5.d.

History and Rhetoric


rhetoric: The art of discourse; skill in the use of language.
discourse: Continuous expression or exchange of ideas; formal and connected expression of thought.

Rhetoric is the art of argument. How does rhetoric operate in history papers? Here are some principles:

Understanding the ways historians construct their arguments is essential to writing good history papers. Students often find it difficult to determine what their papers are really about, not because they don't know what their subject is, but because they don't know what their argument is trying to do. Draw examples from other scholars: when reading secondary sources, constantly ask yourself, what does this article or chapter do with respect to the existing scholarship on this topic?
Here are some rhetorical strategies for approaching your project. They are common to many historical arguments. All address the question of what your paper will do. Once you know what you want your paper to do (with respect to the existing scholarship), you will have a much clearer sense of what you have to do; you will know how you will conduct your research and write up the results.

Note: These are general categories, and the lines between them often are fuzzy. Most often, historical arguments combine two or more of these elements. Finally, this list is limited. What other rhetorical approaches are possible?