Boston University: Writing history, a guide

August 26, 2011

AP history classes worry about writing more than most history classes.  But we really should do more writing in history class, both as a tool to learn about history in the past, and as an exercise in actually writing history.

Searching for something else, I stumbled on a guide published by thBoston University’s Department of History.  It’s not dull at all, but lively, and therefore quite useful, even though it starts out in French:

Raison d’être

Good, clear writing is, for most historians and professional writers, more of a process than a God-given talent. It begins with a blank piece of paper (or computer screen) and ends with a clearly organized and persuasive argument
in the form of a research paper, a published article, or a book manuscript.

History as a discipline is in its essence the discovery and interpretation of signs of the past as well as conventions of how to cite such evidence. It thus combines research (the search for historical evidence) and the organization of data into a convincing argument. Historical writing is one variety of written expression which seeks to inform and persuade the reader through the use of evidence organized around a central thesis or argument.  Good historical writing is not merely description, though it may employ illustrations and appeals to the reader’s imagination.

AP history teachers may find it useful for their classes.  Students working on National History Day projects may find it useful.  You may find it fun to read.  Check it out:  Boston University Department of History Writing Guide (in .pdf).

Ronald Banks: Keep EPA’s regulation

August 26, 2011

In a letter to the editor of the Leavenworth (Kansas) Times, July 11, 2011, Ronald Banks makes the case simply, succintly and quite accurately, for keeping regulatory agencies that protect our health and the environment:

Ronald Banks

To the editor:

As an independent, I often find my political opinions “between a rock and a hard place.”

A big concern is cutting or defunding programs or agencies to save money. I can’t say much about SEC, FDA, or any other alphabet agency, except the EPA. As a retired Registered Environmental Manager, I have some experience dealing with those pesky, business-busting regulations.

I would like to persuade the spending hawks to reflect on why the regulations were enacted in the first place. Pesticides were abused and found in our water, air and accumulated in our food as described in the seminal 1962 book, “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.  Hazardous waste dumps were uncovered at Love Canal.

A dump site was also found in Leavenworth.  Water contamination as shown in the movie, “Erin Brokovich,” from PG&E plants in California; not to mention BP’s oil spill.  E. coli bacterial contamination in hamburger, produce and water, lead in paint, smog/particulate smoke in the air, acid rain, constant oil/gas/ diesel spills on land and sea, have been caused by ironical business cost-cutting on environmental compliance.

Just today I learned Massey Energy compromised safety in its coal mine accident that killed 29 workers.

Don’t get me wrong, I know environmental up-keep is expensive; but it is a public good that must be placed in the fixed costs of a business.

It is not that this information is not known to be true, most would agree they want safe water, air and food. Maybe a reason is in our own psychology? I have recently learned in the latest “Scientific American Mind” that a study by psychologist Ullrich Ecker showed that “our memory is constantly connecting new facts to old and tying different aspects of a situation together, so that we may still unconsciously draw on facts we know to be wrong to make decisions later,” (p12).

In a more political way we also like to see the other party hurt, it feels so good that the feeling unifies a party, even if it hurts us all. As long as the EPA is cut and you are passionate for the cuts factual consequences of the cuts and the emotional consolidation of cheer-leading, may overshadow the good of not cutting.  Remember, cuts at the top filter down to our state, county and city; our water, air and food.

Face it. If there isn’t someone guarding the environment, we won’t have a safe and clean environment.

So, what I have said above will be a “hard sell” no matter how good my argument. Let’s not jeopardize the nation’s health for lobbied cost-cutting budgetary reasons.

Copyright 2011 Leavenworth Times. Some rights reserved

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