Post 1 & 2: Further Details

Posts 1 & 2 are text-based posts. Images, videos, or other media to supplement your text is most welcome, but the text should do the majority of your story-telling for you.

The posts should contain two elements: description of your topic AND an answer to the question: “Why is your topic significant to history?" These two elements may be (and probably will be) interwoven, but it may be helpful to deal with each separately, at least in the drafting process.

The description of the topic is the more obvious part. Take time to introduce your readers to the person(s), idea, or event you have chosen as your topic. Your language can be as formal or informal as you like so long as you engage and inform your readers regarding your topic.

Answering the question of significance is more complex and should take up more of your post, so let me try to break down some of what I wrote in the description of the assessment.

How to argue for significance in history. Significance can mean a lot of different things in life and in history, as we talked about in Class 1 with your timelines.

Created with Canva.

Created with Canva.

For instance, we talked about Hatshepsut in class. I suggested a few different arguments for Hatshepsut’s significance:

  • She fit into the broader trend of greater gender equality in Egypt.
  • She upheld “ma’at”, like any good pharaoh was expected to, by engaging in trade and ruling peacefully for 20 years.
  • She wasn’t supposed to be on the throne in the first place and therefore represents an anomaly - something out of the norm for Egyptian society.
  • Her birth narrative gives us a sense of how the Egyptians viewed legitimacy and authority - especially the connection between divine blessing and political authority.

Any one of those points could be explored more deeply in its own right. So, as you start thinking about significance, here are some general angles to consider:

  • What impact did your topic have on its time period? What did that impact look like?
  • What were the causes that led to your topic?
  • What were the effects of your topic?
  • How did people write about and think about your topic in its own time?
  • How have people thought about that topic since?
  • What does your topic show or tell us about the time period in which it existed?
  • Is your topic unusual for the time it existed? Or is it typical?
Abstract Art Britto, via Wikimedia Commons. Click link for full description.

Abstract Art Britto, via Wikimedia Commons. Click link for full description.

This is an interpretive question. Because definitions of significance vary from person to person, there are few blatantly wrong answers and few clearly right answers. You'll want to think of interpretation as a fairly fluid thing for this project - more like understanding a painting, piece of music, or story than running a scientific experiment.

However, interpretation is more than just opinion or judgment. The “rightness" of your argument depends on the quality and strength of your evidence. Be willing to re-examine your assumptions and/or revise your answer to the question of significance as you go about your research.

Page from Gutenberg Bible, via Wikimedia Commons. Click link for full description.

Page from Gutenberg Bible, via Wikimedia Commons. Click link for full description.

Backing an argument with evidence. “Evidence” in the case of a historical argument means written documents or artifacts that exist about the source.

You’ll mostly use what we call “secondary sources” - things written by people fairly recently (late-20th and early 21st centuries). Your evidence will consist of facts about your topic as well as reference to the way other writers have thought about or interpreted your topic. As always, be sure to find evidence that comes from people who know what they’re talking about and who use good sources to back their ideas.

You can also use “primary sources” - like the ones we read for each class. While this is a tricker task, looking at primary sources can help confirm what you’re reading in your secondary sources.

 

Phew. That's a lot to try to keep track of, right? Including all of these details is the goal of the posts, but not something you're expected to accomplish on the first go. Just be ready to revise and improve posts as you go.

Heather Bennett

Professor, feminist, sci-fi geek. Historian interested in pedagogy, technology, gender/sexuality, archives, pop culture, medicine, intellectual history, world history.