A List of Intriguing World History Essay Topics for High School
High school students should prepare for some bad news: history essays are an integral part of their future. Since history is generally taught through ideas and developments, teachers often assign history essays. While a world history may be a student's first experience of this type of essay, it will not be their last. To get started on the essay, students should consider some of the following topics.
- How did the Catholic Church lead European governance during the Middle Ages?
- How did the art patronage system work during the Renaissance?
- Were the Dark Ages actually a time of cultural regression outside of Europe?
- How did small pox influence the colonization of the Americas?
- How did the role of peasants in western Europe compare to the role of serfs in Russia?
- What impact did Buddhism have on the Chinese empire?
- How did geography shape Greek history?
- How did World War I directly influence the beginning of World War II?
- What factors led to the rise of William the Conqueror as the king of England?
- What caused the Panic of 1819 and the first economic downturn of the United States?
- What was the role of the Tokugawa shogunate in Japanese history?
- Why was the generation following World War I known as the “Lost Generation”?
- What role did the Golden Age play in developing Western Civilization?
- How did Medieval Canon Law influence the status of marriage?
- How did the Industrial Age influence Karl Marx's writing of the Communist Manifesto?
- What was the Christmas Truce in World War II and why did it occur?
- What was the role of slavery and slave rebellions in Jamaica's past?
- How did the Bubonic Plague influence drastic changes in European society?
- How did the United States play a role in the creation of Panama?
- What brought about the end of apartheid in South Africa?
- Were pirates viewed as 16th century Robin Hoods or barbarians while they were alive?
- How did the Spanish-American War begin the United States' rise as a colonial power?
- Why did the United States force Japan to adopt Article IX in their post-World War II constitution?
- What caused Britain to stop using the gold standard following World War I?
- How did concepts from the Enlightenment and writers like Rousseau influence the start of the French Revolution?
- What role did Pol Pot play in creating modern Cambodia? How did he have a negative impact on the country?
- How have Chinese and Japanese relations developed over the centuries?
An essay is a piece of sustained writing in response to a question, topic or issue. Essays are commonly used for assessing and evaluating student progress in history. History essays test a range of skills including historical understanding, interpretation and analysis, planning, research and writing. To write an effective essay, students must examine the question, understand its focus and requirements, acquire information and evidence through research, then construct a clear and well organised response. Writing a good history essay should be rigorous and challenging, even for stronger students. As with other skills, essay writing develops and improves over time. Each essay you complete helps you become more competent and confident. The drop down links on this page contain some general advice for writing a successful history essay. You may also find our page on writing for history to be useful.
Study the question
An obvious tip but one that is sadly neglected by some students. The first step to writing a good essay, whatever the subject or topic, is to give plenty of thought to the question. An essay question will set some kind of task or challenge. It might ask you to explain the causes and/or effects of a particular event or situation. It might ask if you agree or disagree with a statement. It might ask you to describe and analyse the causes and/or effects of a particular action or event. Or it might ask you to evaluate the relative significance of a person, group or event. You should begin by reading the essay question several times. Underline, highlight or annotate key words or terms in the text of the question. Think about what it requires you to do. Who or what does it want you to concentrate on? Does it state or imply a particular timeframe? What problem or issue does it want you to address?
Begin with a plan
Develop a contention
Q. Why did the Nazi Party win 37 per cent of the vote in July 1932?
A. The Nazi Party’s electoral success of 1932 was a result of economic suffering caused by the Great Depression, public dissatisfaction with the Weimar Republic’s democratic political system and mainstream parties, and Nazi propaganda that promised a return to traditional social, political and economic values.
An essay using this contention would go on to explain these statements in greater detail and justify them with evidence. At some point in your research you should begin thinking about a contention for your essay. Remember, you should be able to express it briefly, as if addressing the essay question in a single sentence, or summing up in a debate. Try to frame your contention so that is strong, authoritative and convincing. It should sound like the voice of someone well informed about the subject and confident about their answer.
Plan an essay structure
Write a compelling introduction
Create fully formed paragraphs
Finish with an effective conclusion
Reference and cite your sources
Proof, edit and seek feedback
Some general tips on writing
- Always write in the third person. Never refer to yourself personally, using phrases like “I think…” or “It is my contention…”. Good history essays should adopt the perspective of an informed and objective third party. They should sound rational and factual – not like an individual expressing their opinion.
- Always write in the past tense. An obvious tip for a history essay is to write in the past tense. Always be careful about your use of tense. Watch out for mixed tenses when proof reading your work. One exception to the rule about past tense is when writing about the work of modern historians (for example, “Kershaw writes…” sounds better than “Kershaw wrote…” or “Kershaw has written…”).
- Avoid generalisations. Generalisation is a problem in all essays but it is particularly common in history essays. Generalisation occurs when you form general conclusions from one or more specific examples. In history this most commonly occurs when students study the experiences of a particular group, then assume their experiences applied to a much larger group – for example, “All the peasants were outraged”, “Women rallied to oppose conscription” or “Germans supported the Nazi Party”. Both history and human society, however, are never this clear cut or simple. Always be conscious about avoiding generalisation – and be on the lookout for generalised statements when proof reading.
- Write short, sharp and punchy. Good writers always vary their sentence length – but as a rule of thumb, most of your sentences should be short and punchy. The longer a sentence becomes, the greater the risk to its effectiveness. Long sentences can easily become disjointed, confused or rambling. Try not to overuse long sentences and pay close attention to sentence length when proof reading.
- Write in an active voice. The active voice is preferable to the passive voice in history writing. In the active voice, the subject completes the action (e.g. “Hitler [the subject] initiated the Beer Hall putsch [the action] to seize control of the Bavarian government”). In the passive voice, the action is completed by the subject (“The Beer Hall putsch [the action] was initiated by Hitler [the subject] to seize control of the Bavarian government”). The active voice helps prevent sentences from becoming long, wordy and unclear.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn and S. Thompson, “Writing a history essay” at Alpha History, http://alphahistory.com/writing-a-history-essay/, 2017, accessed [date of last access].