Long Essay: National History (Fall 2008)

Timeline due November 24th (Mon.)

Outline & Thesis due December 5th (Fri.)

Essay and timeline due December 12th (Fri.)

Basic Assignment

Pick a country (details below) and write a 2000-2500 word (about eight to ten pages) history of that country/region, focusing on the period from 1500 C.E. to present, to answer (at minimum) the following questions:

  • What is happening here around 1500?
  • What has happened here — economically, culturally, politically — that has influenced people or events elsewhere?
  • What is happening here at present (2000-2008)?

As part of answering those questions, here are some things that you should consider and may well want to include in your history:

  • Culture:
    • What are the dominant languages, religions, ethnicities/races, or cultures? How has this changed over time, and why?
    • Who are the cultural heroes and what are the great works of literature and art? What is popular? Is it more a producer or consumer of culture?
  • Economics:
    • Was it a leader or follower in economic development? A central economy or a periphery? When did it industrialize and how?
    • Were there particular products or processes that were prominent?
  • Politics:
    • Has this region been independent, or has it been under the control of other powers?
    • How would you describe the political process (how are leaders selected and decisions made?), and has it changed over time?

How to pick a country: Find a country on the United Nations member list (http://www.un.org/members/list.shtml) whose name — official, colloquial or native — begins with one of your initials. If there is a country which you are interested in researching which is not on this list or doesn’t match one of your initials, let me know and we can discuss if it is appropriate for this assignment.

The timeline is a visual representation of the history. You should include major political events (rising and falling of empires, local dynasties, notable wars), cultural phenomena (religions or works of great literature) and social events (famine, disease, inventions, revolutions) which might be noteworthy in a world history. There must be at least a dozen items on the list, but no more than thirty. Format is up to you, but clarity is essential. You will hand in a first draft of the timeline on November 24th. This will show me that you’ve picked a country, and begun to do the work necessary to write the essay. It will also give me a chance to give you some feedback and suggestions on topics and material. You will hand in a final draft of the timeline with the final essay on December 12th.

An outline, based on the above questions and including sources, is due Friday, December 5th. This should include a thesis, or at least some sense of the way in which you will answer the questions raised by the history. The outline can be in the traditional I.A.1.a.i form, or organized with bullet points, or done as a sort of summary/abstract, but it must go beyond generalities (“II. Economy.”) and must include a list of sources you are using. This will give you a chance to get feedback on your progress. Be sure to include your current e-mail address on your paper, so that I can get comments back to you over the weekend.

How to research your answer: You do have a textbook which covers the world — and does try to cover the whole world on every topic in each chapter — and this is your natural starting place. You will need a more thorough specific source (like an encyclopedia article and/or a book on your country and its predecessors), as well, though, unless you’re discussing a country of such prominence that it is handled in detail in every chapter. Axe Library has an extensive reference collection, including classics like Encyclopedia Britannica and Encyclopedia of World History, and books on specific subjects. It also has a substantial online reference collection accessible from the library home page: http://library.pittstate.edu/.

There’s stuff out there on the internet, of course, but the quality varies widely. Given the high quality and easy accessibility of the full-text reference and journal collections at Axe, non-academic internet sources (Wikipedia, Yahoo, Answer.com etc.) are not acceptable. (Note: Google does have a substantial set of published resources under Google Scholar and Google Book. If they are good sources, they’re fine.)

Don’t limit your searches to looking up the name of the country at present: remember, it may have been named something else, or been part of some other country, for many years.

Final Essay and Timeline are due December 12th


Your final product must have:

  • a title page, with your name, section number, date, the name of the country you researched and (optionally) a title;
  • 2000-2500 words (roughly 8-10 ┬ápages) of typed, double-spaced history, in your own words;
  • a timeline or chronology of 12-30 items;
  • a bibliography on a separate page, listing the books, magazines, websites, friends or any other sources you used.

Your final product must NOT have:

  • phrases, sentences, paragraphs or pages copied directly from other sources, unless they are in quotation marks with footnotes. This applies to both the narrative and to the timeline. Copying or paraphrasing without giving credit to your source is plagiarism, a serious academic offense. For more details, see http://dresnerworld.edublogs.org/resources/plagiarism/
  • spelling, grammatical or mechanical errors. Spellcheck, the Writing Center, writing guides (like The Chicago Manual of Style, or Diane Hacker’s Pocket Style Manual) and dictionaries are all useful.


You are not writing about the political entity (the Czech Republic, for example, was only created in the 1993) but the place (Prague and the surrounding territory).

Picking a country that is well-researched and heavily involved in world history means having to be very selective in writing the paper; picking a country about which little is written and in which little change has happened makes it hard to actually answer the questions.

This is a narrative history that answers a number of substantial questions. Narrative — sometimes called “storytelling” — is a traditional, and still powerful, form of historical writing (e.g. your textbook). The core of narrative historical writing is the ability to answer multiple questions while providing enough background material to make those answers meaningful. The trick is to stay pretty close to the questions, rather than wandering through the background history. The other trick is to structure the paper so that it isn’t just question-answer, question-answer, but is actually an integrated story.


The primary basis of your grade is the effectiveness of the essay as an answer to the questions: does it cover enough of the questions adequately; does it give a good political, economic and cultural picture; is this region well-described as well as clearly situated in world history? Another important consideration is the quality of the writing: is it a well structured and coherent narrative; are sources used appropriately; is it clear and effective writing? Finally, did you follow the basic directions: length, bibliography, sources, timeline, editing?