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Hipp Essays

Interpreting primary sources, formulating an argument, and utilizing primary sources to support an argument are crucial skills in AP World History and AP European History.  Students need to become comfortable and confident in their interpretation of primary sources and their utilization of those documents in essay writing.  Below are tips and pointers to assist WHAP and APEURO students in writing a DBQ essay.


Plan Long! Write Fast!


Every DBQ prompt will have you write to one of the following historical thinking skills: Comparison and Contrast (C/C), Causation (C/E), or Change and Continuity Over Time (CCOT), or Periodization (PD)


Try dissecting the following prompts for key terms and the historical thinking skill:

1. Using the given documents, analyze the reasons why students struggle and succeed in Advanced Placement World History. (C/E)

2. Using the given documents, analyze similarities and differences in industrialization between Russia and Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (C/C)

3. Using the given documents, analyze continuities and changes in labor systems in the Americas between 1500 and 1900. (CCOT) 


Once you've dissected the prompt you now know what to look for in each of the given sources. Each given source is like a treasure box with a lot of gems, diamonds, rubies, gold nuggets, and silver bars. Extract the precious stone or metal that you're looking for! If your gold nugget is "similarities in industrialization between Russia and Japan" then extract it. If your diamond is "reasons why the Great Depression went global" then extract it.


Set up your plan sheet according to the historical thinking skill in the prompt, but remember to include the documents in your plan sheet.  For a C/E DBQ essay try using a multi-flow or partial multi-flow thinking map. For a C/C DBQ essay try using a Venn Diagram or a double-bubble thinking map. And for a CCOT DBQ essay try using a partial multi-flow thinking map. Keep in mind that a successful plan sheet enables you to write a successful essay.


The Magnificent Seven - Each of your DBQ essays will be assessed for the following seven historical thinking and writing skills: I have written my commentary on each essay point in indigo!


#1 Thesis: Responds to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis/claim that establishes a line of reasoning. An example of an historically defensible claim would be any of the reasons that students struggle or succeed in AP World History, any of the similarities or differences in industrialization between Japan and Russia, and any of the continuities and changes in labor systems in the given time period. This is why I am teaching you to plan your DBQ based on the historical thinking skill established in the DBQ Essay prompt. Additionally, "establishing a line of reasoning" means that you give more than just a list of historical claims.  You suggest an explanation, or an answer to "why," within your thesis.  For example, "One similarity between industrialization in Russia and Japan was the high level of government influence in industry due to both nations altering and reforming their respective governments."


#2 Contextualization: Describes a broader historical context relevant to the prompt. You'll hear me refer to this as "Big C."  You can attempt this in any paragraph of the essay, but it best fits in the introductory paragraph prior to the thesis.  So, if you're writing an essay about the American and French Revolutions, and you contextualize these revolutions with information regarding the Age of Enlightenment, new political theories, limited governments, natural rights, etc. then you will be providing broader historical developments/processes surrounding the American and French Revolutions. Think "zoom out," and "why are we answering this question?"  Consider the beginning of a Star Wars movie. The scroll is an example of "Big C" contextualization.


#3 Use of the Documents: Uses the content of at least three documents to address the topic of the prompt. In essence, you are expected to extrapolate or lift evidence from the given documents in the body paragraphs of your DBQ essay.  However, I instruct you to use all seven given documents.  Using three documents is not good enough for a DBQ essay, as you will lose points in other parts of the rubric.


#4 Use of the Documents: Supports an argument in response to the prompt using at least six documents. This is a high bar point that demands that you utilize the documents to support an argument.  This goes beyond just lifting evidence or summarizing the documents.  You must demonstrate exactly how the evidence from the document supports your argument/thesis.


#5 Outside EvidenceUses at least one additional piece of the specific historical evidence (beyond that found in the documents) relevant to an argument about the prompt. This is your opportunity to show what you know outside of the given documents. You are expected to provide an additional piece of specific evidence beyond the given documents that will qualify your argument. So for example, if you're writing about reasons why the Allied Powers were successful in World War II and you have the following sources: A. a statistical chart of the number of deployed Allied troops in the European and Pacific Theaters, B. a photo of RAF counter strikes against German pilots in the Battle of Britain, and C. a source from Joseph Stalin describing the success of the Red Army at the Battle of Stalingrad, then you could corroborate your claim by writing about something specific that is outside of the documents, such as the use of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II.


#6 Sourcing the Documents: For at least three documents, explains how or why the document’s point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to an argument.. For author's point of view consider the author's relationship to the subject (e.g. a feminist speaking about women's suffrage, a Cavs fan watching the NBA Finals against the Warriors, a slave's memoir of plantation slavery, etc.). For author's purpose consider the intent behind the speech, document, photograph, painting, etc. (e.g. A letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella requesting additional financing for his voyages to the Caribbean, a television commercial for a "must-have" product motivating consumers to make a purchase, a piece of propaganda encouraging men to join the army during World War I, etc.). Historical context as it relates to sourcing the documents - you will hear me refer this as "Little C." Consider the historical time period, historical setting, historical events, historical trends surrounding the author and the document (e.g. Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto published in 1848 during the Industrial Revolution in Europe that was characterized by worker strikes and discontent for the poor conditions and wages established by business owners through the practice of industrial capitalism). Lastly, consider the author's intended audience by whom was expected to read/see/hear the document (e.g. a personal diary only to be read by the author, a newspaper article for an entire community to read, a speech by a feminist to Parliament, a text message to your best friend, etc.). Think about it, you're attempting to answer WHY the author wrote/spoke what they wrote/spoke in as many ways as you possibly can. Think H.I.P.P. (Historical context, Intended audience, Point of view, Purpose of the author).


Check out the Four Sourcemen Cheat Sheet Here! 


#7 Argument Development: Demonstrates a complex understanding of the historical development that is the focus of the prompt, using evidence to corroborate, qualify, or modify an argument that addresses the question. By complex argument it is expected that your essay will develop an argument that is thoroughly supported by given sources and your own knowledge of World or European history throughout the entirety of the DBQ essay. A claim or thesis is empty, but an argument is full. Full of what? An argument is full of evidence - be it evidence from given documents or evidence based on your own knowledge of world or European history and its relationship to the given essay prompt. This is also an opportunity for you to utilize your document grouping/bucketing from your plan sheet. Group documents that relate to each other by contradiction (e.g. a Japanese survivor's testimony and an American G.I.'s testimony on the use of the atomic bomb). Group documents that relate to each other by corroboration (e.g. a Nazi Party member's testimony and a Nazi soldier's testimony of the Holocaust). Group documents by qualification/modification (any like/similar documents that "qualifies" your thesis). However, this point isn't awarded for grouping/bucketing, but for your ability to develop and support a complex argument throughout the essay. Topical statements, specific vocabulary, tying your paragraphs back to the thesis are things to keep in mind while developing your historical argument. This point can also be earned by explaining relevant and insightful connections across and within time periods. What you may recall as the "synthesis point" from years past can also be used to earn this point.




Organize your essay in the following manner: 


Introduction (Thesis) Paragraph

-Set the "Big C" or context for your essay in the beginning of the introductory paragraph; aka zoom out.

-Zoom in to establish the thesis (your historically defensible claims).

-Open your writing up, so as not to cram too many claims or points into a single sentence.

-Include a statement(s) of explanation within the sentences that make up your thesis.


Body Paragraphs (2 or more body paragraphs)

-Topical Statement must be present to explicitly state the claim or point (the label on the lid of the jar)

-Documents need to be referenced (minimum of two per body paragraph, ideally three)

-Use attribution (e.g. Siddhartha Guatama stated in his sermon on the Four Noble Truths... BAD e.g. Document 5 preached the Four Noble Truths)

-Cite documents in parentheses e.g. (doc. #2) or (2)

-Extrapolate (or lift) historical evidence from the primary source

-Direct quotation, but keep quotes short



-Discuss the historical evidence and relate it to the topical statement

-Source the documents via H.I.P.P.O. (see above)

-Suggest outside evidence (see above)

-Utilize transitions to show how documents are related to each other.


Conclusion w/Restatement of Thesis and Synthesis

-Restate the thesis

-Extend your argument by connecting/synthesizing it with a different event, situation, trend, time period, theme, discipline, etc. (see above)



Analyze This: The DBQ Essay in 2015

Putting the O in H.I.P.P.O. has never been more important.

As teachers tackle the challenge of educating their students on the process of document analysis, they must focus their instruction and their students minds on analysis like never before. Literally, like never before because changes to the DBQ essay scoring rubric in 2015 mean that students must refine their ability to analyze documents and adopt a focused strategy that takes them beyond identification. The exam redesign is all about getting students to think more analytically (like a historian) and the new scoring rubric reflects this requirement. The section may look and even read the same, but rest-assured students who are simply identifying the elements without analyzing the implications and meaning surrounding the facts will lose points on the new 2015 exam.

In the past, several sets of ideas have been put forth by teachers around the country with most involving students identifying four key elements: 1) Historical context; 2) Intended audience; 3) Point of view; and 4) Purpose of the documents (aka H.I.P.P.). Thus, many seem to be some iteration of H.I.P.P. There is H.I.P.P., H.I.P.P.Y., and my own H.I.P.P.O. The “O” in H.I.P.P.O. has never been more critical than it is for the 2015 exam. The “O” in “H.I.P.P.O” stands for “Organize” and suggests the need for students to arrange the details of a document into a potential argument or thesis once they have broken it down into the four key elements. Students need either to be reminded or trained (or both) to use documents as evidence, and not just identify the various elements and think their analysis is complete. In short, If they don’t hook the document to a larger idea, they run the risk of merely listing rather than analyzing the documents. (I address this issue in Threads of History by putting topics such as the abolitionist movement and the changing definition of “conservative” and “liberal” into a larger, thematic context.) Allow me to provide a specific example that demonstrates how the “O” functions as an effective training and reminding strategy:

Using “H.I.P.P.O.” with John Calhoun’s Speech March 4, 1850.

(p. 56 in the new 2nd Edition of Threads of History, Updated for the 2015 Exam)

I return to the question with which I began: How can the Union be saved? There is only one way. That is by a full and final settlement based on the principle of justice, of all the disputes between the two sections. The South asks for justice, simple justice. Less it ought not to accept. It has no compromise to offer but the Constitution, and no concession or surrender to make. It has already surrendered so much that it has little left to surrender. Such a settlement would remove all the causes of dissatisfaction. It would satisfy the South that it could remain honorably and safely in the Union. It would bring back the harmony and good feelings between the sections that existed before the Missouri question. Nothing else can finally and forever settle the questions at issue, end agitation, and save the Union. John Calhoun, March 4, 1850

Historical Context: Speech given at the height of the tension and debate over the various elements of the Compromise of 1850. The vote on the measures were in doubt and the North and South were in great conflict.
Intended Audience: Southern conservatives, other states’ rights supporters, and Northerner opponents.
Point of View: The Compromise was flawed. Slavery was a constitutional right of property that could go anywhere. The South demanded justice.
Purpose: To bolster the South and unite its supporters in opposition to the Compromise.
Organization/Use: Depending on the prompt, it could be used as evidence:
  • to show growing sectionalism in 1850
  • to show the consequences that had emerged from the land
  • acquired in the Mexican-American War
  • to show the South’s mindset that eventually led to secession

If a student constructs their essay based on what they’ve uncovered through their 4 key element identification process, their essay will lack the level of analysis necessary to earn a high score. The additional compOnent forces their thinking to go beyond the basic elements of the source and begin to think about how historical evidence is used in an argument.

A strategy is NOT a system or a magic bullet!

A point of clarification about HIPPO. It is a tool to be used early in the DBQ learning process, probably in the first weeks of school. It is designed to offer students a strategy to use in decoding documents in the manner suggested by the new curriculum and in the fashion called for by the new DBQ rubric. It is also a serves to remind them of how critical it is to do more with a document than just decode it - a pitfall on the day of the exam when time limits loom. Speaking of pitfalls, it’s important that students understand that it is unlikely that any DBQ strategy can be perfectly implemented under the extreme time constraints now in place (a reduced time of 55 minutes). They are all good techniques, but they require too much time to be employed on all, or all but one of the documents when dealing with a timed essay. The best strategies applied under the best exam circumstances are never a sure-fire 5. Preparation and Practice are just as critical and never secondary to any strategy. I stress this because there will always be students that focus on strategy rather than good old hard work. All test taking techniques are designed to promote habits of the mind that students (hopefully) develop as they (slowly) build the skills necessary to write a strong DBQ. Developing such habits takes practice. On the actual essay, students will need to quickly implement some aspect of one of these techniques. This will give students a specific plan of attack so they will not be left adrift as they organize and write their argument. However, practice and preparation will offer them the experiential foundation they need to “bring it” come exam day.