for students to choose from.

This section of research methods will introduce students to the theory and methods of historical research and writing.  It explores the ways in which historians frame research questions, assess current literature on historical topics, locate and critically use primary and secondary sources, and formulate viable and worthwhile research projects.  Emphasis will be placed on the research skills and tools historians use and the role information professionals play in their support and development.

Waiver Option: If a student has taken and passed a graduate-level research methods course within the last 5 years (as documented by an official transcript), the student can petition the Coordinator of Admissions and Academic Advising to waive the INFO 285 requirement.

Please send an electronic copy of the transcript (scanned as a pdf file) to the Coordinator of Admissions and Academic Advising.

A waiver, if granted, does not reduce the total units required for the MLIS degree. It simply means that you are not required to take INFO 285 as one of your MLIS classes.

Course Requirements

Social Science Research Ethics Training Requirement
Complete the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) online workshop entitled "Students conducting no more than minimal risk research." Completion of this workshop is required by all San José State University faculty and students intending to do research with living human subjects. The course can be located at: CITI Program -


INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204.

Classroom Protocols


Students are expected to participate fully in all class activities. It is expected that students will be open-minded and participate fully in discussions in class and debate in a mature and respectful manner. Use of derogatory, condescending, or offensive language including profanity is prohibited. Disagreement is healthy and perfectly acceptable. Expressing disagreement should always include an explanation of your reasoning and, whenever possible, evidence to support your position. In accordance with San José State University's Policies, the Student Code of Conduct, and applicable state and federal laws, discrimination based on gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability is prohibited in any form.

Program Information

Course Workload

Success in this course is based on the expectation that students will spend, for each unit of credit, a minimum of forty-five hours over the length of the course (normally 3 hours per unit per week with 1 of the hours used for lecture) for instruction or preparation/studying or course-related activities including but not limited to internships, labs, clinical practica. Other course structures will have equivalent workload expectations as described in the syllabus.

Instructional time may include but is not limited to:
Working on posted modules or lessons prepared by the instructor; discussion forum interactions with the instructor and/or other students; making presentations and getting feedback from the instructor; attending office hours or other synchronous sessions with the instructor.

Student time outside of class:
In any seven-day period, a student is expected to be academically engaged through submitting an academic assignment; taking an exam or an interactive tutorial, or computer-assisted instruction; building websites, blogs, databases, social media presentations; attending a study group; contributing to an academic online discussion; writing papers; reading articles; conducting research; engaging in small group work.

Course Goals

Core Competencies (Program Learning Outcomes) Supported

INFO 285 supports the following core competencies:

  1. L Demonstrate understanding of quantitative and qualitative research methods, the ability to design a research project, and the ability to evaluate and synthesize research literature.

Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs)

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the difference between primary and secondary research.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of fundamental principles and processes of conducting research.
  3. Articulate the research method(s) covered in the course, appropriately apply them, and understand their strengths and liabilities.
  4. Understand appropriate data collection/analysis tools, and ethical concerns related to research.

Course Materials


Required Textbooks:

  • Presnell, J. (2018). The information-literate historian (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. Available through Amazon: 019085149X

Course Requirements and Assignments

The assignments for this course are as follows:

  • Discussions. 24 points (12 discussions, 2 points each)

    Participate in a series of Canvas-based discussions related to historical research, methodologies, sources, ethics, and information literacy, among other topics. (Learning Outcomes 123, & 4

  • Information Literacy Book Review. 10 points

    Locate and review a book, preferably published in the last five years, on the subject of information literacy. A list of recommendations will be provided. (Learning Outcomes 1 & 2)

  • Research Paper Proposal.  15 points

    Submit a proposal for your final research paper, including a list of 20 primary, secondary, and/or tertiary sources relevant to your topic. (Learning Outcomes 1 & 2)

  • Social Science Research Ethics Training.  6 points.

    Complete the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) online workshop titled "Students conducting no more than minimal risk research." The course can be located at CITI Program - (Learning Outcome 4)

  • Literature Review.  15 points

    Review 10 scholarly studies that interpret some aspect of your historical research topic. The studies reviewed should be a combination of scholarly monographs and refereed journal articles (and may be taken from the list submitted for the research paper proposal).  (Learning Outcomes 1 & 3)

  • Final Research Paper.  30 points

    Write a research paper that includes a thesis, discussion of methodology, literature review, and demonstration of research skills addressed in the course. (Learning Outcomes 123, & 4)

Assignment Submission

All assignments must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. (Pacific Time (PT)) on the day they are due. Late submissions will be reduced by 20% of the total points possible for that assignment or discussion post.

Grading Information

The standard SJSU School of Information Grading Scale is utilized for all iSchool courses:

97 to 100A
94 to 96A minus
91 to 93B plus
88 to 90B
85 to 87B minus
82 to 84C plus
79 to 81C
76 to 78C minus
73 to 75D plus
70 to 72D
67 to 69D minus
Below 67F

In order to provide consistent guidelines for assessment for graduate level work in the School, these terms are applied to letter grades:

  • C represents Adequate work; a grade of "C" counts for credit for the course;
  • B represents Good work; a grade of "B" clearly meets the standards for graduate or undergraduate (for BS-ISDA) level work;
    For core courses in the MLIS program (not MARA, Informatics, or BS-ISDA) — INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204 — the iSchool requires that students earn a B in the course. If the grade is less than B (B- or lower) after the first attempt you will be placed on administrative probation. You must repeat the class if you wish to stay in the program. If - on the second attempt - you do not pass the class with a grade of B or better (not B- but B) you will be disqualified.
  • A represents Exceptional work; a grade of "A" will be assigned for outstanding work only.

Graduate Students are advised that it is their responsibility to maintain a 3.0 Grade Point Average (GPA). Undergraduates must maintain a 2.0 Grade Point Average (GPA).

University Policies

Per University Policy S16-9 (PDF), relevant university policy concerning all courses, such as student responsibilities, academic integrity, accommodations, dropping and adding, consent for recording of class, etc. and available student services (e.g. learning assistance, counseling, and other resources) are listed on the Syllabus Information web page. Make sure to visit this page to review and be aware of these university policies and resources.

Course Schedule

Grading and Due Dates


24 points

See Schedule

Information Literacy Book Review

10 points

September 24

Research Paper Proposal

15 points

October 8

Social Science Research Ethics Training

6 points

October 22

Literature Review

15 points

November 19

Final Research Paper

30 points

December 6

Course Schedule

Reminder: Weekly/modular class sessions run from Monday through Sunday (with the exception of the last week, which runs from Monday through Wednesday). The schedule below is subject to change with fair notice.


August 21 - August 27

Module 1 (1 Week): Introductions and Goals for the Course 

Discussion 1


August 28 - September 10

Module 2 (2 Weeks): How Historians Think and Work (and Why)

Labor Day (September 4)

Discussion 2a and 2b


September 11 - September 24

Module 3 (2 Weeks): Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources: How to Evaluate and Synthesize Research Literature

Discussion 3a and 3b

Information Literacy Book Review due by September 24, 11:59 PM PT.


September 25 - October 8

Module 4 (2 Weeks): Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Methods Research

Discussion 4a and 4b

Research Paper Proposal due by October 8, 11:59 PM PT.


October 9 - October 22 

Module 5 (2 Weeks): Research Ethics: Theory and Application

Discussion 5

Social Science Research Ethics Training due by October 22, 11:59 PM PT


October 23 - November 5

Module 6 (2 Weeks): To the Archives! On-Campus and Online Methods

Discussion 6


November 6 - November 19

Module 7 (2 Weeks): What About Everything Else on the Web? Surveying and Evaluating Online Historical Sources

Veterans Day (November 10)

Discussion 7

Literature Review due by November 19, 11:59 PM PT.


November 20 - December 3

Module 8 (2 Weeks): Putting it All Together: To the Finish Line with Your Research Project

Thanksgiving Break (November 22-24)

Discussion 8a and 8b


December 4 - December 6

Module 9 (Wrap-Up): Conclusion: Historical Research and Information Literacy in Scholarly and Everyday Life

No Discussion Forums

Final Research Paper due by *Wednesday* December 6, 11:59 PM PT.