18th Century to the Present
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Work on Thesis Statements

University of Washington Thesis Guidelines

What follows is a hand-out composed by the writing tutors at the UW History Dept. writing center. I don't think they'll mind if we use it and I've always thought it was a very useful little guide. As you will see it pertains specifically to American history, but you will also see that it can be applied to our historical interests as well.
You will also note that their example is formulated in response to a question; you don't have that advantage. Part of the exercise in our case is to generate that question yourself. This is not easy and it is closely related to the problem of thesis generation itself. For your term paper, such questions and the theses that answer them should arise from your close reading of the text in question. As you read your chosen primary source you should be looking for such analytical questions.

Thesis Guidelines

The University of Washington History Department Writing Center has a number of other very useful brief guides to better writing in history papers in the form of PDFs that you can download. Their site is not restricted to UW students and I recommend that you take a look at all these files. Check them out at http://depts.washington.edu/histwrit/

The thesis of an essay is the main historical point that its writer is trying to prove. A history essay can be no better than its thesis. If the argument that the writer is making is ill-reasoned, historically inaccurate, or simply unclear, no amount of literary finesse can save it. The examples below show how one can develop a thesis, from an initial idea to a full historical argument. Following the examples are some guidelines on how to most clearly state a thesis in an essay. Assignment: How and why did Anne Hutchinson pose a threat to the established structures of power and authority in Puritan Massachusetts?

Not a thesis:

In this paper I will discuss how Anne Hutchinson posed a threat to the established structures of power and authority in Puritan Massachusets.

Also not a thesis:

Anne Hutchinson posed a threat to the Puritan leadership in the Massachusets colony.
These will not work because a thesis is not merely a general subject for a paper or a restatement of the question, but should instead be a specific point that one could either argue for or against.

A rough draft thesis:

Anne Hutchinson posed a threat to the power and authority of the Puritan leadership because she was a woman, a popular preacher, and because of her religious convictions.

A second draft thesis:

The leaders of the Puritan community in Massachusets not only felt uneasy about Anne Hutchinson's role as a public figure, but were further threatened by her belief that individuals could communicate directly with God.
This is more specific than any of the attempts above, but it still lacks analysis. The writer needs to delve beneath the facts of this case and ask "why?"

A good thesis:

While many Puritan leaders were uneasy about the involvement of women outside the traditional female sphere, Anne Hutchinson's preaching that every individual had the ability to communicate directly with God posed a threat to the ecclesiastical hierarchy in Massachusets which based its power and authority on its role as mediator between the congregation.
This is a workable thesis because it offers an explanation for how events came to pass as they did. It would be easy enough to show that people were threatened by Anne Hutchison. Your task as an historian is to find out how and why that was so.

Thesis Statements

A short essay should contain a thesis statement in its first paragraph. The thesis statement lets the reader know, as soon as possible, what argument the paper will make. A thesis statement may require more than one sentence to make. In deciding where to place the thesis statement and how to introduce it, consider what a typical UW student would need to know to understand your thesis.

A good thesis statement will probably have these characteristics:

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