Magoosh GRE

Generally speaking, don’t make generalisations!

| November 22, 2011 | 1 Comment

History is a strange discipline, it searches for ‘truths’ seeks facts upon which to establish arguments, but a significant body of historians aren’t sure if there are actually any truths at all. Into this rather confusing mix of doctrines, the undergraduate historian arrives, trying his or her best to get a handle on just one historical narrative or argument, and probably feeling totally overwhelmed by complex theories.

In the rush to learn as much as possible, and in the rush to write as much as possible in exams, it is tempting to make generalised statements, and generalisations will destroy your marks, because whilst historians might disagree on what ‘truth’ is, they will all agree on what it is not, the bland and lazy statement.

Here’s one I was told by a student recently: “The New Deal in America in the 1930s was when Roosevelt saved America.”

Saved? Saved from what? How? What degree of success did he have? What was the New Deal comprised of? Was it all his ideas? Where did he get his ideas from if not?

A more nuanced and better judged statement might be: “The New Deal was a series of measures introduce in two parts, the first and second New Deals in 1933 and 1937 respectively. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was granted wide ranging executive powers in the first hundred days of the administration in 1933 to bring in legislation which would bring about  recovery, reform, and rehabilitation to theUSeconomy.  Historians are divided as to how effective many of the measures were and there was strong opposition from the business class and judiciary.”

Now the paragraph above is in many ways still pretty general (I had to keep it like that because otherwise I would wind up writing an essay on the New Deal), but it is a step in the right direction, away from generalisations.

Once we ignore the general, we see that the picture actually changes here, it is now less certain that Roosevelt ‘saved’America, and the question of the long term results of the New Deal is far from cut and dry.

If you are not going into specifics, it means you are not doing enough reading, your store of knowledge is low and it is showing. If you do the right amount of reading and research, then it is equally important not to become an indiscriminate facts spreader, someone who simply pumps out snippets of knowledge vaguely related to the topic at hand.

If you want good marks and essays that make sense, then you need to have a cogent body of knowledge ready that you can draw from, using examples that are pertinent to the question you are being asked.

Category: Articles & Advice

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. You made certain fine points there. I did a search on the matter and found most persons will go along with with your blog.

Ask a question about this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.