Second Battle Essay

Due April 12, 2021

Annotated Guidelines

By Monday, April 12 [UPDATED], students will submit a 6 to 8 page essay that analyzes a significant battle from modern American military history (1877 to 2009).  Battles may include EITHER traditional military engagements (land, sea or air) OR sociopolitical confrontations (such as the confrontation over the Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell policy regarding gay service members in the 1990s).

  • 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).

  • 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 a short companion video (2-3 minutes) on their assigned topic.  Well-produced videos may receive up to 5 extra-credit points.

  • STUDENT MODEL:  Slave Stampede (Narrated by Liz McCreary)
  • STUDENT MODEL:  Roger Taney (Narrated by Sarah Goldberg)
  • STUDENT MODEL:  Moncure Conway (Narrated by Sam Weisman)
  • Students may chose to convert part of their paper (such as the opening paragraphs) into a video narration, or they may craft an original script
  • Consider using the free version of the online platform WeVideo, but you may also consider relying on software such as iMovie or Windows Moviemaker –but just remember that sharing those videos will require you to post them first at an online platform like YouTube (they must be either public or unlisted with link).  
  • Remember to provide CLEAR audio narration.  Usually, you can achieve good sound quality simply by recording into your cell phone in a quiet room.  Just speak close to the phone, vary your tone and pacing, and try to sound natural.  
  • Also critical for the success of your video will be images.  Make sure they are high resolution, and be creative in cropping, framing and using tools such as pan & zoom, in order to create a sense of engagement.  
  • Finally, make sure any images, music or sound effects are in the public domain and properly credited at the end of your video.  You can find lots of examples of compelling short documentary videos at the House Divided Project YouTube channel.

Final Reminders

Both essay and video link 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.