What is a gobbet?

A gobbet is a short commentary on an assigned primary source. The source is usually textual, but it may be an image or even an artefact.

The purpose of a gobbet is for you to demonstrate that you can place the primary source in its appropriate context – that is, that you can explain why and how this source is significant for the topic you are studying. This means you must first say something about who produced the source, when and why, and what happened (or did not happen) as a consequence. Most importantly, you must comment on the content of the assigned material. How does the content relate to wider historical events? What does it tell us about what happened or how people thought or felt about it? What does the creator of the piece mean when they use a particular form of words or a particular motif? Why have they chosen to express themselves in this way and not another? How does the information to be gleaned from this source connect with what else we know about this topic? All of this will require you to read around the gobbet in order to establish the context and significance of the source and the particular content presented in the gobbet.

If, for instance, you were studying the Second World War and you had to write a gobbet on Chamberlain's ‘peace for our time’ declaration, you would need to identify (among other things) that Chamberlain was prime minister of Britain, that the declaration was made in 1938 on Chamberlain's return from the Munich Conference as part of his determination to avoid war with Germany, and that it was the last appeasement effort before war broke out in Europe. More importantly, you would then need to show how the text of the gobbet contributes to our understanding of the controversy about appeasement among contemporary politicians, while also demonstrating understanding of the disagreements between historians, some of whom accuse Chamberlain of betraying Britain's interests while others argue that he was doing the best he could in the circumstances. You would need to pick out crucial phrases and aspects of the declaration for detailed analysis in support of your points. But you might also use the text of the gobbet to comment, for instance, upon the staging of Chamberlain’s declaration, because his speech is closely associated with newspaper pictures of him descending the steps of an aeroplane waving a piece of paper. Does the content of the declaration really justify such a triumphant image? What do we learn from comparing text and image? Considering such questions could give you an opportunity to comment on news management (or not) in the 1930s and to develop further ideas regarding the role of mass media since 1900. Depending on the topic under study, you might also address issues like the significance of the gobbet text to great-power politics or the role of warfare in the modern world. While you might be familiar with the basic events, you would need to read more widely in order to develop your ideas regarding the wider ramifications.

The aim of all this is to give you practice at the kind of detailed and careful analysis that is a fundamental tool for all students of the past, and to get you thinking critically about the sources that we use to produce historical and archaeological interpretations, and reading to find out more. For instance, one of the issues that often arises out of gobbet work is that the consequences developing from a particular speech, letter, theory, image, etc, are often very different from the intentions that led to those items being produced. Scholars have often discussed such issues and you are expected to find out as much as you can about the debates that have ensued. At the same time, gobbet work is highly specific because it involves intimate engagement with a particular piece of primary source material at the most minute level.

Gobbet work thus gives you practice in using the basic skills of a student of the past and you will be doing more and more of this type of analysis as you progress through your undergraduate studies. An excellent guide to primary-source analysis and gobbet writing is here: http://www.cf.ac.uk/hisar/people/kw/gobbets.html#guidance 

Gobbets and seminars

You will be given one gobbet for each of the four Encounters. These are included in this handbook. Your completed gobbet is your ‘ticket’ to get into the seminar. If you do not bring your gobbet, you will not be permitted to enter the seminar room. Please remember to put your NAME on the gobbets you bring to the seminars. Be sure to find your seminar room in advance of your first seminar so that you are not late!

Your gobbet will form the basis for small-group discussion during the seminar, and you are encouraged to annotate this copy as freely as you please. Your colleagues’ comments will help you to see your own gobbet in different lights, and you are also strongly advised to pay close attention to the points raised by the tutor in the seminar. All of these will help you to improve your work.

The format of the seminar is as follows:
The gobbet forms the basis of discussion about questions that the tutor has prepared for the seminar. The questions debated in class will give you ideas about what could have been in the gobbet to provide an answer to the question(s) posed in the written exercise. Seminar attendance is monitored by register, and non-attenders will be chased up.

The seminars are intended to give you practice at this particular skill before you produce your gobbets for marking. The assessed gobbets are an opportunity for you to expand two of your four gobbets in the light of the seminar and further reading. They are also a chance for you to practice the skills of a) locating comparable examples and providing a reference for them (for the first two gobbets), and b) identifying a primary source that is likely to provide such a comparable example (for the second two gobbets). This is in preparation for your Term Papers, on which see more below.

Technical points For your two gobbets submitted for assessment:NB In the gobbet exercises that follow, your lecturers have included some explanation and information (in italics) before the text of the gobbet itself. It is not a good idea to reproduce this text in your submitted gobbets. Lecturers hate seeing their own words reappearing in student work because the whole point of being at university is for you to try to come up with ideas of your own.

Note that there is reading specifically related to each gobbet in the relevant section of the main bibliography later in the handbook.
Return to Front Page Previous Next Last updated