Get a list of whatever you will need to read and endeavor to get in touch with all of your stuff prior to beginning.
Treat it as food for thought, as providing a set of suggestions some of which you might incorporate into your own method for writing essays.
Why do historians set essays? It is useful to begin by considering why essay-writing has long been the method of choice for assessment in history. The chief reason is that no other method provides as effective a means of testing a student's comprehension of a topic.
We want you to show us that not only have you acquired a knowledge of the topic but also that you fully understand the topic and the issues raised by it. Essays test understanding by asking you to select and re-organise relevant material in order to produce your own answer to the set question.
An undergraduate essay need not be particularly innovative in its approach and insights, but it must be the product of the student's own dialogue with the subject.
Essays which do not answer the question can only be regarded as demonstrating some knowledge of the topic, they cannot be said to show understanding of the topic.
Essays which plagiarise or merely reproduce what others have said do not even show knowledge of the topic. Plagiarism is thus not merely a matter of theft, it involves an entirely unacceptable subversion of the learning process.
Is there a right and a wrong answer? History essays are less about finding the correct answer to the set question than they are about demonstrating that you understand the issues which it raises and the texts which discuss these issues. With most historical problems certainly the most interesting ones it is seldom possible to arrive at a definitive answer.
The evidence almost always permits a variety of solutions, and different approaches generate divergent conclusions. There are, however, limits to the field of possible solutions, since they must fit in with 'the evidence'.
Of course, exactly what constitutes 'the evidence' is almost invariably one of the issues under discussion among the historians who are most deeply engaged with the problem, but in general for each historical question there will be a body of evidence which is recognised as being relevant to it.
This body of evidence will typically comprise what the primary sources tell us about the events and phenomena under discussion.
A good answer will need to harmonise with all of this evidence, or explain why particular items have been dismissed as having no bearing on the problem.
It follows from all of this that there certainly are wrong answers — that is, answers which fall outside the field of possible solutions or which fail to take account of received evidence — even though there is no 'absolutely right' answer. Analysing the Question Essential steps: Circling the key words in the question is sometimes a helpful first step in working out exactly what you need to do.
It is useful to note that there is usually a natural way of structuring your answer: It might be useful to define and defend the criteria on which your judgement depends. That is, to explain why they are the best criteria for judging the historical phenomenon at issue. Thus, the subject of the question is the 'Y' rather than the 'X' element.
That is, the question requires a discussion of the system as a whole and the consideration of alternative explanations of how 'X' worked within it. One way of answering the question would be set up a series of 'tests', as it were, that can be investigated in turn.
This essay will examine five spheres which cast light on the extent of Jewish influence in high medieval France: The essay would need a conclusion in which you pulled together the results of your test cases: It has been seen that the Jews exerted a profound influence on the intellectual life of the universities but almost none on that of the established monastic orders.
You may respond, for example, by agreeing with the quotation in which case you will need to explain why agreement is the best response, why it would be wrong to disagree. You should consider the merits of a variety of responses. If possible you should always examine the book or article from which the quotation has been taken in order to discover what its author meant by it, to discover how the author has understood the issues.
One method of tackling such an essay would be to distinguish five or six areas of similarity and contrast, and to devote a section of the essay to each area - a section in which you would assess the degree of similarity and reach a sub-conclusion. The conclusion would then require a summation of the various 'sub-conclusions'.
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Writing an art history paper?
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