Skip to main content Skip to navigation

The Essay Plan Assignment

Building on feedback from MA students last year, the Department has introduced a very early, skill-building assessment into all first term core modules this year. This will look different in different modules. In this module, we are asking you to produce a 1500-word focused essay plan, including an annotated bibliography. You may decide to use this essay plan as the basis for your long essay, due at the end of term -- but you don't have to. What the assignment will offer you is a chance to formulate your own MA level question; to think about which methodological or theoretical approaches will work best for generating evidence and answers to your question; and an opportunity to think creatively and critically about some of the primary and secondary sources you might draw on to address your question. Below, I've broken the assignment down and offer some tips on how to complete it. One of your peers from last year has also generously shared a sample essay plan for anyone who is still puzzled!

Part 1. Generate your question.

This may feel challenging, given how early in the term this assignment falls. Don't worry: you don't have to write your final essay on the same topic. The feedback you will get will apply to any topic. That said, you have all come to study the history of medicine with topics of interest and questions percolating in your minds! This is a great chance to give those questions a test run, and see how addressing them might work in practice. What you are looking for is a question to which you can apply a theory or method that you enjoy working with. Do you love the 'stuff' of history? Perhaps you want to generate a question that will draw on material culture. Are you a fan of televisual representations of medicine or science? Try visual culture approaches! Do you enjoy working with theories about power and subjugation? You might want to work with subaltern studies or Foucauldian theories. Feel free to try out potential questions by coming along to the office hours of CHM staff members. All questions must be approved by the module convenor, Roberta Bivins, no later than Tuesday 18 October.

Part 2. The essay plan

Once you have your question, you need to generate an approach to addressing it. What we will be looking for is an enriched outline showcasing the structure of your hypothetical essay, and giving us a small taste of what each element of the essay would cover, and how. What would you want to talk about in your introduction, to contextualise your question and show the reader why it is of importance and where it fits into the field? What would the body of your essay cover, and how would you move through your material: chronologically? thematically? through comparative case studies? Why would that approach be best? What kinds of evidence would you look at in each section of your essay, hypothetically -- and here, we will not be looking for masses of detail! If you were looking at visual representations, using a chronological structure, you might for example refer to a key painting, photography, and film that could offer evidence across different sections; or you might describe the evidence you would seek for each section, explain why this kind of evidence would be useful, and say a word or two about what it might prove. And finally, what might you conclude? How would you bring your strands of evidence together for the reader, and what might the field gain from the arguments and answers you have developed during your investigation?

Part 3. The Annotated Bibliography

Here, we will be looking for a brief critical description of at least two secondary sources, and at least one primary source that you would work with, accompanied by a suitable methodological or theoretical text that will help you to critically assess that source. Your choice of secondary sources should show us that you understand the historiographical context in which your question sits: what have other scholars written about this topic, or this historical moment or theoretical approach, for example? What texts influence your approach to the question, and why? Your chosen pair of primary source and methodological/theoretical text should tell us a little bit about how you would approach and evaluate the evidence underpinning your answers.