For each exam this semester, students will write
two essays: (1) one to be written in class during the exam period
and (2) the other to be written at home and turned in with the
The take-home exam questions are designed to encourage
students to analyze critically the historical events we have studied
and to draw conclusions about these events. The take-home questions
ask students to answer questions about major issues of historical
interpretation. By writing the essays at home, students are able
to analyze material relevant to the exams in a setting where memorization
and time limits will not be critical to their performance.
Four take-home questions are listed below. For
each of our four exams, answer one question. You must answer
a different question for each exam. Therefore,
by the end of the semester, you will have answered each question
once. Use the chart below to record which questions you have
|A. Five significant events||x||x||x||x|
|B. How does history affect quality of life?||x||x||x||x|
|C. The "Great Man Theory of History"||x||x||x||x|
|D. Which type of forces have most affected history?||x||x||x||x|
In studying the past, historians are concerned with
discovering the consequences of historical events. What events
or trends had the greatest impact on subsequent history? Which
events or trends had the most significant consequences?
For the historical period covered by the exam, which five events
or trends had the greatest impact on the development of Western
Civilization? Begin your essay by listing the five events which
you believe are most important. Then, for each event write a
paragraph or two explaining why you believe the event was more
significant than others during the time period. (Note:
An event is a noteworthy happening. An event involves action.
"The wheel" is not an event. "The invention of
the wheel" is an event.)
Through the years, historians have differed with
each other over the question of whether historical change brings
progress or decline in humanity's quality of life. Four theories
have been proposed: (1) Some historians have seen history as
the story of decline in quality of life. Humanity has declined
from higher stages of development to lower stages of development.
(2) Some historians present history as occurring in cycles, with
humanity experiencing alternating periods of advancement and decline,
continuing throughout history. (3) Some historians see history
as progress. Each era of history is better than the one which
came before it. The conditions of humanity generally improve
from lower to higher stages of development. (4) Some historians
argue that the progression of time has had little impact on the
overall quality of life. While history may bring improvement
in some areas of life, these gains are offset by declines in other
areas of life. Thus, the overall condition of humanity does not
change through time.
Take-home question: For the period of time covered by the exam, which of these four theories best explains the history of Western Civilization? Why?
Historians often debate the "Great-Man Theory
of History." Some scholars agree with the historian Thomas
Carlyle, who argued that "The history of what man has accomplished
in this world, is at bottom the history of the Great Men who have
worked here." Historians who embrace the "Great-Man
Theory" see history as the product of actions by significant
individuals: kings, generals, politicians, entrepreneurs, and
other prominent persons. Wars, revolutions, economic cycles,
and cultural, intellectual, and technological advances are the
work of significant individuals whose actions fundamentally change
human destiny. Other scholars disagree with this interpretation
by arguing that history is the product of impersonal social, economic,
and political forces. No single person--no matter how great or
powerful--can really affect these forces and significantly change
the course of history. The "Great Men" (or women) are
themselves simply the creation of larger historical forces, and
their actions are likewise the by-products of trends beyond the
control of any individual.
For the time period covered by the exam, was the course of history
affected more by the actions of significant individuals or by
large, impersonal forces beyond the control of single individuals?
Explain your answer.
Many scholars present history as being especially
influenced by specific types of forces. For instance, many scholars
have traditionally presented political and diplomatic forces as
the principal forces driving history forward. Other scholars
have presented philosophical and theological concerns as the principal
motive forces causing historical change. Karl Marx said that
history is produced by economic forces. Many scholars have seen
historical change occurring through the clash of social and economic
classes seeking to maximize the advantages of their classes.
Others argue that changing technology has produced the greatest
changes in society. Some see gender issues-the relations between
men and women as classes of people-as the greatest mover of history.
Many scholars argue that environmental factors, including geography
and climate, have had the greatest impact. Finally, some scholars
present demography as the most important force (the characteristics
of populations of people, including size and density of population,
distribution of population and migration, and health, death rates,
and birth rates).
For the period of time covered by the exam, identify the one
force that had the greatest impact in causing historical change:
(1) politics, (2) diplomatic and military forces, (3) economics,
including the conflict between social and economic classes, (4)
intellectual and philosophical trends, (5) religion, (6) technology,
(7) gender issues, (8) environment, and (9) demography. Explain
Answer this take-home question in an essay of four
or fewer pages. I assume that many of you will find evidence
which supports more than one side of these issues.
Nevertheless, on each question you should state clearly which
theory best explains history of civilization.
Remember that making a successful argument involves not only
presenting evidence and arguments for your side of the issue,
but also refuting evidence and arguments on the other side of
the issue. Be sure to explain the reasons for your answer and
use specific examples drawn from the textbook, class lectures,
or other sources to support your answer.
You may consult these readings and your class notes while you are answering the question, but be certain to include a bibliography and reference notes for the materials you use. The normal rules regarding plagiarism apply to this essay. Also, you should not consult with other students concerning your answer. Your answer to the take-home question is due at the beginning of class on the day of the exam.
Dr. Harold D. Tallant, Department of History, Georgetown College
400 East College Street, Georgetown, KY 40324, (502) 863-8075