Introduction to the Study of History
The Content and Structure of a (Good) History Essay
1. Introduction: A clear and concise (one paragraph)
of the subject of your paper, the
types of evidence used, the importance of the study, and the thesis (often at the end of the first
2. Organization and structure:
A. The essay should have a clear beginning, middle, and end;
B. The essay should use an appropriate method of
organization (chronology; topical; comparison
and contrast; and so on);
While history essays
include one or more of these strategies, none are adequate
alone. History essays emphasize, usually in combination: narration; explanation; or persuasion.
A typical history essay would, for example, narrate the events leading up to the outbreak of
World War II, seek to explain why the war broke out in 1939, and endeavor to persuade the
reader that this explanation is correct. The history essay is accordingly an interpretative or
argumentative essay in that it both seeks, by using narration (story-telling) and the analysis of
primary and secondary sources to explain and persuade.
C. Paragraphs should follow in appropriate order
and each should contain: a topic sentence,
presentation of evidence, and a transition to the next paragraph.
A. The body of the essay should be based on the presentation and analysis of primary sources;
B. A critical reading of appropriate secondary
should also be indicated, if only in the
C. Appropriate credit, in the footnotes and bibliography, must be given for the sources used.
D. The analysis of sources must be fair, and all
forms of intellectual dishonesty (bias in the reading of
sources, partial quoting, etc.) must be shunned. Plagiarism, whether intentional or unintentional,
must not occur. Indeed, even the appearance of plagiarism must be avoided.
A. The Summary should draw together the most
points made in your paper and
present them in three to four sentences;
B. The Conclusion should include your thoughts on
the importance your study, the contribution it
has made to the on-going historical dialogue, and suggestions for future study.
Discussion Questions 3
Using the criteria for a History essay outlined in the handout (“The Content and Structure of a [Good] History Essay”) and those found in Rampolla (pp. 6-17 and 43-68), analyze Gerhard Weinberg’s “July 20, 1944: The German Resistance to Hitler”. The answers to these questions are to be written out before class meets, and they will serve as the basis for a discussion of Weinberg’s essay. The written answers will be collected at the end of class and graded.
1. Does the essay have an introduction? What is Weinberg's subject?
What sort of evidence does
he use? What is his thesis? What is the importance of his study?
2. How is Weinberg's essay organized or structured? Describe how
3. Identify the type of sources used by Weinberg. When and how does
he use primary sources?
When and how does he evaluate secondary sources? How does he give appropriate credit to his
sources (read the footnotes)?
4. How does Weinberg summarize or conclude his essay?
5. Give an overall critical evaluation of this essay. Is it an
of an effective History essay? Use
at least four specific examples to support your interpretation.
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