First Battle Essay

Due March 5, 2021

Annotated Guidelines

By Friday, March 5, students will submit a 6 to 8 page essay that analyzes a significant battle from early American military history (1754 to 1877).  Battles may include EITHER traditional military engagements (land or sea) OR sociopolitical confrontations (such as the struggle to authorize enrollments of Black soldiers during the Civil War).

  • Students don’t need prior approval for their subjects, but they should consult with Prof. Pinsker voluntarily over email.
  • Make sure to address a question and devise a thesis statement that can be effectively argued in a short paper.  Consult the Methods Center handouts on How to Write a Thesis Statement and How to Frame a Research Question

Each essay should provide thoughtful historical context combined with strong narrative description.  All essays should employ a wide-ranging combination of high quality primary and secondary sources (including at least one of the relevant chapters from the At War collection).

  • For examples of projects that have organized research materials effectively, see Cooper Wingert’s post on the Gettysburg Campaign in Carlisle and also Tom Forte’s website on July 30, 1864
  • Researching widely for historical context is critical for the success of these essays, so please make sure that At War is your starting point, and not your research end point.  Try to deepen your understanding of the period or topic with high quality reference sources, like American National Biography Online or various encyclopedias.  Then take advantage of both the online library catalog (including the clickable subject links from the catalog record) and the full text search capabilities of Google Books [just remember to always identify in your footnotes if you only read a text through Google Books].  Also, make sure to use specialized journal databases like JSTOR and America: History & Life (both via library database finder) to help find relevant secondary source material on your subject.  Finally, to help organize your research effort, please consult the History Research Guide from the Dickinson library.
  • Take to care to evaluate your sources as you deploy them in your essay.  See this methods post on Evaluating Sources for a helpful overall framework.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of integrating your quoted evidence with some degree of fluidity.  Awkwardly inserting quotations is one of the hallmarks of mediocre undergraduate essays.  Consult this handout from the methods center for a range of good tips.

All essays should be typed and double-spaced as a Word or PDF document with title page and Chicago-style footnotes (no bibliography required).

  • As always, make sure you are formatting your footnotes correctly for a history paper.  See this methods handout on How to Use Footnotes and consult as needed with the library’s Chicago-style guide, but make sure to use sample footnote models for formatting and NOT bibliography examples.

Student models

Sample Outline

  1. Introduction (1-2 pps)
    1. Striking quotation or narrative vignette + clear thesis statement
    2. Engage readers and provide analytical framework
  2. Background & Context (2-3 pps)
    1. Biographical and chronological insights
    2. Rely on secondary sources here
  3. Narrative Contribution (2-3 pps)
    1. Focus on decision-making and range of perspectives
    2. Show primary source research effort here
  4. Conclusion (1-2 pps)
    1. Return to (and refine) opening analysis
    2. Explain significance

Extra Credit

In addition to the essay, students are required to submit either a custom-made Google Map, StorymapJS or TimelineJS on their chosen military history episode.  Well-designed maps or timelines can receive up to 5 extra-credit points.

  • All timelines or maps should aim for about six (6) entries.  Make sure to provide proper captions and credits on the images.  When it comes to text, you can write your own brief entries or quote from sources –but either way, make sure to acknowledge where you got your information.  Those acknowledgments can be in parenthetical citations or other formats less comprehensive than Chicago-style footnotes.

Google Map



Final Reminders

Both essay and map / timeline links should be submitted by email to Prof. Pinsker by 5pm on the due date.  Student work will be graded on research effort, depth of analysis and prose quality. Late essays will be penalized up to 5 points per day.