The topic chosen must focus on the human past, be worthy of study, and lend itself to systematic investigation in line with the published assessment criteria. Essays that focus on events of the last 10 years are not acceptable, as these are regarded as current affairs, not history. It is not a requirement for the topic to be chosen from the Diploma Programme history course, but it must be acceptable to the supervisor. It should provide an opportunity for critical analysis of source material, and not depend on summarizing general secondary sources (such as textbooks and encyclopedias), as this approach is likely to lead to an essay that is essentially narrative or descriptive. The topic chosen must be suitable for effective treatment within the 4,000-word limit, so those that cover many aspects of history, and/or a long time period, are unlikely to produce successful essays. Narrowing the scope of the essay will help to ensure a clear focus, and will also allow students to demonstrate detailed and specific historical knowledge, understanding and critical analysis. The following examples of titles for history extended essays are intended as guidance only. The pairings illustrate that focused topics (indicated by the first title) should be encouraged rather than broad topics (indicated by the second title).
Note that it is not necessary to have a separate title for an extended essay in history, as the research question or hypothesis can be used on the cover as well as in the abstract and essay. It is usually better if this is the case, because it avoids confusion and helps the student to obtain a clear focus. However, most students start by thinking in terms of a wider topic and the following “Treatment of the topic” section gives guidance on defining and narrowing it. · “Causes of the collapse of the Mayan civilization” is better than “The Mayan civilization”. · “Varying interpretations of the Salem witch trials” is better than “Witch trials in North America”. · “Use of the visual arts in fascist propaganda” is better than “Fascist propaganda”. · “Stalin’s use of the party machine and terror” is better than “The Soviet Union under Stalin”. · “The role of the Pan-African movement in the downfall of Kwame Nkrumah in 1966” is better than “Kwame Nkrumah”.
It is important that the topic, as stated in the research question, is appropriate for a history extended essay. Where topics could be approached from different viewpoints, such as economics or geography, the treatment of material must meet the subject requirements of history. Students must choose a research question that is not of a trivial nature. Research questions that do not lead to systematic investigation, critical analysis and detailed understanding are unlikely to be suitable. Social history does include areas such as music and sport, but these are only acceptable for a history extended essay if they are tackled from a historical perspective. Adequate available sources are essential. If it is clear at an early stage in the research that they are not, a change of topic or focus should be made. Research requires the use of sources. Ideally, primary sources will be included but an essay that uses only secondary sources will not be disqualified. Many different approaches to the research question can be appropriate, for instance:
· using primary and secondary sources in order to establish and appraise varying interpretations · analysing sources in order to explain changing views over time of particular happenings or developments
· using source material for a case study or local history project, perhaps leading to a comparison of local and national developments
· collecting and analysing oral and written data from family and other contacts to help explain past happenings, perhaps leading to a comparison of local and national developments · using all available sources to answer the question posed. Some examples of titles, research questions and approaches chosen in the past include the following. Title Varying interpretations of the Salem witch trials
Research question Which theory best explains the Salem witch trials?
Background reading is undertaken to enable identification and explanation of two dominant theories as to why the trials took place. The merits of the two theories are appraised using data obtained about the accused and the accusers.
The influence of National Socialist ideology on the German school system in the late 1930s: a case study
To what extent were Hitler’s educational aims fulfilled in the Uhland Gymnasium, 1937–1939?
Reading is undertaken to enable a summarization of National Socialist ideology and curriculum proposals. Primary sources (teachers’ records) are used to establish how far the proposed changes were put into practice in one school during 1937–1939.
104 © International Baccalaureate Organization 2007
Title Changing views of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis
How and why have explanations of the Cuban missile crisis changed since 1962?
General reading is undertaken for a historical introduction and note taking. The views of a number of historians are summarized in order to understand, categorize and evaluate selected explanations of the 1962 missile crisis in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
The value and reliability of sources should not be accepted uncritically in history extended essays, especially when the authenticity of some of the sources is questionable. Students can show awareness of the value and limitations of the main sources used in their investigation through analysing their origin and purpose. (Who were the authors? What were their intentions? Is it likely that any of the sources have been altered?) Relevant outcomes of this analysis should be integrated into the student’s argument (or at least considered in footnotes).
Students should aim to produce an argument that consistently shows good historical understanding in setting the research question into context, and addressing it fully and effectively. The argument should also be well substantiated, based on relevant specific evidence produced with added analytical comments. Good critical analysis and historical judgment can be demonstrated through a sound assessment of source material and differing explanations and interpretations. Opportunities for reporting and assessing differing interpretations will vary with the topic chosen; students will gain credit for explaining why a historian reached the interpretation, not just for stating it. An extended essay in history is a formal essay that is marked according to the assessment criteria. An essay may appear to be satisfactory but it will not score well if the criteria are ignored. Interpreting the assessment criteria
Criterion A: research question
The research question must be appropriate to the particular subject in which the essay is submitted. In history, this means that it must focus on the human past and not be of a trivial nature. The research question must be clearly and exactly focused, and stated in both the abstract and the introduction of the essay.