The Seventh Decade Direction: Is There Are Way to Write History That Isn't Boring?
We historians demand the same qualities stressed in any stylebook— good grammar and syntax. You needn’t worry that you have to master a specialized “historical style.” A successful history paper is clear, precise, concise, organized, analytical, and concrete. It uses the active voice; it has a thesis; it explains the significance of the topic; and it tells the reader who, what, when, where, why, and how. We hope that this booklet will help you to avoid the most common problems of style and substance that students encounter in writing history papers.
Choosing a particular geographic place (a specific location), subject group (who? what groups?), and periodization (from when to when?) are the most common ways to limit a historical question. The example above already contains a limited subject group (whites and African-Americans) and a short time period (WWII, 1941-1945); simply adding a place, such as “in the Bay Area” or “in Puget Sound” further narrows the topic: “How did white and African-American defense plant workers in the San Francisco Bay area create and think about interracial relationships during World War Two?” is a much more manageable question than one that addresses all defense workers. Avoid a question that only looks at one specific event or process. For example, “What happened on Thursday, Dec.12, 1943 at the Boeing bomber plant in Albany, California?” is too narrow. Perhaps there may have been several important events that day, including a fight over an interracial relationship. However, this question does not position you to explore the larger processes that were taking place in the plant over time, nor why they are important for understanding sex, race and gender in American history. A good historical question demands an answer that is not just yes or no. Why and how questions are often good choices, and so are questions that ask you to compare and contrast a topic in different locations or time periods; so are questions that ask you to explain the relationship between one event or historical process and another.
Historians employ a number of methods in their endeavor to unearth a mystery of the past events. One of the basic methods used in studying history includes the use of calendar, a tool that enables historians to travel back in time to a desired period. Calendars may differ depending on various cultural dating systems. Nonetheless, whichever dating system a community have used, it is very useful to a historian. For instance, the western nations begin their dating system from the year when Jesus is believed to have been born (Thompson and Holm 48). In contrast, the Jewish calendar starts 3,760 years before the Christ was born, which the Jews believe to be a period the world had been created. Muslims, on the other hand, date their calendar from the day their religious leader Muhammad left Mecca for Madinah (Fernández-Armesto 98). According to the western calendar, the initials “B.C.” denote the years before the birth of Christ (Thompson and Holm 56). The western dating system is the most popular dating method in historical studies. Years after the birth of Jesus are known as “A.D” which stands for Anno Domini, which is a Latin phrase that means “in the year of the Lord” (Fernández-Armesto 99).
They are written as though they are collections of information. In fact, history is NOT a "collection of facts about the past." History consists of making arguments about what happened in the past on the basis of what people recorded (in written documents, cultural artifacts, or oral traditions) at the time. Historians often disagree over what "the facts" are as well as over how they should be interpreted. The problem is complicated for major events that produce "winners" and "losers," since we are more likely to have sources written by the "winners," designed to show why they were heroic in their victories.
Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. The World: A History Combined Volume, London, UK: Pearson, 2009. Print.
Thompson, James Westfall, and Bernard Holm. A History of Historical Writing: From the earliest times to the end of the seventeenth century, Michigan, US: University of Michigan, 2006. Print.