The Long Essay
Themes and Sources is examined via a Long essay of 3,000 to 5,000 words. This is a ‘take-home’ examination paper which first-year students receive in May, after they have completed the course. Students submit their Long Essay the following January, at the start of the Lent term in their second year. The aims of the Long Essay are to test students’ understanding of the main problems and approaches of the course they have followed with reference to a specific question.
The paper is usually divided into two parts. Students are required to answer one question specified in the paper for their option, from either section A) Essay questions, or section B) Topics. Section A contains specific, targeted questions whose wording may not be altered. Section B outlines broad topics within which a student could devise a more precise title, in consultation with the teacher of the option, who must formally approve the final title. Option teachers must ensure that the title eventually chosen relates to the overall issues developed by the option, and that there is adequate source material and secondary literature available to the student.
The basic skills to be tested are similar to those expected in a supervision essay: the ability to argue clearly and cogently; to expound the issues involved in a given topic or problem; to evaluate interpretations and their relevance to the evidence on which historical argument is based. Essays may vary in the extent of their treatment of historiography depending on the approaches of individual options, but because many Themes and Sources options focus particularly on primary source material, students are expected, where possible, to pay special attention to evaluating sources, e.g. by discussing and comparing their reliability and explaining their value for the historian. Sophisticated discussion of such matters raised by a question or topic may comprise the main contents of an essay. However, in other...
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