Writing History - the Expository Essay
In this analytical, expository essay, you will explore a person or time period in American history prior to Reconstruction. In addition to discussing the historical background of your topic, you will also explore a piece of writing that relates to your time period, or that your person of interest wrote (a primary source document). In so doing, you should explain how this text "got things done," or "made things happen." Finally, you will discuss the impact this person or event had on America, and how this still resonates in our country today.
To assist you in this assignment sequence, consult the Triad E Library Guide
Step by Step
- We will go to the library to "map" out possible topics and conduct exploratory research.
- Once you decide on a topic, you must identify a primary source document that is seminal to the event, or that your person of interest authored. You are encouraged to use your history text, Contending Voices, to help you locate primary source documents. Our Librarians will also be available to help you with this.
- Build a Research Log in which you keep track of all the possible sources you are exploring.
- Annotate your 10 most important sources, including your primary source document you've identified as most important in an Annotated Bibliography.
- Use sources from your Annotated Bibliography and Research Log to write the essay.
Writing the Essay
Apply all stages of the Writing Process to compose this essay.
- Use the journalist's questions to get started on the background section of your paper: who, what, when, where, why, how?
- See if you can locate a time-line that pertains to your topic. Make sure you've hit upon the key events in your background section. Pretend your reader is from Mars: have you thoroughly explained everything they need to understand this topic?
- Discuss the role that your chosen primary source document played in American history. How did this text "make things happen?" You'll also want to describe what kind of text it is (newspaper opinion piece, letter, essay?), and how this text was used by the discourse community in which it circulated. Use the Activity System Worksheet to help draft this section.
- Finally, how is this person or topic still relevant today? What current social or political issue "connects" with your topic. Why is America different because of this event, this person, and this text? Why should your reader care?
Once you've answered one of the sets of questions, turn your pre-writing into a draft. See if you can identify topic sentences that you can build into fully developed paragraphs, and begin incorporating your research as support for your ideas. Draft in sections, using brief, regular writing sessions.
After you've "walked away" from a section for a bit, go back and revise. You may need to throw everything away, and begin again. That's ok. See what is worth keeping and working with. Do this for each section of the essay.
Get peer response from as many readers as possible: your writing group mates, your room-mate, your Mom, a tutor at the Writing Center. Make sure you tell each reader what you want them to look for as they read (structure and organization? content? use of research?)
Revise your essay after each peer response session.
Go over your draft with a fine tooth comb several times as you perfect the following:
- Academic documentation
- Sentence Structure
- Grammar and usage
You may also want to use peer editors for editing.
Submit a printed, stapled version of your essay by the due date at the beginning of class. No late work will be accepted without proof of an extension.
Nuts & Bolts
The final document should be in the range of six to eight pages and should be formatted following MLA documentation guidelines. Any references to outside sources should be documented parenthetically and all outside material that is consulted or cited should be listed on a Works Cited list.