BOOK LAUNCH: 33 Easy Ways to Improve Your History Essays
We are very proud to announce the release of our new book – Versus History: 33 Easy Ways to Improve Your History Essays.
We have spent a great many years deconstructing and reconstructing student essays, so much so that we have developed a library of simple, tried and tested, ‘go to’ tips that enable the better writing of history. Determined in our mission to help our students, and those out there whom we don’t teach directly, perfect the essay-writing skills required at post-16 level, we have compiled many of our best tips in this publication.
Our twin hopes are that a) students will find these tips useful and incorporate them into their essay planning, and b) overworked teachers will see time-saving instructional value in using these tips in the classroom.
You can download or order print copies of Versus History: 33 Easy Ways to Improve Your History Essays from Amazon.co.uk.
Please feel free to get in touch with us at www.versushistory.com or @versushistory if you have any questions or suggestions.
Don’t forget to listen to our weekly Versus History podcasts on iTunes.
Sincerely and with Best wishes,
Elliott L. Watson & Patrick O’Shaughnessy
Versus History Podcast #5 on Field Marshal Haig was - in my opinion - one of our very best. The fact that Douglas Haig’s reputation and performance in WW1 has received so much scrutiny from academic historians (and war poets) over the years highlights that this is a genuine historical controversy. In addition, select politicians and academic historians have cast a critical eye on the pedagogical methods used by some teachers when delivering the topic in classrooms. Therefore, Elliott and I felt that the stakes were high with this one. Professor Gary Sheffield - author of many acclaimed works on Haig - wishing us well before the debate served only to amplify the sense of occasion. The Podcast is there for all; feel free to let us know your thoughts, feedback and critique.
In any event, one key argument used to attack Haig’s performance and / or abilities during WW1 is his quote about the ongoing value of horses in warfare:
I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity of the horse in the future is likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse—the well bred horse—as you have ever done in the past.
Haig was indeed a cavalry officer before WW1. Whilst researching for the Podcast, I encountered much academic literature and scholarly opinion which utilised this quote - and Haig’s long term trajectory towards Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force - as the basis for a wider argument that Haig’s views on warfare were anachronistically rooted in his past experiences of the Boer War. However, the dawn of mechanised tank in 1916 did not result in the immediate transformation of the nature of warfare in the twentieth century. Far from it. The German Wehrmacht - known for the ferocity and incisiveness of their Panzer divisions during WW2 some 20 years later - relied heavily upon the horse between 1939 and 1945. Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University made this very point in his book ‘Black Earth’;
“...even the army of the famed Blitzkrieg moved chiefly by horsepower’ (p.306)
The fact that one of the most devastating military operations of modern history - the Nazi Blitzkreig that laid waste to Europe - used the horse as the logistical spine of their transport operations, must - to some extent - serve to vindicate Haig in this regard. If I could wind back the clock to the debate itself, I would have made just this point. The fact that the tank made its debut ‘on his watch’ at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 should demonstrate that Haig was no luddite or technophobe. Given that the horse played a pivotal part in the Nazi war machines’ transport and logistics operations, this should serve to vindicate Haig’s comments about the future role of the animal in warfare.
I am sure that Versus History will touch on a theme related to World War One again soon.
Thanks for reading
Co-Editor Versus History
The Causal Web
Here at Versus History, we spend a long time emphasising the symbiotic roles of cause and consequence in the creation of history: consequences require causes and thus causes can’t, by definition, exist without consequences. Something of a basic, but watertight piece of cyclical, deductive reasoning. Since the path of history is beset on all sides by the perils of determining cause and consequence, I thought I’d write a few of my thoughts down.
In a number of our podcasts, as well as a few chapters of our new publication – 33 Easy Ways to Improve Your History Essays – Patrick and I have discussed the importance of moving beyond simple description or explanation of causes and consequences, towards a more evaluative analysis. What we mean by this is simple: we want our students to create, what Richard Evans calls in his book, In Defence of History, a ‘hierarchy of causes’.
I think it is safe to say that history is never mono-causal but multi-causal. As a result, it is vital when answering a question linked to cause that students determine a series of causes to be explored. What’s more, they must, and this is crucial, also determine a hierarchical framework within which to set these causes; a framework constructed by answering the following question: Which cause is the most significant in relation to the others and why?
Additionally, though they may judge one cause more important than the other (by virtue of causal relativism and the assigning of historical ‘value’), the student must also admit that there is a web of causes that it may be impossible to separate. Since it can only be the time-traveller who is able to return to a time period and cancel a cause – removing it from history – we can never honestly imagine a set of perfectly separate causes because we can never truly suppose what might have happened had one of the many causes never existed. Thus it is the responsibility of the history student to determine the key causes and then to assess their significance in relation to one another. Identifying the key causes carries an implicit judgement: that ALL of the causes which have been selected are important in some respect or another. This assessment is of profound significance because it is a powerful acknowledgement that, while one cause may be fundamentally more important than the rest (however that may be adjudged to be true), it is also true that every cause under discussion must also retain value – otherwise why discuss it at all?
And so, it is imperative that all students of history determine a hierarchy of causation (and consequence) when writing history, but it is prudent to also acknowledge that a web of causes (and consequences), impossible to untangle, exists and that this web may even supersede the importance of any one cause.
Elliott L. Watson
Hi Folks! Thanks for checking out the Versus History Blog - we really appreciate it. This is a new venture for us and we are really excited about it. Thank you also for your support with the Podcast and the forthcoming book - 33 Easy Ways to Improve Your History Essays. This will be available via Kindle, so grab a copy!
In the interim period, the Editors Elliott and Patrick wanted to give away a T-Shirt (or two) to celebrate. Just enter your name, size details and email address. The winners will be drawn at random on 30 April 2018. We will not pass on your details to anyone. Nor will we contact you for any other purposes. So get your entries in!
Podcast #16 was a real game changer for the Versus History project. Both Elliott and I really enjoyed researching it, as we always do. We dug deep into the historiographical vaults, drew on our pre-existing knowledge and sought the counsel of those with sagely wisdom on the topic. There was little left in the work of Kershaw, Evans, Hinton, Bullock and Roberts that we didn't consider. However, there is nothing particularly revolutionary about any of that. Nor was it the first time that we had sat down in our favourite Arabic cafe in Bahrain to discuss matters historical. After all, we never say no to a spot of Moroccan mint tea when researching and debating!
The turning point for the project came not so much in the method of research than it did in the substantive conclusions at which we arrived. Versus History debate until this point had relied almost exclusively on assuming contrasting standpoints on key issues of historical interest. This had proved to be largely successful for the debates that we had hitherto conducted; Field Marshal Haig, the Cold War, Malcolm X, etc. Indeed, it proved a solid conceptual platform from which to launch our parallel enquiries and deliver a debate. The key substantive results are outlined below, which can be downloaded free, of course.
I attempted to argue from what was essentially a typically Intentionalist perspective, that it was ultimately the actions of Hitler and the Nazis that provided the crucial reason for them rising to power by 1933. Contrastingly, Elliott argued from the perspective of a Structuralist, contending that it was ultimately the context created by the Great Depression that provided the pivotal reason for Hitler's ascent to the Chancellorship by January 1933. These are both arguments that we have seen many times at GCSE and Post-16 level.
What was really enlightening about this debate was that our findings complemented - rather than explicitly contradicted - each other. The consensus was that whilst Hitler would never have risen to the Chancellorship without the context of the Great Depression, he would never have been able to seize the unique opportunity presented by the Depression if had not actively prepared the Party for the opportunity in the 1920s and then seized it with campaigning, projecting an image of a 'mass movement', propaganda, etc. Perhaps more interesting still, the conclusion that 'Intentionalist' and 'Structuralist' perspectives are two sides of the same coin had deep roots in the historical scholarship of Ian Kershaw, as outlined below;
Podcast #16 continues to be one of the most popular Versus History debates available through the iTunes medium. The findings demonstrate that occasionally, we need to move beyond cognitive binaries if we are to have an historical debate that offers a rigorous and meaningful discussion based on rich historiography.
Here's to more of the same! You can download Versus History Podcast #16 here.
Thanks for reading.
The publication date of our first book is very nearly here! The result of 12 months planning and enriched by our years of experience teaching History across the age and ability range, the book includes 33 strategies for helping students improve the quality of their written work. It has been a pleasure to write and a real milestone for us! Having thoroughly enjoyed the Podcast series thus far - with some lively debate on topics as diverse as Malcolm X, The Suffragettes and the Norman Conquest - we felt it time to release our first publication on the hot topic of essay writing and the disciplinary concepts that underpin it. Every Post-16 History course in every country utilises essays as an assessment medium. There is no getting away from it - nor would we want to. Writing essays can be highly rewarding, enriching and enjoyable. Therefore, we really hope that the content of the book will be well received. Fingers crossed!
With the 2018 exam season nearly upon us, it probably could not have come at a better time for us, our students and those who follow the Versus History project. Feel free to get in touch for more details - we might even send you a sample chapter ... maybe even a free T-Shirt! You never know your luck!
Oh, by the way, the book itself will be available via the Amazon Kindle store.
Patrick & Elliott
News from Patrick (@historychappy), Elliott (@thelibrarian6) & Conal (@prohistoricman)