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 the students' 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
|A. Reform: Forward-looking or Backward-looking?|
|B. Conflict v. Consensus|
|C. Rank the Presidents|
Historians of American reform movements have noted
that these movement often appear to us in two guises: one, forward-looking
and progressive, and the other, backward-looking and conservative.
As the historian David B. Davis writes: "The various [reform]
programs . . . had a dual objective for change and improvement.
On the one hand, they attacked institutions, lifestyles, and
traditional social roles that seemed to limit individual opportunity
and to block the path of progress. On the other hand, they attempted
to restore and revitalize the sense of purity, simplicity, and
wholeness that had been lost in the headlong pursuit of modernity
and material improvement" (The Great Republic,
314). Reformers also often try to control social disorder--and,
For the historical period covered by the exam, which goals were
more important in shaping the fundamental character of reform
movements: the forward-looking, progressive objectives or the
backward-looking conservative objectives?
One source of disagreement among historians is the
question of whether conflict or consensus has usually characterized
American society? Some historians argue that the U.S. has always
been divided into distinct economic, ethnic, religious, and gender
groups whose relationships with other groups have been characterized
by conflict. This conflict has been one of the principal forces
shaping American history. Other historians argue that the most
important theme in American history is consensus. While not denying
the existence of economic, ethnic, religious, and gender groups
which sometimes disagreed with each other, these historians argue
that throughout American history there has been a remarkable overall
unity among Americans in regard to values, goals, and aspirations.
This consensus is unique among nations of the western world.
For the historical period covered by the exam, was American life
characterized more by conflict or consensus among economic, ethnic,
religious, and gender groups?
Historians and political scientists often evaluate
the "greatness" of American presidents. This evaluation
is usually based on an assessment of a president's successes and
failures, the short-term and long-term consequences of a president's
actions, the success of a president in adjusting to the domestic
and international conditions of his time period, and the quality
of the president's decision-making process.
For the historical period covered by the exam, rank the presidents
who served from in order of their greatness as president. (With
number one being the greatest and number seven being the worst.)
Begin your paper with a simple listing of the presidents
in the order that you have ranked them. Then, give a detailed
explanation of the reasoning behind your answer. Your answer
should include an evaluation of each of these presidents and an
explanation of why you ranked them where you did (i.e., you will
need to do some comparing and contrasting).
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.
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| Critical Questions Exercise |
Departmental Courses in American History and Civilization:
Dr. Harold D. Tallant, Department of History, Georgetown College