D. Assignment Topics

General instructions

Two essays are required for Hist119, a short essay which must be submitted by 3.00pm on the Friday of week six in Lent Term (i.e. 20 February 2008), and a long essay which must be submitted by 3.00pm on the Monday of week four in Summer Term (i.e. 11 May 2008). The topics for each deadline are listed below. Please choose one question from each list and submit your essay before the appropriate deadline.

Note also the following instructions:

  • Essays should be submitted in accordance with the instructions given in the departmental Student Handbook. That is, they must be submitted through the essay box next to Room B.52 Furness, in order to ensure that its submission is noted in the register.Essays are not to be given directly to your tutor.
  • Note that if you have to submit an essay by post, be sure to retain proof of postage and to keep a copy of the essay. In the event of a dispute the Department will not accept a claim that work has been submitted by post without proof of postage
  • Please include a word count at the conclusion of your essay and stick to the word limits – there is no merit in writing at great length for its own sake. The word limits do not include footnotes and bibliography. The History Department does not operate a +/-10% leeway on the word limit imposed.
  • Remember the warnings that you have been given about plagiarism.
  • These essays will require extra reading beyond that specified for the seminars. The lists of further reading for each seminar are extensive in order to help all students doing the course to find useful material for their essays, but they are not exhaustive: initiative in finding material useful to your argument will improve your mark. One of the key skills which is being tested is your ability to find and select material which is relevant to your topic. You are not, though, expected to read all the books relevant to a topic.
  • Please consider the needs of other students when borrowing books from the library. Given the likely demand for books and stringency of the deadlines, it will be wise to make an early start on your essays, and please return books as quickly as possible.
  • Command of the conventions of the formal history essay will enhance your mark. This includes the use of appropriate language and style, the use of notes to support your argument, and the compilation of an accurate bibliography which lists all the books, articles and essays you have read on the topic.
  • Your essays should be referenced properly. This means that where you quote from a book or article, you must acknowledge your source with an endnote or, better, a footnote. The Departmental Student Handbook has further guidance on the style expected in history essays submitted at Lancaster.
  • Above all, it is essential that you answer the question posed with a coherent argument which is supported by reference to the evidence.
  • At this level, it is usually be sufficient to refer to the evidence as it has been reported and interpreted by other historians, but reference to and quotation of primary sources will help to produce a successful essay.
  • Please note that material submitted as part of the Lent term essay may not be recycled in the Summer term essay: that is, you must choose different historian(s) as the subject of your second assignment.
  • When your essay has been marked, your tutor will publicise the place and time from which your essay can be collected. Should you miss that opportunity, all uncollected essays are placed in the essay returning cabinet in the mixing bay on B Floor, Furness College. The essay cabinet is open between 9.00a.m. and 5.00p.m.

The Question for the Short Essay (between 1400 and 1600 words)

  • Pick one of the major historians whom we have discussed in weeks two to five of the present course that is, EITHER (1) Edward Gibbon, (2) J. B. Bury, (3) Tenney Frank, (4) M. I. Rostovtzeff, (5) Henri Pirenne, (6) Moses I. Finley OR (7) Michael Grant and explain how their view of how the Roman Empire came to an end in the West relates to the time and context in which they were writing.

Topics for the Long Essay (between 2400 and 2600 words)

  1. In what ways does the interpretation of Roman history c.200-700 advanced by Peter Brown in The World of Late Antiquity from Marcus Aurelius to Muhammad (1971) differ from that put forward by Edward Gibbon in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88)? Which is the more convincing interpretation?
  2. ‘The truth is that the success of the barbarians in penetrating and founding states in the western provinces cannot be explained by any general considerations. It is accounted for by the actual events and would be clearer if the story were known more fully. The gradual collapse of the Roman power in this section of the Empire was the consequence of a series of contingent events. No general causes can be assigned that made it inevitable.’ (Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, i, 311). Discuss.
  3. ‘When set in a fourth-century perspective what we call the fall of the Western Roman Empire was an imaginative experiment that got a little out of hand’ (Goffart, Barbarians and Romans, p. 42). Discuss.
  4. Explain why the history of Christian asceticism is central to so many interpretations of later Roman history. Illustrate your answer with reference to the work of at least three major historians of the later Roman Empire.
  5. Evaluate the impact of a major twentieth-century intellectual fashion (such as feminism, Marxism, structuralist anthropology, cultural relativism, OR post-modernism) on the study of the Later Roman Empire. Be sure to illustrate your answer with reference to the work of at least three major modern historians of the later Roman Empire. You may include historians discussed in the first half of the course, providing that your chosen historians are NOT be the same as those discussed in your short essay.
  6. Evaluate the work of an important historian of the later Roman Empire. Illustrate you answer by comparing and contrasting your chosen historian’s arguments with those of at least two other major historians of the later Roman Empire. You may include historians discussed in the first half of the course, providing that your chosen historians are NOT be the same as those discussed in your short essay.

Writing Essays – Some Important Pointers

The learning outcomes outlined on page 3 above indicate the Department’s hopes for the development of your historical understanding during the course. In keeping with these aims your tutor will look for qualities such as the ability to identify and summarise different interpretations, the ability to locate interpretations within the broader context of writing on the Roman Empire, the fluency with which you present your analysis and argument in good English, and the necessary bibliographical skills to locate relevant material. Although there is no one way in which to write an essay, good essays are normally characterised by clarity of thought. That means you need to devise a carefully thought-out plan for your essay before you begin to write. You might consider the following elements when preparing your essay:

  • Introduction: Use this to state the argument you intend to make in the essay. The reader will get lost unless he or she can see clearly from the start how you intend to orientate the essay.
  • Organization: Is the argument visible and clear throughout the essay? Your essay should have a consistent structure throughout, so that one paragraph follows another logically and carries the argument forward.
  • Evidence: The argument must be demonstrated by the use of supporting evidence. This usually takes the form of examples from your reading, which might sometimes take the form of direct quotes from primary or secondary sources, properly referenced. The supporting evidence is the ‘factual’ content of the essay, without which the essay will be no more than a series of opinions.
  • Style: Your essay will only be persuasive if it is written with clarity of expression. Try to keep your language simple and uncluttered, and of course grammatically accurate. Poor spelling, long-winded and ungrammatical sentences obscure your argument and detract from the value of the evidence you are presenting.

Leave enough time after writing the essay to read it through and check it before submission. If necessary, be prepared to rewrite parts of, or even  the whole essay. Don’t expect to produce the perfect essay in a first draft!

Note also that there is a guide to the art of writing history essays on the website of another of the department’s courses, Hist213: Warlords and Holy Men. See http://www.lancs.ac.uk/staff/haywardp/hist213/writing.htm.

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