Salads are good. They have their place, but right now, we are making a sandwich, and we need buns to hold it all together.
Composing a paragraph is like building a hamburger. First, we need the buns to hold the sandwich together. Without the bread to hold everything in, it's just not a sandwich. It's a salad.
Notice the buns are similar. They are both made of bread; they both have similar jobs. But they are distinct as well. For example, the bottom bun (the
conclusion) is flat and allows the burger to sit nicely on the plate and become part of the whole meal (the entire essay).
The heart and soul of a history essay is the factual information. One cannot do historical analysis without historical facts to analyze. Similarly, the heart and soul of our burger is the meat.
The factual information is the heart and soul of a paragraph. One of the biggest problems that students tend to have when they begin to write historical essays is that
they do not have factual information that they can analyze. Therefore, if they do try to make a burger, they end up with a lot of bread and hardly any meat.
Often, students will turn in a grandiose topic sentence and a likewise complex conclusion
with a small sliver of bacon in between. Usually, students have read or heard a thesis and are simply repeating this idea without the ability to defend it. Good historical writing is original. The idea being defended in the paragraph comes from the student's own ability to develop an opinion based on their own historical analysis, which, in turn, requires historical knowledge.
No amount of fancy misdirection, big words, vague ideas, or wordy and unclear sentences, can make up for the fact that the sandwich doesn't have much substance.
Occasionally, history teachers requiring students to learn names, dates, or places will hear the criticism,
"memorization is the lowest form of learning."
What the critics fail to recognize is that in Bloom's Taxonomy, while "memorization" or "remembering"
is lowest on the list, and one should certainly strive to go beyond mere memorization, it is also the base of the pyramid. One cannot move toward analysis and the creation of original work without first remembering the factual information.
An essay containing paragraphs that contain only factual information, is pretty dry, boring, and is little more than a bulleted list.
While a hamburger patty between two buns meets the technical definition of a
hamburger, it is really missing something.
The toppings that one places on the burger really make the hamburger one's own creation.
While the buns hold the sandwich together, the toppings that
one places on the burger really make the hamburger one's own creation. The historical analysis of factual information is what makes the historical writing one's own. The dry, seemingly isolated
meat and bun are connected together through the historical analysis. These toppings give the burger a unique flavor.
As one practices and becomes more and more capable, one is able to recognize more nuanced ways to explore and articulate historical arguments. Unfortunately, we all want to be the gourmet chef without putting in the work needed.
We tend to see some spices on the shelf and don't really understand if they really go together or not. As one becomes stronger at historical analysis and draws from more factual information, one can begin to start adding a pinch of salt and pepper, or other spices that help create great flavor. Using big words, or writing in such a convoluted way in order to "sound smart"does not have the desired effect. When one says something like "..and the periphery of that thing called the empire outspread to include more territorial holdings..." rather than simply saying "...the empire expanded..." one does not sound smart, one sounds like someone trying to sound smart.
We may not be gourmet chefs but we can all begin to create our own unique hamburgers.
We may not all be historians, but we can all create our own unique historical essays.