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Writing an Essay in History

History paper got you down? Try a few quick hints to get that A on your assignment:

Understand the period your piece is about

Knowing when and where your assignment took place is essential, and understanding the culture and politics of that time are important too. Utilize Google and Wikipedia to just get a quick idea of what the big themes, trends, and motivating factors were of that time. It only takes a couple of minutes, but will make you feel a lot more comfortable in your essay writing.

Use those primary sources

Yeah, every professor tells you to use primary sources, but its really not that hard. Use Google and resources like Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, government websites, and university websites to find those primary sources. The more you use, the better your paper is, and the more you will impress your professor.

Present arguments, not just facts

Anyone can look up the dates that a person lived or ruled. Anyone can look up the basics of major battles. What you need to do in your paper is present a distinct argument about something, and present that in a thesis. Do you disagree with an author’s argument? What do you think about a controversial issue in history? Do you think there is a better way to interpret the actions of those involved in the events? Do you think that your topic is misrepresented in history? Ask a question with some bite, don’t just ask “what happened then?”

Know your authors

Are you getting a lot of your info from one source? Are you presenting the argument of a specific author? Take the time and look that author up. What was his background? When did he write? What biases may he have had? Who was his audience? Ask yourself these questions, and think about how that affects that author’s view of history. If you think it is significant enough, include it in your paper. For example, you could say, “we must keep in mind that AUTHOR was from the USSR, and so may have a biased view of Arab nationalism, but this bias also brings up an interesting historiographic point”. Understanding where your sources fit into history will help you write a better history paper.

Don’t overdo the dates

You know how you hate memorizing dates? Well, readers hate reading them over and over again. State important dates once, and then be confident your reader knows when you are talking about. There is nothing more frustrating than reading that someone is a 19th century leader repeatedly when you already said he ruled from 1823-1875.

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