History final exam questions
Short Written Response Section
The short essay questions come from the “historical question” section of the modules. This is where you get a chance to show the breadth and depth of your knowledge. The exam will distribute randomly three questions from the list below (again, each student will receive slightly different questions). Each will be worth 50 points.
Important note: in your responses to these questions, refer only to the assigned class readings. There is a ton of high-quality historical material on the internet; there is an equal amount of poor-quality, erroneous, and just plain strange material as well. Just last semester, for example, a student based an answer on a web site that was created by a third-grade student. Obviously, that was a poor choice. Wikipedia is good for factual material – it has improved tremendously in the last five years – but our essays are interpretive, not factual, so it won’t help. Therefore, answers that are drawn from material other than the course readings will receive an automatic zero.
So, here is the list of questions that may appear on this section. Each must be answered with a minimum of 3-4 sentences (very good answers will almost certainly be longer). The time limit is 15 minutes per question. Below each question, I’ve added some suggestions for the study of The Enduring Vision to help you.
1. How did these machines and technological improvements change the ways people lived and worked between 1840 and 1860? o Study suggestions – this question asks you to synthesize the history related on pages 322-32 of our text. First, identify the major changes – our text categorizes them in three basic categories: agricultural advancements, general industrial/technological advancements, and transportation improvements. So, be able to name the most important advancement(s) from each of these categories. Then, show the impact of these changes on people’s lives and work. The McCormick-type reaper, for example, led to the widespread planting of wheat in the Midwest and greatly increased American food production.
2. How did the rise of cotton cultivation affect the South between 1830-60? o Study suggestions – once again, this question asks for a synthesis of a large amount of historical material. A key to this question is to focus on the cotton expansion of the period and its particular effects. While one could go into aspects of social class and other aspects treated in this chapter, it is best to focus on pages 350- 7 in our text. As stated in the chapter’s conclusion, “The cotton gin revitalized southern agriculture and spurred a redistribution of the South’s population, slave and free, from Virginia to other southeastern states to southwestern states . . . . As the Old South became more dependent on cotton, it also became more reliant on slave labor.” Use examples from pages 350-7 to illustrate this statement. 3. How did the concept of Manifest Destiny rationalize or help justify the expansion of the United States into the Far West?
o Study suggestions – as you can see, this question calls for more than just a definition of this term. Yes, the term’s meaning must be explained, but the response must also demonstrate some aspect of its effect. To answer this question, material from pages 394-98 must be analyzed and synthesized. O’Sullivan coined the phrase – be able to explain its meaning (don’t just quote O’Sullivan) – then, show how this concept reflects American attitudes and actions toward Texas and Oregon. In addition, the “B” or “A” response will refer to the primary document reading (O’Sullivan’s “Annexation”) that is part of this module. In this excerpt, O’Sullivan explains why expansion was justified (beyond just the oft-quoted sentence about “manifest destiny”). Use his reasoning as an example of the concept of Manifest Destiny. 4. Why did southerners conclude that the North was bent on extinguishing slavery in southern states between 1850-61?
o In the less expensive “Advantage” edition of The Enduring Vision assigned for this class, the publisher cut a few sentences of introduction that are helpful in framing this question. So, I will share them with you here (with my emphasis added):
“Formed in the mid-1850s, the Republican Party dedicated itself to stopping the extension of slavery into the territories, but the party’s leaders insisted that they lacked constitutional authority to interfere with slavery in the southern states. Most white southerners [in 1856] trusted their influence in national institutions, especially the Democratic party, to secure slavery. However, sectional conflicts over slavery extension eroded the appeal of national parties during the 1850s. Then, in October, 1859, a fanatical abolitionist named John Brown led a small band in seizing the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in the hope of igniting a slave insurrection. An abject failure, Brown’s raid nevertheless
brought to the surface all of the white South’s doubts about the “real” intentions of the North.”
So, to answer this question, the response should explain how the appeal of the two parties “eroded” in the late 1850s. To do this, one should note the importance of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the subsequent crisis in Kansas. Also, the decision in the Dred Scott case is important here. After explaining this “erosion,” use the John Brown incident and the election of Abraham Lincoln to show the southern perception and interpretation of the meaning of these events. 5. What advantages did Union possess at the start of the Civil War? What advantages did the Confederate side possess at the beginning? ? Study suggestions – this is the easiest of these question by far. The basic answer is located on pages 448-49, but one should also mention Northern advantages in supplies and financing (pages 444-5).
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