Throughout the semester, weve been reading Jill Lepores These Truths: A History of the United States. Her book, and most works written by historians are what historians refer to as secondary sources. When a historian reads a secondary source, it is her or his responsibility to critique the source as objectively as possible. To start, one asks the following questions: What is the thesis of Lepores book? What is her argument? What story is she attempting to tell? These related questions are important because they tell us what questions Lepore, herself, is asking and what questions she is attempting to answer.
Once one figures out the answers to the questions above, it is important to critique the primary and secondary sources she uses as evidence to support her thesis, broader argument, and historical narrative. To discover these, one has to look through the notes. What kind of primary sources does she use? Newspapers? Speeches? Letters? Diaries? Government documents? Trial transcripts? Political advertisements? The list of possible primary sources goes on and on. Why does she rely on the sources she uses? How do they contribute to her argument? Do they take away from her argument? Are there any weaknesses in the sources she chooses to use or in how she uses them?
Once these questions are answered, the historian can write his or her review. The paper you will write will also include some summary. What themes does Lepore weave into her narrative. What is she telling us about American history? What things have had significant impacts on how American history has unfolded since the late fifteenth century? Use her story to answer these questions. Even though we will not use the whole book for our class, you will have had to read the whole book to write this paper.
Your paper will be evaluated according to the following criteria:
1. Is there an argument? How well is the argument constructed?
2. What is the quality of the evidence used to support the argument and is that evidence
3. Is the argument presented clearly and with correctly written prose?
Since this is a summary and critical review of Lepores work, you will not need to consult any other sources, but you will be required to use Chicago Style (footnotes) when citing the evidence you pull from Lepore to support your summary and your opinion of her work. Here are a couple of links to use as a guide for using Chicago Style: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide/citation-guide-1.html https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/cmos_formattin g_and_style_guide/general_format.html
The length of your review should be no less than four full pages and no more than six full pages (not counting a Works Cited or title page) with one-inch margins, written with 12-point font in Times New Roman script, and double-spaced. Failure to adhere to these stipulations will result in a substantial reduction in the evaluation of the essay up to, but not limited to, the deduction of a letter grade.
If you need general help with writing this essay, creating footnotes, for example, the Universitys Writing Center is a good resource to use https://writingcenter.appstate.edu.
Paper Writing Tips
Listed below are a few of the big items that frequently occur in writing an argumentative paper. I offer these tips as a way to help you write the best possible final paper that you can.
1. You must have an argument. Every history paper should be making an argument. You are not just telling a story for the sake of telling a story. You are presenting and proving an argument.
2. Your argument must have a thesis statement. A thesis is a statement that answers a historical question and can be debated. Nothing is accepted as gospel truth in history. Your thesis should make clear what your argument is, and then you spend the paper proving that argument with the evidence you have accumulated.
3. Find an interesting way to open your paper. Engage your reader. Capture their attention. Make your reader want to read your paper.
4. Write in clear, concise, and direct prose. Do not be verbose. Do not use 20 words when 10 will do. Do not use 5 sentences when 2 will make the same point. Avoid using passive voice, and dont use contractions. Ever.
5. Be diligent in the construction of paragraphs. Each paragraph should include both a topic sentence that relates to the overall argument and a transition sentence to the following paragraph. This is one of the most difficult skills in historical writing to master. A good rule of thumb: each paragraph should have at least 5-6 sentences.
6. Be precise in your language. Know the difference between whether and weather; led and lead; their, there, and theyre; cavalry and Calvary.
7. As much as possible, keep your writing in the past, and always, always, write in the third person.
8. If you perform research online, remember that not all websites are created equally. Wikipedia and other online encyclopedias are excellent places to start researching a topic, but do not ever depend on those sources to support your argument. Avoid independent dot-com pages and blogs like the plague.
9. Do not write your paper for your professor/instructor. Write as if your audience knows nothing of the topic about which you are writing. Better yet, do not assume your reader knows anything about your topic. You know what assuming does, I hope.