Charles Lipson
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Charles Lipson

Professor of Political Science

University of Chicago

5828 S. University Ave.

Chicago, IL 60637



Essay Assignment for World Politics: A History

Political Science 214 & 324
Charles Lipson

University of Chicago

E-mail: [email protected]

Basic Essay Assignment

The course's major assignment is writing a long paper, running 15-20 pages, double-spaced. This paper counts for 75% of the grade.

The paper may be either a historiographic essay (explained below) or a research paper.

The paper should cover the same period or theme you chose for the timeline/dictionary.

It should have a title and a brief bibliography.

Unlike the timeline/dictionary, it must be written individually, not in groups.

All papers must have a title and must include your name, phone, and e-mail address. Pages should be numbered. Please staple. No cover or cover page is needed.

Extensions: In unusual or difficult circumstances, students may request an extension for the major paper. The request must be in writing (by letter or e-mail) and should give specific reasons why the extension is needed. All requests must be made via e-mail directly to the appropriate teaching assistant (not to Mr. Lipson).  If any special extension is granted, then the paper must be turned in by date given by the TA. Except for cases of serious illness or personal difficulties, no extensions will be made for any date later than Friday, 4 p.m., on the first week of the following quarter.

If you have questions about your essay, please read the instructions below and then feel free to contact your TA.

Essay Assignment Explained in Detail

This paper must cover the same topic as your timeline. You should choose between two types of papers:

(A) a normal research paper on any topic related to world politics or great power politics during the period of the course, or

(B) a review of how diifferent historians look at some topic related to world politics or the great powers during the period of the course. This paper must be done by you individually.

You already know how to write a regular research paper, so let me concentrate on the other option, a historiographic review.

What is a historiographic paper? Consider yourself a fair-minded "referee" among the different viewpoints. First, you should lay out the different perspectives clearly and coherently. What are their varied strengths and weaknesses? Where do they agree and disagree? Where do they emphasize different issues and different evidence? You may wish to conclude by explaining which perspective (or combination of perspectives) you find most convincing.

Please note that this is not an original research paper. It is an essay discussing key debates among historians on a major international issue, such as the origin of a specific war or the breakdown of an alliance. It should be an informed, critical review of the historical literature on a selected time period or topic. In effect, you will serve as an informed "referee" of a debate among historians on a topic that interests you.

Please note that this is not an original research paper. It is an essay discussing key debates among historians on a major international issue, such as the origin of a specific war or the breakdown of an alliance. It should be an informed, critical review of the historical literature on a selected time period or topic. In effect, you will serve as an informed "referee" of a debate among historians on a topic that interests you.

The historiographic essay should examine a major topic and analyze the debates among historians, as well as giving your own considered view. It must cover at least three major books or articles, and will likely include more than that. The essay is not intended as original research. Its main point is to review (critically) the perspectives of major historians on some important theme or historical period. Think of yourself as an intelligent "referee" among divergent viewpoints. By the same token, you do not need to be "neutral" about the different perspectives. You can--and should--explain how you evaluate the issue and whether you support one conclusion or another, or some synthesis.

For example, in the course on World Politics in the 20th Century: 1945-1991, you might choose to write about the origins of a major war during that period, such as the Korean War or the American escalation in Vietnam. Or you might choose to write about the rise of liberal trade after WWII, or the development of the "space race" between the US and the USSR.. In the course on World Politics in the 19th Century, you might choose to write about the continuities (or discontinuities) of British foreign policy (or French, or German, or Ottoman, etc.). You might want to discuss how economic growth affected Great Power relationships--as that is understood by major historians writing on the subject. You might want to compare the divergent responses of China and Japan to European penetration in the mid-nineteenth century. Your job is not so much to explain the specific phenomenon but to describe and analyze the major schools of thought on the subject, their strengths and weaknesses, and the direction of recent historical research. In short, you should provide an informed, critical guide to the literature.

Most topics in this course are the subjects of vigorous historical debate. You may choose your own topic from among them. For the course on the Cold War, for instance, why did the allies of WWII become bitter, Cold War enemies? How did European integration develop and evolve as it did? Historians differ on the basic reasons for these changes. Similarly, you might consider the decline of imperialism in the 20th century. You might select a topic covering the whole time period of the course, such as the incorporation of military technology into warfare. There are certainly different historical schools dealing with the "military revolution." Equally interesting and difficult questions arise for the courses on the 19th century and the Inter-War period.

Before writing your historiographic essay, please write a one-page precis and get approval of the topic from your teaching assistant (during week 7). The precis should list the topic of the essay, briefly outline some of the major historical debates on it, and then list some key books and articles to be included. The clearer your precis, the better chance we have to advise you. Remember: the time period should be that of the course (1814-1914, or 1914-45, or 1945-91).

The assigned projects might well require students to share books. If that proves difficult, please let us know. We will put these books on reserve for everyone to use. All required and listed supplementary books are on reserve..

Twenty Page Paper in Political Science

Undergraduate majors in Political Science must fulfill a writing requirement, which can be done with either a BA thesis or a twenty page class paper, which must receive a grade of straight B or higher to pass the requirement. Students sometimes ask if they can use a paper in this class to meet the 20-page paper requirement. Yes, you can. Here's how.

First, you must write the normal 15-20 page paper for this course and get a grade for it.

If your paper is 20 pages and gets a grade of straight B or better, you have passed the Long Paper requirement in Political Science. Take the graded paper to Kathy Anderson in Pick 401 and get the appropriate paperwork showing that you have completed the Long Paper requirement.

If, however, if you wrote a somewhat shorter paper, say 15-19 pages, you can expand it after the course is complete to meet the requirement. Simply figure out a sensible way to expand the paper to twenty pages. Make sure you add "real muscle" and not padding. Then hand it in to Prof. Lipson with the proper paperwork for the twenty-page requirement. his longer paper does not receive a grade; it is marked only as passing (or not passing) the twenty-page requirement. You do not need any special permission from Prof. Lipson to hand in this supplementary paper.

If your paper fell short of the straight B grade, then it does not meet the requirement. You should try again in another course that requires long papers.

Sample Historiographic Essays in Print

To get a feel for the assignment, you may wish to read a published essay that tackles a similar task. That will give you a clear model of a well-executed historiographic essay.  Here are a couple of suggestions:

Gary Gerstle, "Liberty, Coercion, and the Making of Americans," Journal of American History (September 1997), pp. 524-558. It can easily be accessed through, available at the Regenstein Library.

Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship, Chapter 5 ("Hitler and the Holocaust"), any edition of the book.

Kershaw sorts out several interpretations of Hitler's role and the role of Nazi ideology in the Holocaust. According to Alan Barenberg (TA in this course), Kershaw's essay "clearly identifies a central historical problem, explains the different interpretations and then evaluates the approaches based on the evidence."

Plagiarism: A Bad Idea

No Plagiarism: The timeline, dictionary, and major paper must all be your original work. Of course, you will need to consult reference works and scholarly monographs, in print and online. But you must scrupulously avoid any significant "borrowing" (especially verbatim borrowing) or any "cutting and pasting" from others' works. That would misrepresent other people's work as your own and is plagiarism. When you rely on others' work, be sure to cite it fully and use quotation marks to denote any verbatim usage.

Plagiarism is a basic violation of academic rules and will result in failing the course. If you have questions, please consult my book, Doing Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success (University of Chicago Press, 2004), especially chapter 3.

Please note that all co-authors of the timeline and dictionary are held jointly responsible for ensuring the academic integrity of the work, just as they are held jointly responsible for its quality.

For discussion of the timeline, click here

Undergrad & Grad     

World Politics from the 1490s to 1815: A History

Political Science 213 & 323
World Politics in the Nineteenth Century: A History Political Science 214 & 324
World Politics in the Twentieth Century, 1914-45: A History Political Science 215 & 325
World Politics in the Twentieth Century: The Cold War A History Political Science 216 & 326
Big Wars: Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Political Science 291 & 392
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(c) Charles Lipson, 2011