Writing Assignment: “Historians Respond” Paper (in the style of an op-ed) Labor and Working-Class History in the United States
A note from the instructor: I have used this assignment in this class since before our lives were upended by the pandemic, and I hope it will provide a chance for some of you to connect what we are learning in class to your own lives and the world around us in these extraordinary times. I have done my best to update the assignment to reflect this and I would be glad to speak with any of you individually about how to make this assignment engaging and worthwhile for you.
Historians study the past, but we believe our studies can help people understand the present and, in doing so, shape the future. One of the many ways that historians communicate our ideas is by writing essays and opinion pieces in which we use our knowledge and analysis of the past to reflect on current events. These pieces typically function as responses to news articles and are sometimes billed as “historians respond” essays in new sources. They can take many forms:
• A short report or reflection on the origins and development of an institution, idea, or argument that features prominently in the present.
• A comparison of something happening in the present – an event, conflict, campaign, or social movement, for instance – with something similar that took place in the past.
• A recollection of people, ideas, arguments, or organizations that feel particularly relevant in our own time, for any number of reasons.
There is no one way to write a piece like this, but all such essays share the same broad goal: to show readers how the past shapes the present, and how understanding history might help us better understand our own world. This final writing assignment asks you to write your own “historians respond” essay of 3-4 pages (750-1000) words in response to an article of your choice about to labor and working-class life (including an article about the current pandemic).
Choosing a Topic: Please find one substantive news article to shape your “response.” You do not need to reply directly to every point in the article (or even most points). Rather, this piece will provide you with a starting point for the issue you plan to explore. Essays about the pandemic, and your experience of it, are most welcome.
Researching the Paper: You do not have to do an exhaustive historical study of your topic, but you should read at least a few more pieces about it from trustworthy present-day news sources. For historical context, you should use the readings and materials from our course. For full credit, please cite at least two readings from our course in your paper, as well as the original article you have chosen. Citations may be in any format, but they must be clear and consistent.
Writing the Paper: Please format your papers in Times New Roman font, 12-point, doublespaced (or a rough equivalent). Please make sure your paper has your name on it, a title, and the title of your chosen article, with a link to the article included after or beneath the title.
A successful paper will do four things well:
• Open with an argument, summarized in a clear thesis statement, about why this particular history is important for understanding or thinking about the present
• Explain the labor and working-class elements of the present-day topic
• Make a clear connection between the present and the past
• Analyze what happened in the past (don’t just describe the past, make an argument) and explain how this history either shaped the present or helps us think about it.
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