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History 1301 United States History to 1865

Argumentative Historical Essay

Thesis Statements and Essay Outlines due Monday, September 21st at 5pm

Historical Essays due Monday, October 19th at 5pm

Basic Details

  • Thesis Statements and Outlines due Monday, September 21st at 5pm
  • Historical Essays due Monday, October 19th at 5pm
  • Assignment files are both turned in via upload to Blackboard
  • 900-1100 word length (about 3-4 pages)
  • Use APA, MLA, or Chicago style citations for primary sources and other information.
    • Please do not include any title pages, section headers, or abstracts
  • Any amount of plagiarism will result in a zero for the assignment.
  • Late penalty: 5 points per day late
  • Formatting Details: 12-point, Times New Roman font; double spaced; one-inch margin
  • Upload to Blackboard as a .doc, .docx, or .pdf file only.

Assignment Description

For this writing assignment you will write an argumentative historical essay. As we’ve discussed, history is both an interpretive and an empirical field. Historians examine the evidence left to us from the past and offer their interpretation of what happened. The quality, believability, and, ultimately, the wider cultural acceptance of their work depend upon the convincingness of their prose and the quality of the evidence they use to back up their argument.

For this assignment you’ll argue for your own interpretation of some aspect of the American past and present evidence from the primary sources we’ve been reading in order to back that argument up.

For this paper you are free to choose to write about any subject in American History that happened between 1492 and 1865. Essays dealing with content outside of this time window will receive a 25 point penalty. 

For the subject you choose, you’ll analyze primary sources about that topic. The sorts of questions that you should have in your mind as you explore the primary sources are: What changed? Why did change (or a lack of change) happen? Why did change happen when it did? Or why did change happen (or not happen) the way it did? Why does the author of this document make the argument or use the language they do here? Based on this document, what do I think is really going on here?

In the end, your goal is to write a paper that offers an argument for why things happened the way they did. For any historical subject there are many such explanations. Your goal is to choose one explanation and prove that it is correct using primary source evidence.

Making an Argument
Your argument will be your thesis statement for the paper. A thesis statement is the main point of the paper. Everything you say in the paper will be designed to convince your reader that your thesis is valid.

Because this is an argumentative essay your thesis should be just that, argumentative. It should be something that another reasonable person who reads the same sources might argue against. If you simply argue that racism existed in 19th century America or that it was more prevalent in the South than in the North, that isn’t very argumentative. You aren’t going to keep your reader interested if you aren’t offering an argument. Don’t worry. The past, like the present, is terribly complicated. There is a lot of room for different arguments.

Typically, a good, argumentative thesis statement answers a historical “why” question.

Here’s an example from the recent past. Which do you think will make for the best paper?
 A paper that argued that President Obama won the 2012 presidential election.
 A paper that argued that President Obama won the 2012 presidential election because he offered a message that resonated with female voters.

Obviously, the first one isn’t much of an argument. The second answers the historical “why” question and it does it in a way that offers a specific argument, one that could be argued against.

Providing Evidence
In order to prove their thesis, the author of a paper about Obama’s campaign message will need to provide evidence to convince the reader that his message for women was the key factor in the race.

Similarly, in order to prove the validity of your thesis, you will need to provide your own analysis of historical evidence. Fortunately for you, you won’t need to visit any historical archives to dig up primary source evidence from the past. Voices of Freedom is chock full of primary sources. In addition, you can also use primary sources from three online collections. In Blackboard you can download a file and watch a YouTube video describing those sites and the best way to navigate them in order to find sources for your paper.

In order to prove your points to your reader, you will back them up with primary source evidence from Voices of Freedom or these websites. A successful paper must utilize between three and five sources to prove your assertions.

You should NOT use any other outside sources for the paper. Unless you get approval from the professor, your sources should all come from Voices of Freedom or the online sources provided for the assignment.

Assignment Details
This assignment will be divided into two parts. The first is a thesis statement, and an outline that describes your paper and lists the sources you plan to use. This part of the assignment is due at 5pm, on Monday, September 21st. A sample of this outline is included in the sample work file posted to the History Blackboard site. There will be a listing in the “Assignments” section of Blackboard called “Essay Thesis and Outline” where you can submit a file with your outline.

You will get those files back with comments about how you should move forward. The outline is a required part of the assignment. If you turn in the outline after the due date, the late penalty will be applied to the grade for your paper.

The final paper should follow the plan from your outline and take any feedback you received into consideration. Your paper should be approximately 900-1100 words long. This is about three to four pages of 12-point, Times New Roman, double spaced, one-inch margin text.

The final papers are due at 5pm, on Monday, October 19th. There will be a listing in the “Assignments” section of Blackboard called “Argumentative Historical Essay” where you can submit a file with your essay. Because Blackboard can only read some types of file, you are required to upload to Blackboard as a .doc, .docx, or .pdf file only.

Turning in either part of the assignment late will result in the deduction of five points (half a letter grade) for each day they are late starting at the movement they are due. For example if you turn in the outline a day late and then the paper a day late. Your final grade will reflect a ten point penalty.

In the resources section of the Blackboard you’ll find a Writing Guide for Students of History that gives very valuable advice for how to craft your prose for this and any other writing assignment. You’ll also find the PowerPoint slides from in-class sessions we hold about writing and videos about working with the primary source pages and navigating Blackboard.


There are three criteria for grading a historical essay:

(1) Argument: (a) Presentation of a significant and clearly stated argument/thesis statement on the first page; (b) Presentation of a concluding paragraph with a clear summary of your argument and of the supporting evidence. This does not mean simply repeating your introductory paragraph.

(2) Evidence: The development of your argument in a persuasive manner throughout the body of your paper by presenting, analyzing, and explaining to your reader the evidence found in the documents.

(3) Writing: (a) Your command of grammar, spelling, and clarity of expression in your sentences. (b) Your ability to arrange your sentences into coherent paragraphs with an effective topic sentence. (c) Your ability to develop your argument through a series of paragraphs that flow logically from one to the next. And (d) proper citation using APA, MLA, or Chicago style.

Remember that there is no single “right” answer to the question posed for your papers. In fact, there are several different interpretations that can be derived from your sources. You will be graded on the basis of how persuasively you present your own case. To make a strong case you must present and explain historical evidence: relevant information and examples from the past. Please do not confuse evidence with metaphors and analogies to contemporary events or with your own personal experiences and opinions. You want to avoid writing about how these events make you feel and instead focus on your critical analysis of why they happened the way they did.

Zero-Tolerance Policy for Plagiarism

Students who plagiarize any portion of their paper, even a single sentence, will receive an automatic zero for the assignment. If you aren’t certain about the rules regarding copying or paraphrasing text or those about proper citation, you definitely want to seek clarification from the professor or from the other resources on campus such as the Library or the Writing Center. This document offers an intro to the subject and some helpful links: http://rattler.tamucc.edu/distlearn/Plagiarism_HowToAvoid.pdf.


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