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Writing for History [Draw your reader in with an engaging abstract. It is typically a short summary of the document. When you’re ready to add your content, just click here and start typing.]

Eric Ward


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Contents Introduction .................................................................................................................................................................3-5 Literature Review...................................................................................................................................................... 6-13 Genres ...................................................................................................................................................................... 14-23 Interview .................................................................................................................................................................. 24-28 Change...................................................................................................................................................................... 29-33 Conclusion ............................................................................................................................................................... 34-37 Works Cited............................................................................................................................................................. 38-39

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INTRODUCTION In case it isn’t clear this book is about writing in history. Specifically it is an overview of the many different types of, and approaches to writing in history. Including how to write better for history, and how writing is an effective tool in teaching history. In it I will go over many different topics about writing in history. These topics, which are separated out mostly by chapters may seem unrelated to one and other, and that may be true on some level. However at their most basic level they are each about what writing in history is, and what makes good writing for it. Each chapter takes different approach to getting that point across, but at their core they describe different ways that someone who is relatively new at

writing in history can become a more effective writer. In the first chapter, I describe what many scholars are saying about writing in history. This chapter is less about what makes good writing in history and more about what writing in history actually is. That means that instead of going over what scholars are saying a good piece of history writing is, I go over what aspects they say almost all writing in history has. Specifically a lot of literature talks about how when someone writes something for history, what they are writing is argumentative, due to the fact that they are writing it for history. And when someone writes something for history they are forced to argue a point. Doing this is

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unavoidable, because usually whatever

interview I did with a senior who is

they are trying to provide insight into

majoring in history. This is the point in the

necessitates arguing a point about that

book where I move from talking about

topic. This chapter provides a solid base

writing in history in general, to talking

for the rest of the book, from which I go

more about what writing in history means

into the actual substance of what makes

here at the University of Denver

good history writing.

specifically. One of the most interesting

In the next chapter I talk about genre and the different genres of history. This chapter is predominantly about different types of writing in history and what is expected from the author in each type. So for example there is a section on a standard essay fora history class, what the general expectations are surrounding it, and why it is a useful genre. This chapter also has a brief introduction to genre theory that provides a base for the rest of the chapter, much like chapter one does for the entire book.

parts of the interview was that without prompting, she talked a lot about how important argument is to writing in history. That shows that the history department here at DU places an emphasis on argument in student’s writing, just like many of the scholars in chapter one said. The most important part of this chapter is the fact that the interview was with a DU student. As a result it is the chapter with the best insight into what specifically the history department here at DU expects from its student’s writing.

Chapter three consists of the most important themes I took from an

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In chapter four I argue for a slight change in the way that writing for history is taught at DU. The change is so slight though, that it is a testament to how well writing is actually taught here. I only propose a reorganizing of the order of certain history classes that focus specifically on writing. However the change isn’t what is most interesting about this chapter. No, it is the fact that I propose something so small. Changing the order of some classes is trivial compared to some of the problems that other majors have with the way that writing is taught in

students how to become very good historians and writers of history. Throughout this book I talk a lot about writing and what it means in history. And in it I show that writing is central to it, not only because most of what we know about history is in written accounts, but because writing is how history is taught and how it is talked about in the professional world. Reading the book will give any reader a deep insight into why writing is so central to history and what they can do to make their own writing for history more effective.

them. The history department at DU has a highly effective program that teaches

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LITERATURE REVIEW History is all about writing. In order to get

about writing for history is an incredibly important

information about what

one. Most history writing

went on for most of

doesn’t follow a specific

history and what people

formula like IMRAD

thought about it you have to

(introduction, methods,

consult written accounts.

results, and discussion), but

Admittedly pictures, and after they were

it does have common themes like the style

invented photographs, are also a good

and presentation. Style meaning the word

resource to use for historical research. But

choice and how writing for history is

the actual substance about what happened

almost always argumentative. And

throughout history is in the writing that

presentation meaning that much of the

came from those periods of time. In

writing for is presented with narrative, or

addition, writing is how people in the

having some “story” or chronological

academic world of history communicate

sequence, as an example. Common themes

their ideas about it. It is the end all and be

in a lot of writing for history include:

all of communication for those who study

narrative, argument, and using writing to

history. This means that a discussion

teach history.

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Narrative is a common theme

describes the different facets of 18th

throughout nearly all writing for history.

century Britain, focusing on politics but

Narrative in this case, meaning that the

not ignoring other elements of the

piece of writing follows some sort of story

country. She moves through what she has

and chronological timeline. In her pocket

designated the 18th century in a more or

guide to writing in history Mary Lynn

less chronological narrative. Colley then

Rampolla, dedicates a section to a general

moves on to argue that the tradition of

description of what constitutes good

dismissing the 18th century in terms of

history writing, and talks about how in

politics in Britain is because historians

addition to being argumentative, history

haven’t been looking deep enough at it,

writing follows a narrative. She describes

and it is actually very complex and worth

this narrative as the part of writing that

studying. The point in describing this

talks about what actually happened and

article is to show that a pretty standard,

when it did. This is demonstrated

insightful article in a respected journal

excellently through Linda Colley’s article

follows a chronological narrative, as do

on the politics of Britain from 1688 to

many other pieces of writing for history;

1832, which she describes as Britain’s long

and to show that narrative is indeed a

18th century. Colley begins by introducing

major part of writing for history. However

the 18th century in Britain and how it is

a chronological narrative is not the only

generally viewed by most historians and

way that writing for history uses the idea

gives a brief overview of how that view

of narrative.

has changed in the 20th century. She then

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Narrative in history writing can

tone. But just beneath the surface he

also mean how a piece of writing is

shows some complex thinking about

presented. A piece of history writing can

Clement Hawes’ book. He weaves some

be set up in the way a story is told, by

solid logic into his narrative of a review

using language and styles that most people

about why Hawes is wrong in some of his

can relate to, but doing so in a way that

interpretations of historical documents

also conveys a deeper meaning. That

and their purpose. His book review is an

deeper meaning isn’t a metaphor for the

example of narrative in writing for history,

socioeconomic disparity in the political

just not in the sense of chronology.

landscape of the French region of Loraine, or anything like that. Instead the deeper meaning is the author’s insight into a certain topic in history, or in some cases the author’s insight into someone else’s thoughts on a topic in history. Christian Thorne has a book review that is an example of writing for history that uses narrative, in the sense that the way he presents his book review is similar to the way a story is told. He uses outside examples that many people would understand and a more conversational

Narrative is often used in history writing to help along the most important feature of history writing, argument. Writing in history is argumentative; no matter the subject or style or setting or audience, it is argumentative. The piece of writing could be about the least controversial subject there is, and it would still be argumentative. In the very beginning of the section where she discusses the results of her study, Sharon Stockton says that argument is the most basic expectation of students in their

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writing for history. This is backed up by

the professional level and they know it is

her statement that most of the history

always argumentative.

professors she interviewed agreed that the key word for good writing in history is “argument”. Argument being at the core of

Argument also implies the use of rhetorical strategies to get the point across, and in writing for history the use of rhetorical strategies has not always been

writing for history makes sense. Most

accepted. In his essay on writing for

writing for history at the professional level

history Sal Cohen describes how his

involves looking at primary sources and

mentor, Lawrence A. Cremin, argued in

drawing conclusions about a certain

defense of progressive education. He

subject from them. In order to back up

describes the argument presented by

these conclusions the author must argue

Cremin, as Cremin’s ultimate attempt at

why they are right, or at least how they

arguing for progressive education using

represent part of the puzzle that explains

only what he presented as “the facts”, not

that particular subject in history. This is

using any rhetorical strategies or a

true for the most basic writing in history

narrative to “distract” from the point he

all the way up to professional level writing.

was trying to make. Cohen argues, since

The reason most history professors stated

he is writing for history after all, that

for valuing argument above all else in

Cremin’s intentional avoidance of what he

student writing for history in Stockton’s

would see as writing not rooted in fact

interviews for her study, was because they

actually produced that writing he was

have experience in writing for history at

trying to avoid. More specifically Cohen

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says that Cremin used narrative in his

exactly the same as professional level

book by going along chronologically in

writing though, because what is being

defense of progressive education and

written is usually not meant for

portraying the funeral of progressive

publications, but it is worth talking about

education, the latter of which evokes a

because of the similarities between it and

pathological response from the reader.

professional writing.

This shows that writing for history involves argument whether the author likes it or not, shown both by Cohen arguing for his point and Cremin’s book, and that writing for history uses many of the traditional rhetorical and literary strategies. Many sources that talk about

Most prominent among the similarities is that no matter what type of writing is done, even at the lowest level, writing for a history class is still argumentative. In Mary Lynn Rampolla’s pocket guide to writing history she explicitly states that no matter the assignment, in a history class the writing

writing for history focus specifically on the

has an argument and a thesis, or an

teaching of history through writing, and

implied thesis. She also states that most

what is expected from students in writing

history professors are looking for why the

for a history class. Written pieces for

author reached his or her conclusion,

history classes often reflect what is

meaning that he or she has to defend their

expected from professionals when they

position with facts from other sources.

write about their research or other’s

That general description of writing for a

research. Writing in history classes is not

history class is essentially a scaled down

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version of what the professionals do,

century means, and what its context is.

which is use outside sources to back up

That is probably what a historian would

their positions.

do while he or she was summarizing the

History papers that are assigned in school can also be different parts of the writing that goes on professionally for history. As described by Lehning’s article there are five different aspects to history writing, and they can be turned into different assignments for a history class. The five aspects according to Lehning are: summarizing, analyzing, interoperating, arguing, and counter-arguing. The first two aspects can be turned into stand-alone assignments in a history class. Summarizing could be synthesizing a long book into a couple pages of the most important information, which is the first step of that most historians take when they look at a source. Analyzing as an assignment for a history class could be writing what a royal decree from the 17th

primary source, but it is a step that they would take. The last three aspects are traditionally put together as an assignment, for example an exam question could consist of a couple documents and ask the student to interoperate their meaning and argue why they think that and argue against what people who disagree with them would say about their position. That is the essence of what almost all writing for history is, taking a stance and defending it. So each of these facets of writing for history the Leaning describes are part of the overall process and product of most history writing in general. The first two facets are usually not in the final product, unless the author is critiquing a peer though. All the facets provide an excellent way of dissecting one of the

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more standard processes and potential

publishing an article in a journal. The

products of writing for history.

journals are used by historians to share

Examining writing for history classes also provides a good way to describe one of the main points of writing

with each other new opinions on a subject and teach others about it. Teaching how to write for history

for history, if not an actual type of history

is one way of introducing students to

writing. That purpose is to teach and

writing in history, but it’s a two way street.

share. In school the purpose of most

It is also possible to use the writing that

writing for history is to help the students

students do, to teach them about history.

learn, as Daniel Mumphree argues at

That is what the article “Narrative” argues

length in his article, which in part

for. It describes some different situations

describes the merits of using writing to

where teaching students about narrative

teach history. He talks about how it is an

was used to teach them about history. In

excellent way for students to organize

each example the teacher assigned

their thoughts on a subject and formulate

students an essay where they would write

an opinion. For more formal assignments

about a subject using narrative. This

it’s way for them to show the professor

approach taught them about both

that they know the material, and maybe

narrative and that particular topic in

even provide him or her with a new

history in a more in depth way than

insight on it. Writing about history in the

teaching either separately could achieve. In

professional world writing takes on much

his article about the best way to teach

the same role, at least when it comes to

students about argumentative writing, Ray

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Karras also argues for using argumentative

professional published works and so

writing as a method of teaching students

deserves attention as an insight into what

about history. He describes what each

writing for history currently is and means.

essay students could produce should consist of and what purpose they serve. In describing what purpose they serve he argues that teaching students how to argue in writing about a subject, forces them to understand the topic in history that they are writing about completely, and so teaches them about the subject matter in history as well as argumentative writing in history. So while most writing for history in school isn’t exactly the same as writing for history at the professional level, it does consist of the same basic parts and form.

What writing is in history can be answered many ways. Currently, many people argue that it is narrative and argumentative, and that it is an excellent tool for teaching history. This information should provide a base for the rest of the book. In chapters two and three these concepts are reinforced through an analysis of genre and firsthand experience respectively.

Additionally it teaches students about writing for history and about history. It preforms broadly the same purpose as

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GENRES Writing in history takes many

history they must know what genre they

different forms, each of these general

are going to write in, because they almost

forms is a genre of history writing. In this

undoubtedly are going to be writing in an

chapter I will investigate five different

established history genre and will need to

genres of history writing. I will discuss

know what the norms are for that genre.

why each is a relevant and useful genre for history writing, and what the expectations are of each genre. This is all relevant to a broader discussion about writing for history because there is so much writing in history. As a result of this volume of writing there are a vast amount of different ways to write about history, ranging from a simple essay to a novel. All of these different ways to write about history are different genres and have their own expectations surrounding them. So if someone is trying to write something for

Before going into specific genres it should be noted what a genre actually is. The common understanding of genre is where it is applied to entertainment, like types of movies or books. While that is an incomplete understanding of what genre can mean, it is very helpful in understanding it more completely. A genre is some generally understood form, like movie genres. You would expect an animated Disney movie to have a protagonist who essentially goes through the hero’s journey, and for it to end with

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the protagonist living happily ever after,

Typified features aren’t the only

singing the entire time and most often

aspect of genres though. Genres are also

with a prince. So for example if someone

tied to situations, and in each situation

were to make an animated Disney movie

that a person writes in they are writing to

that that uses the exact same script and

an audience, which is another feature of

plot as the original Romeo and Juliet by

genre. The audience for which a person is

Shakespeare, it wouldn’t fit the genre. For

writing also gives them some guide lines

one thing it wouldn’t be structured in the

about how they should proceed.

right way, it would switch its focus too often. It would also not use the right type of language, too many large words and figures of speech. And most glaringly it would end in tragedy with the protagonists dead, and no one would have sung an impromptu musical number with the furniture and village people they had never met before in their life. The “rules” of a genre are what guide a person in how they go about writing for a certain situation, and the features that make a person aware that something is in a particular genre are called specifically typified features.

Knowing about genre as an idea is helpful because of the many different genres that exist when writing for history. There are the school related ones, like essays and syllabi, and there are also many different genres at the professional level. Some of those genres include book reviews, journal articles of research, and full length novels. All five of these genres will be discussed in detail, but by no means are they the only genres, or even major genres that exist in history. Because only five genres in history writing will be discussed in this chapter, knowing about

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genres in general is helpful to anyone who

to test whether or not the student has

wants to write something about history.

mastered the ideas taught in the course,

In school there is one genre that seems to dominate history classes, that is the standard thesis driven content supported essay. Most people just call this an essay, because it is so standard in the world of history classes. These essays start as prompts that the teacher or testing

critical thinking skills for example. They are used to gauge whether or not a student has mastered both the content and ideas of a course because they effectively test a student on both better than any alternative as yet thought of. Almost every essay has some

organization provides, and are turned into

specific features, or typified features if

finished pieces of writing by the students.

genre specific language is to be used.

What they do, or their social action as

Those features include a thesis statement,

Carolyn Miller would put it, is help

a stance the student takes on whatever

students demonstrate knowledge of the

subject the prompt told them to. Another

subject material of the class. They are used

feature is that they all support their claims

by teachers and other organizations to see

with evidence in the body paragraphs that

if the students in a class have learned the

elaborate and prove the thesis statement.

content, like the actual historical subject of

The evidence that they use can vary, in

the course that they are enrolled in.

some assignments along with the prompt,

Not only are the essays used to see if a student has learned the course content to sufficient degree, but they are also used

the teacher will provide the students with documents that relate to the essay’s topic and will help prove the student’s points.

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Other times the students could be expect

going to class and learning about the topic,

to use their knowledge of the content to

the difference is that the teacher usually

support their thesis. The essay also follows

tell the student what specifically they are

a traditional format most of the time.

going to write about. But the student still

Which consists of an introduction

comes up with an opinion about it and

paragraph with the thesis in it, supporting

defends it with the “research” they did.

paragraphs where the bulk of the student’s

The essay is a very effective genre that is

writing is, and a concluding paragraph that

used extensively in history education.

summarizes what the student just tried to

However it can fall down a bit as a tool of

argue. All writing in this genre are

assessment because some students may

argumentative, consisting of a student’s

struggle with writing and not necessarily

thoughts on a subject and their proving a

the content or ideas of the class, which

point about it.

would make that student seem less

That is not dissimilar to another genre in history writing, research articles meant for publication in a journal. In those, a historian finds a subject and does

knowledgeable than they actually are. But because it is usually so effective it is one of the most widely used genres in history. Where thesis driven essays

extensive research on it and then comes

supported by evidence are likely one of the

up with an opinion about it and supports

first things that comes to mind when

it with their research in the finished article.

talking about writing for history, there are

The essay in a history class is very close to

others that are applicable to history

this. The student’s “research” consists of

classes, for example the syllabus. Although

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the syllabus is applicable to most classes

will help the student to know what is

there are some features of a history class

coming in the class and what to expect for

syllabus that make it a unique genre. A

the entire term. For history classes

syllabus is a document that a teacher

specifically the teacher will likely go into

usually provides to the students about the

further detail about writing assignments in

course they will be taking. Their “social

the syllabus and what they expect in

action” is to give the students all the

general from the students for them. This is

information they could want about the

because writing is such a large part of

class in general, like the grading scale and

history and the teaching of it.

general policies, and usually the tentative schedule for the class. Syllabi are very uniform for most

The syllabus is very effective at what it’s supposed to do, and so most teachers don’t deviate from it, the most a

classes. They usually consist of the class

teacher is likely willing to do is not include

name, the teacher’s name and contact

a schedule if they don’t deem it necessary.

information, and their

Unlike almost all other genres for history

office hours if relevant at

the syllabus does not argue a point, it is a

the top. Then they move

factual document produced by the

into specific policies the

instructor of a class for his or her student’s

teacher might have, their

benefit. This means that it doesn’t have

grading scale, and what assignment

much relation to other genres of history

categories will be worth what. At the end

writing, but it does connect to other

they usually have a tentative schedule that

genres in the sense that it often times

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introduces assignments in different genres

the work. For example a reviewer could

of history to students for the first time. It

say, it is strong overall but lacks evidence

is likely it is in a syllabus that students first

on a certain claim. And the review is

read about a research paper or an essay

expected to back these claims about the

assignment specifically for history.

work and its research with its own

On an almost completely different note writing for history doesn’t happen

evidence. The book review can be seen as a

most often in school, it is usually done by

sort of response to the thing it is

professionals, who use their own specific

reviewing. The response is not necessarily

genres. One such genre is what can be

more authoritative and actually determines

best described as a book review, even

how the “book”, or whatever the reviewed

though that is a little miss leading. What is

article happens to be, is viewed by the

meant by a book review is an article or

academic world, it is just the reviewer’s

essay that discusses the historical validity

thoughts and opinion on it. So the

and rhetorical effectiveness of another

situation from which both the reviewed

historian’s work. This genre of history

work is coming from and from where the

writing does not have a set form or

review is coming from are very important

structure. It does however have a specific

to this genre.

set of expectations that go along with it. A book review or a review of any work by a historian is expected to give an opinion of the work, meaning argue something about

Also because this genre only expects that the author be reviewing a work by a historian about history, and make a supported claim about it,

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historians aren’t necessarily the only

While book reviews are a relevant

people who can write in this genre. A

genre for professional history writing, if

person who is well versed in how rhetoric

history should ever need to classify a genre

works could also write a “book review”

as generic for writing in history, research

and come at it from their perspective. And

articles for publication in a journal would

if they deem it inadequate and that claim

probably be it. They are the bread and

seems well founded then the work being

butter of what historians do. In them a

reviewed is equally as flawed as it would

historian or group of historians, select a

have been if its claims about history were

topic and do extensive research about it,

flawed. A good example of this is

dealing mostly with primary sources. Then

Christian Thorne’s review of Clement

they take all that they know and learned

Hawes’ book about the 18th century. In

about the subject,

addition to doing extensive research about

come up with an

the subject that Hawes is writing about

opinion about it

Thorne critiques Hawes’ book on a

and synthesize that

rhetorical level. Stating that the way the

opinion into an

book is written it sometimes give the

article, supported

reader the impression that Hawes’ is

by all the research that they did. Pieces of

claiming something that he is in fact not

writing in this genre do not usually follow

claiming at all, because it doesn’t make

a certain form or format, the only typified

sense.

feature that they might have in common is an abstract or a summary somewhere in

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the article about what they are trying to

think, even if it is in direct conflict with

prove.

other historians’ views. But that doesn’t Beyond trying to prove something

about history, the social action of these articles is to advance and challenge the beliefs that are currently held about history. The less radical articles try to prove an interpretation that doesn’t shake common beliefs and interpretations about history to their core, but still expand upon the collective knowledge of history. The more radical articles use their usually noticeably more extensive research than usual to make some radical new claim about some part of history. It is these articles and their authors that keep the study of history alive and well, instead of stagnating and blindly accepting the interpretations of history that were made in the past. This genre is the form of argument in history where historians come to try to prove what they

mean that it is the only way that they can come together to discuss historical events and what they meant for the world at large. The genre does fall short in that is doesn’t really provide an opportunity for historians to debate a point directly. That is likely the reason why book reviews came into being as a genre, so that other historians could publicly voice their opinion about another’s work, not just through a peer review process. Like book reviews there is another genre that is hard to give a name. It is not historical fiction novels because the things written in this genre are rooted completely in research and don’t make conjecture or create characters that didn’t exist in that time period. It might be best to call this genre “historical novels” because they do tell a story, but they are historically and

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factually accurate. This is a relatively new

written for mass consumption. Examples

genre to history and most things written in

of historical novels include 1848: Year of

it have some typified features.

Revolution, Eminence: Cardinal Richelieu and

The first typified feature is what differentiates it from historical fiction. Almost all of these novels have footnotes and cite other sources, including primary sources. They are also full length novels, with chapters or sections. At this point

the Rise of France, and probably most famous of all Guns, Germs and Steel. These novels are in regular book stores and bought by people with only an interest in history, not a degree. The point of this genre is for many

they sound remarkably like very, very long

authors, to make a little money. But the

research papers, but they are different

social action they preform is more along

from those too. Historical novels tell a

the lines of educating the public on events

story, they don’t present findings or

and people who have had an effect on

opinions they give a narrative of a certain

their lives whether they know it or not.

event or person in history. These novels

They also make for a very nice book,

are also written with an entirely different

because history is the best source for an

audience in mind than other professional

interesting plot. While this genre is good at

works by historians. Unlike most written

doing what it meant to do, it is still a

things in history, which are intended for

radical departure from most genres of

an audience that already has a background

history writing, and in general the things

in the subject and knows some of the

that are written in this genre don’t go

more technical terms, historical novels are

nearly as in depth into history as

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traditional professional writing for history

written in that genre before. Genre, when

does. So for historians the novels might be

looking specifically at writing for history is

enjoyable to read, but they will likely not

especially important because much writing

provide any deeper insight into history

for history looks the same superficially,

than they already know.

but is in fact different. While nearly all

Genres as a subject are useful to understand in order to further someone’s writing skills; this is Because understanding what genre is helps a person identify what is important to do when writing in a certain situation to a

writing for history argues something, there are many ways to do it, and that’s where genres come in. There are many genres of writing for history and they are all relevant to certain situations and are all helpful in exploring history.

specific audience, even if they have never

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INTERVIEW I interviewed Shannon Reimers, who is a

paper. She also has experience in most

senior in the history department at DU to

other forms of history writing. During the

get a more in depth perspective of what

interview three major themes became

history writing is at DU and not just in

apparent that Shannon seemed to think

general. Because she is a senior she has

were important to writing in history.

taken almost all the required classes for the major and as a result knows a lot about what the department expects from its students. She has focused her studies specifically in the modern history of the Middle East and the ancient empires of the same region. She was recommended to me by Susan Schulten, who is the chair of the history department. She also recently completed a thesis, meaning she did extensive research on a topic and came up with ideas about it and proved them in a very thorough

Those three themes included the importance of sources and how without outside sources a piece of writing in history is really incomplete. Additionally the types of sources that are used are important and she stressed the importance of primary sources over secondary. The second two themes she talked about were argument and its importance to history writing, and making how important writing is to history as a discipline, because

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it furthers the collective knowledge and

someone else’s work which weakens what

discussion about history.

you are trying to say.

That first theme that came up in

Specifically about sources she said:

our conversation was the importance of sources. It came up first because it set the

“That’s what I would say more than anything else. Is that if you are going to be doing history research then you want to get to the

stage for the rest of the interview. She especially focused on the difference between primary sources and secondary

archives, because that’s where the documents are and that’s where you are forming your own opinions about something rather than kind of having to use what other scholars have done first”

sources, and which one is more important and how they are used. She said that

When she refers to history research she is

primary source should take priority in

also talking about writing for history and

history writing; in history primary sources

what is good to have in it. What is

are the ones that are actually from or by

important about this is the distinction

the people who experienced the events, or

between primary and secondary sources,

their contemporaries. The reason that they

and knowing the difference between them.

should be what you use in most of your

A primary source in history is one that

research, according to her, is because they

came from a person who witnessed the

are where you form your opinions and

time period their work is talking about, or

ideas about the subject. If you use too

was a contemporary of a historical figure.

many secondary sources then you are

It could also mean documents that were

forming your opinion based off of

written after whatever it is that they are talking about, but still in the same general

25


time period. For example a record of

more detail about what makes good

things that happened a generation ago for

history writing Shannon moved to the

an ancient Greek is a primary source, so

second two themes that she covered in the

what qualifies as a primary source is sort

interview. And those themes that Shannon

of ambiguous. A secondary source is one

kept talking about relate to each other.

that a historian has written, usually a long

These two themes are important because

time after the topic they are writing about

argument is the crux of history writing, it

happened. Most secondary sources have

is why most of it is done. The themes she

an idea about their subject and are arguing

talks about seem to be contradicting each

for that idea using primary sources. What

other in a way, because she describes what

is important about what Shannon is saying

a good piece of history writing is and then

about primary sources is that a good piece

goes on the say that the opposite is also

of history writing does not base its

essential. However they actually don’t it

argument off of secondary sources, but

just takes a little digging to figure out why.

uses them in support of its argument. So instead a good piece of history writing develops ideas from the primary sources and can use secondary sources to back up the author’s idea about what ever topic it is that they are writing about. Using the discussion about primary and secondary sources as base to get into

Shannon described good history writing consistently as something that takes a stance on a specific topic in history and defends that stance. But she also described good history writing as not being too aggressive about that stance. She said that while it is important to argue for an idea, it is equally important to not write

26


about that stance as though it is the be all

example, when an author is talking about

and end all about that topic. She said

the history of England, they should not

“There is lots of recognition in history of

usually say that all monarchs of England

the limitations or your work and your

have in some way given more power to

research”. By this she means that within

the parliament. While I personally don’t

the discipline of history it is widely

even know if that is remotely provable it

acknowledged that no one person can

should give you an idea of what to avoid,

have all the answers about anything.

the big overarching statements that are

Writing as though you have come to the

likely disprovable with some specific fact

only conclusion that could ever be thought

or event.

of about a topic is not what makes good history writing, and that sort of writing is usually thought of as very poor by most historians. This idea is important because it gets at one of the more central ideas about history, that there is always room for discovery and new revelations or ideas about any given topic in history, even the most talked about ones. Going along with that idea is that

Even though Shannon talked about how good history writing doesn’t make wild definite conclusions about a topic, she also talked about the importance of the pieces of writing that get people talking. This is where there might seem to be a contradiction, because what she said specifically was “…good writing doesn’t take a huge, huge opinion, but often some of the best writing has to take that in order

almost all good history writing should not

to sort of start the conversations.”. That

make overarching statements. Meaning for

sentence seems to contradict itself, but it

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doesn’t. What she is saying is that there is

a dead horse. The reason that Shannon

a need for theories about history that are

says that this type of history writing is so

super radical, bordering on insane, because

important, is because if it wasn’t around

such strong opinions are needed to fuel

then the discussion about history would

conversations about history through

eventually become stale and just a bunch

writing.

of windbags repeating the same thing over

When Shannon described what good history writing is she specifically said that taking a very strong opinion is usually bad. And most of the time it is, but she

and over. But the discussion about history is not, and it is thanks to this type of “bad” history writing. All the themes that Shannon talked

isn’t saying that it always has to be so

about in the interview provide a much

timid in what it is trying to say. There is

better insight into what good history

always a little wiggle room and sometimes

writing is and also how it functions in the

when someone comes up with an opinion

discipline. So even though there are

about a topic, it is more than a wiggle

generally accepted ideas about what makes

away from the normal discussion about

good history writing, that mold is not

that topic. But such a radical departure

permanent and can be broken through

from the norm almost always gets people

occasionally; and when that is done

talking about that subject in a new way,

effectively and with backing from reliable

which then fosters more concrete new

sources it provides historians with an

ideas about that topic. Which in the past

entirely new way of thinking about a topic

talking about it may have been like beating

and gives them more to talk about.

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CHANGE The history department at DU has

used in history. This class is a prerequisite

placed an exceptional emphasis on writing

for the senior seminar classes and is

in the major. As a result of this prolonged

intended to be an introduction to them.

and concerted effort to help history

The senior seminar classes are a sequence

majors at DU develop and refine their

of two classes, the first of which guides

writing skills, the department has

students through the research process, so

integrated many different aspects of

that by the end of the quarter they all have

writing in history into most of the classes

a research proposal. The next senior

that students are required to take for the

seminar class helps the students do

major. Those aspects include how to use

research for their proposal and helps them

primary sources, how to use secondary

along with the writing process through

sources, and the idea of how to see history

peer reviews and meetings with a faculty

as historians see it.

mentor. By the end of the sequence the

All of these aspects of writing come together in the final “sequence” of history classes which consist of a class called “what is history” and two senior seminar courses. The what is history class focuses on historiography, or the how historians see things, and methodologies

students will have a completed thesis which is intended to be a capstone for their history major. The capstone thesis incorporates all the aspects of history and writing for history that the students learned throughout their college careers. Due to sequential nature of these classes it

29


is absurd that one, the “what is history”

class is offered only in the winter quarter

class, is taken way before the other two.

for juniors and then the senior seminar

So I propose moving the “what is history”

classes are only offered in the fall and

class to the spring quarter of student’s

winter quarters. This means that there is a

junior year, to help make the entire

huge break for them in between when they

capstone sequence feel more like a

start thinking about their thesis and

sequence.

actually get into forming and doing it. And

This capstone sequence combines skills learned in 2000 and 3000 level classes; the 2000 level classes teach students how to use primary sources and the 3000 level classes teach students how to use secondary sources. And most senior history majors when reflecting on the major as a whole say that the sequence was very helpful and the classes that lead up to it were also helpful to them when

as small a problem as this may seem, the overall structure of the capstone sequence for history majors is the largest problem that I can see for the major regarding writing. This is because the thesis is so important to the major and any tweak to make it that much more effective in helping students develop their writing skills as a historian is worth considering. The answer to the problem of how

they were forming and completing their

the final sequence for history majors is

thesis project. The only complaint they

structured appears obvious then. As I said

have is how the sequence is structured.

before all that needs to be done is move

Many of the outgoing seniors state that

the what is history class, which introduces

they don’t like that the what is history

students to the process that they will

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embark on when they take the senior

classes before the middle of their junior

seminar courses, to spring quarter. In

year is a very reasonable and sensible

doing this, it will ensure that students feel

demand. Even if students complain that it

a sense of continuity and the concepts

constrains their schedules, that just means

about writing and research learned in that

that they haven’t planned well enough for

class will be fresh in their minds when

their future. That is primarily because if

they get back from summer break. In

they haven’t completed at least that

addition to that move it would also be

number of history classes that means that

beneficial to make sure that each history

they were planning on taking nearly only

student has taken at least two of the 2000

history classes for the rest of their college

level and 3000 level classes each, before

career. While packing it all in at the end

they take the senior seminar classes, so

might sound fun, it is just very prolonged

that they have a firm background in how

procrastination and not very responsible

to use and approach both primary sources

or helpful to the student. Additionally

and secondary sources.

moving the what is history class to spring

The reason that I think that this is the best way to improve how writing and the senior capstone sequence is taught in the history major at DU, is because the arguments against it are few and far between. Requiring that student’s take at least two 2000 level and two 3000 level

quarter should present little disruption to professors, which is the biggest complaint they could have about the proposed move. It should present little disruption to them because it is just changing when a class is offered, and since it is only currently offered in the winter quarter it should be

31


too difficult to move it to the spring

should care because it directly affects the

quarter and move all the classes it might

quality of their education. Faculty, beyond

interfere with to the space that it left in the

their undoubtedly deep interest in their

winter quarter.

students’ education and how good it is,

The reason that the requirements about when students have to take certain classes should change should be clear by now. Many outgoing seniors have voiced the opinion that they feel like there is too long of a gap between when the idea of a senior thesis is introduced and when they actually start to work on developing that thesis and turning it into something that they can be proud of. By moving the class that introduces the thesis (what is history) that problem will be negated. And by making two 2000 level and two 3000 level classes pre requisites for the senior

should care about this, because how well history majors at DU are prepared for life beyond college directly affects their own reputation. As members of the history faculty at DU, if history majors leave the university and go on to graduate school, as many history majors do, and the professors that they encounter there see that students from the University of Denver consistently demonstrate a higher level of skill in writing for history, due to the improved capstone system, that will reflect positively on the faculty at DU. While there are likely other options

seminar it will also help better prepare

to improving the senior capstone

students for writing a thesis.

sequence, to better help students develop

For this reason both students and faculty should care about this. Students

their abilities to think and more importantly write effectively in history, the

32


simplest to do and by far the most

classes the history department would be

obvious, is to change when students have

helping itself and its student’s without

to take the classes that build up to the

incurring any cost, and so this proposal

senior capstone project. Adding and

should be taken seriously. Because this is

changing the requirements and for when

such an easy change a simple request by a

students have to take certain classes is an

majority of history majors at DU should

easy change that could help to improve

encourage the department to change the

upon an already excellent program. In

rules.

improving student’s ability to write for history without actually adding any extra

33


CONCLUSION Each chapter in this book has, I

difficult to identify the themes that most

hope, provided an insight into the way

of the genres shared, which made each of

that writing in history functions, and how

them good genres for history writing.

it is taught in both the discipline in general

Beyond connecting to chapter two,

and specifically here at the University of

chapter one also connected to chapters

Denver.

three and four, but it did this more by

Chapter one, was a review of what the general consensus between scholars is about what makes good history writing and what the point of writing in history is. This chapter provided the base for the rest

providing a background from which I moved into a discussion about writing at DU and changes that could be made to help improve the way it is taught here. What transfers most from chapter

of the book and connected to all of the

one to chapter three, is the idea that

other chapters, but especially chapter two.

writing is a teaching tool for history;

It connected to chapter two because in

meaning that teaching how to write for

that chapter I described specific genres

history can be used not only to show

that are relevant to history and what

students what makes good history writing,

makes them good. Without chapter one

but to teach them the actual content of

before it, it would have been more

historical events. That is because in

34


chapter three my interview with Shannon

writing in history is argumentative and

reveals that she views writing in much the

why that that is a good thing.

same way that I just said. In chapter four the content of chapter one is most relevant providing a background to what makes good history writing, so that I don’t have to explain again what that is and I can just go straight into what I think should be done to improve how history writing is taught. In addition to providing the base

Drawing on chapter one I go to a discussion of genres in chapter two. This chapter connects most poignantly with chapter three. This is mostly because of the lack of connections that it has with chapter four. In chapter two I dedicated a section to the genre of a standard school history essay, and a section to the genre of a professional history journal article. These

for the rest of the book, chapter one

genres are sort of combined to make the

provides a helpful description of what

senior thesis at DU, which is the example

makes good history writing in general. If

that Shannon used a lot in chapter three.

nothing else, the one thing that should be

Using information from chapter two it is

taken from this book is that writing in

easy to see how the form of a journal

history is argumentative. That point is hit

article is combined with the function of

on in every chapter in some way or

the standard essay genre to make a senior

another and it is the most important point

thesis that teaches students about how to

of the book. It is also one of the main

write in a professional history genre.

points that chapter one makes, and I think that chapter one best describes why

Chapter three is the one that most directly relates to chapter four, because it

35


sets up the entire conversation about

chapters, but the chapter is a good way to

writing for history at DU. In talking about

talk about why this book has been

what she thinks is “good” writing for

worthwhile. That’s because in chapter four

history Shannon transitions the discussion

I argued for a very minor change in the

from talking about writing for history in

way history is taught at DU. If there was a

general, to what is expected specifically at

more significant problem with the way it is

DU. Because part of chapter three

taught here, then I would have talked

involved a discussion about what makes

about that instead, but there isn’t. That

good history writing, it also involved a

means that everything I’ve described in

discussion about how effective the history

this book about what scholars think makes

major program at DU is at teaching

good history writing, is taught effectively

students how to write for history.

here at DU, and each student that

Shannon was overwhelmingly positive

completes a major in history here will be

about the program and how it is taught,

taught all of those skills.

but did mention a couple flaws that she sees with it. Those flaws were the launching pad for the proposal I put forward in chapter four and they are the best connection that that chapter has with the rest of the book. I’ve already talked about chapter four’s connections with the other

The program is so good that I’ll bet that if someone comes back to this in four years, after having graduated with a history degree from DU they will think to themselves. Well that book introduced what good history writing is and what to look for to find good history writing, and then they taught exactly that to me. And

36


they will feel like they have just as solid a foundation in writing for history as I say they will.

37


WORKS CITED Chapman, Arthur, et al. "Narrative." Teaching History (2011): 2. online. Cohen, Sal. "An Essay in the Aid of Writing History : Fictions of Historiography." Studies in Philosophy and Education (2004): 317-332. Online. Colley, Linda. "The Politics of Eighteenth-Century British History." Journal of British Studies (1986): 359-379. Online. Dirk, Kerry. "Navigating Genres." Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing. Parlor Press, 2010. 249262. Online. Karras, Ray W. "Writing Essays That Make Historical Arguments." OAH Magazine of History (1994): 54-57. online. Lehning, James R. "Writing about History and Writing in "History"." The History Teacher (1993): 339-349. Online. Murphree, Daniel S. "Student Perceptions of In-Class Writing in the Inverted General Education." The History Teacher (2014): 209-219. Online. Rampolla, Mary Lynn. Pockey Guide to Writing in History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. Reimers, Shannon. Interview. Eric Ward. 2014.

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Stockton, Sharon. "Writing in History, Narrating the Subject of Time." Written Communication (1995): 47-73. Online. Thorne, Christian. "The British Eighteenth Century and Global Critique, Review." Modern Philology (2007): 369-376. Online.

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