Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Notes About the Nature of History Papers

1. Before you can even write your paper, you need to define for yourself:


It is apparent that most of you have no idea about what the definition of history is. And, if you are throwing around words such as “fact” and “truth” you better make sure you know what it means and the context in which you are using the terms.

It may help to define those terms for your reader.

2. Paul Revere was NOT a historian----he never wrote history. Captain Preston was not a historian. The John Adams HBO film is not a documentary.

Don’t equate what people said and did in the past as being the same thing as history. By pointing out that Paul Revere was biased doesn’t make history biased. After all, most of you know that Paul Revere was biased. How do you know that? Through the study of history.

3. Don’t act like the “Boston Massacre” is unique.

Yes, there were two (or more) “sides” to the story. The witnesses claimed different things. But that is the same thing in every court case that has ever occurred on
planet Earth, past or present.

4. Don’t simply recount the inaccuracies found in Paul Revere’s drawing or in the eyewitness testimonies that we discussed in class.

Don’t tell me what I already told you in class and pretend that you are telling me something new. Be original. The inaccuracies themselves are not important. The analysis of those inaccuracies in regard to the study of history is what your paper is about.

5. Research.

In order to present a logical argument, you need to gather information from outside of class. If you are talking about perspective and bias in the study of history, then you need to find evidence of that from historians who have written about the event.
Remember, Paul Revere was not a historian. He was a patriot (or a terrorist, depending on your view).

6. Context for the argument.

Your introduction sets up your argument. Therefore, make sure your introduction has the context necessary for understanding what you are setting out to prove. Don’t ask rhetorical questions. People ask rhetorical questions only when they don’t know what else to say. If your argument is about bias, make sure your introduction is about bias.

Don’t just jump in with your argument. Gently place your argument in the pool.

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