Critique an Historical Argument

This page authorized by Timothy Howe Saint Olaf College based on original activity.
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In this introductory-level "Evaluate an Historical Argument" assignment, students use a rubric provided by the instructor to assess the quality of a class peer's original 4-5 page historical position paper. In addition to the completed rubric, the student writes up a narrative report explaining the rationale underpinning the formal assessment. All student work is assessed by the instructor using the rubric. After papers are returned, students then meet with their peer evaluator and discuss both the peer and instructor evaluations. This activity allows students to recognize the major elements of a good historical argument, (1) a clear thesis, (2) appropriate evidence, (2) logical reasoning, (3) proper citation, (4) clear and appropriate conclusions, (5) the ability to analyze an argument presented by someone else in relation to these elements, and (6) the ability to self-critique and to present an argument of one's own that reflects these elements.

Learning Goals

  • Articulating a clear thesis or central claim
  • Evaluating and selecting compelling qualitative evidence
  • Evaluating and selecting compelling quantitative evidence
  • Recognizing assumptions and using sound logic
  • Anticipating and responding to opposing views
  • Writing effectively

Context for Use

This activity is designed for first-year college students who have no previous knowledge or experience in using primary sources to construct historical arguments.

Description and Teaching Materials

This Critique Historical Arguments activity requires the following materials, each of which is uploaded below: (1) instructions for the 4-5 page writing assignment_1268937178.doc (Microsoft Word 29kB Mar18 10); (2) a copy of the peer-evaluation assignment_1268937259.doc (Microsoft Word 26kB Mar18 10); (3) a copy of self-evaluation author worksheet in which students reflect on the writing and researching process_1268937078.doc (Microsoft Word 50kB Mar18 10); (4) a copy of the rubric used by students in completing the assignment and by the instructor in assessing their work..doc (Microsoft Word 34kB Mar18 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Many students struggle with the concept of historical evidence and appropriate conclusions. I have found it helpful to provide both good and bad examples from published works to which students apply the evaluation rubric in groups so that they gain experience with both identifying and evaluating historical arguments.


I developed a rubric for assessing the quality of students historical arguments that I provided to the students to use in preparing their 4-5 page position papers. This same rubric I subsequently used to assess the essays the students had constructed. The completed rubric, together with accompanying narrative report, allowed me to give the students feedback about their strengths and weaknesses in relation to specific elements of effective historical arguments. Over the course of the semester all students became adept at identifying logical flaws, inappropriate evidence, and unsupported conclusions. By the end of the term, all students could articulate a clear thesis and organize and evaluate evidence to support that thesis. In the future, I plan to spend more time at the beginning of term working on topic and thesis selection.

References and Resources

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design (2nd Ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2005.

Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. Understanding by Design. Professional Development Workbook. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2004.