Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Knowledge Quest
(American School Library Association)

“Writing A History Research Paper”

Volume 34, Number 2, December 2005
Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

I understand that in medieval European universities, before Gutenberg had developed his movable type, the students had no books. In their courses, the professors, who had a book composed of the notes they had taken as students and later as scholars, would read to the students from their book. These readings were called lectures, after the Latin word for reading. The students, in turn, would write down these readings into their book, and when they were graduated they then had a book of their own, filled with the knowledge they had copied down at university.

Students now, even in United States secondary schools have, thanks to our libraries, access to many books. These books are on a great variety of topics and offer introductions to a wide range of knowledge.

David McCullough [1992] writes that when Harry Truman was in the high school class of 1901 in Independence, Missouri, the town library of two thousand volumes (a treasure beyond imagining for a medieval student) was connected to the high school. Truman and his friend Harry Ross had a competition to see which of them could read all of those books, including encyclopedias, first, and later each claimed to have won. And Harry Truman was not even preparing for college. He never went to college, although he did quite a bit of reading as a United States Senator and later, as President for seven years.

In the current century, it appears that among those American students who do graduate from high school (less than 70% of those who begin ninth grade) and then go on to college, up to 50% need remedial reading and writing courses before they can take on college-level courses, and many do not return for their sophomore year.

What has happened in just over a century since Harry Truman was reading those two thousand books in the local library? For one thing, now almost everyone goes to high school, which was not the case in Truman’s day. For another, some educators have decided that we are in a “post-literate” era, where books, writing, and all those things we associate with the literate era of the past, are no longer so important.


I would be remiss if I did not thank you, on behalf of all students who have been called upon to attempt the seemingly insurmountable task of writing an in-depth history paper, for providing us with plentiful examples of good writing and good history. Your publication has helped us to see a way through the jungle.—Jesse Esch, Archbishop MacDonald High School, Edmonton, Alberta, Class of 1997; University of Alberta, Class of 2001, published in The Concord Review, Summer 1997.


 In their place, students are offered filmstrips, videos, DVDs, portable computers, skits, PDAs, movies, and the Internet, which are supposed to relieve students of the need to go to the library or read a book. Many educators also seem to have acquired the idea that students need almost no knowledge, because they can always “look it up,” presumably online. The Concord Review recently received a history paper from a high school student who, in the bibliography, listed “online sources” and “offline sources.” Books, in other words, at least for this young HS author, are now “offline sources.”

When educators talk about moving beyond reading and writing to a more audiovisual “post-literate” era, I always think of hieroglyphics, the picture language par excellence. Maybe they think instant messaging with its emoticons is just one giant step on the way to the new day of picture-writing?

Just because almost a majority of our college freshmen arrive so post-literate that they need remedial reading and writing (and so post-numerate that they need remedial math), doesn’t mean that all the news is bad on the literacy front.

The Concord Review, the only journal in the world for the academic papers of high school students, has published 715 [1,143] history research papers from students in 44 states and 33 [40] other countries since 1987. These papers now average 6,500 words, with extensive endnotes and bibliography. There are several of these essays on the journal’s website (www.tcr.org) and you can judge the quality for yourself.


My paper originally began as a 1,500-word assignment. Like many public school students, I had never written a paper over 1,000 words, so I was initially overwhelmed by the task. However, as I began to delve into the primary and secondary source documents that I had borrowed from the library at the University of California in Berkeley, I became fascinated with the topic. I decided to expand my paper into a full-length research paper and submit it to the Concord Review. The excellent quality of all the research papers in the journal inspired me to work extremely hard to achieve the same high standard. It is had not been for the Review, I would never have invested as much time and effort as I did in writing my paper. Through this process, I improved my writing skills, and deepened my love for history.—Kevin Zhou, Monte Vista High School, California, Class of 2006; Harvard Class of 2010, published in The Concord Review, Winter 2004.


Most of these students read books, and most do not think of books as offline resources. They take advantage of the knowledge and counsel of their school librarians, and through their labors to produce a serious research paper they come to join the ranks of the scholars who have gone before, at least at the apprentice level.

Nevertheless, it is hard for some librarians to retain their faith in the books of the literate age, at least when it comes to working with students. James Billington, Librarian of Congress, gave a talk in December 2004 to people interested in civics in Washington, DC. He spoke at length of his efforts to produce a wonderful and hugely expensive DVD full of exciting images and sounds, which he said would be more relevant and exciting for students, and might even help to lead them gradually back to reading actual books one day. At the same conference, David McCullough, who always tries to read the books his subjects read in their day, and who never tires of recommending the joys and benefits of reading books, talked about the importance of libraries. He pointed out how lucky our students are to have access to so many books in our libraries, and he said that even in this day and age, there are more libraries than Macdonald’s eateries in the United States.


I wrote this paper independently, during my own time out of school. My motives for doing so were both academic and personal. Although history has always been my favorite subject, I had never written a paper with this extensive research before. After reading the high quality of essays in The Concord Review, I was very inspired to to try to write one myself. I thought it was a significant opportunity to challenge and expand my academic horizons. Thus during the summer before my Senior year, I began doing the research for my own paper.—Shounan Ho, Notre Dame Academy, Los Angeles, Class of 2003; Columbia University, Class of 2007, published in The Concord Review, Summer 2003.


If some librarians feel defensive about books, and high school teachers no longer assign research papers, the chances are good that students will read fewer books, or none, and thus be unready for college work.

In 2002, with a grant from the Albert Shanker Institute, The Concord Review commissioned a study of the state of the history term paper in United States high schools. The study is on our website, but the basic findings are that, while 95% of the teachers interviewed said term papers were important or very important, 82% never assign a 5,000-word paper (like those published in the journal) and 63% never assign a 3,000-word research paper. Taken together with studies that show high school students spending less than three hours a week on homework, it seems most probable that the majority of high school students in this country now leave without having done a serious research paper, and perhaps without having read one nonfiction book.


You invited me to try my hand at history. I worked thereafter not to complete my class assignment, but to achieve publication. I knew so little about convention, a fact made manifest by the text, but I was nonetheless rewarded by The Concord Review.—Alec Barker, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, Philadelphia, Class of 1997; Georgetown University, Class of 2001, published in The Concord Review, Summer 1997.


In fact, the head of the history department at the Boston Latin School, the oldest (1635) public school in the country and the premier exam school in Boston, wrote me a couple of years ago to say that they had not assigned the “traditional history term paper” for more than a decade.

The teachers in the Concord Review Term Paper Study mostly said they do not have enough time to assign, coach and evaluate research papers, so they don’t ask students to do them. Of course, if serious academic writing is not valued by the schools, teachers will not be given the time to work on them with students. To point only one contrast, a local high school sophomore in a suburban high school near Boston recently estimated that she spent 21 hours a week on swimming, counting practices and meets, but not travel time.

Most of the older private schools do expect their students to learn to write research papers and teachers are given small classes so that they can work on papers with students, and have the time to assess them.

We are preparing to do a companion study to find out the number of nonfiction books (if any) our high school students now read for their classes. Of course, some students, encouraged by their parents, and helped by their librarian, read nonfiction books on their own. But we want to discover the state of expectations for the reading of nonfiction books in high school.

It is not too hard to imagine the reaction of the medieval scholar, if he could see the vast array of books available to students who are now about their age, when he realized that, given these incredible riches of knowledge, many students are not even inclined to open a book at all now.


I wrote my paper on John Adams, for my end-of-the-year paper. I received a B on the paper, mainly because I had over-cited some sources, but with the encouragement of my teacher, I researched and revised during my summer break so that I could send it in to The Concord Review. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through letters written by John Adams and journal entries from Benjamin Rush. This whole experience has led me to appreciate history more and value the research process. Thanks again for creating such an outstanding journal and for raising the academic standard.—Rachael Dean, Pulaski Academy, Arkansas, Class of 2005. published in The Concord Review, Spring 2005. University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2009.


In other parts of the world, even now, there are students who are grateful for the chance even to share a book with other students. Business Week had an article about the very high standards set by the India Institutes of Technology, where students can expect four hours of sleep a night while they are there. It told of one student who, when he began his work for a Ph.D. at Stanford, was thrilled that he could now have his own book, which he did not have to share with others [”Whiz Kids” 1998].

If we do not require students to read nonfiction books and write research papers there are consequences beyond remedial courses in reading and writing during their freshman year in college.

The New York Times reported on January 10, 2005, that some major newspapers are now giving away up to 12 percent of the copies they claim in their circulation figures. “Without them, many newspapers would be losing circulation at a far higher rate. In the industry as a whole, circulation has been falling for a decade or more...Media companies are fighting a steady decline in readership.” [Steinberg and Torok 2005]

Yet of all my assignments in high school none has been so academically and intellectually rewarding as my research papers for history. As young mathematicians and scientists, we cannot hope  to comprehend any material that approaches the cutting edge. As young literary scholars, we know that our interpretations will almost never be original. But as young historians, we see a scope of inquiry so vast that somewhere, we must be able to find an idea all our own. In writing this paper, I read almanacs until my head hurt. I read journal articles and books. I thought and debated and analyzed my notes. And finally, I had a synthesis that I could call my own. That experience—extracting an original work from a heap of history—is one without which no student should leave high school.—Daniel Winik, Sidwell Friends School, Class of 2003. Yale Class of 2007.


The Business Roundtable surveyed its member companies in 2004 to find out what they needed by way of remedial writing courses. They discovered that these companies are spending more than $3,000,000,000 (3 billion dollars) a year for courses in remedial writing for their employees, both salaried and hourly workers. If we took reading and writing seriously in our schools, this money could be and should be available for other things. I have also heard many stories from lawyers who say they have set up remedial writing courses in the firm for their new associates, many of whom arrive from law school unable to write well enough to do the work of the firm.

The National Endowment for the Arts in 2004 did a large survey of adults in this country which found that the reading of fiction has declined. It seems probable that if the National Endowment for the Humanities did a study of the reading of nonfiction books, there would be a similar finding. The lack of the requirement for nonfiction reading and academic writing in our schools not only leads to a burden on colleges to provide remedial work, and on our employers to do the same, but it seems likely that it also contributes to the decline in readership for newspapers, to take one example, and perhaps a decline in the number of those who use our libraries as well.


In the end, working on that history paper, inspired by the high standard set by The Concord Review, reinvigorated my interest not only in history, but also in writing, reading and the rest of the humanities. I am now more confident of my writing ability; and I do not shy from difficult academic challenges. My academic and intellectual life was truly altered by my experience with that paper, and the Review played no small role! Without the Review, I would not have had to put so much work into the paper. I would not have had the heart to revise so thoroughly; instead I would have altered my paper only slightly, enough to make the final paper a low ‘A’ but nothing very great. Your Concord Review set forth a goal towards which I toiled, and it was a very fulfilling, life-changing experience.—Eric Suh, Isidore Newman School, New Orleans, Class of 2003. Harvard Class of 2007.


The Concord Review is preparing a companion study [funding permitting] to determine the the number of nonfiction books our high school students now read for their classes. While some students, encouraged by their parents and helped by librarians, read nonfiction books on their own, we want to discover the state of expectations for the reading of nonfiction books in high school.

It seems highly likely that if high school students are not required to write research papers, they will not read nonfiction books, and they will not discover the joys of reading and this will lead to less reading in later life, along with a reduced ability to communicate in writing.

When we see the dumbed-down political commercials every four years, it is hard to remember that the audiences for the Lincoln-Douglas debates stood for up to four hours, listening with interest to Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas discuss the issues of the day. In our post-literate age, we are treated to short television spots suited, in the minds of some, to citizens who no longer read, and who perhaps are thereby assumed to be less and less able to govern themselves.

Librarians are essential to reading and writing nonfiction in schools—a role I urge you to embrace, not abandon.

©2005 William Fitzhugh

Will Fitzhugh, a graduate of Harvard, who founded The Concord Review [www.tcr.org] in 1987, and the National Writing Board in 1998, taught for ten years at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts [fitzhugh@tcr.org].

“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Academic Coaches [2014]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

Sunday, February 1, 2015


[Samantha Wesner is a recent honors graduate in History
from Harvard College, where her thesis on Masonic organizations
in 18th Century France won the Hoopes Prize in a college-wide competition. WHF]


The Core Knowledge Blog

Want to Build Knowledge, Skills, and Grit? Assign History Research Papers

by Guest Blogger
January 28th, 2015

By Samantha Wesner

[Samantha Wesner is the managing editor of The Concord Review, which publishes high school students’ history research papers.]

As a junior in high school taking American history, my class had two options for the final project: a PowerPoint presentation or an extended research essay. To many it was a no-brainer; the PowerPoint was definitely going to involve more pictures, fewer hours of work, and less solitude. But some of us went for the research paper, whether because we were naturally drawn to writing, seeking a new challenge, or presentation-averse (as I was). 

The daunting task loomed. The essay length: fifteen to twenty pages. The topic I had chosen: The Spanish-American War of 1898. I was a slow writer, and the longest paper I had written before was a five-page English paper on Kurt Vonnegut. The English department had seen to it that I had plenty of practice writing shorter papers. But this new assignment was a leap forward rather than a step. I might have been better off with Will Fitzhugh’s “Page Per Year©” plan: With each year, I would have written a paper to correspond with my grade—one page for first grade, nine pages for ninth grade, and so on.

I scoured the textbook for the few paragraphs it offered on the subject. And then what? I would have stopped there if I hadn’t known that other students had done it. Those of us writing a paper were given examples, plus guidance on paragraph structure, quoting, balancing primary and secondary sources, and footnoting. We toured the library and some online resources to get us started. With this essential how-to knowledge in hand, the assignment inched toward the realm of the possible in my mind.

Stacks of library books, reams of notes, and a twenty-page paper later, I had written what I now consider to be the capstone of my high school education. Years later, I remember 1898 better than the great majority of what I learned in high school. To this day, I really do “remember the Maine”; I have a lasting understanding of turn-of-the-century American imperialism, the power and danger of a jingoist press, the histories of complex relationships between the U.S. and the Philippines and Cuba, and Teddy Roosevelt’s unusual path to national prominence. My initial, vague interest blossomed into a fascination that I did not expect when I first set out. I felt a sense of pride as I tucked the stack of paper neatly into a binder to be handed in. Happy to be done, but even happier to have done it, I felt as if I had summited a peak that had seemed ineffably large from below. And I had certainly needed a big push.

Perusing class syllabi my first semester in college, I came upon a description of a final assignment in a history class that looked interesting: a fifteen- to twenty-page research paper. “I can do that,” I thought, “I’ve done it before.”

I didn’t know how lucky I was to be in the small minority of college freshmen who had learned how to write a research paper in high school. Most American high school students graduate without ever being encouraged to explore a topic in such depth, and yet this is exactly the kind of work they will encounter in college, especially in the humanities. In an era in which the President is invested in making college an opportunity all can afford, it’s only fitting that all should be afforded the proper preparation.

We do a disservice to students when we don’t ask them to do challenging work that will hold them in good stead in college and beyond. True, hard-working teachers, some of whom have over 150 students to teach, often simply do not have the time to grade this kind of assignment. In a perfect world, there would be time and resources to spare for extensive feedback to every student. But a research paper that receives even a little feedback is better than no research paper at all. The former still immeasurably deepens a student’s knowledge, skill set, self-discipline, and confidence.

I have my high school history teacher to thank for the confidence with which I approached my first college research paper. I ended up majoring in history and was comfortable writing a senior thesis of more than one hundred pages. Now, with The Concord Review, I have the wonderful task of recognizing student achievement. And yet, I’m painfully aware that The Concord Review’s young authors are the exceptions—those high schoolers who have written extensive history research papers. Those published go on to great things; many attend top colleges and four have been named Rhodes Scholars. Without a doubt, these are bright students. But how many bright students in the public school system have brilliant papers within them? If they aren’t afforded that first push, we may never find out.

“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Academic Coaches [2014]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

Friday, January 16, 2015


TheReportCard.com St. Augustine, Florida 
A Concord Review High School Author (now
at Stanford) Wins A Rhodes Scholarship   

Posted on 15 January 2015

Maya Krishnan 

By Bill Korach www.thereportcard.org

Rigorous writing is not required or taught in most high schools in America, but serious academic writing is de rigueur for admission to top colleges and is highly respected by employers as a critical skill. The Concord Review has published many of the best high school history papers in the world. TCR Publisher Will Fitzhugh says his authors are accepted at the greatest universities in the world including Annapolis, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, The University of Chicago, West Point, Yale, and many others. Maya Krishnan wrote her Emerson Prize-winning paper for The Concord Review when she was a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland.

Ms. Krishnan, now a Senior at Stanford, has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University. Not every student can win a Rhodes Scholarship, but every student can benefit by becoming a better writer. Writing an excellent history paper not only teaches writing skills, also teaches the writer research and acquisition of knowledge. In her interview with The Report Card, Ms. Krishnan discusses her paper and how the effort paid so many dividends.


Q: Your HS history research paper was 24 pages in length. What was the requirement of the International Baccalaureate class? Do you recall the length of the average submission from your class that year?

My IB History class required a paper that had a word count between 1,500 and 2,000. I ended up getting very interested in my topic and doing lots of extra reading. Eventually I realized that only a fraction of my research could end up in the IB History paper, so I mentioned to my history teacher, Robert Thomas, that I wanted to work on a second independent paper to go along with the class assignment. He was very enthusiastic about the project and encouraged me to develop the paper into a full-length submission.

Q: Who inspired you to take an interest in writing?

One of my high school English teachers, Daniel McKenna, was one of the first teachers who got me very interested in writing. In Mr. McKenna’s English class, literature and writing felt high-stakes—like there were crucial insights worth gaining from texts like Othello and Macbeth, and that intense critical analysis was the only way to find them. I remember getting very invested in a critical essay I wrote on some of James Joyce’s short stories in Mr. McKenna’s English class. I’ve enjoyed analytical writing every since.

This class was part of a very rigorous education in writing I got from the International Baccalaureate program at my high school, Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. There were many great English teachers at Richard Montgomery, and students were regularly writing critical analyses of poetry and prose from the start of ninth grade. All students ought to be able to receive that kind of intense training in analytical writing from their schools.

Q: Did you have a “tiger mom” or were you self-motivated?

I didn’t have a “tiger mom” and I generally followed my own interests, but my parents were always extremely supportive.

Q: Why did you select the topic of Soviet Realism? Are you interested in the Soviet Union, art, history or all of the above?

All of the above—In my tenth grade IB Art class we learned about the explosive creativity of Russian artists in the 1910s and 1920s. So many new styles of art like Suprematism and Constructivism were being developed at the time, and they were developed as part of a broader utopian desire to completely reshape society. I found the notion of remaking the world through art gripping and fascinating. Then in my IB History class we spend a long time studying early 20th century Russian history, and I learned about the violence that can follow extreme political ambitions to remake the world. My choice of topic came out of a desire to better understand the blend of power, promise, and danger that accompanies the urge to fashion the world according to a new image.

Q: How did you learn about The Concord Review?

Several older students in my high school had already been published in The Concord Review by the time I was working on my paper for my History class. I remember reading their essays in printed copies of the journal and being very impressed by their work, and I recall thinking that it would be great if I could submit an essay to the journal, too.

Q: How did your submission to The Concord Review benefit you?

My submission was the first piece of academic work that truly felt like my own intellectual project. Although of course I had written essays before, they hadn’t been long enough to provide the opportunity for the kind of original thinking that an essay for The Concord Review requires. It also made me realize how much responsibility comes with writing history—when I write history I’m making a claim about the way the world really developed, and what I write may shape the way other people think about the past, so I have to be extremely careful to represent reality to the best of my abilities. I had never felt that kind of responsibility before and it was transformative for me.

Writing a paper for The Concord Review also prepared me well for college. My submission taught me how to do research, a skill that students are frequently assumed to already have by the time they enter college. I remember taking the bus to the library of a local university so I could use Jstor and access scholarly monographs. I felt a small jolt of excitement every time I came across a book or article that seemed relevant to my topic. It was an introduction to the thrill of research.

Q: There appears to be a trend away from history and from writing in high school. What do you feel writing and history contributed to your education?

I think the trend away from both writing and history is disastrous. Writing is more than a tool for communicating ideas—it’s a way of producing original and consistent thinking. To write on a single topic for ten, fifteen, or twenty pages, you have to move beyond the realm of received opinion and generate your own ideas. To defend an idea in that same space, you have to struggle to maintain a coherent line of argument. A two-page or five-page essay easily masks inconsistent or incoherent thinking. The long essay is the best way to learn to think.

Learning history taught me how to understand the deeper forces that influence the kinds of events I read about in the news every day. How can you understand what’s going on between Israel and Palestine right now without also understanding the history of colonialism, the history of European anti-Semitism, and the history of nineteenth-century nationalism? History provides students with the intellectual training they need to grapple with the complexity of real-world human affairs. Historical thinking is never going to lose its relevance.

Q: Do you agree with the modern notion that the purpose of education is utilitarian, that is to train you for the job market, or do you feel that the classical idea of education for its own sake is a better path?

I believe that the most useful education is one that teaches creative, insightful, and rigorous thinking. An education in the classics or an education in poetry can ultimately provide more lasting (and useful!) lessons than an education which caters to the latest trends of the job market. In a world where shifts in technology are constantly changing the kinds of jobs that are available, it’s probably more important for students to be engaged learners and thinkers than it is for them to master any one particular set of techniques. Reading, writing, and thinking are the ultimate twenty-first century skills.

Q: What careers are you considering?

I’m considering getting a PhD in philosophy and going into academia. I studied philosophy and computer science as an undergraduate and am eventually hoping to work on the philosophy of technology and the philosophy of computer science. I’d also consider entering the tech industry, but academia is my ultimate dream.

Q: I notice you have an Indian name, is English your first language?

English is my first language, but my grandparents lived with me when I was growing up and they spoke some Tamil with me. I don’t speak much Tamil myself, though.

Q: What do you expect to get out of your years at Oxford?

I’ll be spending one year studying computer science and one year studying philosophical theology. My hope is to gain a deeper understanding of the social and ethical implications of recent developments in computer technology. Human experience has changed in so many ways in the past several decades as a result of the personal computing revolution and the Internet, and I want to use my philosophical training to think about how we can responsibly manage these changes.
This post was written by: wkorach—who has written 610 posts on The Report Card.