develop a comparative statistical analysis that allows you to discuss a particular proposition about how societies “worked” in the 19th and 20th centuries

In an essay of about 1800 to 2200 words, answer one of the two essay prompts below.

You may choose to write either on a particular person (Option 1), or to develop a

comparative statistical analysis that allows you to discuss a particular proposition about

how societies “worked” in the 19th and 20th centuries (Option 2).

Your essay should present a clear and interesting argument, an insight that is the product

of careful reading, analysis, and thought. Do not summarize the life of the person whose

biography you read; do not simply record the statistical pattern you have discerned. The

structure of your essay must be dictated by the structure of your argument; its content

must focus on the specific issues that you are examining.

The thesis of your essay—the argument, the insight you want to present, the product of

your analysis of the readings—MUST be stated within the first three sentences of the

essay. Where this is not the case, the essay will be returned to you and considered late

until it is resubmitted with the thesis stated clearly in the first three sentences. You

should not include ANY historical background or context in the introduction to or body

of your essay. In the case of Option 1, obviously, your main task is to relate the life of

the person involved to the broader historical context; but keep the balance of emphasis on

the biography of that particular person, rather than on a broad factual description of that

context. In the case of Option 2, you should not waste a word in introduction or body

explaining why the proposition in question is important; just take that as a given.

There is a guide to writing essays—to the genre, the literary form we call “essay”—in the

document “Writing History Essays,” on SmartSite. The basic rules of essay writing can

be summed up as follows: 1) An essay presents an argument, an insight, the “case” for a

particular point of view. That means it is focused from the outset on a thesis statement.

2) The body of an essay presents the analytical steps that lead the author to the argument

that the essay presents. That means that the body of the essay has a coherent, articulated

structure designed to lead the reader through a series of logical steps, each step supported

by evidence. 3) The claim of any essay should be that the insight it presents is important.

The concluding passages of an essay, therefore, should not only summarize what has

been said, what it has argued; they should also reflect on what the broader implications of

that argument. This means that the conclusion is the ONLY place in your essay where it

is appropriate to address the broader historical context.

Remember: an essay is focused on a SINGLE insight. It does not present a list of three or

four “aspects” of the issue (in this case, different broader developments that the life you

are examining reflects, or two or three different statistical patterns you have discovered)

without explaining how they are all related to the central argument, the thesis, of the



In the case of Option 1, this means that your essay should not simply explain how the life

of the person you read about reflected two, or three, or four major trends in global history

in this period, without explaining how those trends can be seen to be related in her

biography. Consider for example Ruth St. Denis, about whom I spoke at some length in

one lecture. It is easy to see that her biography reflects both the history of mass

migration in the nineteenth century (her father was English, she was born in New Jersey)

and the history of the growth of racial thought (she played on racial stereotypes in some

of her performances). But how are these two things related? It makes good sense that

her life reflected both patterns, because imperialism, mass migration, and the creation of

settler societies had a constitutive impact on racial thought.

In the case of Option 2, take the example of the proposition “High taxes stifle economic

growth.” Now suppose that you discover that in one country taxes have been high, while

economic growth has been robust, whereas in another taxes have been high, but

economic growth has been desultory. A preliminary conclusion is, obviously, that high

taxes do not stifle growth in every case. But the next question is obviously this: was the

structure of taxation in these two countries different? For example, perhaps high taxes on

profits stifle growth, but high taxes on incomes do not? Or was the economic structure of

the two countries different? Perhaps high taxes stifle growth in economies dominated by

services, but not in economies dominated by manufacturing?

Essay Topics:

Option 1: Biography in Historical Context:

Choose one of the figures listed below, and read the recommended biography here (it will

be on reserve in Shields Library). Write an essay explaining how that person’s life

reflects broader trends in nineteenth and early twentieth-century global history. Relate

the biography you have raised to at least two of the trends listed below.

Global Trends, 1800-2000:

mass migration

settlement, expropriation, and genocide

the scientific-technical revolution

the emergence of a global economy based on commodity extraction

imperialism and resistance

the rise of racial thought

cultural globalization

religious innovation and conflict

the “global revolutionary moment,” 1910-1923

wars for world domination, 1914-1945


the rise of the welfare state


the Green Revolution

rise of the New Left

rise of the New Right

the global triumph of democracy in the 1990s



Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah: P. M. Holt, The Mahdist State in Sudan (1958/1970)


or Fergus Nicoll, Sword of the Prophet (2004) not at Shields

Muhammad Abduh: Mark Sedgwick, Muhammad Abduh (2009) BP80.M8 S43 2010

Jamal ad-Din al Afghani: Nikkie Keddie, Sayyid Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1972)


Nana Asma’u: Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd, one Woman’s Jihad (2000)


Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”: M. Sükrü Hanioglu, Atatürk: An Intellectual Biography

(2011) DR592.K4 H36 2011

Samuel White Baker: Michael Brander, The Perfect Victorian Hero (1982)


Bambata: Jeff Guy, Remembering the Rebellion: The Zulu Uprising of 1906 (2006)


Helena Petrovna Blavatsky: S. L. Cranston, HPB (1993) BP585.B6.C73.1993

Norman Borlaug: Nick Cullather, The Hungry World (2010) HD2056.Z8 C85 2010

Dietrich Brandis: Sharad Sing Negi, Sir Dietrich Brandis (1991), not at Shields

Edgar Rice Burroughs: Erling B. Holtsmark, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1986)


Richard F. Burton: Diane Kennedy, The Highly Civilized Man (1999)


Andrew Carnegie: Joseph Wall, Andrew Carnegie (1970) CT275.C3.W33

or David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie (2005), but this is not at Shields

Jean-Baptiste “Pomp” Charbonneau: Susan Colby, Sacagawea’s Child (2005) Special

Collections F592.7.C43.C65.2005


Chiang Kai-shek: Jay Taylor, The Generalissimo (2009) DS777.488.C5.T39.2009

John Colenso: Jeff Guy, The Heretic (1983) BX5700.6.Z8.C654.1983

Joseph Conrad: Chris Fletcher, Joseph Conrad (1999) PR6005.O4.Z656.1999

Rubén Darío: Charles Dunton Watland, Poet-Errant (1965) PQ7519.D3.Z955

or Rubén Darío, Autobiografia (1920) PQ7519.D3.Z5.1920

Porfirio Diaz: Paul H. Garner, Porfirio Diaz (2001) F1234.5.D5.G17.2001

W. E. B. DuBois: David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. DuBois (1994/2001) E185.97.D73

L48 1993

Albert Einstein: Walter Isaacson, Einstein (2007) QC16.E5.I76.2007

Marcus Garvey: Colin Grant, Negro With a Hat (2008) E185.97.G3.G73.2008

Emma Goldman: Martha Watson, Emma Goldman (1987) HX843.7.G65.E425.2004

Charles George Gordon: Brad C. Faught, Gordon: Victorian Hero (2008)


Mohammed Abdullah Hassan: Abdi Sheikh Abdi, Divine Madness (1993)


William Dudley “Big Bill” Haywood: Peter Carlson, Roughneck (1983)


“Mata Hari”/Margaretha Zelle-McLeod: Julia Keay, The Spy Who Never Was (1987)

D639.S8 Z456 1987

Taha Husayn: Taha Husayn, The Days (2001) RJ864.A35.D39.2001

Kita Ikki: G. M. Wilson, Radical Nationalist in Japan (1969) DS503.4.H37 no. 37 course


Ishiwara Kanji: Mark Peattie, Ishiwara Kanji and Japan’s Confrontation with the West

(1975) DS855.5.I77.P4 reserves

Inayat Khan: Elisabeth de Jong-Keesing, Inayat Khan (1974) BP80.I55.J66131

Rudyard Kipling: David Gilmour, The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard

Kipling (2002) PR4858.P6 G55 2002


Jiddu Krishnamurti: Pupul Jayakar, Krishnamurti (1986) B5134.K754.J39.1986

Li Hongzhang: Samuel Chu, Li Hung-Chang and China’s Early Modernization (1994)

DS761.2 .L5 1994

Yuan Shih-K’ai: Ernest P. Young, the Presidency of Yuan Shih-K’ai (1977)


Francisco Madero: Stanley R. Ross, Francisco I. Madero (1977) F1234.R84.1977

Miriam Makeba: Miriam Makeba, Makeba ML420.M16.A3.1987

José Mariátegui: Jesús Chavarría, José Mariátegui and the Rise of Modern Peru (1979)

HX222.M38.C45 or J. Octavio Obando Moran, José Carlos Mariátegui la Chia:

La Revolucion Socialista in el Perú (2009) F3448.M28.O33.2009

José Martí: Christopher Abel, José Martí (1986) F1783.M38.J67.1986b

Katherine Mayo: Mrinalini Sinha, Specters of Mother India (2006) DS480.45.S563.2006

Lise Meitner: Ruth Levin Sime, Lise Meitner (1996) QC774.M4.S56.1996

Ho Chi Minh: William Duiker, Ho Chi Minh (2000) DS560.72.H6.D85.2000

Jawaharlal Nehru: Judith Brown, Nehru (1999) DS481.N35.B76.1999

Sylvia Pankhurst: Mary Davis, Sylvia Pankhurst (1999) HQ1595.P34.D3.1999b

Gifford Pinchot: Charles Miller, Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern

Environmentalism (2001) S926.P56.M55.2001

John Reed: Eric Homberger, John Reed (1990) HX84.R4.H66.1990

George W. Romney: David Cross, A Striking Likeness (2000) ND1329.R64.C76.2000

Candido Rondon, Todd A. Diacon, Stringing Together A Nation (2004)


Michael Joseph Savage: Barry Gustafson, From the Cradle to the Grave (1986) not at


Olive Schreiner: Ruth First, Olive Schreiner (1980) PR9369.2.S37.Z64.1980

Sun Yat Sen: Marie-Claire Bergere, Sun Yat Sen (1998) DS777.B47.1998

Jan Smuts: Bernard Friedman, Smuts (1975) DT779.8.S6.F74.1975


Bertha von Suttner: Brigitte Hamann, Bertha von Suttner (1996) JX1962.S8.H3613.1996

Nikola Tesla: Margaret Cheney, Tesla: Man Out of Time (1980), Engineering Library


Ivo Thord-Gray: Ivor Gray, Gringo Rebel (1961) F1234.T484.1961

Jim Thorpe: Kate Buford, Native American Son (2010) GV697.T5 B84 2010

José Vasconcelos: Ilan Stavans, José Vasconcelos, the Prophet of Race (2011)


Booker T. Washington: Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington (1972/1983)


Garnet Woseley: Halik Kochanski, Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero (1999)


Hong Xuiquan: Jonathan Spence, God’s Chinese Son (1996) DS758.23.H85.S64.1996

Zeng Jifen: Testimony of a Confucian Woman (1993) CT1828.T688.A3.1993

Option 2: Comparative Historical Statistics

Choose one of the following propositions. Using statistics from sources in the list below,

discuss this proposition. You do not have to reach a definite or complete answer; but you

do need to move a definite, if partial step toward an answer. In your essay, you must

address a minimum of two countries, and you must use at least two statistical series that

both cover a period of at least 30 years. You must construct your own statistical analysis;

statistical analyses drawn from scholarly studies, histories, blogs, magazines, books, or

any other source do not count. (This means you will need to be able to use some form of

spreadsheet software.)

You may also develop a topic of your own in consultation with your TA or with Dr.

Dickinson, and subject to Dr. Dickinson’s approval.


1. More than half the rise in per capita GDP over the past century is accounted for by two

related changes: the fall in fertility, and women’s entry into the paid labor force.

2. High taxes stifle economic growth.


3. High taxes stifle technological innovation.

4. Either rich societies innovate, or innovative societies get rich; we don’t know which.

5. Crime trends are determined above all by demographics and policing.

6. Crime trends are explained best by the breakdown of the family.

7. A large government sector stifles economic growth.

8. Economic growth is powered by savings.

9. Asian, African, and/or Latin American countries are now passing through a process of

modernization that Europe and North America passed through about 70 to 100 years


10. The history of genocide in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was

demographically and economically irrelevant.

11. High fertility makes poor societies poorer, and rich societies richer.

12. Higher education is an engine of economic growth.

13. Making things and selling them once made societies rich; today, financial services

make societies rich.

14. High interest rates stifle growth.

15. Economic growth in the nineteenth century depended on demographic expansion;

economic growth in the twentieth century depends on containing demographic expansion.

16. High taxes on business stifle economic growth; high taxes on incomes fuel it.

17. Military spending stifles economic growth.

18. Fertility falls when women enter the paid labor force.

19. “Tourism” is a feature of the culture of the North Atlantic region.

20. More religious societies are less technologically innovative.

21. Societies that communicate more innovate more.

22. The automobile is a development choice, not a development indicator.


Statistical Sources:

General Historical Statistics:

B. R. Mitchell, ed., International Historical Statistics (Palgrave MacMillan, multiple

editions and volumes), library reference, reference section for most recent edition

but 2000 edition on reserve

HA4675 .M55 2003 (Africa, Asia, Oceania)

HA1107 .M51 2003 (Europe)

HA175 .M55 2003 (Americas

Angus Maddison, The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective (OECD, 2001/2004);

HC21.M285.2001 or available electronically from any campus computer; some

top level figures from this book at, and in Excel format at

Peter Flora, State, Economy and Society in Western Europe, 1815-1975: A Data

Handbook in Two Volumes (1983) HA1107.F6.1983 reference has limited historical data on a whole range of topics

(education [see below], health, environment, etc.) has some very limited historical data (mostly since

the 1990s)


OECD tax database:

Tax Policy Center database: (mostly USA, limited historical international


Labor Force:

International Labor Organization, LABORSTA labor statistics database:



(USA only)



Pew Global Attitudes Project:


WIPO Statistics database: (downloadable in Excel format)

OECD patent databases:



Economic Trends:

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Economic and Social Survey:


UN World Tourism Organization historical database:


The International Almanac of Electoral History, ed. Thomas T. Mackie and Richard Rose

(1974/1991) JF1001.M315.1991

Elections in Asia and the Pacific: A Data Handbook, eds. Dieter Nohlen, Florian Grotz,

and Christoph Hartmann (2001) JQ38.E44.2001

Elections in Africa: A Data Handbook, eds. Dieter Nohlen, Michael Krennerich, and

Berhard Thibbault (1999) JQ1879.A55.E44.1999

Elections in Western Europe Since 1815 ed. Daniele Caramani (2000), not at UCD

Elections in Europe: A Data Handbook, eds. Dieter Nohlen and Philip Stöver (2010), not

at UCD

Elections in the Americas: A Data Handbook, ed. Dieter Nohlen (2005), not at UCD


(limited historical data on interest rates)

IMF, International Financial Statistics, 1948-present, HG3881.I626, available on CDROM

on reserve, HG3881.I577 CD ROM

Calculating historical values and growth rates:

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