Take-home Questions for Exams

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 exam.

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.

Exam 1
Exam 2
Exam 3
A. American Exceptionalism    
B. American Motives: Principle or Self-interest?    
C. The "Great Man Theory of History"    

Question A

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?

Take-home question: 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 World?

Question B

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?

Take-home question: 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?

Question C

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.

Take-home question: 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 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.

HIS 223: Introduction to American History, 1492-1877

HIS 223: Introduction to American History, 1877-Present

This page was last updated on 10/4/99
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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:
| AMS 250 | HIS 223 | HIS 225 | HIS 227 | HIS 306 |
| HIS 308 | HIS 310 | HIS 312 | HIS 314 | HIS 318 | HIS 325 |
| HIS 338 | HIS 426 | HIS 430 | HIS 432 | HIS 470 | HIS 475 |

Dr. Harold D. Tallant, Department of History, Georgetown College
400 East College Street, Georgetown, KY 40324, (502) 863-8075
E-mail: htallant@georgetowncollege.edu.

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