Writing Guidelines


Compare and Contrast Papers in History Courses



Compare and contrast assignments ask you to find continuities and discontinuities between historical events or time periods and to explain either the change from one event (or time period) to the next or the lack of change from one event (or time period) to the next.


As with all history papers, your compare and contrast paper should make a clear claim and support that claim with evidence.


Usually a compare and contrast assignment will give you some indication of what events or time periods to consider.  Begin by creating a list of similarities and differences.  Then think about which of these similarities and differences is most interesting or most significant.  Drawing on your knowledge of the historical context for each event, sketch out possible explanations for the similarity or difference.  Use this preliminary work to fashion a thesis that states which specific events you will consider and your explanation for their similarity of difference.


Organizing your compare and contrast paper

            Compare and contrast papers can be organized in at least three different ways.

First, you can discuss each event or time period separately and then analyze similarities and differences after.  This approach can emphasize the details of the events over the analysis of their similarities and differences.  Try to balance the need to describe the events in question with your analysis of them.

Second, you can discuss all of the similarities and then all of the differences.   This approach will emphasize your analysis, but may lump together very divergent aspects of the events in question.

Third, discuss the similarities and differences of each aspect of the events that you are comparing.  For instance, you may wish to compare and contrast the legal strategies and the educational implications of the Scopes Trial and the Dover Trial.  In this approach, you would consider the similarities and differences regarding legal strategies and then the similarities and differences regarding educational implications.  This approach allows you to focus on different aspects of the events in question.  This approach also balances description and analysis.



            Compare and contrast papers in history ask you to explain similarity and difference over time.  Providing evidence that describes each event is always a good idea, but you will need to have evidence that also supports your claim about why the two events differed or remained the same. 

For instance, if you were comparing public health campaigns regarding child nutrition in 1917 and 2007, you would need to describe their similarities and differences. You would also need to explain why in 1917 public health officials were worried about malnutrition while in 2007 childhood obesity is the principle concern.   You could propose that this difference in public health efforts is a result of the rapid rise of overweight children in the last fifteen years.  To support this claim, you would then need to provide evidence that public health officials today have noted such a rise and are in fact responding to it.  You could get this evidence from newspaper reports, but a stronger source would be an official government publication or a peer reviewed scholarly source, such as a journal article.