Writing in History: Introduction

How to write a History Paper:

In a history paper you are transforming facts into evidence and your evidence into an argument to prove something about history. In history, there are no facts. Everything is perception, and therefore debatable.  .

You cannot just gather facts and then say that "this is how it is." Rather, the facts create a different theory of how something may have happened. History papers demand individual interpretation of events.

Things to Consider

Evaluate your Sources
It's important to make sure that your sources are valid. Are your sources from a reputable scholar or Wikipedia? Where did you find the information? Is it from angelfire.com, or jstor.org? Be sure to cross check information whenever you can.

Compare sources
Comparing sources helps not only test the validity of our sources, but also to see differing viewpoints. Since history is a conversation comparing your sources will help you understand the flow of said conversation.

Be aware of your sources' biases
Considering that history is a conversation, it's also important to note who is contributing to said conversation. All writers have their own take on history which is molded by their biases. A British soldier in World War II might have a different viewpoint of the war than a citizen in Germany. Being aware of the bias of your source will help you understand the narrative of history itself.

Pay Attention to Footnotes and Endnotes
The best place to find more information on your topic is footnotes and endnotes of you sources. You can tell a lot by the sources a writer uses. How balanced is he or she? Did he or she use one source too many times? Does the writer not have enough sources? Why?

Writing Tips

  • Make sure you have an argument. As was stressed earlier --- history is a conversation and you need to make your voice heard! Where do you stand on your current topic? 
  • Don't ignore what doesn't fit with your argument.  Instead, embrace it. Explain why this piece of information doesn't comply with your theory of history and why. It will make your argument stronger.
  • Use the past tense. Unlike writing in literature, in history one should use past-tense. The past  tense allows you to put the person or event in a particular place in your narrative.
Be aware of your own biases. You have biases just like your sources do. How do your life experiences affect your view of history?