Mastering The Humanities

Every day brings finals a little closer, and though it’s certainly hard to think of sitting down and sorting through those mountainous piles of primary source documents, we’re ready to outline the best way to tackle a year’s worth of work in the humanities.  In the last post, we addressed the benefits of studying well, and soaring through finals with confidence and ease. Read on to learn the step-by-steps of owning the Humanities.


History Prep:


Step 1. Read and review all primary and secondary sources and all of your notes on them (hopefully you have created Doc IDs to summarize these sources… see if you can refine your original IDs).

Where many students will think this is sufficient review, we’ll take our work still further.


Step 2. Once you have all the sources, create a timeline that has all of the sources stuck into it, as well as all of the events you’ve discussed. Color code them separately.

By doing this, you can see the entire expanse of time that you will be responsible for knowing. Having a single chronological understanding will show you how events are related in cause and effect, which teachers will not necessarily discuss in class but are bound to test for on Finals. The organization and precision of this work will help you review the year’s work, and will give you a visual aid when recalling how events related to each other.


Step 3. Group all your sources by events and theme. Ask yourself what major themes were discussed across the year, and which events fit into these themes.


Step 4. Be the teacher. Looking over all your materials, ask yourself what questions you’d ask about this material. What would be the best question to test my classmates’ understanding of topics? What theme could tie in multiple units for a rich essay topic? You should come up with three essay questions that cover at least half the year.


Step 5. Now’s the time to start pairing and grouping ideas in two ways. Group your sources under the themes you’ve identified. Conversely, find all the themes within each source.

e.g.: You’ve covered world events during the Cold War, so one of your themes might be Cold War Containment: you should be able to think of these events under the theme: Khrushchev’s talk, JFK inaugural address, Eisenhower’s military industrial complex, Cuban missile crisis,  Marshall Plan, Truman Doctrine.

But then, within the source Military Industrial Complex, you should be able to find these other themes besides containment: nuclear deterrents, diplomacy, expansion.


If you’ve ever tagged things you liked on the internet, this is a great place to use those skills. Each source is tagged by themes, and each theme contains all the tagged sources that fit.


Step 6. Extra Credit. The last thing to do, if you really need to get an A, is go ahead and write the essay before the test. If you did well at guessing your themes, you’ll be pretty close to the actual in-class essay topic.

If nothing more, at least write your introduction. This is usually the part of the essay where kids get stuck and take up the most time, and it’s is the least significant aspect of your grade. On in-class essays, your argument and it’s support will be more important than your meticulous wording. If you get yourself prepped for at least this part, you’ll be well on your way to connecting the themes and sources you’ve analyzed so well.



Literature Prep:


The main difference here from History prep is that instead of sources to compile, you have the different pieces that you’ve read.


Step 1. Explode each work of literature: break down the book event by event, scene by scene (not necessarily chapter by chapter).


Step 2. For each narrative episode within the book, list

1. What Happens.

2. What It Shows.

3. Choice Quotes (related to what the actions show)

4. IDs (any details that might symbolize a bigger idea, or recur to make a specific point throughout the book)


Step 3. Themestorm: Come up with 4-6 possible themes that could be addressed in essay. List several episodes that come to mind to back-up these themes.


Step 4Themesearch! For each theme, come up with 2-4 instances that enlighten the themes. For each instance, write the Context/Content/Significance of that episode (these will form your paragraphs in the essay.


Step 5. Themses! After gathering evidence, decide the thesis that could use your research.


Step 6. Now try to compare these themes to another book you’ve read, are there similarities and differences that might make for a fitting essay topic?



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