Writing Essay Exams

Let me put the basic information on the in-class tests here so you have it available.  You have the 50 minute class period to do your test.  You will write one essay.  You will have a choice of two questions to write on, which you will not get in advance.  Please be careful to answer the specific question asked, not just write about whatever comes to mind.

 The tests are posted as a Turn-it-in assignment.  That means that your answer will be checked for duplication against other answers submitted and against the web.  In order to do so, Turn-it-in.com does keep a copy of your work.  If you have a problem with that please contact the professor right away.

You will write your essay as a Microsoft Word file (if you use another word processor you must save in Rich Text format) and then submit it by going to assignments in Blackboard and then to  "turn in tests and paper here"   You will see the assignment--click on view/complete just below it.  On the page that then comes up, click on the browse button next to file and find the file on your own computer containing your essay.  When you have selected it, make sure to hit submit.  If you prefer you may hand write your essay on paper and hand it in at the end of the class period.

The test instructions say to write an essay of about 600-1200 words on the question given. Make sure to organize your thoughts into paragraphs and to use specific evidence to prove your points. If you use a quote or very specific facts from the assigned reading, you may simply put the author's name and the page number in parentheses.  If you use other sources please indicate your sources, using any form you want (so long as I could find the source).  You may cite the online class notes either by the web address or as Class Notes: title.  You may consult books, notes, and web pages while writing your test but you may not communicate about the test with another person (except the professor or teaching assistants) either in person or using communication technology.  If the internet goes down the day of the test the test will still be given, so you may want to download key course material to your own computer or print it out.

Don't assume that I already know the facts (write as if your audience was a random educated person)--you need to select and explain the appropriate evidence to illustrate your point.  On the other hand, don't just give facts and leave the reader to draw his/her own conclusions--you need to say what point you are making in each paragraph as well as have an introduction (it is ok if your introduction is a one-sentence paragraph) and conclusion.  Be specific and detailed.  Your examples do not have to all come from the assigned reading, but some should.  You are welcome to use further information not from the notes or the assigned reading but you are not required to do so.

You will be graded both on the quality of your analysis and on using specific, appropriate examples.  The examples should be specific historical stories, not just generalizations.  When I look for analysis, I am looking for you to answer the question in your own way.  You are welcome to use "I" in your writing.  But I'm not looking just for your opinion.  I can't grade an opinion.  But I can grade how you put the ideas together for yourself --how sophisticated your ideas are, how well you explain them, and how well you back them up.

Generally, a D essay doesn't answer the question or does not meet expectations for a college essay.  A C essay attempts to answer the question but lacks appropriate specific examples or lacks a clear argument that is developed through the essay or shows significant lack of understanding of the reading or the history.  A B essay has all the pieces, but not all the examples are well done or the argument is oversimplified.  An A essay answers the question by developing interesting ideas about the topic (your own thinking about the theme of the question) and gives interesting detailed examples.  I don't grade on the basis of spelling and grammar unless they make the essay a pain to read, but if you don't proofread it gives a bad impression of how thoughtfully you approached your essay.

Sample question and answer (this question is based on a book I no longer use in the course):


Cowan writes: "Between 1870 and 1920, the United States changed in ways that its founders could never have dreamed possible." Cowan, p. 149) Explain three reasons why technological change speeded up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the rate of technological progress increased greatly. Many factors came together to bring about this rapid change. Three such factors are the American patent law, the American system of mass production, and improvements in the transportation system.

The first reason that the rate of technological progress increased greatly between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is a good patent law established in the United States. This patent law made the inventor prove the his invention was "sufficiently useful and important" (Cowan, p. 122) Another provision of the law which was different from other patent laws of the time was that the inventor had to provide precise, publishable specifications of the invention. This provision meant that the inventor would have to give up the secrets of his invention in order to obtain a patent. At first, this provision kept people from getting patents because sharing their secrets would allow others to easily copy the invention. Eli Whitney had problems making money off his patented cotton gin because his invention was very simplistic and because the resources for enforcing patent violations in the courts would be far to costly to sue ever person who copied his invention. Oliver Evans also had this problem when he invented a mechanical tool for milling. Evans had his inventions copied to the point where while his inventions were being adopted in mills across the country, he and his family lived in relative poverty. Once it became clear that the federal government intended to enforce its patent laws, inventors saw a way to profit and gave them the chance to get rich off of their inventions. From 1880 to 1900 the number of patents issued per year increased from three thousand to 26 thousand. This increase in the number of people who tried to make a living by inventing new things greatly helped to start and contributed to a period around the turn of the century where the rate of technological progress greatly increased.

Another reason that the rate of technological change increased is the implementation of the American system of mass production. The very beginnings of this system were in the late 1700's into the 1800's when Eli Whitney developed the idea of producing guns for the military by making all of the guns produced efficiently with machines and each part of the gun would be exactly like its counterparts in all the other guns produced so that the guns would have interchangeable parts. Whitney never was able to achieve his system of manufacturing of guns, others continued to try and achieve Whitney's vision by first trying a division of labor. The next step was to build machines to do each individual task and make the machines produce identical parts. Finally John H. Hall in 1822 had produced a system where he could produce arms exactly alike and produce them economically by only using common workers. This system then extended to the making of clocks. In 1800, clockmakers could make four or five clocks a year. By using machines to make the small parts of a clock and by simplifying the clock, by 1850 an average clock factory was producing 130,000 to 150,000 clocks per year. This new way of manufacturing clocks lowered the cost of clocks from $50 to $1.50 (Cowan, p.81). The same system was also brought to the production of sewing machines by William H. Perry. This system increased production from 800 a year in 1851 to 21,000 a year in 1959 to 174,000 a year in 1872 (Cowan, p.82). With this system being put to wide use by the late nineteenth century, this system of manufacturing and mass production made it possible for very complex machines to be invented and produced at reasonable costs. This system allowed new machines to be produced faster and cheaper. In turn these new machines could produce new machines or products even faster. This makes the system of manufacturing build upon itself and its improvement would increase at an increasing rate. Also, the system of mass production created a "consumer culture". With the rapid production of products, American culture began to buy things for their survival instead of growing and making things themselves. In turn this increased demand for products made the system grow even larger.

A third reason for the rapid increase in the rate of technological progress is the improvements in transportation. The major transportation improvement that affected the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries was the railroad. Although turnpikes and canals had been built decades before, the railroad provided the fastest and most cost effective way of transporting good between markets. The first fully functional railroad system was the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad in 1830. The railroad had 136 miles and was the largest under single management in the world. By 1840, there were 3326 miles of railroad in the United States. In the decade between 1830 and 1840, railroads competed with canals. Although some railroads were punished with punitive taxes by the state government who had part ownership of most canals, by 1840 most of the nation's products were being transported by rail (Cowan, p.114). By 1860, 30,600 miles of railroad were operating, more than anywhere else in the world. The only problem with railroads was the even in the 1870's there were several hundred railroads competing against each other with different gauges for different tracks. Then very wealthy investors bought competing railroad companies. By 1880, all railroads had voluntarily converted to a standard gauge of 4 feet 8.5 inches. By 1900, all of the railroads were owned by seven, often mutually cooperative, companies (Cowan, p.155). This consolidation made the railroads a network that ran all across the nation. This system allowed products to be transported to anywhere in the nation at a low cost. This allowed businesses to flourish. This system increased the rate of technological growth greatly by placing companies very far apart in competition with each other. Companies found that the best way to compete was to produce new or improved products. Companies now placed their capital into the research and development of new products and technologies.

These three factors of patents, mass production, and transportation, created a climate in the years prior to the late 19th century where a large technological boom would occur. Patents allowed companies to make money off of a product without other companies copying them for a period after its invention. Mass production allowed new products and technologies to be produced at a much faster rate and in a much more cost affective way. The railroads allowed these new products that were being mass produced to be transport all over the country and forced companies to invest into research and development of new technologies to compete with new competitors. And together these factors helped increase the rate of technological change.