Make sure that your essay is no fewer than 1,200 words. All essays must include

by | Sep 18, 2022 | American History | 0 comments

Make sure that your essay is no fewer than 1,200 words. All essays must include a title explaining the topic of the paper. There is no maximum limit and students are strongly encouraged to write as much as they need in order to include sufficient detail. Correct spelling, organized paragraphs, and logical argumentation represent the bare stylistic minimum of this assignment. Students who fail to conform to these basic standards will automatically lose 5 points (or half a letter grade) from the assignment.
This exercise requires students to analyze one of the assigned textbooks for this class, either Allan Taylor’s American Colonies or Deborah Gray White’s Ar’n’t I a Woman?. Students may not write their historiographical essay over one of the chapters in the textbook (Major Problems) or any of the primary sources; students who fail to do so will be asked to rewrite the assignment and will automatically lose 50% credit on this assignment. Students who use any sources besides reading material assigned in class will automatically lose 50% credit on this assignment. The use of outside sources is both unnecessary and distracting for this exercise.
For historiographical essays, it is not atypical to cite ten to fifteen different places in a single text, including from footnotes or endnotes. Students are discouraged from long block quotes. Instead, paraphrase big ideas and summarize descriptions of events. Make sure that you follow standard citation guidelines and include page numbers (and footnote numbers) in parentheses or footnotes. Remember that you have to cite both directly quoted and paraphrased sections of any text.
Select one of the textbooks for the course. Make sure that you read the book thoroughly before you begin this assignment, particularly if you have not taken the time to carefully read the book already.
Introduce your essay with a thesis that outlines the stakes of the book about which you are writing. This historiographical essay should include three major sections: 1) an introduction that states a thesis about why the book under consideration is important to other scholars and students of the past as well as how it impacts your understanding of some aspect of United States history to 1865; 2) an analysis of the authors’ interpretations or arguments of the historical literature on the subject (i.e., the historiography), as well as the authors’ use of primary source evidence (you should refer to the author’s footnotes where appropriate); and 3) a final section that evaluates the validity and rationale for the author’s overarching argument as well as the greater significance of the events to the United States or global history as well as any possible implications for the present.
Section 1 Explain the argument of the book and its significance. See Part I below.
Section 2 Look at the author’s use of secondary sources in the footnotes or endnotes. (You cannot rely solely on the text at this point, and must begin digging in the bibliography.) How does the author engage other historians? See Part II and look at the section on historiography.
Section 3 Look at the author’s use of primary sources in the footnotes or endnotes. (You cannot rely solely on the text at this point, and must begin digging in the bibliography.) How does the author use the primary sources as evidence for her or his argument? See Part II and look at the section on primary sources.
Section 4 Evaluate the argument. See Part III below.
As you structure your paper, you are encouraged to use subheadings to indicate where you are discussing primary and secondary sources.
Tips for mastery and formal requirements
When writing your essay, students are encouraged to consider the following comments and questions. Following these questions will allow you to analyze the article under question rather than simply summarize the article:
Part I. Outlining the stakes of the book. In the beginning of your essay, introduce what you think is at stake (i.e., what is important) in the book you are investigating. What are the events under discussion and how does the author account for or describe change over time? How do the events under discussion relate to the broader chronology of local, national, and/or global history (i.e., into what time period does your analysis fit)? What reason(s) does the author give for choosing to look at the historical events and themes s/he is interpreting? How are the events under consideration significant to the understanding of United States history? Again, think about the importance of particular time periods and eras, particularly the ways that different authors use these terms (i.e., “Age of Enlightenment,” “antebellum,” “market revolution,” “slave society,” etc.) as descriptions for their projects. This part of your argument should take anywhere from one to two pages.
Part II. Analyzing the sources (supporting points). This is the most important if straightforward part of the exercise: describing the sources that the author uses to substantiate her or his argument. What kinds of evidence does the author offer to justify her or his position about particular historical events? Make sure to discuss both the interpretation of secondary and primary source evidence. If you are not sure about the distinction between primary and secondary sources, visit
Begin with how the author situates her or his argument within the broader context of historiography: How does the author frame her or his argument(s)? What other scholars does the author cite? Where do each set of scholars cited as supporting evidence seem to agree or disagree, and what kinds of evidence or reasoning do these other scholars provide for the argument of the article under discussion? Does the author frame her or his argument against those of other scholars in order to “set the record straight” (i.e., to offer a counter-point to an article or assumption about history) or as a “jumping off point” (i.e., to investigate areas of other studies that have been overlooked)? This part of the assignment should take two pages or more. Next, address the primary sources.
Primary sources are the most important piece of evidence in historical research because they show an attempt to examine the events by using records and recollections with the greatest chronological and geographic immediacy to the event(s) the author is investigating. What types of primary evidence does the author use? Identify at least three separate types of primary sources. For example, personal letters, census data, and newspapers from the time period is just one representative set. How do these different pieces of evidence tell the author and the reader different things about the past? Is the evidence incomplete or partial (hint: it almost always is)? If so, how does the author supplement evidence when she or he doesn’t have enough information about the event? Students who wish to use these pieces of evidence in order to offer their own interpretations are encouraged to do so. This part of your essay should take two pages at the very least.
Part III. Evaluating the argument. In the final section, consider the ways in which you find the author’s argument compelling or convincing, but also think about problematic parts of the author’s interpretation or aspects of the author’s argument that might need more elaboration or investigation. Is there anything else—an additional perspective or set of sources, for example—about which you would like to know more? Finally, how does the author’s interpretation of the events in the article help historians to understand the event’s effects and implications, effects that may well include the present? How does this impact your own view of the United States history or United States history the context of global history? The final part of your essay should do more than restate the introduction. It should take you about a page to a page and a half.
Avoiding “presentism” and accounting for the present
In analyzing the idea of the present in relation to the past, or, vice-versa, thinking about the past from a present-day perspective, please consider the following:
How can you avoid being “presentist”? That is, how can you keep your analysis from being overly determined by your own present-day perspective (i.e., the biases or advantages of hindsight, or moral and ethical values that are specific to our own time)?
How does the author of the article account for her or his present-day position, or does s/he? Does the article under consideration suffer from any explicit or implicit “presentism,” or does the author attempt to reason from the chronological perspective of the historical actors or events under discussion?

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