WSU History Question


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For this Short Paper assignment, you will practice writing an op-ed (an opinion article). Op-eds are distinguished from regular newspaper articles by having a clear argument supported by evidence. Their job is to persuade the audience, not just provide information. In printed newspapers, these op-ed pieces were placed on the opposite page from editorial articles, hence the name: op-ed. Unsure what an op-ed looks like in general: take a look at this recent example (Links to an external site.).

A good op-ed features:

An obvious argument: don’t keep your readers guessing where you stand on an issue

Evidence to support it: any argument needs to rely on evidence

Clear writing style: do your best to communicate your argument and evidence clearly and effectively to your readers

Op-eds usually do not have citations BUT for the purposes of this class, you will cite your sources in parentheses (see the “How” section below)

  • Why
  • Op-eds are not only more fun to write than a traditional essay, but they are also a great way of practicing how to argue, support, and communicate a specific argument. Knowing how to do this well will help you both in college and beyond: regardless of your career choices, the ability to advance an informed argument is extremely useful.
  • How
  • Your op-ed will argue for the importance of learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and plantation slavery. You can focus on one of the following themes: the importance of different means of resistance practiced by the enslaved OR the ways laws and violence were used to maintain slavery (and racial hierarchy after slavery was abolished). In your op-ed, argue why learning about resistance OR laws/violence can help us better understand the Transatlantic Slave Trade and plantation slavery.

Use specific examples from readings and videos assigned in Weeks 1-4. Make sure to use at least 3 readings or videos in your op-ed. Do not use outside sources for this assignment: only use the readings and videos assigned for this class.

Try to analyze and interpret readings and/or videos when you use them. In other words, do not just present the information from them but explain why this information is useful and how it supports your argument

A good paper will do the following:

include a clear argument (see “Making Arguments and Writing Theses” ). It helps to have a sentence or two containing your argument early in the op-ed. Write those sentences in bold to make them stand out in the paper.

practice using many sources of different kinds to support your argument (readings, videos, and lectures from Weeks 1-4). Try to interpret the readings, instead of merely using them for information. Especially if the readings are primary sources (historical documents), try to analyze what is being said and why (and, just as importantly, what is not being said). This will help you build historical analysis and critical thinking skills.

use only materials assigned for this class (these short papers are meant to train you how to interpret and use the available evidence to support your argument)

cite sources by putting their author’s name (or a couple of words from the title, if no author) and page number(s) in parentheses. No need for a Bibliography / Work Cited page for this assignment (since you are only using sources assigned for our class). If you refer to information from lectures, just put “Lecture” in parentheses. For example: 

(Phillips, 3) or (“From Le Code Noir,” 5)

(Egalite for All)


reflect an understanding of change over time and across space: how did things change and why?

Essays should be no less than 900 words in length (about 3 pages double-spaced, 12pt Times font or similar, 1-inch margins), employ appropriate grammar and sentence structure, cite sources in parentheses, and be reasonably free of typographical errors. You are welcome to write more than 900 words.

Essays that rely on a narrow range of sources (for example: only use information from lectures), are too short, disorganized, or do not cite sources will not receive a high grade.

Submit your paper as a file by uploading it to Canvas. Please double-check that it is a Word document or a PDF.

the making arguments and thesis guideline 

Making an Argument and Writing a Thesis

What is an argument?

  • An argument takes a stand on an issue that is debatable. It seeks to persuade an audience of a point of view in much the same way that a lawyer argues a case in a court of law. It is NOT a description or a summary.

This is an argument: “Although it may seem that internal discord and external barbarian invasions were separate problems for the Roman Empire in the fourth century, these developments were fundamentally interrelated and formed the single most important explanation for the long-term decline of Rome.”

This is not an argument: “In this paper, I will discuss the reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire in the two tumultuous centuries leading up to the sack of its capital city in 410 by the notorious Visigoth king Alaric.”

  • What is a thesis?

A thesis statement states the main argument of your project and describes, briefly, how you will prove your argument. In other words, it also states how you will organize your body of evidence in support of the argument.

This is a vague argument, and not yet a thesis: “The Roman Empire fell due to multiple interrelated reasons.”

This is a thesis: “The barbarian invasions from the late third to the early fifth centuries were a direct result of policy changes by the Roman government responding to political struggles within the empire, culminating in the collapse of the Roman Empire at the hands of the Germanic tribes from the north.”

  • A thesis makes a specific statement to the reader about what you will be trying to argue. Your thesis can be more than one sentence, but should not be longer than a paragraph. Do not state evidence or use examples in your thesis paragraph, save it for the body of your paper.

A Thesis Helps You and Your Reader

Your blueprint for writing:

Helps you focus and clarify your ideas.

  • Provides a “hook” on which you can “hang” your topic sentences.

Can (and should) be revised as you further refine your evidence and arguments. New evidence often requires you to change your thesis.

  • Gives your paper a unified structure and point.

Your reader’s blueprint for reading:

  • Serves as a “map” to follow through your paper.

Keeps the reader focused on your argument.

  • Signals to the reader your main points.
  • Engages the reader in your argument.

Tips for Writing a Good Thesis

Find a Focus: Choose a thesis that explores an aspect of your topic that is important to you, or that allows you to say something insightful about your topic. For example, if your project seeks to analyze women’s domestic labor during the late fifteenth century, you might decide to focus on the products they produced at home.

Look for Patterns: After determining a general focus, go back and look more closely at your evidence. As you re-examine your evidence and identify patterns, you will develop your argument and some conclusions. For example, you might find that as men’s access to professional training increased, women made fewer textiles at home, though they generally retained their production of butter and ale.

Strategies for Developing a Thesis Statement

Here are four ways to begin to develop your thesis. These will not necessarily result in a finished product, but will give you a place to start.

Strategy 1: Spend time thinking about your topic. Make a list of the ideas you want to include in the essay, and then think about how to group them under several different headings. Often, you will see an organizational plan emerge from the sorting process.

Strategy 2: Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.

Main idea: Women’s domestic labor during the later Middle Ages contributed to the growth of the early industrial economy in Europe.

Strategy 3: Use a formula to develop a working thesis statement (which you will need to revise later). Here are a few examples:

Although most readers of _________ have argued that _________, closer examination shows that _________.

“X” is an important part of “Y” because _________.

Historical event “X” is a result of the combination of _________, _________, and _________.

Strategy 4: Since your project instructions ask you to develop a specific historical question, turn the question into an assertion and give reasons for your statement.

Research Question: How did women’s domestic labor change between 1348 and 1500? How were changes in their work important to late medieval economic culture in Germany?

Beginning thesis: Between 1348 and 1500 women’s domestic labor changed as women stopped producing homemade textiles, although they continued to produce butter and ale. With the cash women earned from the sale of butter and ale they purchased cloth imported from Flanders and Italy, which in turn, helped increase early industrial production in those areas.

  • These strategies all should help you develop two characteristics all thesis statements should have: they state an argument and they reveal how you will make that argument. Your thesis probably still needs revising but these strategies may provide a good start.
  • Refine, Refine, Refine

As you work on your project, your ideas will change and so will your thesis. Here are examples of weak and strong thesis statements.

Unspecific thesis: “Francis of Assisi was an important figure in the development of Christian attitudes about nature.”

This thesis lacks an argument. Why was Francis an important leader?

Specific thesis: “Francis of Assisi offered a new interpretation of Christian asceticism that responded to the frustrations felt by many urban dwellers with the commercial economy of the thirteenth century, while using simple religious language that attracted people who were uncomfortable with impenetrable scholastic theology of the period.”

This thesis has an argument: Francis’s interpretation of Christianity became popular because it satisfied two different frustrations felt by many people in thirteenth-century Europe.

Unspecific thesis: “At the end of the fifteenth century French women faced difficulty when they attempted to enter universities.”

No historian could argue with this general statement and uninteresting thesis.

  • Specific thesis: “At the end of the fifteenth century French women experienced misogynist attacks from scholastics when they petitioned to enter universities primarily because theologians were concerned with protecting the monopoly that males had on priesthood, which was required for entry into academia.”
  • This thesis statement asserts that theologians attacked women who wanted a formal education because they feared that if women were allowed into universities they would be granted clerical status, which might threaten the male monopoly on priesthood.

Making and Defending an Argument

Your thesis is defenseless without you to prove that its argument holds up under scrutiny. Your reader expects you to provide all of the evidence to prove your thesis. There are two categories of evidence that you can use:

Primary sources: treatises, letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, government documents, an organization’s meeting minutes and pamphlets

Secondary sources: articles and books that explain and interpret historical events

How can you use this evidence?

Make sure the examples you select from your available evidence address your thesis.

  • Use evidence that your reader will deem credible. This means sorting through your sources, and identifying the clearest and fairest. It also means paying careful attention to the credibility of the source. This is especially important when dealing with web-based sources. Be sure to understand the biases and shortcomings of each piece of evidence. When in doubt consult with your professor.
  • Avoid broad generalizations that your reader may question by appealing to specific evidence.
  • Use evidence to address an opposing point of view. How do your sources give examples that refute another historian’s interpretation

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