It took even longer for historians to figure out that the Vikings crossed the Atlantic long before Columbus. So, historians study the past to figure out what happened and how specific events and cultural developments affected individuals and societies. Historians also revise earlier explanations of the past, adding new information.
The more we know about the past, the better we can understand how societies have evolved to their present state, why people face certain problems, and how successfully others have addressed those problems. As you can see, the questions of history include the immediate and personal how did I get here? The answers historians offer are all more or less educated guesses about the past, based on interpretations of whatever information trickles down through the ages.
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You can assume two things about your Carolina history instructors. First, they are themselves scholars of history. Second, they expect you to engage in the practice of history. In other words, they frequently want you to use information to make an educated guess about some bygone event, era, or phenomenon. You probably know how to guess about the past. High school history exams and various nameless standardized tests often encourage students to guess. For example:. In academia, however, guessing is not enough.
History Essay Format & Thesis Statement
As they evaluate assignments, history instructors look for evidence that students:. Historians know about the past because they look at what relics have trickled down through the ages. These relics of past civilizations are called primary sources. These ideas are presented in secondary sources, which include textbooks, monographs, and scholarly articles. Ideally, after thinking for a while, they come up with a story to link together all these bits of information—an interpretation read: educated guess which answers a question about some past event or phenomenon.
Short, Sweet and to the Point: Thesis Statements
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Except when two historians using different sources come up with contradictory answers to the same question. Even worse, what if two historians ask the same question and use the same sources but come up with different answers? This happens pretty regularly and can lead to heated debates, complete with name-calling.
To avoid unnecessary disagreements and survive legitimate debates, good historians explain why their question is important, exactly what sources they found, and how they analyzed those sources to reach a particular interpretation. In other words, they prove that both their approach and answers are valid and significant. This is why historical texts have so many footnotes.
To sum up: most UNC history instructors will expect you to both know information and interpret it to answer a question about the past. Your hard-won ability to name all the governors of Idaho in chronological order will mean little unless you can show why and how that chronology is significant. For general tips, see our handout on understanding assignments. A typical Carolina history course includes several kinds of writing assignments:. To begin a historiographical essay, you will first read multiple works on the same topic, such as the American Revolution.
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You can organize your essay chronologically in the order that the books on the topic were published or methodologically grouping historians with similar interpretations together. Some questions to consider as you write a historiographical essay are: How has the historiography on this subject evolved over time?
What are the different schools of thought on the topic, and how do they impact the interpretations of this subject? Why have different scholars come to different conclusions about this topic? You may find some of the information in our handout on literature reviews helpful. The specifics of your particular assignment will obviously vary.
Recall the link between history and writing In case you missed this, history is basically an educated guess about the past.
When you write, you will most likely have to show that you know something about the past and can craft that knowledge into a thoughtful interpretation answering a specific question. You will have to read before you write.
Tips for Writing a Good Thesis
If the reading has been assigned, guess why your instructor chose it. Whatever you read, ask yourself:. For more on this, see also our handout on reading to write. Since you now having completed step 1 anticipate having to make—and support—an educated guess, pick the question apart. Opportunities to show what you know. These are requests for information and are usually pretty easy to find. Look for verbs like these:. Opportunities to show what you think.
These are requests for interpretation. Look for key words like these:. These introductory statements, however, can offer clues about the expected content and organization of your essay. Sign up to our newsletter to receive a promo code. Receive discount. Check your email, discount code is already there.
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Short, Sweet and to the Point: Thesis Statements | National History Day In Minnesota