Now that you have ‘Organised the Construction’ of your house, you need to get some experts in to give advice on the progress of the building of the house/your coursework.

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Question

What do we mean by ‘Getting More Expert Advice’?

Answer

We at The Coursework Club use ‘Getting More Expert Advice’ to refer to the need for you to include, what exam boards call, ‘historiography’ or ‘interpretation’. Historiography means the critical evaluation of historical events or issues. Essentially (for our purposes), it is what other academics have said about certain things in history: quotes, arguments, points of view, and interpretations.

Question

Why should we include historiography and interpretation in our essays?

Answer

Apart from the fact that the exam boards will expect it, it is a crucial element of historical research and analysis. What it gives your work:

  • Authenticity: You need to prove that your work is accurate and honest. Using the words or arguments of other academics to support your discussion, demonstrates a high level of accuracy and honesty.
  • Proof: Whatever argument you are making, you need to prove what you are saying with evidence. This evidence is often found in the views of those who have written, or analysed for themselves, the history of the period under discussion.
  • Support: Whatever point you are making, you can use historical interpretation (words from other historians, academics etc.) to support it. In a very real sense, by showing that your argument has academics on its side, you are giving your work a ‘weight’ that it might not otherwise have.
  • Argument: By examining what other academics have said on the subject you are investigating, you can formulate your own argument: is it the same, similar, or completely different to what has been said before?
  • Contradiction: One of the greatest ways to improve your coursework, make the reader take notice, and demonstrate a confidence and originality, is to take what has been said before by academics, and contradict it. This is tricky to do, without sounding arrogant – but if you can pull it off, bravo!

Example 1


How far would you agree that the Domino Theory was the main reason JFK became involved in Vietnam?

Paragraph One:
The Domino Theory was evolved in the heightened Cold War atmosphere of the 1950's and, as US eyes turned towards Asia in the early 1960's, it was used by JFK as a justification for greater 'engagement' in Vietnam. The significance of the theory to Kennedy's involvement in Vietnam cannot be underestimated because it provided, as argued by Smith, "the strategic reasoning behind the need to protect non-communist countries in the region" from the supposedly inevitable, threat from the 'red tide'. The domino theory appeared, to many within JFK's administration, as a strategic truth and, when applied to Asia, 'revealed' the dangers of American non--intervention: sequential losses of country after country to communism.

A more complex example, using two opposing historical interpretations:

Paragraph One:
The Domino Theory was evolved in the heightened Cold War atmosphere of the 1950's and, as US eyes turned towards Asia in the early 1960's, it was used by JFK as a justification for greater 'engagement' in Vietnam. The significance of the theory to Kennedy's involvement in Vietnam cannot be underestimated because it provided, as argued by Smith, "the strategic reasoning behind the need to protect non-communist countries in the region" from the supposedly inevitable, threat from the 'red tide'. Jones, however, sees the domino theory as a simple (and untrue) piece of US propaganda, designed for nothing else but "...to convince the American people to agree to American intervention in Vietnam".

A more complex example, evaluating two opposing historical interpretations:

Paragraph One:
...The significance of the theory to Kennedy's involvement in Vietnam cannot be underestimated because it provided, as argued by Smith, "the strategic reasoning behind the need to protect non-communist countries in the region" from the supposedly inevitable, threat from the 'red tide'. Jones, however, sees the domino theory as a simple (and untrue) piece of US propaganda, designed for nothing else but "...to convince the American people to agree to American intervention in Vietnam".Clearly, Smith's argument holds more validity because it is supported by evidence such as... whereas Jones' view is critically limited due to...

A More Complex Example, Evaluating Two Opposing Historical Interpretations and Deciding Your View is More Accurate: (this is what you should be aiming for):

Paragraph One:
...The significance of the theory to Kennedy's involvement in Vietnam cannot be underestimated because it provided, as argued by Smith, "the strategic reasoning behind the need to protect non-communist countries in the region" from the supposedly inevitable, threat from the 'red tide'. Jones, however, sees the domino theory as a simple (and untrue) piece of US propaganda, designed for nothing else but "...to convince the American people to agree to American intervention in Vietnam". While both arguments hold a degree of validity, what Smith and Jones tend to neglect in their analysis of the domino theory as a cause of JFK's involvement is... Perhaps a more appropriate judgement would be that the domino theory was neither well reasoned nor a successful tool of US propaganda. In this respect, its value as a cause of involvement must be seen as limited, particularly when compared to...

TADA!

Top Tip 1

Now that you have learned how to incorporate historical interpretation into your answer, the best way to remember to do it throughout your coursework, is to follow a basic rule:

Every paragraph should contain (where possible) at least:

  • 2 quotes/arguments/points of view from different and opposing historians/schools of thought.
  • An evaluation of both of these arguments, using evidence to support your evaluation.
  • AND

  • Your own judgement supporting, with evidence and reasoning, one of these arguments over the other.

OR

  • Your own judgement supporting, with evidence and reasoning, both of these arguments (both being valid but for different reasons).

OR

  • Your own original argument, with evidence and reasoning, that acknowledges, but doubts, the conclusions drawn by both of these historians.

Doing these things every paragraph will demonstrate your ‘ownership’ of the essay. (Remember that some exam boards may not require interpretation/historiography for all of their essays but it’s a valuable skill to remember for the future)

What you have learned

This section has shown you, using detailed and increasingly more sophisticated responses to the same coursework title, the importance of using historical interpretation in your answer. You have learned how to deploy historical interpretation, and how to successfully use it to confirm or contradict an historical debate. You have also learned how to use historians to contradict one another! Now, apply these skills to your work.

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