Writing a strong thesis for your Modern History essay may seem more important than you think.

Imagine you’re sitting in a hard chair in the middle of the HSC marking centre marking yet another Modern History essay on why Albert Speer was a bad person. 

They all say Albert Speer was bad because ‘he was a Nazi’. Now imagine you read another 20 essays arguing the exact same thing. Then, another 30.

Then you read one Modern History essay that says that Albert Speer is a complex and multi-faceted individual who was later known to be the ‘Apologetic Nazi’.

It steals your attention.

Why? Because it argued against the question. Arguing against the question, if done well, guarantees you some extra marks for your modern history essay!

So, I’m going to walk you through why you might want to argue against the question and how you do this successfully!

Why challenge the status quo?
5 Reasons Why You Should Argue Against the Question
How to Argue Against the Question

Why challenge the status quo?

Arguing against the question, or playing devil’s advocate as it’s commonly known, guarantees that you stand out from the rest.

It involves arguing an unpopular opinion. 

To put it simply, it would look like this:

Charlie: Albert Speer was a bad person.

Bob: Albert Speer was not a bad person as you may think he was. Why are you so certain that he was a bad person?

Charlie: Because of reasons A, B and C. Why do you think he was not a bad person?

Bob: Because of reasons X, Y and Z.

Charlie: Wow, I have never considered reasons X, Y and Z before!

More than 5,000 students study HSC Modern History. Most of them will be Charlie. You want to be Bob. 

Playing devil’s advocate for your Modern History Essay is a great exam strategy and will help you on your way to a Band 6 response!

5 Reasons Why You Should Argue Against the Question

1. Sets you apart from the rest of your cohort

Your Modern History essay will be different from your peers and therefore is more likely to catch the marker’s attention.

This means they’ll devote more time to reading your response and you are more likely to get better marks.

2. Allows you to test your argument skills

It tests your ability to argue as you have to convince the marker why the point you are making in your Modern History essay is true.

This also includes the most important persuasive tool —evidence.

As a bonus, this shows that you have thought extensively about the question.

The marker will ultimately think that you are someone who has a deep understanding of the subject and has great insights on it.

3. Gives you the opportunity to interpret your sources to a greater extent

For example, everyone might be using Leni Riefenstahl’s film(s) as evidence for her support of Nazi Germany, but perhaps you can show how some parts of this support are simply the byproduct of demonstrating her cinematographic skill.

This opens the window for you to delve deeply into a source.

As a result, this showcases your unique analytical skills in your Modern History Essay.

4. Gives you the opportunity to critically evaluate sources

An example of this is a quote used by NESA in a past HSC Modern History paper: “History is always written by winners”.

This statement is often an accepted part of history, but it doesn’t need to be that way —give the marker a reason to see why this quote isn’t true.

5. Makes you think critically

Being able to articulate a point and see both sides of an argument is something that is going to benefit you later in life, so why not master the skill as early as possible?

So, how do you go against the grain?

How to Argue Against the Question

Step 1: Identify the different sides of the question

All Modern History essay questions will require you to take a side.

Questions are often directed to one side of the argument through their wording.

Examples of this are seen where phrases like ‘to what extent’ and ‘how successful’ are used.

Here’s the 2010 HSC Modern History Personality question:

HSC Modern History Essay

So, what are the two sides to this question?
  1. Some people ARE swept along by events, and these people DO use these events to their advantage; or
  2. Some people ARE NOT swept along by events, and these people DO NOT use these events to their advantage.
Let’s re-frame these statements with Albert Speer in mind:
  1. Albert Speer WAS swept along by events, and Albert Speer DID use these events to his advantage; or
  2. Albert Speer WAS NOT swept along by events, and these people DID NOT use these events to their advantage.

Note: The key word here is ‘how accurate’, as stated in the question. Not only you are to choose a side, but you need to provide a judgement regarding the statement. That is, you need to address to what extent is this statement accurate.

Step 2: Choose a side

The most common consensus is that Nazis are bad —Albert Speer was a Nazi, therefore he was bad.

Side 1: ‘The Good Nazi’

However, Albert Speer was known as ‘The Good Nazi’ or ‘The Apologetic Nazi’.

Essentially, Albert Speer was swept along with the Nazi wave, and he used these events to his advantage in becoming the Reich Minister for Armaments and War Production.

Albert Speer’s own writings (for example, Inside the Third Reich) establishes that he was not concerned with anything more than architecture and design, rather than being involved in racial and labour policies.

Side 2: ‘The Bad Nazi’

How would we challenge this? We take the view that he was ‘a bad Nazi’.

What does that look like? We would then claim that Albert Speer was not swept along with the Nazi wave, and that he did not use these events to his advantage.

Therefore your argument in response to the question is that ‘to a significant extent, the statement above is not necessarily accurate after analysing Albert Speer on a critical level.’

Step 3: Plan your argument

It is critical that you substantiate your claim. 

Our central focus would be that Albert Speer was NOT swept along with the Nazi wave and DID NOT make use of the Nazi wave for his own benefit.

Let’s deconstruct this thesis with two central points and some further questions.

Albert Speer was NOT swept along with the Nazi Wave.

 

  • What was the context through which Albert Speer lived?
  • What events motivated Albert Speer into joining the Nazi Party?
  • What were Albert Speer’s personal ideologies, and moral standings?

Albert Speer DID NOT make use of the Nazi wave for his own advantage.

 

  • What responsibilities did Albert Speer hold in the Nazi Reich Ministry?
  • What actions did Albert Speer commit to during his position of power?
Let’s see how the first two questions are important in delineating our central thesis and statements.

What was the context through which Albert Speer lived?

 

  • German economic depression as a result of the World War I and the Treaty of Versailles;
  • Upper-middle-class family, well educated;
  • Wanted to become mathematician, pursued architecture for better financial prospects;
  • Apolitical as a young man.

What events motivated Albert Speer into joining the Nazi Party and rising to power?

 

  • Persuaded by his students to attend NSDAP Party Rally in 1930; joined the NSDAP in 1931;
  • Speer visited Berlin to help NSDAP in 1932 Reichstag elections;
  • Met NSDAP Official Karl Hanke; recommended to Joseph Goebbels to renovate NSDAP Headquarters as a contractor;
  • Requested to design 1933 Nuremberg Rally; approved by Führer Adolf Hitler; no longer a contractor but officially ‘Commissioner for the Artistic and Technical Presentation of Party Rallies and Demonstrations’;
  • Requested to redesign Reich Chancellory in Berlin; skills and expertise has him trusted by Hitler;
  • Becomes part of Hitler’s ‘inner circle’.

There are many benefits in playing devil’s advocate for HSC Modern History.

Give it a go in your upcoming exam and make yourself stand out from 5000 other students!

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Yifan Shen completed his HSC in 2014 and is currently studying the Bachelor Of Economics/Advanced Mathematics at UNSW. Apart from nutting out equations and helping out students with their academic pursuit, you will find him either reading thriller novels or introducing a range of new people to the intricate and mysterious world of mathematics as the marketing representative of UNSW MathSoc. When he is drained from all of these work, you will also see him hiking, planking and water bending in his recovery mode.