What Does A History Essay Mean, And How To Write It Correctly


Historical essays are an obligatory part of most of the students. This subject is very important to improve your knowledge and know more about the country and world development. Read below, how to write a historical essay correctly.

Historical Essay: Definition, Types, Sources

A history essay is an assignment that describes an argument of a claim related to one or several historical events and supports it with evidence. 

These are common for history classes but may also be a part of other disciplines. Depending on the scope, history essays can relate to:

  • antiquity: the Roman and Greek civilization;
  • ancient history: prehistory till the early middle ages (the periods may distinguish in non-European countries);
  • Atlantic history: surveys the life of people who lived next to the Atlantic ocean;
  • the history of art: covers the stories of art development within ages;
  • comparative analysis: provides the analytics for the sociocultural entity of the nations;
  • contemporary review: observes nowadays and recent events;
  • counterfactual history: analyzes the historical facts that happen in various conditions;
  • cultural background: studies the social heritage;
  • history of inventions: covers the development of the various equipment;
  • digital devices appearing: research of the computer technologies;
  • the history of economics: provides the economic analysis of data at different times;
  • intellectual development history: observes the path of human intellectual upgrowth;
  • marine history: elaborates the maritime study;
  • recent history: covers the period of life since the Middle Ages till today;
  • military service: observes the armed struggling and strategies in the past;
  • paleography: acquaints with the early manuscripts;
  • social history: informs about the evolution of the society over time;
  • labor history (a social history subpart): studies labor movements and the working processes in different countries;
  • government history: discloses political issues;
  • psychohistory: explains the psychological motivation of people’s actions in the past;
  • folk-history (pseudo-history): discusses the assemblage of historical nonprofessional concepts that pretend to be scientific;
  • the history of the world: observes the entire human race.

According to the purpose, history essays can be:

  • narrative: a sequence of events provided as a story in chronological order;
  • analytical: a written analysis of the events and their impact on the current situation.

History essays come in different shapes and sizes. All types require a diverse amount of research, examination, and annotations. The content depends on the used sources:

  • primary: the ones which were written or created by eyewitnesses at the stated period; include the immediate reaction upon the events (diaries, letters, publishings, monologue records, economic reports, literature, movie, and art creations);
  • secondary: the sources produced ever after the stated period, include hindsight, analysis basing on the primary sources.

One source may serve as a primary and secondary source both. For instance, if your topic is about ancient times and you reference a book about the same times written in the XIXth century – this book serves as the secondary source. If you write an essay about the XIXth century and reference the book written at that period, the same book will serve as a primary source.  

The work with sources does not suppose primitive copying of the data from it. The source provides evidence while a student’s work is analyzing this information in the paperwork.

The Structure of a History Essay, Problems Solving

When your questions, ideas, and arguments are ready, you can start structuring your information. A history essay initially begins with the introduction part. 

Use a hook to catch the interest of your listeners. An attention-getter can be:

  • generally accepted fact or statistic data;
  • a rhetoric question;
  • an appropriate citation;
  • a pertinent funny story.

Now is the time to introduce your topic, mentioning the time, place, and people you intend to discuss. The introduction part must include a strong thesis statement — the core argument of your work. Then say a smooth flow to the body chapters.

The number of chapters in the body text may vary depending on the depth of your topics. Devote a separate paragraph to each thought stated in the thesis for complete studying with evidence and supporting facts. Typically, a body chapter has the following structure:

  • a short fragment that connects the chapter with the thesis statement;
  • documental evidence;
  • its interpretation;
  • a conclusion;
  • a smooth transition to the next chapter.

Structuring your essay, start with the weakest facts and evidence with a powerful culmination at the end. 

The last paragraph summarizes the entire paperwork. Emphasize the most significant facts only and conclude their impact. The conclusion part must prove the thesis statement. Exclude adding new information here.

Experiencing complications while structuring is natural, especially for students unfamiliar with historical analysis. Use the strategy that many historians employ:

  1. Puzzle-out your paperwork. If your academic adviser suggested some historical documents or narrowed the theme to a concrete subject, use this information to select the thesis statement.
  2. Settle the questions right according to the stylistic requirements. For example, when writing a historical narrative, eliminate such queries as «Why?» and «How?» They refer to an analytical essay with a different meaning.  
  3. Work with the sources stepwise. Observe the first two ones, try to generate a statement, then follow to the other sources. If your hypothesis is reconciled and has a perspective, you can stand on it. If it contradicts the following information, create a new supposition.
  4. Work closely with the sources that confirm and relate strictly to your thesis. Test each of your answers by the gathered evidence.
  5. Analyze the outcome of the events. Think about the development of the situation that occurred and its impact on the following circumstances or present time.  You will formulate the conclusion in this way.

 Use critical thinking during your writing process, question each finding and basic assumption, devising a scenario of evidence providing. Think on a big scale using conventional wisdom and a logical approach. 

Writing a History Essay Outline

Students often confuse sources with evidence. The first ones provide the raw facts only, in the ideal case. It can not be an argument. When writing a history essay outline, it is crucial to catechize:

  • Who is the author of the source?
  • At what period was the source created?
  • What is the date of creation?
  • Does it include the same information as other sources at this period?
  • For what purpose was the source created?
  • Who was the target audience?
  • Is the content straightforward with a particular point of view or vailed?
  • Is it personal or addressed to the public?
  • How does this source interrelate with other ones of this period?

This meticulous work is essential for the persuasiveness of your arguments and evidence. The success depends on the entire estimating process. Hence, select the sources carefully. Due to the strict timeframes, you may not have plenty of time. However, do not neglect the stage of choosing the source credibility. Think critically and exclude unnecessary information without a slow down. The reasonable counterarguments make sense. 

Historians have different points of view upon the historical facts and the ways of transmitting them. Each essay is based on the writer’s viewpoint. So creating an outline, convince that you realize the direction of your monologue. Contact your academic advisor to clarify the theme or subject if you are unsure about the purpose of our essay, 

When you write your history paper, follow the guidance:

  1. Represent the text in the past tense. Discussion in other tenses may relate to other disciplines, not history, and show a weak understanding of history.
  2. Exclude obscure information. History is a strictly specific subject.
  3. Avoid chronological mistakes (anachronisms).
  4. Illuminate presentism, addressing all issues that happened in the past till nowadays.
  5. Bring the discussion respectfully without prejudice. No generation or nation is ideal.
  6. Reword when you can, but cite when it is indispensably. Missing the opportunity to reword, a student diminishes the analyzing skills performance. Hence, an overwhelming amount of quotes is not necessary. However, when you need it, format it correctly, delivering the source and its content for the welfare of unaware listeners.
  7. Produce a relevant and meaningful text mentioning private comments extensively. Applying to sources, interpreting the events, reporting the research findings are the crucial elements of your paperwork.
  8. Meet the formatting requirements of Chicago Manual Style or parenthetical citations (depending on your studying establishment requirements).
  9. Speak academically, maintaining a formal tone. Eliminate the phrases in the first or second person, as well as passive voice. Such expressions as «I suppose» or «in my thinking» are unwelcome in a representative discussion.
  10. Proofread your outline several times.

At first glimpse, a history essay creating seems like a burden. It is not an easy task to review all the records and documents. No work can pretend to be ideal. And nobody has an opportunity to recall the events, describe and analyze them firsthand. The available sources are all that historians have at their disposal. Hence, following the guiding concepts (selecting and explication) is essential. Process managing (including, excluding) depends on the writer’s point of view. For beginners, the first challenge is to find the path to enter a history conversation.

History is a multivalued science. Many opinions create the ground for debates. As soon as you become more experienced in writing, do not miss this opportunity. Professional operating with facts and evidence will take you to a new level of history discovering.

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