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.
Three take-home questions are listed below. For
each of our three 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 answered.
|A. American Exceptionalism|
|B. American Motives: Principle or Self-interest?|
|C. The "Great Man Theory of History"|
The Puritans of New England believed that God had
called them to the America to separate them from the corrupt world
so they could fulfill a special mission. Since that time, Americans
have often believed themselves to be a special people who are
set apart from the other people of the world. This idea is known
as American Exceptionalism: the belief that the factors which
distinguish Americans from other people are more important than
the similarities which Americans have with other people. Scholars
in the field of American Studies have long been interested in
the idea of American Exceptionalism. Historians have asked, Did
Americans develop a distinctive culture? If so, When did Americans
become a unique people? At what point did immigrants from Europe
and Africa forge a culture which differed significantly from the
culture of the Old World?
Did Americans develop a unique culture during the during the historical
period covered by the exam? Were America's differences from the
Old World more important than America's similarities to the Old
One of the persistent issues confronting historians
is the question of whether most Americans act to promote principle
or self-interest? When confronting great public issues, do Americans
usually try to promote certain values and beliefs or do they usually
try to promote their own well-being?
When Americans involved themselves in public events during the
period of history covered by the exam, did they act principally
to promote certain principles or to promote their own self-interest?
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 American
history affected more by the actions of significant individuals
or by large, impersonal forces beyond the control of single individuals?
Explain your answer.
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 American history.
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
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.
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| Study Sheets | Exam 1 | Exam 2 | Exam 3 | Take-home Questions for Exams | Quiz |
| Critical Questions Exercise 1 | Critical Questions Exercise 2 |
Departmental Courses in American History and Civilization:
Dr. Harold D. Tallant, Department of History, Georgetown College