GERMAN 2320 German Civilization1850 to Present: The Student Movement and German Terrorism GERMAN 2320 German Civilization1850 to Present: The Student Movement and German Terrorism

Essays

Students will submit twelve essays in this course, one after each lesson. The essays following Lessons 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10 are worth 100 points each. The essays following Lesson 1, 7, and 11 are worth 120 points each, because they are more complex and demanding and deal with some of the most important issues in twentieth-century German history. For Lessons 2, 8, and 12, students will submit rewrites of earlier essays for 80 points each. In other words, for Lesson 2, students will rewrite the essay they submitted for Lesson 1; for Lesson 8, they will rewrite the essay they submitted for Lesson 7; and for Lesson 12, they will rewrite the essay they submitted for Lesson 11.

Students should understand that the grading and allocation of points for Lessons 2, 8, and 12 are independent of the preceding essays. For example, let’s assume that a student received 88 points out of 120 in Lesson 1 (i.e., a straight C). If the student successfully manages to address all of the instructor’s criticisms and to improve the essay accordingly, he or she might receive the maximum 80 points for the rewrite in Lesson 2 (i.e., A+), even though the grade on the essay for Lesson 1 was significantly below that. The overall grade for the two lessons would then be 168 points, a B (88 points for Lesson 1 plus 80 points for Lesson 2). In other words, even a brilliant revision of an earlier essay cannot retrospectively alter the original grade that students received for the first version of that essay.  Students can only improve their overall grade by scoring high with the second version. Obviously, the better the first version, the more likely it is that the second version will also be graded highly.

Grading will be based on the following considerations:

  • A good essay clearly and fully completes all parts of the assignment. Because some of the lesson essays specifically ask you to address several issues as part of the overall assignment, half a letter grade will be subtracted for each sub-question left unaddressed. For example, if you respond to only one of the three issues you’re supposed to include in your answer, your essay will be graded according to the quality of the answer provided, and then one letter grade will be subtracted, because you should have answered all three parts of the question.
  • Please keep in mind that although you are supposed to address all sub-questions listed in the task, this does not mean that you cannot add additional comments or observations of your own.
  • A good essay shows overall competence and excellent knowledge of the issues in question. This competence usually stems from a thorough understanding of all the issues raised in the commentary. It can be supplemented by some additional studies you undertake in excess of what is provided by the commentary (for example by looking up some of the additional references mentioned at the end of each lesson). In any case, the key point is that you should NOT simply copy the commentary, but rephrase the learning material in your original words as well as add original insights of your own.
  • A good essay is well organized and written in a clear and coherent style. Extra points are given if your essay provides a smooth transition between the different parts that address the questions. On the other hand, points are subtracted up to one letter grade for sloppy writing, grammatical and orthographic mistakes, and answers that are either too short or too long.

The following remarks are meant to help students compose their essays for the various progress evaluations of this course.

For most, if not all, of the progress evaluations in this course, there is no “correct” answer you are supposed to come up with. This is not a math or natural science course where one answer is “right” and the other answers are “wrong.” Rather, the questions you are addressing can usually be answered in different ways, and one can almost always make an argument in favor of one position as opposed to another. Therefore, what matters most when you write your essay is less what you argue for than how you argue for it. The crucial point is that you provide good reasons for the opinion you express, draw from the historical data and evidence provided in the lesson and the reading assignments, argue convincingly, and structure your essay coherently.

A good essay will, of course, address all the issues and related questions laid out in the progress evaluation. But all too often, students go through these issues as if they constituted a checklist of single, unrelated items that just need to be addressed one by one to produce a “correct” answer. That, however, is not the case. Rather, the specific points mentioned in the progress evaluations are only meant to provide some overall guidance for composing a comprehensive response to the essay prompt. Hence, you should not assume that all relevant aspects of a particular topic or question will be explicitly mentioned in the progress evaluations, and you should always feel free to refer to or include other points you regard as essential to the topic you discuss. But, most importantly, you must endeavor to weave all of the various aspects and ideas you discuss into a coherent whole in order to provide a convincing argumentative flow to support your views. You should never just rattle off your individual ideas without providing a sentence or two that connects these ideas and shows how all of them help address the issue. The overall goal for this course is for you to learn important facts about German history, but also to develop and express an informed opinion about this history.

Your essay should state a thesis or an opinion early on (usually in the first paragraph) that responds to the question or issue raised in the progress evaluation. The remainder of the essay should then try to provide convincing evidence in favor of this position you expressed. You must connect the evidence you cite to your overall thesis. All too often, students simply assume that the connection is “obvious” and requires no further explanation. Hence, they just list a number of historical facts or observations without spelling out exactly how and why these facts are relevant to the issue at hand. This approach will always result in a lower grade than one that remains focused on the overall question and presents a more coherently argued position. See Lesson 1 for detailed examples.

In your essay, do not just list or mention a number of historical facts or events without clarifying why these events are relevant for the position or opinion you are supporting. Otherwise, your instructor will get the impression that all you do in your essay is to regurgitate the information given to you in the Lesson without thinking through this information. Your objective in this course is not to repeat or memorize facts, but to critically discuss and evaluate these facts within a broad and complex historical framework. So, whenever you refer to an important event (say the dismissal of Bismarck in 1890), you must immediately tell the reader why this was important: What did the dismissal signify? What consequences followed? How does this support your argument?

Your closing paragraph should summarize as succinctly as possible the case you have been trying to make throughout the essay. You might also try to present a final comment or point to some other related issues to bolster the accuracy and importance of the views you have already expressed in the essay. However, you should never begin a new argument or present complex new evidence in favor of your position in your last paragraph. Still, students often end their essay with some big claim or general pronouncement because they (falsely!) believe that what they need is a “big bang” at the end to sound more convincing. The opposite is true: If you have presented a compelling and well-reasoned case throughout the essay, all you have to do in the end is to remind the reader about why your arguments support your view. That’s it. If you were unable to make your case in the body of the paper, you will only aggravate the situation by adding additional and unsupported statements at the end.

 

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