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Writing Historical Essays: A Guide for Undergraduates

❶The increasing popularity of sociology has been another feature of the same development; the attempt has sometimes been made to treat history as a branch of sociology. Start with a strong first sentence.

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What kind of evidence supports the arguments and how is it used? What do particular documents or texts tell you about the time in which they were written? Your questions will be the beginning of your own thesis. As noted above, all serious writing is done in drafts, and not the night before.

Even if you are pressed for time as, of course, you will be give yourself enough time to review and revise your own writing. Students will sometimes turn in papers they have never actually read themselves; this is a mistake which shows. Think of the first or "preliminary" draft as a detailed outline.

Establish your thesis and see how it looks in writing. Is it too general or specific? Does it address the questions asked by the instructor? Because the thesis is so critical, small changes in it will have a big impact. Don't be afraid to refine it as often as necessary as you continue reading and writing.

Now you have completed your draft. Return to your introduction. Is the thesis clearly stated? Have you established the argument and evidence you will present? Rephrase your thesis if necessary.

You may not even be clear about the final thesis until you have written much of the paper itself and seen how the argument holds together. Add examples or delete non-relevant materials and make sure paragraphs connect with transitions and topic sentences.

Some classes, such as the History Seminar, have students critique each others' research drafts, often several times. Such exercises are invaluable opportunities to learn how other people read you, and how to be fair, judicious, and helpful in your own critiques. Whenever possible try to have someone else read your work and comment on it.

Finally, check for sense, grammar, spelling, and mechanical and typographical errors. Show respect for your reader by not making him or her wade through a sloppy manuscript. Details may not make or break a work, but they make a definite impression about how much you care.

Every professor or instructor has his or her own standards for excellent, good, average, and unacceptable work. A common grading misunderstanding arises from a student belief that answering a question "correctly" in essay form means an automatic "A.

This is only "competent" work. How well you write is what makes the difference. Do you detail your arguments, define terms, make logical connections, expand points, develop ideas, read sources in original and imaginative ways? The difference between competent and excellent work is difficult to define.

Read your own work critically. Are you making the easy points most students would make? Are you really citing and examining the texts? Have you developed original interpretations? Have you given careful thought to argument and presentation, and the logic of your conclusions?

Excellent work begins when you challenge yourself. Students are sometimes overwhelmed when asked to produce original, critical work. What could they say which has not already been said by an expert? No one asks you to be an expert. Your originality lies in your talent as a critical reader and a thoughtful writer. Whether you are studying many sources for a research paper or a few passages from one text for a book review, what matters is how you select, present, and interpret materials.

You must at all costs avoid plagiarism, which is a crime and means automatic failure. Plagiarism means taking credit for work which is not your own, and can involve: Pay attention to point 1: Points are obvious cases of cheating. A strict definition of plagiarism is as follows:. Although it is generally recognized that everything an individual has thought has probably been influenced to some degree by the previously expressed thoughts and actions of others, such influences are general.

Plagiarism involves the deliberate taking of specific words and ideas of others without proper acknowledgment. Butters and George D. Duke University Department of English, , p. Avoid plagiarism by preparing well, relying on your own words and judgments, and—when citing evidence—using proper bibliographic and footnote forms.

Attention to plagiarism should not discourage you from using sources to the fullest; on the contrary it should challenge you to think critically about how you make ideas your own, what debts you owe to others, and how you put the two together to do intellectually honest and original writing.

When turning in papers, always keep a copy for yourself; papers do on occasion disappear. Standard format is double-spaced with wide enough margins for reader's comments. Don't forget to put your name, the class name, and the title of the paper on the first page.

Always number the pages for easy reference. For questions on the stylistic, grammatical, or technical points of preparation, familiarize yourself with the standard reference guides used by all professional writers, such as The Chicago Manual of Style now in a 14th edition , or Kate L. There you will find information on such topics as proper footnote style. We have included some of the standard forms below:. Princeton University Press, , pp.

Mary Contrary, "How Gardens Grow: As noted in the introduction, this guide is a very general formula for writing essays. The goal—and the goal of university education in general—is for you to develop your own methods, strategies, and style.

In writing, follow the guidelines, but do not be formulaic. Originality, creativity, and personal style are not crimes if done well. Make use of this guide, but remember that your greatest resources will be your teachers, fellow students, and the other academic programs of the university.

Division of Life Sciences. Carr was in the process of revising What is History? He had finished a new preface, in which he discussed the pessimism of westerners in the s, which he contrasted with the optimism of the s, and pondered his own status as a "dissident intellectual". Chapter one, "The Historian and his Facts", explores how the historian makes use of historical facts. Carr notes that in the 19th century, western historians held to an empirical , positivist worldview that revolved around a "cult of facts", viewing historical facts as information that simply had to be assembled to produce an objective picture of the past that was entirely accurate and independent of any human opinion.

As an example, he notes that millions of humans have crossed the Rubicon river in Northeastern Italy, but that historians have only chosen to treat the crossing of the Rubicon by Julius Caesar in 49 BCE as an important "historical fact".

Carr contends that historians arbitrarily determine which of the "facts of the past" to turn into "historical facts" according to their own biases and agendas. Carr proceeds to document the rise of non-empirical historians in the 20th century, who like himself argued that it was impossible to write an objective history, because all historical facts were themselves subjective.

Although sharing their general view, he criticises the approach adopted by one of these non-empiricists, R. Collingwood , for insinuating that any one interpretation of history was as good as any other. Instead, Carr argues that history should follow a middle-path, constituting a relationship "of equality, of give-and-take" between the historian and their evidence. He remarks that the historian continuously moulds his facts to suit their interpretation and their interpretation to suit their facts, and takes part in a dialogue between past and present.

In his second chapter, Carr focuses on the influence that society plays on forming the approach of the historian and the interpretation of historical facts. He begins by highlighting the manner in which each individual is molded by society from birth, meaning that everyone is a "social phenomenon". He proclaims that this "very obvious truth" has been obscured by the "cult of individualism" — the idea that the individual was entirely separate from society — that emerged in western thought with the rise of classical liberalism.

He accepts that this "cult of individualism" is an inevitable by-product of "advancing civilisation" but nevertheless considers it illogical. Carr highlights that, as individuals, historians are heavily influenced by the society that surrounds them, meaning that they too are "social phenomenon".

In turn, he notes, this societal influence subsequently influences their interpretation of the past. As an example, he highlights the work of George Grote — , an English historian and Enlightenment -era thinker whose depiction of ancient Athenian democracy in his History of Greece reflected "the aspirations of the rising and politically progressive British middle class" of which he was a part.

In the same way, Carr argued that no individual is truly free of the social environment in which they live, but contended that within those limitations, there was room, albeit very narrow room for people to make decisions that affect history.

In the third chapter, "History, Science and Morality", Carr looks at the disputed claims that history constitutes a science. He saw history more as a social Science, and not an art form that many considered it. He then highlights that there are five objections to considering history a science, and proceeds to discuss each of these. First, he looks at the idea that while science looks at general theories, history only covers the unique aspects of history and is selective.

Third objection, that historians are selective and their work may contain biases. Fourth objection that it cannot predict the future and final objection is that history is embedded in religion and biases. In his reasonings he clearly contradicts himself several times in what defines science and history. He was strongly against historians only using the empirical method to analyze the facts of history and felt there needed to be less insertion of personal biases in one's work.

In this chapter, Carr makes sure to talk about history and its ability to fit and not fit in the realm of science also how morality should be omitted in one's work because as historians we should not view characters from the past with the same biases that we have in our modern society. In this section of the book, Carr talks about causation in history.

He believed that everything that happened in this world happened because of cause and effect. Carr holds on to a deterministic outlook in history and firmly believes that events could not have happened differently unless there was a different cause. He was not a fan of "what if" history and he found it pointless because it did not happen. Carr saw accidents in history as impossible and felt that historians should seek rational causes as to why events happened rather than blame them on chance.

He gives various examples throughout the book to illustrate his point that everything has a reason. One involves a common man who apparently we are friendly with and he one day acts out, it is because of something else in his life that is influencing him to act out the norm not just chance.

Carr explores his idea that History is an issue of human progression. He argues that humanity has progressed throughout history, in terms of quality of life, knowledge and virtue. Carr says that whilst he believes History is a study of progression, it does not mean that humanity does not regress either.

The foundations of modern history were laid during the Renaissance Era, when society was transformed by innovative scientific, political, and social theories, as well as the Protestant Reformation and the Wars of Religion. The fifteenth century saw the emergence of a new middle class, one that rose out of merchants- and more modernly industry.

Carr expands on the causes for man to investigate history. In that he specifies the evolution of that curiosity, originally being the timeline and story of man. However, the inquiry of modern history underwent a major change in that man is no longer only fixed to their environment, but on self-reflection and reason.

Carr discusses the development of "revolutionary change," saying it came about with the ideas of Descartes, in that man was first developing concepts and understanding of his place in the world, "man's position as a being who can not only think, but think about his own thinking, who can observe himself in the act of observing, so that man is simultaneously the subject and the object of thought and observation. For his planned second edition, Carr authored a new preface, which was posthumously found among his papers.

In this short text, he contrasted what he saw as the optimism of the s, when he originally authored the text, with the pessimism of the s, when he was putting together the second edition. The latter, he felt, was characterised by the economic crisis, mass unemployment, resumed intensity of the Cold War and the increasing power of Third World nations. Carr then rejects this pessimism, seeing it as nothing more than the elite opinion of Western Europeans and North Americans whose position as global superpowers has rapidly declined since the 19th century.

The rest of the world, he reasons, has reason to be optimistic as standards of living are being raised. He does however exempt the role of "dissident intellectuals" — a category into which he classes himself — whom he believes reject such mainstream intellectual theories. In What is History? Carr maintained that there is such a vast quantity of information in the modern era that the historian always chooses the "facts" he or she decides to make use of.

For this reason, Carr argued that Leopold von Ranke 's famous dictum wie es eigentlich gewesen show what actually happened was wrong because it presumed that the "facts" influenced what the historian wrote, rather than the historian choosing what "facts of the past" he or she intended to turn into "historical facts". As an example of how he believed that "facts of the past" were transformed into the "facts of history", Carr used an obscure riot that took place in Stalybridge Wakes in that saw a gingerbread seller beaten to death.

Likewise, Carr charged that historians are always influenced by the present when writing about the past. As an example, he used the changing viewpoints about the German past expressed by the German historian Friedrich Meinecke during the Imperial, Weimar, Nazi and post-war periods to support his contention. Mommsen's History of Rome is similarly dismissed as a product and illustration of pre-Bismarckian Germany. Sir Lewis Namier's choice of subject and treatment of it simply show the predictable prejudices of a Polish conservative".

In general, Carr held to a deterministic outlook in history. Carr claimed that when examining causation in history, historians should seek to find "rational" causes of historical occurrences, that is causes that can be generalized across time to explain other occurrences in other times and places. As an example of his attack on the role of accidents in history, Carr mocked the hypothesis of "Cleopatra's nose" Pascal's thought that, but for the magnetism exerted by the nose of Cleopatra on Mark Anthony , there would have been no affair between the two, and hence the Second Triumvirate would not have broken up, and therefore the Roman Republic would have continued.

In Carr's opinion, historical works that serve to broaden society's understanding of the past via generalizations are more "right" and "socially acceptable" than works that do not. Carr emphatically contended that history was a social science , not an art , [47] because historians, like scientists, seek generalizations that help to broaden the understanding of one's subject.

Carr was well known for his assertions in What Is History? Thus, Carr argued that within the context of the Soviet Union, Stalin was a force for the good.

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Essay about History Culminating Assignment: Four Events in History - Vimy Ridge s The Battle of Vimy Ridge is Canada’s most celebrated battle of World .

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History is naught but stories, changed and molded to fit the current society, which are passed down through generations. The study of history is not the answer, but the means of finding the answer for our times. The most important object to historians and their field of study are facts.

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First of all we ought to ask, What constitutes a good history essay? Probably no two people will completely agree, if only for the very good reason that quality is in the eye – and reflects the intellectual state – of the reader. What is history? Essay. What is history? History is much more than just past events. History is all things that man knows about, that has been recorded. It is past events, past people, and everything that is been recorded that we know to this day. John F. Kennedy said “History is a relentless master.

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