Draft Introduction and outline


Hist 1201 How to Write an Introduction.

History writing is a form of argumentation, and a history paper is an extended argument about a particular claim, supported by evidence and reasoning. An introduction to a good scholarly history paper has several components that set up the argument which you will attempt to validate in the rest of the paper. Successful papers will contain all, or most of these components. Less successful papers are almost always missing at least one or more of these components.

  1. The problem: a historical argument, as opposed to a paper that simply says “this happened on August 7, 1941” must establish a problem, a dilemma, an unanswered question that needs resolving. This can be done with a statement or a telling quote or story. Sometimes the question or dilemma is not stated directly. “In May 1968 millions of French workers and students came out and demonstrated against the Vietnam War, etc.. They joined millions of people around the world in an unprecedented wave of protest and activism with both local and global roots.” Here the intro is setting up an implicit question – Why did people protest?
  2. The stakes: a good paper will tell us why it matters that we examine the dilemma/question/problem you pose: “the protests of 1968 profoundly reordered French politics and culture for decades to come”.
  3. The historiography: This is straightforward. You should give readers a sense of what other scholars (such as the ones in the articles you have collected) have argued. Note areas of disagreement if they exist. This helps to set up your argument, and helps the reader to understand how you relate to existing arguments about the topic. It is not necessary to pose an argument that departs from what others have said or argued. You may agree! But this helps the reader to see where you sit in relation to others.
  4. The argument: Here you should pose an argument. *Do not just make a statement*. A statement is not an argument. Make a claim about the origins, path, or meaning of events that you must then validate using evidence and reason.
  5. The path forward: give the reader a sense of how you will go about demonstrating your argument. This can be done with a sentence or two outlining what you will discuss Length: your intro can be a paragraph or two. Here is a longer version from an article of mine. Look for the components:On September 2, 1945 Ho Chi Minh ascended a podium overlooking Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, where he declared the independence of Vietnam before an estimated crowd of four hundred thousand people. After cataloguing the grievances of his putative countrymen against the French, Ho declared “We are convinced that the Allied nations which at Tehran and San Francisco have acknowledged the principles of self-determination and equality of nations, will not refuse to acknowledge the independence of Vietnam.”[1] This was hardly the first time that Ho had invoked the proclaimed support of the U.S. for the principles of self-determination. Thirty-six years earlier in Paris, Nguyễn Ái Quốc, as he was then known, famously petitioned Woodrow Wilson to support Vietnamese self-determination after Wilson invoked the principle in his Fourteen Points speech, only to be ignored. Twenty-two years later, in 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. listed among the chief “the Casualties of the War in Vietnam” the “principle of self-determination,” which he argued the United States had abandoned in its refusal to support Vietnamese independence. A few hundred miles to the north, in Oakland, the Black Panther party had just issued its ten point platform calling for the restructuring of American society and demanding “freedom and self-determination” for African-Americans. Such demands would continue to ripple through both domestic and international politics in the coming decades, helping to shape some of the contours of international order and international law.Self-determination occupies an uneasy place in the history of US foreign relations. To a man, Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama have claimed self-determination as a peculiarly American principle, embodied in its commitment to anti-colonialism and democratic self-rule. During the Cold War Americans mobilized the discourse of self-determination as an ideological weapon to denounce Communism – and sometimes each other. Scholars of US foreign relations, though reluctant to claim it as a U.S. export, have overwhelmingly treated support for self-determination as a cornerstone of post-1945 U.S. foreign policy and the self-determining nation state as a foundation of international order.[2] With the exception of Erez Manela and a few others, however, few historians have offered sustained treatments of self-determination, and virtually none that do not take for granted the stability of its meaning over time.[3]The scope and meaning of self-determination in post 1945 international relations, however, was anything but stable, and successive U.S. administrations related uneasily to the undulating spread of self-determination claims and movements through modern international relations, expressing a deep ambivalence towards its potentially disruptive meaning. The ambivalent U.S. stance towards self-determination was grounded in fears that expansive or proliferating claims threatened to lead to state-fragmentation, superpower conflict, and an unraveling of the international order. This uneasiness with the very idea of a “right to self-determination”, moreover, was widely shared by contemporary observers, who viewed it as a Pandora’s Box that might lead to civil war, genocide, or the proliferation of states that were too small, too backwards or too primitive to merit self-government.I will argue that self-determination’s scope and meaning in international politics during the post-1941 era was not fixed. Rather, they evolved, emerging as a result of political and sometimes military struggle among states, multilateral and nongovernmental organizations, creating legal norms, establishing boundaries of acceptable practices and circulating discourses that could be mobilized to suit a variety of sometimes divergent goals. Like human rights more broadly, self-determination’s meaning was fractured and contested along lines that transcended neat East-West or North-South divides. The United States had a deep stake in the outcome of these contests, which helped to shape the limits of sovereignty, human rights, global economic order, and occasionally domestic politics. Self-determination in this way becomes something of a lens for seeing evolving U.S. conceptions of human rights and international order. OUTLINE: your outline can just be a couple of bullet points or an alpha-numeric outline listing major sections of the paper and the structure of your argument.

  6. [1] Ho Chi Minh, “Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam,” in Ho Chi Minh, Selected Writings: 1920–1969 (Hanoi, 1973), 53–56.[2] Robert Latham, The Liberal Moment (Columbia University Press, 1997), 31-35; Tony Smith, America’s Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press, 1995), 128-132; Leffler, Melvyn P. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Stanford University Press, 1993), 23-24, 52.[3] Manela, Erez. The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. Oxford University Press, USA, 2009; Deanne C. Siemer and Howard P. Willens, National Security and Self-Determination: United States Policy in Micronesia. Praeger, 2000; Graham, Sarah Ellen. “American Propaganda, the Anglo ‐ American Alliance, and the ‘Delicate Question’ of Indian Self ‐ Determination.” Diplomatic History 33, no. 2 (April 1, 2009): 223–259; Kenton Clymer, “The Education of William Phillips: Self ‐ Determination and American Policy Toward India, 1942–45.” Diplomatic History 8:1 (January 1, 1984): 13–36; Matray, James I. “Truman’s Plan for Victory: National Self-Determination and the Thirty-Eighth Parallel Decision in Korea.” The Journal of American History 66:2 (1979): 314–333; Betty Miller Unterberger, “The United States and National Self-Determination: A Wilsonian Perspective.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 26:4 (Fall 1996): 926–941; Paul Diesing, “National Self-Determination and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Ethics 77, no. 2 (January 1, 1967): 85–94.

About the Author

Follow me

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}