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When students attend history classes, they need to write many historical essays through their courses. Basically, this article provides a guideline on how to write a history essay, teaching students and anyone passionate about the text what is most important. The guideline begins by defining what is a history essay and its meaning, listing possible topics, showing an outline of such a paper, and giving a practical example of a history essay. Students also learn the technical aspects of writing a historical essay, emphasizing the four steps: preparation, stage setup, writing an initial draft, and wrap-up. Finally, the article provides 20 tips for writing a high-standard history essay, including 10 things to do and 10 things not to do when writing such a paper.

General Aspects of How to Write an Outstanding Essay in History and Examples

Reading and writing are interrelated academic exercises because they develop each other. When students develop a habit of reading different types of papers, they induce their mental faculties of intellect, memory, reason, imagination, and intuition, which are vital in constructing logical academic papers, like essays, reports, and research papers. This guideline on how to write a history essay that offers critical insights into how students can create a high-standard text. The article begins by defining what is a history essay and its meaning, listing possible essay topics students can choose from to write it, the technical steps for creating a document, and 20 tips for producing a high-quality paper. It also provides a sample outline template for writing a historical essay and a practical example. Therefore, reading this guideline is helpful to students because it not only educates them about what is essential but also gives a practical example of how to start writing a history essay.

How to Write a History Essay With Tips and Examples

Definition of What Is a History Essay and Its Meaning

From a simple definition, a history essay is a text that gives a historical account of an issue or topic, such as colonialism, slavery, constitutionalism, human rights activism, or feminism. In this respect, it differs from other types of essays, including an analytical essay, a compare and contrast essay, an argumentative essay, a cause and effect essay, or a report and a research paper. Students write history essays when their instructors require them to examine the origin and evolution of an idea with current and future implications. Ideally, writers interrogate their ideas from different historical perspectives and credible sources to understand how some events began, how they have progressed, the people or entities involved in their developments, and how they affect society currently and may influence it in the future. For example, a history essay about a theory would mean that students need to mention the theorist behind it, its application over time, and any developments, such as incorporating new concepts by contemporary scholars.

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Examples of History Essay Topics

Typically, instructors specify essay topics for students in any writing assignment. However, sometimes, students may have to select a topic individually. In the latter case, students should choose history essay topics, history research paper topics, or American history essay topics that are easy to write about, meaning one can easily access materials helpful in creating them, such as books, articles, and videos. The best way to accomplish this task is to read history course content and additional materials to develop and incubate ideas that become rich sources of topics. The following topics are ideal for writing a good history essay because they suggest giving a historical account of an idea.

  • Racial Dynamics in the Harlem Renaissance: A Detailed Study
  • The Impact of the Printing Press on Renaissance Europe
  • Examination of Manifest Destiny’s Influence on Territorial Expansion
  • Exploring the Factors that Led to the American Revolutionary War
  • Discussing the Development of the United States as a Republic
  • Examining the Sentiments that Have Shaped the Abortion Debate
  • Explaining How the Republican and Democratic Parties Differ From a Philosophical Perspective
  • Discussing the Shift of U.S. Foreign Policy From Isolationism to Interventionism
  • Covering the Circumstances That Contributed to the End of the Cold War
  • Discussing Religion in the Aztec Era
  • Understanding the Role of City-States in Ancient Greece
  • Exploring the Cultural Aspects of Immigration

Sample Outline Template for Writing a History Essay

I. Introduction

  • Hook: Use a quote, history fact, or question to capture the reader’s attention and trigger their interest to continue reading.
  • Brief background: Tell readers about an assigned topic by addressing issues central to this theme that help contextualize a historical discussion.
  • Thesis statement: Use a short sentence to tell readers the history essay’s primary objective or ultimate agenda.

II. Body

Use all body paragraphs with the following:

  • A topic sentence that introduces a single idea about an assigned history theme that supports a central claim of an essay.
  • Incorporate evidence from reliable sources or primary sources that help back up a single history idea.
  • Comment on evidence cited and how it helps readers understand an assigned history topic.
  • End with a concluding sentence with a transition or bridge sentence that enhances a logical progression to the next paragraph or section.

Note: The number of body paragraphs depends on the volume of work, essay structure, college essay length, and assignment requirements. For example, for writing a 1000-word history essay (4 double spaced pages or 2 single spaced pages), there should be 3-5 body paragraphs, meaning 100-200 words per one body paragraph. In turn, first and last paragraphs of a history essay must be only 5-10% of the whole word count.

III. Conclusion

  • Restate a central thesis in different words.
  • Provide a summary of the main ideas discussed in topic sentences.
  • Give a final remark about an assigned topic that leaves readers with a lasting impression after reading a history essay.

Example of a Good History Essay

Topic: Discussing the Shift of U.S. Foreign Policy from Isolationism to Interventionism

I. Example of an Introduction in a History Essay

American foreign policy is the most significant in world history for good and bad reasons. The early 20th century saw the United States adopt an isolationist foreign policy under the administration of President Herbert Hoover. The reason behind this stance was the prosperity and high standard of living the country experienced, making it meaningless to meddle in the affairs of Europe. However, the spread of fascism in Europe disturbed this illusion of safety and compelled the country to shift its foreign policy from isolationism to interventionism.

II. Examples of Body Paragraphs in a History Essay

A. Isolationism

The U.S. maintained isolationism in its foreign policy in the early 20th century because, while the nation was developing economically, some issues required internal politicking. As such, the country was increasingly insensitive to the threat of fascism in European democracies. Even if its allies were in trouble created by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, the U.S. determined to avoid all conflicts at all costs. Ideally, American politicians saw no prospect of European troubles reaching their motherland if the country was not involved. Nonetheless, Americans feared that the instability in Europe could spread to their land. In turn, optimistically naïve politicians began initiatives to protect the country from the threat of war. For example, Frank B. Kellogg created the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which saw 15 countries agree to protect America from the threat of war. Consequently, the Nine Power Treaty affirmed China’s territorial integrity through the Open Door policy. However, Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 marked the end of the policy. Therefore, while the U.S. was keen to keep the world stable, events were moving too fast to remain aloof and optimistic. The takeover of free countries one by one by the Nazi war machine triggered panic among Americans who realized the folly of optimism in a world under crisis. Besides, politicians began clamoring for the country’s involvement in foreign affairs between 1930 and 1941, when the focus shifted from isolationism to interventionism.

B. Reasons for Moving to Interventionism

The 1940s were instrumental to U.S. foreign policy because the country finally realized that it could no longer be unconcerned about what was happening in Europe. For example, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, the faces of fascism, were wreaking havoc in the region to create fear among Americans that this idea may reach their shores in no time. As a country with a history with Britain, the U.S. could no longer assume that Britain’s fate was irrelevant. Therefore, support for Britain marked the first sign of the shift of U.S. foreign policy from isolationism to interventionism. However, this shift was minimal because it was based on material support for Britain. It took the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, for the U.S. to embrace interventionism fully as Americans anger propelled the country’s immediate revenge against Japan.

C. Adopting Interventionism

The administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt propelled the U.S. to full interventionism when it agreed to dispatch American troops to aid European allies in repelling fascist forces. For example, the president’s famous “Quarantine Speech” called for ending isolationism because it was dangerous to a free world. In 1940, the U.S. deployed 50 World War I destroyers to Britain, which offered eight defense bases in its colonies in South America and other regions strategic to a global conflict. The U.S. Congress repealed the Neutrality Acts, officially ending isolationism as a foreign policy stance in favor of interventionism. The new perspective saw the country sell weapons to Britain on a ‘cash-and-carry’ basis to avoid the Nazi war machine attacking American ships. America’s dedication to the new policy compelled President Roosevelt to establish the lend-lease system that provided billions of dollars to Britain in American military equipment. The League of Nations gave the U.S. a stage to demonstrate its involvement in foreign affairs because its provisions affirmed people’s right to peace and security. As such, the Pearl Harbor attack gave the U.S. every reason to attack Japan.

III. Example of a Conclusion in a History Essay

The instability in Europe triggered the shift from an isolationist position to an interventionist stance in the U.S. foreign policy. As fascism spread in Europe and the Nazi war machine overran democracies in this part of the world, the U.S. feared that being aloof to these events was dangerous to its citizens and future. As such, politicians and Congress took measures to ensure the country’s involvement in foreign affairs, specifically to end the threat that Hitler and Mussolini presented to the peace and security of free nations.

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4 Easy Steps for Writing a Great History Essay

Writing a well-organized history essay is a technical process involving four main steps: preparation, stage setup, writing a first draft of a history essay, and wrap-up. Students should approach each step fully armed with essential details to make the paper meet quality expectations. For example, these details include a topic, background information, thesis statement, topic sentences, evidence, and transitions. Each element must appear in the right section. Therefore, the most crucial factor for students is knowing the basic structure of a history essay because it helps to shape their writing mindset.

Step 1: Preparation

The first step in writing a history essay is preparation, which involves several tasks. The first aspect is to define a specific topic if instructions are not provided. For example, the best approach to selecting a particular topic is using ideas one has generated and incubated over time. In this case, history topics must reflect course content, meaning writers should not define their themes without historical context. The second task is to organize the ideas following the paper’s basic structure, meaning one must determine where each idea falls: introduction, body, or conclusion. In this respect, creating a well-organized essay outline is the third task in the preparation stage. Lastly, writers should consider the audience and the history essay’s purpose, such as assessment or publication. These details determine if one should use simple or technical language. As a result, preparation is where students undertake activities that make it easy to turn ideas into starting a history essay.

Step 2: Stage Setup

Setting the stage is the second step in writing a history essay. In this case, students should research to find evidence to back up their claims about their topics. When doing research, people should make notes of ideas, concepts, statistics, and interesting facts to incorporate into a historical paper. The next task is to match these details with a history essay’s outline, meaning each element must appear in the right section. Since evidence appears in the main section of a history essay, one should ensure all body paragraphs are sufficient for the ideas, concepts, data, and facts from the research process. For example, the best way to collect evidence is to research credible materials, like government reports and primary resources, from key figures involved in the historical development of the idea. As such, libraries and online archives are good places to search for evidence.

Step 3: Writing an Initial Draft

Writing an initial draft is the third step in writing a history essay. For example, students should focus on organizing the ideas into writing the text. People can also search for more information from secondary sources if the ideas are insufficient. However, if there are too many, one should delete some of them and their corresponding sources. The paper’s outline will change whether one adds or deletes some history course sources. Moreover, students must ensure this change does not affect their ability to communicate their ideas logically. In essence, writing a first draft allows people to construct a paper following a history essay’s outline correctly.

Writing an Introduction Paragraph for a History Essay

When writing an introduction paragraph, students must know the expectations. The first thing is to develop a hook, a statement with a quote, data, question, or other interesting fact that grabs the readers’ attention and triggers their interest to continue reading a history essay. The next aspect is to provide a brief background to contextualize an assigned topic and make readers aware of some of the issues central to the main theme. The next activity is to conclude the section with a clear historical thesis, which means a short sentence communicating the writer’s claim and serving the paper’s primary purpose or main agenda. When writing an introduction section, students should know their goal in history is to contextualize a central topic and state a claim demonstrating their thoughts.

Writing Body Paragraphs for a History Essay

A body part of a history essay is the most comprehensive section because it provides substantial details about a specific topic. For example, it is standard for students to construct several body paragraphs depending on the paper’s length and the ideas they wish to use to back up their claim. The first detail in each body paragraph of a history essay is a topic sentence with an idea that links the section to the thesis. The following detail is evidence that establishes a single idea and demonstrates evidence-based writing. In this case, students should use a sandwich rule in each body paragraph, meaning they must comment on evidence cited before proceeding to another history idea. Furthermore, writers should provide a concluding sentence with a transition to allow a logical progression to the next paragraph or section. Hence, students should understand that the body of a history essay is where they must convince the audience that they know an assigned topic well to make a valid claim.

Writing a Conclusion Paragraph for a History Essay

A conclusion paragraph is the part of a history essay that marks the end of writing a paper. As such, students should restate a central thesis from an introduction part using different words, summarize the main ideas discussed in body paragraphs, and give a final remark that leaves a lasting impression on the audience. Moreover, students must refrain from introducing new ideas in this last section because it would be useless and affect the paper’s quality. In turn, this part of a history essay aims to reiterate the ideas covered in body paragraphs and provide the writer’s final remark about their understanding of a particular topic.

Step 4: Wrap-Up

Wrapping up a final paper is the last step in writing a history essay. Because the focus is to perfect an initial draft, students should read and reread their history essays to identify and eliminate mistakes. Therefore, the activities that should define this step are revising a history essay to fix inconsistencies, such as ideas and sentences that do not make sense. Another task is editing a history essay to correct grammatical mistakes like missing punctuation and formatting mistakes like incorrect citations. Then, people need to confirm their outlines by ensuring all the essential elements of the introduction, body, and conclusion are included. In turn, writers should focus on a hook, background, and history thesis statement for the introduction; topic sentences, evidence, and transitions or bridge sentences for body paragraphs; and rewording and restating a central thesis statement, providing a summary of the main ideas, and including a final remark for the conclusion. Lastly, one should confirm the correct formatting (APA, MLA, Harvard, or Chicago/Turabian):

📕 APA Format

If a history essay adopts an APA formatting style, students should provide in-text citations and create a ‘References’ page at the end of the paper to list all the sources used. In turn, in-text citations have two formats:

  • The first one has the author’s surname and the source’s publication year in the sentence and the page number at the end of the sentence. An example is:

According to Müller and Mildenberger (2021), college students prefer online classes over physical lecture halls because of convenience and flexibility (p. 6).

  • The second format is all the details at the end of the sentence. An example is:

Evidence shows convenience and flexibility make college students prefer online classes over physical lecture halls (Müller & Mildenberger, 2021, p. 6).

  • Reference entry example for this article should read:

Müller, C., & Mildenberger, T. (2021). Replacing classroom learning with online learning: A systematic review. Educational Research Review, 34, 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2021.100394

📕 MLA Format

If a history essay follows an MLA formatting style, students should use in-text citations and create a ‘Works Cited’ page to capture all the sources. In this case, in-text citations come in two forms: some details in the sentence and all the details at the end of the sentence.

  • An example of the first form is:

Müller and Mildenberger argue that most students in higher learning institutions prefer online over physical learning because of convenience and flexibility (6).

  • The second form is:

Scholars suggest most students in colleges and universities prefer online classes over classroom attendance because of convenience and flexibility (Müller and Mildenberger 6).

  • Works Cited entry example for this article would read:

Müller, Claude, and Thoralf Mildenberger. “Replacing Classroom Learning With Online Learning: A Systematic Review.” Educational Research Review, vol. 34, 2021, pp. 1-16, doi:10.1016/j.edurev.2021.100394.

📕 Harvard Format

If students adopt a Harvard formatting style for writing a history essay, they should provide in-text citations and create a ‘References List’ at the end of a document.

  • The first format of in-text citations is having some details about a source in the sentence:

Müller and Mildenberger (2021) found that students in colleges and universities prefer to study online than attend physical classrooms (p. 6).

  • The second format captures all the details about a source at the end:

Research shows most college and university students prefer online classes over classroom learning (Müller & Mildenberger 2021, p. 6).

  • References List entry example for this source would read:

Müller, C & Mildenberger, T 2021, ‘Replacing classroom learning with online learning: A systematic review,’ Educational Research Review, vol. 34, pp. 1-16, DOI:10.1016/j.edurev.2021.100394.

📕 Chicago/Turabian Format

If a history essay follows a Chicago/Turabian style, students should use in-text citations and create a ‘Bibliography’ page at the end of a document to list all the sources. In-text citations appear as footnotes and can have the author’s name in the sentence. The uniqueness of this style is that the details in the footnotes reflect all the information on the Bibliography page with minor alterations.

  • In-text citation within the text:

Today, people prefer online classes rather than attending physical places.1

  • Example of a footnote for writing a history essay:

1. Claude Müller and Thoralf Mildenberger, “Replacing Classroom Learning With Online Learning: A Systematic Review.” Educational Research Review 34, (2021): p. 6, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2021.100394

  • Bibliography entry should read:

Müller, Claude, and Thoralf Mildenberger. “Replacing Classroom Learning With Online Learning: A Systematic Review.” Educational Research Review 34, (2021): pp. 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2021.100394

20 Tips for Writing a High-Standard History Essay

Since writing a history essay is a technical process that requires students to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of a basic outline and essential details, it is helpful to learn some tips. These recommendations include identifying the purpose of a historical assignment, defining a specific topic, formulating a clear thesis that states a claim, knowing where to get academic sources that provide evidence supporting a single claim, creating a history outline and populating each section with ideas, ensuring an introduction paragraph has all essential details (a hook, background information, and thesis), understanding that all body paragraphs have topic sentences, evidence, and concluding sentences with a transition or a bridge sentence, and finalizing writing a history essay with a conclusion paragraph that summarizes a paper and does not introduce new ideas.

10 things to do when writing a history essay include:

  1. defining a specific topic that requires one to provide a historical account of an idea or topic;
  2. researching an assigned topic widely to generate ideas and collect evidence;
  3. creating a well-organized outline that meets a basic structure of an introduction, body, and conclusion;
  4. formulating body paragraphs with topic sentences, evidence, and transitions;
  5. adopting a sandwich rule to demonstrate evidence-based history writing;
  6. writing a historical essay without grammar or format mistakes;
  7. providing a conclusion that concludes a history paper;
  8. following one format style (APA, MLA, Harvard, or Chicago);
  9. citing all evidence;
  10. proofreading a history essay.

10 things not to do include:

  1. including a long, complex history topic;
  2. having an introduction that does not create a context;
  3. providing an unclear thesis or stating a biased claim;
  4. writing an extensive history introduction;
  5. adding too many headings and subheadings;
  6. starting body paragraphs without topic sentences that communicate a single idea;
  7. failing to incorporate evidence in a history essay;
  8. using outdated evidence;
  9. creating illogical sentences;
  10. focusing on too many ideas in one paragraph.

Summing Up on How to Write a Perfect History Essay

  • Define a short and clear history topic.
  • Use direct quotes or paraphrase information to defend a central claim in a thesis statement.
  • Give a historical account of a chosen topic and not an analysis of events.
  • Use strong topic sentences that express ideas central to a history thesis.
  • Incorporate credible sources, such as speeches, research articles, and government records, to cite evidence.
  • Correctly use the proper format (APA, MLA, Harvard, or Chicago/Turabian).
  • Read and reread a final draft of a history essay to eliminate all grammar and format mistakes.
  • Proofread a final paper to ensure it is logical.

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