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Writing is the physical manifestation of a spoken language. 35,000 BCE as evidenced by cave paintings from the period of the Cro-Magnon Man (c. 50,000-30,000 BCE) which appear to express concepts concerning daily life. These images suggest a language because, in some instances, they seem to tell a story (say, of a hunting expedition in which specific events occurred) rather than being simply pictures of animals and people.

Written language, however, does not emerge until its invention in Sumer, southern Mesopotamia, c. 3500 -3000 BCE. This early writing was called cuneiform and consisted of making specific marks in wet clay with a reed implement. The writing system of the Egyptians was already in use before the rise of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 BCE) and is thought to have developed from Mesopotamian cuneiform (though this theory is disputed) and came to be known as heiroglyphics.

The phoenetic writing systems of the Greeks ("phoenetic" from the Greek phonein - "to speak clearly"), and later the Romans, came from Phoenicia. The Phoenician writing system, though quite different from that of Mesopotamia, still owes its development to the Sumerians and their advances in the written word. Independently of the Near East or Europe, writing was developed in Mesoamerica by the Maya c. 250 CE with some evidence suggesting a date as early as 500 BCE and, also independently, by the Chinese.

Writing & History

Writing in China developed from divination rites using oracle bones c. 1200 BCE and appears to also have arisen independently as there is no evidence of cultural transference at this time between China and Mesopotamia. The ancient Chinese practice of divination involved etching marks on bones or shells which were then heated until they cracked. The cracks would then be interpreted by a Diviner. If that Diviner had etched `Next Tuesday it will rain' and `Next Tuesday it will not rain' the pattern of the cracks on the bone or shell would tell him which would be the case. In time, these etchings evolved into the Chinese script.

History is impossible without the written word as one would lack context in which to interpret physical evidence from the ancient past. Writing records the lives of a people and so is the first necessary step in the written history of a culture or civilization. A prime example of this problem is the difficulty scholars of the late 19th/early 20th centuries CE had in understanding the Maya Civilization, in that they could not read the glyphs of the Maya and so wrongly interpreted much of the physical evidence they excavated. The early explorers of the Maya sites, such as Stephens and Catherwood, believed they had found evidence of an ancient Egyptian civilization in Central America.

This same problem is evident in understanding the ancient Kingdom of Meroe (in modern day Sudan), whose Meroitic Script is yet to be deciphered as well as the so-called Linear A script of the ancient Minoan culture of Crete which also has yet to be understood.

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The Sumerians first invented writing as a means of long-distance communication which was necessitated by trade.

The Invention of Writing

The Sumerians first invented writing as a means of long-distance communication which was necessitated by trade. With the rise of the cities in Mesopotamia, and the need for resources which were lacking in the region, long-distance trade developed and, with it, the need to be able to communicate across the expanses between cities or regions.

The earliest form of writing was pictographs – symbols which represented objects – and served to aid in remembering such things as which parcels of grain had gone to which destination or how many sheep were needed for events like sacrifices in the temples. These pictographs were impressed onto wet clay which was then dried, and these became official records of commerce. As beer was a very popular beverage in ancient Mesopotamia, many of the earliest records extant have to do with the sale of beer. With pictographs, one could tell how many jars or vats of beer were involved in a transaction but not necessarily what that transaction meant. As the historian Kriwaczek notes,

All that had been devised thus far was a technique for noting down things, items and objects, not a writing system. A record of `Two Sheep Temple God Inanna' tells us nothing about whether the sheep are being delivered to, or received from, the temple, whether they are carcasses, beasts on the hoof, or anything else about them. (63)

In order to express concepts more complex than financial transactions or lists of items, a more elaborate writing system was required, and this was developed in the Sumerian city of Uruk c. 3200 BCE. Pictograms, though still in use, gave way to phonograms – symbols which represented sounds – and those sounds were the spoken language of the people of Sumer. With phonograms, one could more easily convey precise meaning and so, in the example of the two sheep and the temple of Inanna, one could now make clear whether the sheep were going to or coming from the temple, whether they were living or dead, and what role they played in the life of the temple. Previously, one had only static images in pictographs showing objects like sheep and temples. With the development of phonograms one had a dynamic means of conveying motion to or from a location.

Further, whereas in earlier writing (known as proto-cuneiform) one was restricted to lists of things, a writer could now indicate what the significance of those things might be. The scholar Ira Spar writes:

This new way of interpreting signs is called the rebus principle. Only a few examples of its use exist in the earliest stages of cuneiform from between 3200 and 3000 B.C. The consistent use of this type of phonetic writing only becomes apparent after 2600 B.C. It constitutes the beginning of a true writing system characterized by a complex combination of word-signs and phonograms—signs for vowels and syllables—that allowed the scribe to express ideas. By the middle of the Third Millennium B.C., cuneiform primarily written on clay tablets was used for a vast array of economic, religious, political, literary, and scholarly documents.

Writing & Literature

This new means of communication allowed scribes to record the events of their times as well as their religious beliefs and, in time, to create an art form which was not possible before the written word: literature. The first writer in history known by name is the Mesopotamian priestess Enheduanna (2285-2250 BCE), daughter of Sargon of Akkad, who wrote her hymns to the goddess Inanna and signed them with her name and seal.

The so-called Matter of Aratta, four poems dealing with King Enmerkar of Uruk and his son Lugalbanda, were probably composed between 2112-2004 BCE (though only written down between 2017-1763 BCE). In the first of them, Enmerkar and The Lord of Aratta, it is explained that writing developed because the messenger of King Enmerkar, going back and forth between him and the King of the city of Aratta, eventually had too much to remember and so Enmerkar had the idea to write his messages down; and so writing was born.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, considered the first epic tale in the world and among the oldest extant literature, was composed at some point earlier than c. 2150 BCE when it was written down and deals with the great king of Uruk (and descendent of Enmerkar and Lugalbanda) Gilgamesh and his quest for the meaning of life. The myths of the people of Mesopotamia, the stories of their gods and heroes, their history, their methods of building, of burying their dead, of celebrating feast days, were now all able to be recorded for posterity. Writing made history possible because now events could be recorded and later read by any literate individual instead of relying on a community's storyteller to remember and recite past events. Scholar Samuel Noah Kramer comments:

[The Sumerians] originated a system of writing on clay which was borrowed and used all over the Near East for some two thousand years. Almost all that we know of the early history of western Asia comes from the thousands of clay documents inscribed in the cuneiform script developed by the Sumerians and excavated by archaeologists. (4)

So important was writing to the Mesopotamians that, under the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (r. 685-627 BCE) over 30,000 clay tablet books were collected in the library of his capital at Nineveh. Ashurbanipal was hoping to preserve the heritage, culture, and history of the region and understood clearly the importance of the written word in achieving this end. Among the many books in his library, Ashurbanipal included works of literature, such as the tale of Gilgamesh or the story of Etana, because he realized that literature articulates not just the story of a certain people, but of all people. The historian Durant writes:

Literature is at first words rather than letters, despite its name; it arises as clerical chants or magic charms, recited usually by the priests, and transmitted orally from memory to memory. Carmina, as the Romans named poetry, meant both verses and charms; ode, among the Greeks, meant originally a magic spell; so did the English rune and lay, and the German Lied. Rhythm and meter, suggested, perhaps, by the rhythms of nature and bodily life, were apparently developed by magicians or shamans to preserve, transmit, and enhance the magic incantations of their verse. Out of these sacerdotal origins, the poet, the orator, and the historian were differentiated and secularized: the orator as the official lauder of the king or solicitor of the deity; the historian as the recorder of the royal deeds; the poet as the singer of originally sacred chants, the formulator and preserver of heroic legends, and the musician who put his tales to music for the instruction of populace and kings.

The Alphabet

The role of the poet in preserving heroic legends would become an important one in cultures throughout the ancient world. The Mesopotamian scribe Shin-Legi-Unninni (wrote 1300-1000 BCE) would help preserve and transmit The Epic of Gilgamesh. Homer (c. 800 BCE) would do the same for the Greeks and Virgil (70-19 BCE) for the Romans. The Indian epic Mahabharata (written down c. 400 BCE) preserves the oral legends of that region in the same way the tales and legends of Scotland and Ireland do. All of these works, and those which came after them, were only made possible through the advent of writing.

The early cuneiform writers established a system which would completely change the nature of the world in which they lived. The past, and the stories of the people, could now be preserved through writing. The Phoenicians' contribution of the alphabet made writing easier and more accessible to other cultures, but the basic system of putting symbols down on paper to represent words and concepts began much earlier. Durant notes:

The Phoenicians did not create the alphabet, they marketed it; taking it apparently from Egypt and Crete, they imported it piecemeal to Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos, and exported it to every city on the Mediterranean; they were the middlemen, not the producers, of the alphabet. By the time of Homer the Greeks were taking over this Phoenician – or the allied Aramaic – alphabet, and were calling it by the Semitic names of the first two letters, Alpha, Beta; Hebrew Aleph, Beth.

Early writing systems, imported to other cultures, evolved into the written language of those cultures so that the Greek and Latin would serve as the basis for European script in the same way that the Semitic Aramaic script would provide the basis for Hebrew, Arabic, and possibly Sanskrit. The materials of writers have evolved as well, from the cut reeds with which early Mesopotamian scribes marked the clay tablets of cuneiform to the reed pens and papyrus of the Egyptians, the parchment of the scrolls of the Greeks and Romans, the calligraphy of the Chinese, on through the ages to the present day of computerized composition and the use of processed paper.

In whatever age, since its inception, writing has served to communicate the thoughts and feelings of the individual and of that person's culture, their collective history, and their experiences with the human condition, and to preserve those experiences for future generations.

22 History Magazines That Pay Writers

History magazines appeal to a niche market simply because members of the general public are not all keen on historical news and occurrences. While this fact seems to make this type of publication harder to break into, the opposite is the case. With a limited number of history writers vying for freelance positions in this arena, this makes your task much easier if you’re a new history writer looking for writing work.

Here are twenty-two history magazines for you to peruse and pitch.

Note: You can even more magazines that pay writers — in over 20 niches — here.

Pay: 10 cents

Renaissance Magazine covers a variety of topics related to the Renaissance, late ‘Middle Periods’ and history articles. They invite freelancers to submit articles no more than 2,000 words in length, and pay 10 cents per published word. Writers can expect payment about 3 weeks after publication.

Please note that this publication accepts unsolicited material, but do query first to make sure your chosen topic has not already been assigned.

Pay: Unspecified

American Spirit Magazine focuses on early American history, genealogy, historic preservation, women’s history and civics education. They like prospective freelancers to pitch story ideas and length of proposed article to the editor. Payment will be discussed upon pitching.

This publication prefers writers to submit a few of their previously published work when querying them.

Pay: Unspecified

Archaeology Magazine is dedicated to publishing narratives about the human past from every corner of the globe. It also provides insights into the beginning and end of cultures. This publication encourages writers to pitch their article ideas to the editor via email, and payment will be discussed.

Archaeology Magazine expects their freelancers to have significant knowledge about their chosen topic, so highlight your qualification (for writing your piece) when querying.

Pay: Unspecified

Canada History publishes articles that illuminate the diverse experiences and complex characters that through time, have shaped Canada. They encourage freelancers to submit articles between 600 and 3,000 words in length.

Payment is discussed upon pitching the magazine, and made upon publication. This magazine has strong, direct guidelines on their page, so do read all of this before deciding whether or not your work fits their description.

Early American Life covers everything related to history, architecture, antiques, studio crafts and travel. Their call for submission is for articles between 700 and 2,500 words in length. They pay $500 for features by new writers. Skilled and experienced writers can earn more.

Payment is upon publication, and photographs are also welcome.

Pay: Unspecified

Good Old Days is dedicated to publishing real stories on people who lived and grew up between the years 1935-1960. They prefer articles between 300 and 1,000 words. Good Old Days expects you to pitch your ideas via email or post, and payment is negotiated upon submission.

This publication has specific topics reserved for freelancers, so make yourself familiar with their site and guidelines before writing.

Pay: 8 cents per word

History Magazine covers a wide range of topics related to particular phenomenon, events, battles, wars and biographies. They expect articles to be between 400 and 2,500 words in length. They pay 8 cents per published word, and payment is made 60 days after the issue is published.

This publication encourages prospective freelancers to query them before writing anything.

Range Magazine is a widely-read and respected publication, covering issues known to threaten the West. They like articles to be between 500 and 2,000 words in length. They pay up to $400 per article – upon publication.

The Range Magazine requires writers to submit photos with their copies, so please be aware of this. More details about this aspect can be found on their website.

Pay: 25 cents per word

True West focuses on capturing the history of the American frontier, through literary non-fiction. Their call for submissions is for articles between 450 and 1,500 words in length. This publication expects writers to pitch their ideas via email or phone. They pay 25 cents per word – upon publication.

Please note that this magazine uses a specific way of submitting articles and queries. Do check out their site for a detailed description.

Western Pennsylvania History is a well-respected publication, which focuses on the original analysis of current and historic events. They prefer feature articles to be between 3,000 and 4,000 words in length.

Western Pennsylvania History Magazine invites writers to pitch their ideas via email. They pay a flat fee of $250 – upon publication.

Pay: Unspecified

History Today Magazine covers a wide array of topics related to history. They like each piece to offer an authoritative and engaging take on a historical subject. Articles are expected to be between 600 and 2,200 words in length.

Payment is negotiated upon pitching the magazine. This publication entertains three types of articles, so please check their site to see which one you’d like to work on.

Michigan History is a long-running publication, marketed to readers who love to read about Michigan’s colorful past. They invite prospective freelancers to submit manuscripts or articles, which are no more than 2,500 words in length.

Article ideas should be sent via email. They pay between $150 and $400 per article – upon publication.

Pay: Unspecified

World War II Magazine publishes material related to the second world war era. They also cover articles on the American civil war, American History and more. There is no specific word count, but freelancers are asked to pitch their ideas by email to get a commissioned article.

Payment is to be negotiated upon pitching the magazine. Please note that most of this publication’s work is covered by staff writers, so do a thorough research before querying.

Naval History Magazine is a widely-read publication, dedicated to Naval History in the US, ranging from battles to events. They expect articles to be no more than 3,000 words in length, and like potential writers to pitch their ideas via email.

Naval History pays up to $150 per 1,000 words – upon publication. There are stringent qualifiers on their site, directed to prospective freelancers, so do study these carefully before writing anything.

Wartime Magazine is an Australian history magazine focusing on the Australian experience of war. There is no specific word count for articles, but they like writers to pitch or send their ideas to the editor to get a commissioned article.

This publication pays $300 per 1,000 words, and payment is made on publication.

Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine is dedicated to illuminating the rich culture and legacy of the state of Pennsylvania. Articles should be no more than 3,500 words in length, and they expect you to send your ideas and articles to the editor.

A payment of between $250 and $500 is made upon publication. Pennsylvania Heritage has a particular voice, so freelancers should make themselves familiar with this before writing their piece.

Pay: 40 cents per word

New Mexico Magazine strives to create awareness of the state’s multicultural heritage, climate and environmental uniqueness, to its visitors. There is no specific word count, but writers are encouraged to pitch their ideas and synopsis to the magazine.

Payment is negotiated upon submission, and made upon acceptance. There are dense and detailed guidelines on the site, so do read these before pitching this magazine.

Pay: Unspecified

Traces Magazine is widely-read publication, covering articles related to biographies, immigration, family and cultural heritage – including Indiana history. They invite potential freelancers to submit articles between 600 and 4,000 words in length.

Ideas should be pitched via email. Payment is negotiated and made upon publication.

Pay: Unspecified

Gateway Magazine is a widely-distributed publication, dedicated to St. Louis’ and Missouri’s cultural, historical, social and political issues. They expect essays to be no more than 2,500 words in length.

Please pitch your ideas via email. Payment is negotiated. Their preferences for submissions are listed on their site, so please take a look.

Pay: 10 cents per word

The Country Connection focuses on content about Ontario’s history, nature, environment, heritage, travel and arts. They like to receive articles between 1,000 and 1,500 words in length.

Do first pitch your ideas to the magazine before writing. They pay 10 cents per word within 90 days of publication, but be aware that topics and themes for future issues are stated on their site. This means that writers have to plan their articles way in advance.

Sojourns Magazine is a widely-read and extensively-distributed publication, dedicated to exhibiting the natural and cultural history of spectacular lands in Colorado. They prefer prospective freelancers to first pitch their ideas to the magazine and be commissioned for a piece. They pay between $500 and $1,200 per article.

Please be aware that they have extensive submission guidelines on their site, so make yourself familiar with this before querying. Photographs and artwork are also welcome.

Pay: Unspecified

Our State Magazine is a long-running publication that publishes information on history, places, culture and the people of North Carolina. Their call for submissions is for articles averaging 1,500 words in length. Writers are invited to pitch their ideas to the magazine before writing.


The major writing systems—methods of inscription—broadly fall into five categories: logographic, syllabic, alphabetic, featural, and ideographic (symbols for ideas). A sixth category, pictographic or symbols, is insufficient to represent language on its own, but often forms the core of logographies.

Logographies Edit

A logogram is a written character which represents a word or morpheme. A vast number of logograms are needed to write Chinese characters, cuneiform, and Mayan, where a glyph may stand for a morpheme, a syllable, or both—("logoconsonantal" in the case of hieroglyphs). Many logograms have an ideographic component (Chinese "radicals", hieroglyphic "determiners"). For example, in Mayan, the glyph for "fin", pronounced "ka", was also used to represent the syllable "ka" whenever the pronunciation of a logogram needed to be indicated, or when there was no logogram. In Chinese, about 90% of characters are compounds of a semantic (meaning) element called a radical with an existing character to indicate the pronunciation, called a phonetic. However, such phonetic elements complement the logographic elements, rather than vice versa.

The main logographic system in use today is Chinese characters, used with some modification for the various languages or dialects of China, Japan, and sometimes in Korean despite the fact that in South and North Korea, the phonetic Hangul system is mainly used.

Syllabaries Edit

A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent (or approximate) syllables. A glyph in a syllabary typically represents a consonant followed by a vowel, or just a vowel alone, though in some scripts more complex syllables (such as consonant-vowel-consonant, or consonant-consonant-vowel) may have dedicated glyphs. Phonetically related syllables are not so indicated in the script. For instance, the syllable "ka" may look nothing like the syllable "ki", nor will syllables with the same vowels be similar.

Syllabaries are best suited to languages with a relatively simple syllable structure, such as Japanese. Other languages that use syllabic writing include the Linear B script for Mycenaean Greek Sequoyan, [10] Ndjuka, an English-based creole language of Surinam and the Vai script of Liberia. Most logographic systems have a strong syllabic component. Ethiopic, though technically an abugida, has fused consonants and vowels together to the point where it is learned as if it were a syllabary.

Alphabets Edit

An alphabet is a set of symbols, each of which represents or historically represented a phoneme of the language. In a perfectly phonological alphabet, the phonemes and letters would correspond perfectly in two directions: a writer could predict the spelling of a word given its pronunciation, and a speaker could predict the pronunciation of a word given its spelling.

As languages often evolve independently of their writing systems, and writing systems have been borrowed for languages they were not designed for, the degree to which letters of an alphabet correspond to phonemes of a language varies greatly from one language to another and even within a single language.

Abjads Edit

In most of the writing systems of the Middle East, it is usually only the consonants of a word that are written, although vowels may be indicated by the addition of various diacritical marks. Writing systems based primarily on marking the consonant phonemes alone date back to the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt. Such systems are called abjads, derived from the Arabic word for "alphabet".

Abugidas Edit

In most of the alphabets of India and Southeast Asia, vowels are indicated through diacritics or modification of the shape of the consonant. These are called abugidas. Some abugidas, such as Ethiopic and Cree, are learned by children as syllabaries, and so are often called "syllabics". However, unlike true syllabaries, there is not an independent glyph for each syllable.

Sometimes the term "alphabet" is restricted to systems with separate letters for consonants and vowels, such as the Latin alphabet, although abugidas and abjads may also be accepted as alphabets. Because of this use, Greek is often considered to be the first alphabet.

Featural scripts Edit

A featural script notates in an internally consistent way the building blocks of the phonemes that make up a language. For instance, all sounds pronounced with the lips ("labial" sounds) may have some element in common. In the Latin alphabet, this is accidentally the case with the letters "b" and "p" however, labial "m" is completely dissimilar, and the similar-looking "q" and "d" are not labial. In Korean hangul, however, all four labial consonants are based on the same basic element, but in practice, Korean is learned by children as an ordinary alphabet, and the featural elements tend to pass unnoticed.

Another featural script is SignWriting, the most popular writing system for many sign languages, where the shapes and movements of the hands and face are represented iconically. Featural scripts are also common in fictional or invented systems, such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Tengwar.

Historical significance of writing systems Edit

Historians draw a sharp distinction between prehistory and history, with history defined by the advent of writing. The cave paintings and petroglyphs of prehistoric peoples can be considered precursors of writing, but they are not considered true writing because they did not represent language directly.

Writing systems develop and change based on the needs of the people who use them. Sometimes the shape, orientation, and meaning of individual signs changes over time. By tracing the development of a script, it is possible to learn about the needs of the people who used the script as well as how the script changed over time.

Tools and materials Edit

The many tools and writing materials used throughout history include stone tablets, clay tablets, bamboo slats, papyrus, wax tablets, vellum, parchment, paper, copperplate, styluses, quills, ink brushes, pencils, pens, and many styles of lithography. The Incas used knotted cords known as quipu (or khipu) for keeping records. [11]

The typewriter and various forms of word processors have subsequently become widespread writing tools, and various studies have compared the ways in which writers have framed the experience of writing with such tools as compared with the pen or pencil. [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

Mesoamerica Edit

A stone slab with 3,000-year-old writing, known as the Cascajal Block, was discovered in the Mexican state of Veracruz and is an example of the oldest script in the Western Hemisphere, preceding the oldest Zapotec writing by approximately 500 years. [17] [18] [19] It is thought to be Olmec.

Of several pre-Columbian scripts in Mesoamerica, the one that appears to have been best developed, and the only one to be deciphered, is the Maya script. The earliest inscription identified as Maya dates to the 3rd century BC. [20] Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing.

Central Asia Edit

In 2001, archaeologists discovered that there was a civilization in Central Asia that used writing c. 2000 BC. An excavation near Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, revealed an inscription on a piece of stone that was used as a stamp seal. [21]

China Edit

The earliest surviving examples of writing in China—inscriptions on so-called "oracle bones", tortoise plastrons and ox scapulae used for divination—date from around 1200 BC in the late Shang dynasty. A small number of bronze inscriptions from the same period have also survived. [22] Historians have found that the type of media used had an effect on what the writing was documenting and how it was used. [ citation needed ]

In 2003, archaeologists reported discoveries of isolated tortoise-shell carvings dating back to the 7th millennium BC, but whether or not these symbols are related to the characters of the later oracle-bone script is disputed. [23] [24]

Egypt Edit

The earliest known hieroglyphs date back to the second half of the 4th millennium BC, such as the clay labels of a Predynastic ruler called "Scorpion I" (Naqada IIIA period, c. 32nd century BC) recovered at Abydos (modern Umm el-Qa'ab) in 1998 or the Narmer Palette, dating to c. 3100 BC, and several recent discoveries that may be slightly older, though these glyphs were based on a much older artistic rather than written tradition. The hieroglyphic script was logographic with phonetic adjuncts that included an effective alphabet. The world's oldest deciphered sentence was found on a seal impression found in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen at Umm el-Qa'ab, which dates from the Second Dynasty (28th or 27th century BC). There are around 800 hieroglyphs dating back to the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom Eras. By the Greco-Roman period, there are more than 5,000.

Writing was very important in maintaining the Egyptian empire, and literacy was concentrated among an educated elite of scribes. Only people from certain backgrounds were allowed to train to become scribes, in the service of temple, pharaonic, and military authorities, resulting in only 1 percent of the population that could write. [25] The hieroglyph system was always difficult to learn, but in later centuries was purposely made even more so, as this preserved the scribes' status.

The world's oldest known alphabet appears to have been developed by Canaanite turquoise miners in the Sinai desert around the mid-19th century BC. [26] Around 30 crude inscriptions have been found at a mountainous Egyptian mining site known as Serabit el-Khadem. This site was also home to a temple of Hathor, the "Mistress of turquoise". A later, two line inscription has also been found at Wadi el-Hol in Central Egypt. Based on hieroglyphic prototypes, but also including entirely new symbols, each sign apparently stood for a consonant rather than a word: the basis of an alphabetic system. It was not until the 12th to 9th centuries, however, that the alphabet took hold and became widely used.

Elamite scripts Edit

Over the centuries, three distinct Elamite scripts developed. Proto-Elamite is the oldest known writing system from Iran. In use only for a brief time (c. 3200–2900 BC), clay tablets with Proto-Elamite writing have been found at different sites across Iran. The Proto-Elamite script is thought to have developed from early cuneiform (proto-cuneiform). The Proto-Elamite script consists of more than 1,000 signs and is thought to be partly logographic.

Linear Elamite is a writing system attested in a few monumental inscriptions in Iran. It was used for a very brief period during the last quarter of the 3rd millennium BC. It is often claimed that Linear Elamite is a syllabic writing system derived from Proto-Elamite, although this cannot be proven since Linear-Elamite has not been deciphered. Several scholars have attempted to decipher the script, most notably Walther Hinz and Piero Meriggi.

The Elamite cuneiform script was used from about 2500 to 331 BC, and was adapted from the Akkadian cuneiform. The Elamite cuneiform script consisted of about 130 symbols, far fewer than most other cuneiform scripts.

Cretan and Greek scripts Edit

Cretan hieroglyphs are found on artifacts of Crete (early-to-mid-2nd millennium BC, MM I to MM III, overlapping with Linear A from MM IIA at the earliest). Linear B, the writing system of the Mycenaean Greeks, [27] has been deciphered while Linear A has yet to be deciphered. The sequence and the geographical spread of the three overlapping, but distinct writing systems can be summarized as follows (beginning date refers to first attestations, the assumed origins of all scripts lie further back in the past): Cretan hieroglyphs were used in Crete from c. 1625 to 1500 BC Linear A was used in the Aegean Islands (Kea, Kythera, Melos, Thera), and the Greek mainland (Laconia) from c. 18th century to 1450 BC and Linear B was used in Crete (Knossos), and mainland (Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes, Tiryns) from c. 1375 to 1200 BC.

Indus Valley Edit

Indus script refers to short strings of symbols associated with the Indus Valley Civilization (which spanned modern-day Pakistan and North India) used between 2600 and 1900 BC. In spite of many attempts at decipherments and claims, it is as yet undeciphered. The term 'Indus script' is mainly applied to that used in the mature Harappan phase, which perhaps evolved from a few signs found in early Harappa after 3500 BC, [28] and was followed by the mature Harappan script. The script is written from right to left, [29] and sometimes follows a boustrophedonic style. Since the number of principal signs is about 400–600, [30] midway between typical logographic and syllabic scripts, many scholars accept the script to be logo-syllabic [31] (typically syllabic scripts have about 50–100 signs whereas logographic scripts have a very large number of principal signs). Several scholars maintain that structural analysis indicates that an agglutinative language underlies the script.

Mesopotamia Edit

While neolithic writing is a current research topic, conventional history assumes that the writing process first evolved from economic necessity in the ancient Near East. Writing most likely began as a consequence of political expansion in ancient cultures, which needed reliable means for transmitting information, maintaining financial accounts, keeping historical records, and similar activities. Around the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration outgrew the power of memory, and writing became a more dependable method of recording and presenting transactions in a permanent form. [32]

The invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary with the beginning of the Bronze Age of the late 4th millennium BC. The Sumerian archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered the earliest writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400 to 3200 BC with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BC. It is generally agreed that Sumerian writing was an independent invention however, it is debated whether Egyptian writing was developed completely independently of Sumerian, or was a case of cultural diffusion.

Archaeologist Denise Schmandt-Besserat determined the link between previously uncategorized clay "tokens", the oldest of which have been found in the Zagros region of Iran, and the first known writing, Mesopotamian cuneiform. [33] In approximately 8000 BC, the Mesopotamians began using clay tokens to count their agricultural and manufactured goods. Later they began placing these tokens inside large, hollow clay containers (bulla, or globular envelopes) which were then sealed. The quantity of tokens in each container came to be expressed by impressing, on the container's surface, one picture for each instance of the token inside. They next dispensed with the tokens, relying solely on symbols for the tokens, drawn on clay surfaces. To avoid making a picture for each instance of the same object (for example: 100 pictures of a hat to represent 100 hats), they 'counted' the objects by using various small marks. In this way the Sumerians added "a system for enumerating objects to their incipient system of symbols".

The original Mesopotamian writing system was derived around 3200 BC from this method of keeping accounts. By the end of the 4th millennium BC, [34] the Mesopotamians were using a triangular-shaped stylus pressed into soft clay to record numbers. This system was gradually augmented with using a sharp stylus to indicate what was being counted by means of pictographs. Round-stylus and sharp-stylus writing was gradually replaced by writing using a wedge-shaped stylus (hence the term cuneiform), at first only for logograms, but by the 29th century BC also for phonetic elements. Around 2700 BC, cuneiform began to represent syllables of spoken Sumerian. About that time, Mesopotamian cuneiform became a general purpose writing system for logograms, syllables, and numbers. This script was adapted to another Mesopotamian language, the East Semitic Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian) around 2600 BC, and then to others such as Elamite, Hattian, Hurrian and Hittite. Scripts similar in appearance to this writing system include those for Ugaritic and Old Persian. With the adoption of Aramaic as the 'lingua franca' of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BC), Old Aramaic was also adapted to Mesopotamian cuneiform. The last cuneiform scripts in Akkadian discovered thus far date from the 1st century AD.

Phoenician writing system and descendants Edit

The Proto-Sinaitic script, in which Proto-Canaanite is believed to have been first written, is attested as far back as the 19th century BC. The Phoenician writing system was adapted from the Proto-Canaanite script sometime before the 14th century BC, which in turn borrowed principles of representing phonetic information from Egyptian hieroglyphs. This writing system was an odd sort of syllabary in which only consonants are represented. This script was adapted by the Greeks, who adapted certain consonantal signs to represent their vowels. The Cumae alphabet, a variant of the early Greek alphabet, gave rise to the Etruscan alphabet and its own descendants, such as the Latin alphabet and Runes. Other descendants from the Greek alphabet include Cyrillic, used to write Bulgarian, Russian and Serbian, among others. The Phoenician system was also adapted into the Aramaic script, from which the Hebrew and the Arabic scripts are descended.

The Tifinagh script (Berber languages) is descended from the Libyco-Berber script, which is assumed to be of Phoenician origin.

In many parts of the world, writing has become an even more important part of daily life as digital technologies have helped connect individuals from across the globe through systems such as e-mail and social media. Such technologies have brought substantial amounts of routine reading and writing into most modern workplaces. [35] In the United States, for example, the ability to read and write is necessary for most jobs, and multiple programs are in place to aid both children and adults in improving their literacy skills. For example, the emergence of the writing center and community-wide literacy councils aim to help students and community members sharpen their writing skills. These resources, and many more, span across different age groups in order to offer each individual a better understanding of their language and how to express themselves via writing in order to perhaps improve their socioeconomic status.

Other parts of the world have seen an increase in writing abilities as a result of programs such as the World Literacy Foundation and International Literacy Foundation, as well as a general push for increased global communication.

Writing - History

Principles of Historical Writing: Thinking Like an Historian
(printable version here)

As Richard Marius and Melvin E. Page attest in their book A Short Guide to Writing About History, "history and writing are inseparable." How would we know of past events if it they had never been documented? Even the stories and myths of ancient cultures, many of which relied heavily on the oral tradition, were subject to intense transformations after years of repetition. Writing, therefore, is what propels information and ideas into permanence, or what are customarily referred to as 'the annals of history."

A representation of the Gutenberg Printing
Press, 15th century, which forever revolutionized the
dissemination of information.

Still, writing about history requires careful scrutiny. This is not to say that historical writing is particularly difficult or complicated, but it does require thought processes that some may be unaccustomed to. Indeed, unique questions must be considered, and the first step to answering such questions involves thinking as an historian. Outlined below are seven principles of historical thinking and writing that, if followed, will ensure that your mind is on the right track.

I. Take the time to think and prepare

When preparing to write for a history course, do not simply rush into the writing process! Dr. Hugh West, chair of the history department, finds that many students underprepare for their writing assignments. When considering an idea or ideas that you'd like to explore, think ahead. Ask yourself, is my proposed idea or argument feasible? What obstacles might I encounter during the writing process? Should I research more about my topic?

As you consider such questions, be sure to organize your thoughts on paper before you begin writing. Different strategies work for different people--some prefer writing complete and detailed outlines, while others prefer 'blocking' their ideas together in a web of interrelated concepts. However you would like to approach this, be sure to write down new and useful ideas as you think of them. Don't let them escape your immediate attention by turning to another point. write them down!

II. Be mindful of the time period about which you are writing

On the home page of this writing handbook lies a quotation from Francis Parkman which stresses the importance of being aware of the contemporary context of the time period about which you are writing. For example, when rationalizing or explaining the actions of past individuals, it is important to take into account the standards of thinking and prevailing ideologies of the times. As Parkman suggested, a writer must become a "sharer or spectator of the action that he describes."

Be sure to keep in mind the essential questions

  • Who? Who were the principal actors in a given event or time period?
  • What? What was being acted upon? What was at stake?
  • When? When did it occur? More importantly, in what order did things occur? What events led to others?
  • Where? Where did it occur? What groups of people were involved and where did they reside?
  • Why and, more importantly, How? These are the classic and ultimate questions that historians ask. Why and how did things happen as they did? In the words of Dr. John Treadway, the analysis of history is analogous not to a simple description of 'the watch', but of the 'watch mechanism'.

This principle also concerns the use of voice. In general, when writing in history, the use of the past tense is preferred.

III. Carefully consider evidence and viewpoints

Evidence is what legitimizes your prose. In acquiring such evidence, be sure to:

  • Consider a variety of resources, including both primary and secondary sources
  • Always consider opposing viewpoints. Consider which arguments could be used against yours, and how you can refute them.
  • Avoid being selective be open to whatever discoveries you may find when acquiring evidence don't pass up an argument simply because it does not follow your previous ideas.
  • Document evidence as you acquire it. you never want to have to go back through your paper after the fact and search for the page numbers for which you need citations.
  • Explain the significance of the evidence that you present. Dr. West notes that the use of evidence in history differs from the social sciences--it is often spotty, does not speak for itself, and requires careful explanation.

The consideration of evidence, and the best ways of approaching it, will be discussed in further detail in the next section.

IV. Develop a focused, limited topic

There is such a wealth of knowledge throughout history that focusing your topic is essential to performing reasonable historical analysis. Often, historians utilize specific, focused research to answer broader topics.

For example, you might be interested in researching Winston Churchill, but entire books have been published analyzing Churchill's life and actions. Instead, you might narrow your focus toward Churchill's leadership during World War II. Even then, you may find that your topic is too broad. You might narrow it even further by focusing on Winston Churchill and his policy towards a particular country or region in World War II. You might be surprised to find the wealth of information that would be available to you.

V. Be open to the possibility of having to change your topic

In the course of performing your research, keep in mind that you may have to refocus or realign your topic or thesis as you delve further into sources. If you find evidence that seems to contradict the argument that you intend to make, it would be better to alter your argument to take that new information into account than it would be to ignore it and move forward with your original argument.

This principle is particularly true in cases where personal biases might tend to dictate one's aims in writing. Attempt to rid yourself of partial or biased opinions when approaching a topic for research. Dr. Treadway stresses that the goal of a historian should be to tell, ostensibly, what happened objectively. Objectivity, therefore, is of paramount importance when considering evidence.

VI. Mind your audience

Historians must keep their audience in mind when writing. In the case of undergraduate students, in particular, keep in mind that you are writing a paper to be turned into a professor who has likely outlined very specific expectations. If you are ever unsure of something regarding an assignment, contact the professor, don't simply assume that one way is to suffice over another. Keep the following ideas handy when "minding your audience":

  • Often professors will frown upon a simple 're-telling' of an event or time period. Unless specifically stated otherwise by the professor, your analysis and interpretation should take precedence over your re-telling of a sequence of events.
  • Despite the above point, always be certain to define particular terms. Although you are often writing for a professor that will be familiar with such terms, you will reinforce the logical progression of your paper by defining important terms and ideas as you write.
  • Pay particular attention to your professor's expectations for citing and referencing sources improperly cited work can result in allegations of plagiarism and, if accused at the University of Richmond, to be brought before the Honor Council.

VII. Avoid restating others' ideas--add personal value

While the consideration, and sometimes reiteration, of the thoughts and ideas of other authors is extremely useful, a history student should always strive to add a personal element to their argument. This may seem like a daunting task. you may ask, "how am I to come up with an idea which professional historians have not yet written of?" Yet this process is not as difficult as it may seem. Take the time to acknowledge the arguments that others have made, but also look for new connections, relationships, or subtleties that may be relevant to the topic about which you are writing.

Dr. Eric S. Yellin offers particular advice with regard to this principle:
"Be creative. Look over your sources and then find interesting or surprising connections among them. Never regurgitate or summarize: look for the hidden truth or the unusual thread. Historical interpretation can be a creative endeavor if you learn to combine facts and evidence with imagination."

The History and Lost Art of Letter Writing

For hundreds of years, or at least since pens and paper became commonplace, people who wanted to get in touch with other people separated by distance had only one way to do it: they wrote letters, the only means of long-distance communication, at least until the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century. Beginning with Mr. Morse's innovation, modern communication technologies have slowly but all too surely eroded that necessity, first rendering letter writing one option among many and then merely a quaint habit. But where would Western civilization be without letters? For starters we wouldn't have most of the New Testament&mdashwhatever you may think of St. Paul, he was indisputably a tireless letter writer. By the 18th century, letter writing was so commonplace that one of the first prose narratives to be considered a novel, Samuel Richardson's "Pamela," was composed entirely of letters of a daughter to her parents, and the epistolary method lent that novel what realism it possessed. More contemporaneously, look to popular song for an index of just how commonplace letter writing was in our culture as late as a generation ago ("A Soldier's Last Letter," "Please, Mr. Postman," "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," "P.S. I Love You").

The decline in letter writing constitutes a cultural shift so vast that in the future, historians may divide time not between B.C. and A.D. but between the eras when people wrote letters and when they did not. Historians depend on the written record. Perhaps a better way of saying that is that they are at the mercy of that record. Land transactions, birth and death records, weather reports, government documents&mdashto the historian, nothing written is trivial, because it all contributes to the picture we have of the past. In the last century or so, as historians have turned away from their fixation on the doings of the great and included the lives of average people in their study, the letters those people left behind are invaluable evidence of how life was once lived. We know what our ancestors ate, how they dressed, what they dreamed about love and what they thought about warfare, all from their letters. Without that correspondence, the guesswork mounts.

Gaps in the historical record have always existed. American slaves were largely illiterate, often by law and sometimes by laws that threatened them with death. The epistolary record belongs to free people, and in most cases that means free white people of property. When we reflect on how dearly we would cherish letters written by people in bondage or any people who, through some circumstance of history, were voiceless, we begin to grasp the preciousness of the written record&mdashany written record: laundry lists, ancestral records in family Bibles, love notes&mdashand how poorly historians of the future will be served by our generation, which generates almost no mail at all.

There is e-mail, certainly, and texting, but this is communication that is for the most part here today and deleted tomorrow. And there is the enormous trove of information about daily life multiplying by the hour in the digital record&mdashtelevision, camera phones, spycams, YouTube and chat rooms all capture what seems like every second of every life on the planet. The problem is not that there is not enough information about what we think or how we live. The problem is sifting through that sea of data. The most common complaint of our time is that we are overwhelmed by information, unmediated and unstoppable.

Maybe we miss letters at least a little because we miss the world, the blessedly&mdashto our eye at least&mdashuncomplicated world where letters were commonplace by necessity. Surely, though, there is more to our fondness than mere sentimentality. When we read a letter, we develop an image of the letter writer unavailable to us in any other way. Abraham Lincoln's speeches leave us in awe of the man. His letters make us like him, because we hear a more unburnished voice and more unbuttoned personality. Lincoln the letter writer was less shackled by thoughts of how history would read his words. He loosened the reins on his humor, his anger and his melancholy. He was, in a word, human. Moreover, his correspondence proves that the more one writes&mdashand Lincoln wrote a lot&mdashthe more relaxed the writer becomes, the more at ease he or she is in the act of writing and the more able to fully express thought and emotion. Writing a lot of letters will not turn you into Lincoln or Shakespeare, but if you do it enough, you begin to put your essential self on paper whether you mean to or not. No other form of communication yet invented seems to encourage or support that revelatory intimacy.

Writing to Learn History: Annotations and Mini-Writes

Pre-writing strategies that help students understand content, think historically, and prepare for culminating writing assignments.

Typically, essays are written at the end of a history or social studies unit, if they are written at all. This structure misses opportunities to help students engage with the material and learn how to read and write about primary and secondary sources. Integrating writing throughout the curricular unit allows students to grasp the content, learn how to think historically, and practice writing.

In annotating a text, students become active readers, asking and answering historical questions, making connections both to prior knowledge and other texts, and summarizing—all widely endorsed reading comprehension strategies. Mini-writes give students the chance to think through a topic. Since writing is thinking, a series of mini-writes lets students build their understanding in achievable stages, one document at a time. During this process they become familiar with available evidence and deepen their historical understanding.

Annotating involves highlighting, underlining, and making marginal notes while reading a document. Some students have little experience annotating, or focus solely on reading comprehension. In such cases, explicit prompts to consider the source's author, perspective, and historical context can lead to better historical understanding. This may be done through teacher modeling followed by guided and independent practice. Ideally, informal writing exercises allow students to think through a historical document on their own, on paper. Mini-writes can be assigned at the beginning of class or as homework, and are used throughout the unit to develop student thinking and background knowledge.

  • Choose a historical question to investigate over the course of a unit. It should be open to interpretation, go beyond summarizing, and be an appropriate focus for a final essay.
  • Select documents to help students respond to the unit question.
  • Identify aspects of each document that help students understand the document and the larger unit question.
  • Create annotation guidelines and mini-write prompts that highlight the aspects of the document that help students understand the document’s time period, and key historical actors, events, and issues central to the unit question.
  • Arrange students in pairs or groups to work on annotations and exchange mini-writes.
  • Model the best ways to annotate documents.
  • Have students annotate individually, in pairs, or in groups.
  • Ask students to complete mini-writes independently and then share conclusions with a partner or the entire class.
  • Invite students to explain why they reached certain conclusions, using excerpts from the documents.
  • Ask students to write a final essay in response to the unit question if annotations, mini-writes, and final essay are properly aligned, they will serve as scaffolds for the final essay.
  • Students may have little experience annotating, i.e., actively thinking with pen in hand. Using an overhead, model how to annotate a document for the purposes of increased historical understanding. Examples of useful annotation include: asking questions and answering them while reading summarizing passages considering an author’s point of view analyzing word choices and making connections between a document and when it was written. Good modeling can display a degree of expertise, while demonstrating that even teachers learn by asking questions and pondering a text.
  • In their annotations or mini-writes, students may focus too much on reading comprehension, by defining words or summarizing a document's main idea. However, the point of writing about a document is to understand the author and his or her times. To push students beyond summary, prompt them to consider an author's purpose, the context of the author's life, and their perspective.
  • Students who are unsure of how to respond to a document can be helped by highlighting phrases or asking questions like, "What does the author mean when he says this?" or "Why would the author say this?" Breaking a document into components is a more concrete and manageable approach than trying to respond to an entire document. As students become more comfortable with document analysis, increase the challenge by assigning a full page of text or an entire document.
  • If students make only vague references to a document in their mini-writes, ask them to cite a particular passage and to explain their interpretation. Teachers can get students into the habit of making specific references to the text by prompting them during a discussion or in written feedback.

The Spanish-American War unit from Historical Thinking Matters investigates the question:

Why did the United States invade Cuba in 1898?

To answer this question thoughtfully, students need to consider a range of evidence, multiple causes, and perspectives from the time period. As they analyze documents in writing, students become familiar with the causes of U.S. imperialism in 1898. Handouts help students to use annotations and mini-writes in responding to three documents that relate to the central inquiry question and lead to an evidence-based essay. Handout 1 models how to annotate a document and offers sample guidelines. Handout 2 provides guidelines for annotating a second document. Handout 3 gives a mini-write prompt in response to an additional document.

I thank teacher Vince Lyle for helping me see the value of annotations and mini-writes in the history classroom. I thank Historical Thinking Matters for offering rich document sets, one of which I use here.

Interactive Stories

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Writing - History

Important Points of Historical Writing Thesis

Writing is the foremost goal of history, since it is the medium through which the writer communicates the sum of his or her historical knowledge (Cantor & Schneider, 241). In order to accomplish that goal, historical writing demands a strong thesis. The thesis should express a contention about some aspect of the subject, such as "there was a CIA conspiracy to kill JFK". In the introduction, the writer should relate how the implications of the thesis will be handled in the paper. In the body, the writer will engage in a well organized critical discussion of different aspects of the thesis. Many students find that outlining the form of their paper helps to improve their organization (Cantor & Schneider, 205-09).

Historical writing requires a combination of attention to structural considerations along with the finding and assessing of facts. Therefore, it is not sufficient to write well grammatically and stylistically. A writer of history must answer a variety of questions in his or her writing. These questions are not limited solely to what happened they include why and how. The writer must also address the background of the event, the principals involved, significant dates, and the influence of the event upon future developments. This combination of structure and detailed factual analysis is what makes historical writing difficult, both for novices and even experienced writers (Lottinville, 3).

In order to produce an historical work, the writer must master three basic processes: gathering data criticism of that data and the presentation of his or her facts, interpretations, and conclusions, based upon the data, in an accurate and readable form (Hockett, 9-10). Before beginning the writing process, the writer should have an understanding of: the data that has been gathered, the writer's objectives, the conclusions reached from the research, and a clear perception of the relationships existing between the individual parts of the paper and the whole (Hockett, 143). In addition, the hypothesis should be selected on the basis of whether or not it is verifiable from the sources available (Hexter, 24). Through preparing in this manner, the writer is better able to handle the other two processes: data criticism and the presentation of his or her own ideas.

Objectivity is an essential aspect of historical writing. A writer should not let his or her biases cloud a paper. Writers must avoid placing value judgments upon the events of the past. They should carefully analyze their conclusions for possible prejudice. If the evidence seems to call for only one conclusion, the writer should ask: "Is it in the material or is it me?" (Kent, 9). There are, however, two nearly unavoidable limits to historical objectivity: documentation and the diversity of the writer's personal experiences. Documentation limits objectivity since a paper is only as unbiased as the documents used to produce it. For example, if evidence was only available from Allied archives on the causes of World War I, the paper would be entirely different than if the writer also had access to the Central Powers' archives. The writer's personal experiences can affect objectivity through the books that he or she has studied or the places the writer has traveled. Such things can unconsciously cause one to think differently and pursue a different path in writing and research (Veyne, 157-59).

There really is not a conflict between these two methods. Both are essential in order for writers of history to realize the uniqueness of each historical episode and impart this understanding to the reader. Both synthesis and analysis of the events are required for good historical writing. It is impossible to have one without the other. Analysis is necessary to produce good synthesis, and it should be the primary focus of writing. This is because analysis allows the reader to understand the whole without becoming distracted by the details (Lottinville, 12-18).

It is important to remember that historical writing should not be dull and uninteresting to the reader. Just as in a novel, the background, that is the scene and characters, should be described in detail, provided of course that sufficient historical evidence exists to back up the description (Lottinville, 95). Although the historical writer should try to take a page from the novelist and write in an engaging manner, historical writing and the novel differ in that historical writing is based upon fact, whereas the novel is a work of fiction. The historian's first duty is to the facts, then to the literary style of the paper. Despite the fact that historians have written upon almost all topics, each writer should write his or her paper as though no one had ever explored that topic before. That way, although past research can be utilized, the current writer is not as encumbered by the feeling that whatever he or she produces will be inferior to the work of some past historian (Lottinville, 119-20).

A work of history should be closely tied to place and chronology and supported by meticulous documentation. However, techniques of writing do not stem solely from the historical process. Instead, their origin is in all the works produced by humanity since the dawn of time. At some point, historical writing will employ nearly all of the literary devices from the past. For that reason, reading a variety of books will be invaluable in building up a mental reservoir of literary techniques (Lottinville, 28).

All talk of documentation aside, historical writing is not merely cobbling together notes taken from various sources. The writer must add analysis and his or her own thoughts on the subject. Often a writer can produce such material during a break in the writing process, which allows other activities besides staring at a page filled with notes. Inspiration can strike at such times. In addition, the finished product should flow well, which is nearly impossible with a paper that is cut and pasted together, and avoid the use of trite phrases, the passive voice, and cliches (Kent, 55-57).

Author's Note: This page is intended to address some of the essential concerns of historical writing, and the author does not purport to have covered all possible topics.

History Writing Center

The History Writing Center, located in 347 James Blair Hall,  offers free consultations for students working on research and writing assignments for history courses. We work with students at all levels, from those new to writing about history to advanced students working on their honors theses.

The HWC is staffed by Ph.D. students from the department.  We have extensive experience in writing, researching, editing, and assessing all types of history papers.  We have all taught our own history courses at William & Mary, and have worked with undergraduate students in the History Department for years. 

Our center provides consultations for History Department writing assignments, or for courses cross-listed with History. If your paper does not meet these criteria, or if you are looking for ESL assistance, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with the Writing Resources Center at Swem Library.

Excellence in writing is hard work, but it is crucial to your success at William & Mary and in the future. We look forward to working with you.