885 History questions

discuss the long term causes of the French Revolution

The long term causes of the French revolution can be identified as: weak leadership, presence of the enlightenment, the American War of Independence, and the structure of French society.To begin with, Louis XVI has traditionally been viewed as a weak leader. His continual change in estate generals in 1789 displayed his desire to please the people, rather than maintaining a stable society, the flight to Varennes in 1791 completely undermined the revolution and suggested that the monarchy and revolution could not co-exist in France. Louis therefore cultivated an image of himself that represented everything that was wrong and unjust within French society, meaning he needed to be overthrown in order for France to progress.Secondly, the presence of the enlightenment hugely impacted the direction of the French revolution. Soldiers, such as Lafayette, returned from the American war of independence with the notion of freedom ringing in their ears, leading to ideas of 'liberty, equality, fraternity' throughout France. With the archaic system of monarchy having been overthrown in the war (Britain was defeated by America), it was clear that the old regimes of power were quickly being defeated by modern ideas of liberty and democracy. France's punishing structure of estates that the ancién regime consisted of, was not compatible with the modern ideas of liberty and equality, and so the grievances of the 3rd estate, versus the privileges of the top two estates, meant that France was headed in only one direction: revolution.
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Nicole E.

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To what extent was the presidency of Lyndon Johnson the most important turning point in the development of African American civil rights?

In planning an answer to this question, it is important to first deconstruct the question itself. By doing this, you can gauge what it seems the examiner is looking for, and plan your response accordingly.'EXTENT' - The first key point is that of the question asking to you assess the 'extent' of something. When a question is asking about 'extent', it is essentially asking 'how much impact'. This allows you to write a nuanced response, where, at every stage of your answer, you come back to a judgement on just how far Johnson's presidency changed the course of the movement, in comparison to other events and/or actions.FACTORS OR THEMES - This question could be answered by paragraphs analysing different 'factors' (e.g. A paragraph on Lyndon's presidency, a paragraph on the work of individual activists such as Malcolm X, a paragraph on Roosevelt's 'New Deal'). However, choosing to write thematically (e.g. A paragraph on political turning points, a paragraph on economic turning points, a paragraph on social turning points) may show a greater complexity and depth of response. Thematic answers are also a good approach, as they allow you to easily refer to the turning point mentioned in the question (Lyndon's presidency) at every stage of your answer, which is crucial. Also, they allow you to compare and contrast a wider range of potential 'turning points', which is important in your analysis of 'extent'.TURNING POINT - The phrase turning point means the question is looking for analysis of events/actions that changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement in America. What used to pose a stumbling block to me with this phrase was the idea that 'turning points' don't always have to be a change for the better. Once I had realised this, it really helped the level of analysis in my answers, as I could incorporate instances of significant negative progress of the Movement into my answers. For example, in this question you say that, for some, Reagan's presidency may have been an economically negative turning point, due to his apparent commitment to cutting back on affirmative action. You could then evaluate this point by highlighting the fact that Reagan's impact was limited by a liberal congress.
Throughout your answer, use relevant and specific examples to make your point. However, don't feel overwhelmed by dates and statistics! Having three or four points per paragraph is enough to write a strong argument, and you won't be expected to have memorised hundreds of examples for each question. In fact, 'turning point' questions lend themselves well to having a handful of significant events learnt, as not every single date or event or person can be cited as a 'turning point' of the Civil Rights Movement in the first place.
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Amelia H.

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Gorbachev resigned because his economic policies had failed. Explain why you agree or disagree with this view.

Gorbachev oversaw a period of dramatic structural political, social and economic reform between the middle of the 1980s to 1991. His limited attempts to liberalise the Soviet Union’s economy led to significant inflationary pressure and market failures, and meant that that the underpinning tenets of the command economy were not abandoned, fuelling calls for his resignation. However, it is important to explore the link between these economic policies and the democratisation of the Soviet Union’s political system, whereby Gorbachev’s attempts at constitutional reform undermined the nomenklatura system and led to a heightened sense of criticism against him. Moreover, it is necessary to consider how increasing dissent from various constituent republics of the Soviet Union were met with unsuccessful attempts by Gorbachev to reaffirm the authority of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and how he failed to adequately respond to the Chernobyl crisis. These failings of Gorbachev were capitalised on through the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, whose command of popular support is vital in contextualising Gorbachev’s resignation.
Gorbachev’s resignation was due to the intersection of an unprecedented programme of economic and political liberalisation through the CPSU, and further demand for reform from citizens of the Soviet Union. These demands could not be contained by Gorbachev or the CPSU, but were eventually manifested through Boris Yeltsin’s political leadership. Gorbachev had provided an increasingly open platform for political criticism and dissent from citizens of the Soviet Union. Criticisms were raised regarding his suppression of calls for greater political autonomy from Soviet republics, his handling of Chernobyl, and his inability to satisfy the demands of those who wanted the liberalising processes of Glasnost and Perestroika to be hastened and deepened. By the time the limited scope of Gorbachev’s flawed political and economic reforms across the Soviet Union became clear, Boris Yeltsin was eventually able to utilise popular dissent against Gorbachev during the 1991 coup. Yeltsin’s political capital deriving from the coup and his mobilisation of supporters, underpinned by constitutional reforms which affirmed Yeltsin’s role as Chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet, ultimately meant Gorbachev was left with no capacity to exert change upon the Soviet Union’s increasingly fragmented political and economic system, forcing him to resign.
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Patrick G.

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What should I write in my history essay introductions?

While there is no exact formula for what constitutes a good history essay introduction, with differences depending on the type of essay (for example, a timed exam or coursework) and the examination board, the most important thing for all introductions to do is answer the question. This does not necessarily have to be in the first sentence of the introduction, but it is crucial that the introduction as a whole summarises the argument of the essay and provides a brief reason/justification for the answer that you are going to argue for the given question.Introductions are also often said to require key definitions. This is in part about specifying the range of the material being looked at (for example, by identifying a specific period, or set of cases). Often, the question will include a key term that, in more advanced essays at least, cannot be given a simple dictionary definition. For example, if the question asks how successful a ruler was, we may need to decide what this means in a more applied sense, whether, for example, they achieved what they set out to achieve, or whether their country was more powerful than when they came to power, or how far they were supported by their people. At the highest level, especially in some coursework essays, introductions can place the essay into a wider scholarly debate, addressing why the question asked here is important and what some historians have argued on this subject (the “historiography”). 
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Hugh N.

Answered by Hugh, tutor with MyTutor


How do I answer a question which requires source analysis?

The most common question in history A-level source papers is “With reference to these sources and your understanding of the historical context, assess the value of these sources to an historian”. The most important thing to notice here is the wording “with reference to THESE sources AND your understanding of the historical context”. Students who get top marks will always have the source material lead their response to the question. For example, if you were answering a question on American attitudes to the African American civil rights movement you would have to first study the sources to find textual details that would provide evidence for your argument. If the source detailed abusive or negative treatment of protestors this detail could then be supplemented with your own knowledge of the historical period.
Students who wish to get the top marks should always pay attention to and remark upon the following: the PURPOSE of the source (this can be found in either/both the nature of the source, e.g. a public speech given by a politician, or the details of the source, e.g. if the author states their intention in creating the source), the intended audience (paying attention to how the type of audience might change the contents of the source, e.g. a source created for an illiterate audience will be very different to one created for socio-politico elites), and the time period (understanding the values and concerns from the society in which the source has been drawn).  With all of these elements it is not enough to repeat what the source says but to take your analysis one step further, asking how the context, audience, and purpose both shape the content of the source and affect its reliability to historians. These elements will all help in determining whether a source provides reliable evidence or is a claim/opinion. 
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Elin S.

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How do you structure an essay?

An essay can be broken down into 3 parts: 1) the introduction, 2) the point paragraphs, and 3) the conclusion.
The introduction should answer the question explicitly and summarise the main points that will then be talked about.
The paragraphs should takle one point each that is relevant to the question. You should aim for roughly 4 paragraphs. Each paragraph should be structured using PEEL. P is for point meaning the opening sentence should say what point the paragraph will disuss in relation to the question. The first E is for explanation meaning you should explain how the point relates to and influences the question. The second E is for evidence and it is crucial evidence is given to support the point being true. Finally, L means link to the question, a vital last part of a paragrah.
The conclusion should answer the question and support this answer using the points discussed in the essay.
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Alice S.

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'Economic successes was the most important reason for Conservative electoral dominance in the period from 1951-64.' How far do you agree?

When given an essay question, the best place to start is by reading the question carefully, by picking out key words and any assumptions the question appears to be making. In this particular example, the phrase 'how far do you agree' implies that different factors contributing to Conservative electoral dominance must be identified, discussed and compared to the factor of ‘economic success’ picked out by the question in deciding relative importance to other factors.
Next, it is important to plan and decide on a structure. There are different ways of approaching this, but the basic framework (an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion) should be followed. In this example, the nature of the question dictates the structure. By suggesting ‘economic successes' were the most important, it is best to start with this particular factor first in the main body of the essay, before moving on to discussing three other aspects such as divisions within the Labour Party, Conservative leadership and Conservative social policies. This encourages comparison to be made within each paragraph with Conservative economic successes as the factor given in the question, thus avoiding the tendency to write a simple narrative.
To start writing, the introduction should include a brief exploration of what the question is asking, and give the examiner a sense of the direction your essay will take. For the structure of the main paragraphs, it is important to keep the content analytical and linked to the question. The most effective way of achieving this is by following the same structure of ‘PEA’ within each paragraph. ‘PEA’ reminds you to first make a Point, next give Evidence, and then Analyse this information and compare to other factors or themes, ensuring you link back to the question and make your argument. For example, in assessing the importance of economic successes, the limitations of ‘stop-go economics’ which failed to control inflation and hindered industrial growth leaving Britain other European countries such as Italy, could be emphasised. This implies that another factor such as the divisions of the Labour Party between the fundamentalists and the revisionists was perhaps more important in determining Conservative electoral dominance which you would perhaps next discuss in the essay. Lastly, the conclusion must clearly and concisely state your argument which would have already been developing throughout the essay by directly answering the question.
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Joanna G.

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How much did Mary I's marriage to Prince Philip of Spain influence Britain's foreign policy?

It can be argued that Mary’s marriage to Philip forced England into a diplomatic relationship with Spain which led to Spain dominating England’s foreign policy interests, particularly Philip realised that Mary would probably not produce an heir to the throne. When Mary first took the throne it was important that she married, as a son or daughter of her own would be more likely to continue the Catholic faith that she had worked to restore, and Mary was convinced that she needed a husband to offer advice, and father the Catholic heir that was necessary to complete her restoration of Catholicism. This marriage may have led to England's foreign policy being dominated by Spain, for example, in September 1556, England faced pressure to join a war against France on Spain’s side. Philip demanded English support and on the 7th June 1557 England declared war on France and the English navy proceeded to clear the Channel and patrol in the Atlantic. Troops were put on stand-by in the Calais Pale and 7000 soldiers were sent to aid the 70,000 Spanish and Imperial troops fighting the French.     
However, there is also much evidence to suggest that the marriage between Mary and Philip was equally fair to both countries, and that the marriage did not lead to England being dominated by Spain and the serving of Spanish interests. The marriage treaty can be considered as having been very favourable towards England. For example, Philip was to receive the title of ‘King’ and rule as joint sovereign, but he could not possess any sovereign authority in his own right. In addition to this, Philip could not promote foreigners to office in England, and was not allowed to take the Queen or any children they might have out of the country, without the permission of the nobility.   
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Madeleine C.

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