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Analysing historical arguments

We begin this topic by recalling a comment by Dr. Eleanor Hancock from the Lecturer's Advice section.

Eleanor: "Historians often disagree about things. If you notice differences in your reading, that's great! This is what a lot of historical writing is about: realising that there aren't clear cut answers, that there is often debate around these questions.

When you notice these differences you then need to work them into your essay in an explicit way. For example you might write: Historians have differed on the issue of X. Historian A has argued that... whereas Historian B has argued that...."

This section provides examples of how one student has successfully used this approach in her essay. We shall look at this example in detail.

When you are analysing the argument of a historian, you need to think in the following broad terms:

Summarising the argument

  • What issue(s) is the historian addressing?
  • What seems to be the historian's argument?
  • What evidence does the historian present to support this argument?

Evaluating the argument

  • What do you think about this argument and the evidence it relies on?
  • How does this argument compare to that of other historians? What do you think of these other arguments?
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