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How to Do Well on Professor Cantrells Essay Exams

My essay questions tend to be broad, interpretive questions, requiring you to draw information from more than one lecture and (when pertinent) from your outside readings. They require you to state a thesis, and then defend that thesis using evidence (specific facts that you have learned). Here is an example of a typical Cantrell essay question:

Evaluate the following statement: The stock market crash of 1929 caused the
Great Depression, and the failed policies of Herbert Hoover are to blame.

This question requires you to tell whether you agree or disagree with the statement, and why you agree or disagree. Note that there are two separate facts that you are actually being asked to evaluate: (1) Did the stock market crash cause the Depression?; and (2) Were the policies of Hoover to blame for the crash (and thus for the Depression)? There are several possible theses for this question. You may agree with both parts: The crash caused the Depression and Hoovers policies brought on the crash. OR, you may disagree with both: The crash did not cause the Depression, and Hoovers policies were not to blame. OR, it is possible that you may agree with one part of the question and disagree with the other part: The crash caused the Depression, but Hoover is not to blame. OR, the crash did NOT cause the Depression (something else did), but Hoover is still to blame for bringing on the Depression. You see, then, how critical it is that you read the question carefully and consider exactly what it is asking, before you start writing.

Many good essay-writers will then sketch out a brief outline of their essay before actually writing it. Feel free to do this. Start with your thesis (which will be stated clearly in your introduction), then proceed to sketch out main points, with specific pieces of evidence to support each main point. Lets say that you have decided that both parts of the statement are wrong. Here is what your outline might look like:

I. Thesis--crash didnt cause depression; Hoover not to blame
II. Arguments
A. Crash didnt cause Depression
1. between 1900 and 1920, business became oligopolized (major
industries dominated by few big companies)
--collusion, price-fixing, cartels
--War Industries Board during WWI guaranteed companies profits
--profits rose 300%
--inflation rose 200%
2. fed. govt. retreated from enforcing antitrust laws
--1917: 121 car mfgrs.; 1929: 6 left. (due to mergers)
--by 1929: half of all business assets owned by 200 firms
3. These factors caused structural weaknesses in U.S. economy
--inflation (65% in 1920s)
--reduced competition (discouraging innovation)
--unwise speculation in stocks (esp. buying on margin)
--uneven distrib. of wealth (77% of stock dividends went to riches
1%; 5% of population owned 33% of national wealth)
--lots of holding companies (only owning stock of other
[note: no govt. regulation of stock mkt. in those days]
4. structural weaknesses caused decline in consumer spending
--house prices declined in 1927
--car sales dived in 1928; then, fridges and washing machines
5. Summer of 1929: speculation came together with these structural
weaknesses in the economy: CRASH
B. Hoovers policies not to blame
1. Hoover only took office in Jan. 1929, 9 months before crash
2. presidents had even less control over economy then than they do now
3. Hoover pursuing policies of Harding & Coolidge
--his tax cuts to corporations contributed to structural weaknesses
in the economy, but H. and C. did the same
--he did little to enforce antitrust laws, but so do H. and C.
--any efforts to regulate stock market wouldve been terribly
4. Hs RESPONSE couldve...
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