Introductory Comments


This project was sparked by a conversation with my professor, Dr. Essid, on what I should select as my topic. We discussed several possibilities and mentioned the fact that several of my classmates were pursuing topics related to their majors. Then, he informed me that no one in his class, English 376, had ever done a project on historical writing. I was quite surprised that this was the case, and it inspired me to research the subject in hopes of producing a resource for all. In the process of researching, I realized that I knew very little about the conventions of the discipline, aside from very general grammatical and stylistic aspects.

There are many important elements in learning history, but writing is a major part of it. In fact, some view writing as the goal of learning history. Learning history alone does not, however, make a student write as an historian (Bartholomae, 466). As anyone who has taken a history course can attest, undergraduate level history courses require a large amount of writing from the students enrolled in them.

Authors such as Strunk and White, along with Turabian, are often mentioned in course syllabi as resources for help with writing, but I have personally found them to either be very complex, place most of their emphasis upon general grammatical and stylistic rules, or both. Despite the fact that such rules are very important, their books do little to help students understand the more specific conventions of historical writing itself.

History majors and minors usually have time to learn, through much trial and error, how to write for history classes. However, the same is not true of those who take a history class to satisfy their general education requirement or just take a class or two in the department. In either case, the establishment of a resource, to which they could turn for information, would likely be very beneficial.

All writers perform their craft for an audience. In undergraduate historical writing, that audience is a history professor. Such a person will likely have vastly different expectations about writing than a teacher in the sciences or even many of the other humanities. The problem arises in the fact that many beginning writers have no way of knowing what is expected of them.

Instead of presenting the analysis and conclusions desired, they may instead slip into using a familiar voice, such as a teacher presenting a lesson or a parent lecturing a child (Bartholomae, 461). The writer may also attempt to write in an academic style, but since he or she does not know the characteristics of such discourse, they may become lost in it (Bartholomae, 462-63). In either case, the paper will not turn out as the professor wanted, a poor grade results, and the writer is often discouraged.

This project is intended to help alleviate such problems. Although I cannot cover every aspect of historical writing, I will attempt to address specific types of historical writing, including the book review and essay examination. In addition, I will lay out the distinctive elements of historical writing.

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