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Edgar Liao. NUS Department of History.

Updated January 2014

HISTORY ESSAY 101 (Within the context of HY2229/SSA2204) A. Broad Principles Mindset and Purpose: The Historian as Detective and Advocate DETECTIVE: When given a historical question to investigate, the historian finds, gathers, compares, corroborates and reviews relevant evidence and data from all available sources to come up with the most convincing and valid explanation/interpretation of the past. LAWYER/ADVOCATE : Argues persuasively and coherently, through the use of evidence, to convince everyone else of your interpretation and explanation of the past Unity and Flow: An essay consists of interdependent sections and paragraphs that flow logically and harmoniously from start to finish for a single purpose, i.e. to advance an argument. An essay is NOT a list of points, a collection of facts, assertions, statements or beliefs, or an assortment of unrelated mini-essays. Relevance: A History Essay should be relevant in three ways 1. Relevance to the topic being examined or addressed (I.E. Decode and Understand the Question): Your first task is to decode and understand the question to identify What the question is asking i.e. the specific subject (or subjects) of the question. Your essay should focus on discussing the topic that you are asked to address, instead of discussing the subject in a general and broad way or discussing topics or issues that have no clear relation to the topic I. If you discuss topics or issues that do not seem to have clear relation to the topic, the onus is on you to explicate or explain why you think they are relevant or connected to the topic. How you are supposed to address the question i.e. how are you supposed to approach the question, and what are the particular concepts, timeframes, and other parameters and boundaries that you are supposed to use or limit your discussion to (if these are specified in the question). I. Some questions come in the form of assertions or arguments about a particular dimension of the topic. In such cases, how you are supposed to approach the questions is already prescribed for you you engage the topic by engaging the assertion/argument.

Edgar Liao. NUS Department of History. Updated January 2014

2. Relevance to concepts, themes and approach of the module (I.E. Understand the Game; dont dribble a basketball with your legs) Your essay engage the concepts, themes and ideas introduced in the module, and the key questions of the module, i.e. nation-building in Singapore. You can bringing in other frameworks, concepts and case studies, e.g. state formation theories or the nation-building process in the United States or China, if and in so far as they can be related and connected to the central themes and focus of the module. They should not be used in place of, or in isolation from, the central themes and focus.

3. Relevance to the discipline: History (I.E. Understand Your Audience) Your essay should look like a History essay, the purpose of which is to explain, interpret or reconstruct as comprehensively and as accurately as possible the past, whether a historical event or process or phenomenon. Your goal isnt to impress us with rhetorical flourish, or demonstrate a very nuanced or penetrative reading of a particular text or document. Your goal is to convince us that your argument is the best way to understand/explain/interpret a particular historical problem and phenomenon (though good writing and nuanced or penetrative readings of texts and documents do help). This usually means: I. Your arguments and claims are based on evidence-based reasoning and inferences, and supported by historical details . II. Your arguments and claims are based on considering all available facts, data and information (that we know you know because they have been presented in the lectures, tutorials and readings), and not just/only the facts, data and information that suit your arguments and claims. Your essay shows an accurate awareness of historical context, e.g. by using historically specific terms accurately (E.g. Malaysia wasnt formed until 1963; for the period between 1948 and 1963, youd have to use the Federation of Malaya to describe the political entity formed from combining the Unfederated Malay States, Federated Malay States, Penang and Malacca).


Edgar Liao. NUS Department of History. Updated January 2014


Your essay shows the engagement with the historical context, by taking into account and consideration the conditions, circumstances that influenced, shaped or triggered the historical event, process, phenomenon that you are examining. For example, show your understanding of how the changing circumstances (e.g. political developments in Singapore) and changing human agency (e.g. the Singapore governments perspectives, decisions) influenced and shaped each other.

In a nutshell, A History Essay takes the form of an argumentative essay that advances an explanation/interpretation of the past in order to address a question of historical interest. This explanation/interpretation is in turn: presented as a sequence of reasoning contextualized within particular historical periods contextualized within particular relevant concepts and understandings supported with/by evidence B. Conventional Structure/Format of an Essay Introduction, Body, Conclusion Introduction (Your introduction needs to explain to the reader WHAT you are going to argue, HOW you are going to argue it, and WHY you have approached the question the way you did or are going to.) a. Provide contextual information or premises relevant to your argument b. Provide your definitions of the key terms and concepts your essay will use or engage c. Present your overall argument in the form of a thesis statement, which i. makes an assertion/proposition in relation to the question (and explains the main idea you are going to develop in the essay) ii. explains succinctly your premises/reasons/bases/justifications for the proposition (which set out your main points and explain how you are going to develop your proposition/argument/main idea, and hence explains to the reader how your essay will flow/be structured) d. Introduce any parameters, delimitations, assumptions, or qualifications you may be using in your essay e. Explain why the question or your argument is important/significant (I.E. WHY anybody should care about the question or your argument?)

Edgar Liao. NUS Department of History. Updated January 2014

Body a. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence, i.e. a sub-argument that explains the central idea and thought of the paragraph, and how this is related to your overall argument. b. For each sub-argument/ sub-paragraph i. Elaborate with evidence [i.e. explain your reasoning for your subargument using facts and data] ii. Explain connections between fact/data/information and your reasons/sub-arguments/points (i.e. how does the fact/data you select show or prove this point)

Conclusion a. Summarize your main idea and explanation and remind the reader of your main points and how these points address or answer the question you were asked to examine/evaluate/investigate. b. Raise broader considerations or issues to think about (i.e. asking yourself So what?)

C. Writing a Paragraph in the Body A typical paragraph may see you do or include these things: 1) Provide a Topic Sentence that signals to the reader which aspect of the thesis statement or overall argument you are covering in the paragraph and the main idea that the other sentences in the paragraph support and develop 2) Make a Clear Link Connect/relate this paragraph to the other parts of the essay (e.g. the preceding paragraph) or the overall argument. E.g. your topic sentence of the paragraph should either be implicitly or explicitly (preferably explicitly) connected or related to the overall argument of your essay 3) Periodize Historicize/Contextualize your topic sentence or discussion in the relevant and appropriate time period, as opposed to arguing a-historically or in a vacuum. 4) Explain Elaborate and explicate the connections and links between (i) your arguments and the premises for your arguments (ii) the premises and the relevant evidence/concepts/sub-premises that support/validate/substantiate your premises 5) Support using Evidence Provide data, examples, historical details that support or substantiate your sub-arguments (Topic sentences) or the overall argument

Edgar Liao. NUS Department of History. Updated January 2014

Example: A Short Paragraph (Annotations in Parentheses) Second (this is a signpost word that tells the reader that this paragraph is second in a sequence of sub-arguments, hence it LINKS the paragraph to the previous and the overall argument), the governments changing attitude towards state-society relations was underpinned by the changing aspirations of the Singapore population beginning from the 1980s (PERIODIZE), and the challenges of nation-building in an increasingly globalized world in the 1990s (PERIODIZE). This can be seen from (these words EXPLAIN to the reader that what comes after is the evidence for the claim preceding this sentence) the new programs and policies introduced then, like the Feedback Unit and the encouragement of active citizenry as part of National Education.

D. Tips and Suggestions Your response should take the form of an analysis, and not a narrative. A simple test would be to see if you end up trying to describe what happened without trying to explain what happened and more importantly WHY did what happened happen or WHY did what happened happen the way it did? A narrative essay will be full of descriptive sentences, instead of analytical ones. An assertion (He must be the killer!) and a belief (I believe he must be the killer!) are not arguments. An argument take the form of an assertion/proposition that is clearly linked to the premises/predicates that are used to support the assertion/proposition (He must be the killer because he had a compelling motive, his testimony was full of inconsistencies that showed he was lying about his alibi and more importantly, the murder weapon was discovered at his home). An assessment exercise is ultimately an exercise in evaluating your learning thus far for the module, demonstrated through your ability to recall, review, reflect on the concepts and content of the module, break them apart and assemble them together in your own ways. So in assessing your essays, we are looking for the evidence and demonstration of learning through examining both your analyses (does it demonstrate clear and accurate understanding of the lectures and tutorials contents? do you creatively and critically integrate and apply these understandings and knowledge in responding to the question) and your presentation of your analyses (are your thoughts and understandings clearly organized, with introduction, transitions, a conclusion? does your argument flow, showing the connections and inter-relatedness between the different elements/sections of your essay, and building up the analysis with each new section). Hence, regurgitating and throwing out the lecture notes is not a good idea and won't get you very far.

Edgar Liao. NUS Department of History. Updated January 2014

Use Signposts/Connectors to communicate relationships a. E.G. To indicate order i. First, Second, Third ii. Furthermore, In addition b. E.G. To indicate signal evidence i. Since, Because, As, Due to, Given that c. E.G. To signal conclusion i. This shows that, This evinces that ii. Therefore, Hence iii. Accordingly, Correspondingly, Consequently d. E.G. To indicate contrast, disagreement, alteration i. Conversely, However, On the other hand, Although e. To indicate similarity i. Likewise, similarly, comparable to E. References and Citations Why do you provide citations? To acknowledge and identify the source of an idea, a direct quotation, a paraphrased quotation or a piece of data and information used in your own work, so that any reader is able to refer back to the original source. To acknowledge the contribution of the work or ideas of another person to your work. To avoid committing plagiarism by passing off, whether deliberately or unknowingly, another persons work or ideas, as your own through the lack of acknowledgement What should you cite?1 Direct quotation from any source Paraphrased quotations (i.e. a quotation or idea that you have put into your own words) from any source Evidence or data you have taken from another source Statements, arguments that you have made using evidence or data you have taken from another source Further substantiating evidence that you have no room or need to cite in full in the text.

Paraphrased and excerpted from Kim Reynolds, Research Methods, in Abbott, Mary. History Skills (London; New York: Routledge 1996), p. 88.

Edgar Liao. NUS Department of History. Updated January 2014

What you do not need to cite? Statements of easily verified fact and common knowledge Your own observations and conclusions based on evidence in the text Lectures and tutorials How to cite? 1. See pages 6-9 of the History Departments guide On Writing Essays on how you should insert and format footnote citations and the bibliography: 2. You can also follow the quick guide to the Chicago style of citations in this website:

References and Further Reading 1. Gehle, Quentin L. and Duncan J. Rollo. Writing Essays: A Process Approach. New York : St. Martin's Press , c1987 2. Cullen, Jim. Essaying the Past: How to Read, Write, and Think about History. Chichester, U.K. ; Malden, MA.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009 3. Abbott, Mary(ed.). History Skills. London; New York: Routledge 1996

Edgar Liao. NUS Department of History. Updated January 2014

4. NUS Department of History (date unknown. On Writing Essays. Last Accessed: 25 August 2013