Amazons, Queens, Witches and Saints: Medieval and Early Modern Women
GUIDELINES: HOW TO WRITE A HISTORY PAPER
A short essay is assigned as a means of assessing your understanding of particular
historical topics and/or themes. The short essay--usually between five and ten pages,
typed and double-spaced, is an excellent way for you to demonstrate your ability to
condense a great deal of material into what is essentially a compact essay. A short essay
is not a research essay and should not be treated as such.
1. What is a history paper?
A history paper is an essay. As such, it shares many
characteristics with essays on other topics. Essays come in various shapes and sizes, and
no two of them are alike. Each, though, expresses an opinion. A piece of writing merely
describing something or explaining how something works is not an essay. An essay
always conveys its writer’s viewpoint. In an essay, a writer never simply explains or
describes. Instead, they make an
, and provide a reasoned array of evidence to
back up their opinions.
Be careful with the word "opinion," however. A writer of an essay can have many kinds
of opinion. They might have an opinion on world hunger or on the outcome of the next
Superbowl, even if they know little about these subjects. We all have a right to this kind
of opinion, but this is not the kind of opinion contained in an essay. A writer might also
have religious beliefs, or beliefs in specific political or economic systems, that one cannot
test by ordinary intellectual processes. In this case, their opinion would be a matter of
basic belief and not usually subject to systematic argument.
Systematic argumentation, though, is the point of an essay.
Essays express the
educated opinion of their writers. Historians form their educated opinions by examining
and thinking about evidence of past conditions, causes, and effects. When historians write
books, they are writing a long, extended essay presenting their opinions on their subject.
As with all essays, they build the points of their argument and arrange their evidence in
such a way that will best put their ideas across. For the historian, their argument is their
interpretation of the past--how and why events happened the way they did, and what
those events mean to future times.
In your history papers you are to be your own historian.
You will be writing an essay answering one of the topical questions put to you by the
assignment. Choose carefully. To have and vigorously express an opinion in an essay,