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Gordon DesBrisay, History Faculty

First Person

Is first person acceptable in a History essay?

I think it's generally....It will vary with the assignment. It might be an assignment that actually asks you for full-frontal declarations of what you think about something. I think, especially in a student context, I think it's a very powerful rhetorical weapon to be used very cautiously. Because, if you start writing in the first person and the rest of your essay isn't particularly strong, you can simply come off as kind of naive, or having not done sufficient work, pulling this out of your hat. If you use the first person, if you drop it in after a very thorough review of things and then you reveal your own position on it, it can be a very powerful moment as a writer. As a general practice, though, I prefer that people not do it, because I think there are... for one thing, your name is on the essay, so you don't have to keep beating us over the head with it: 'I think', 'In my opinion', or, worse yet, 'I feel', because frankly nobody cares what you feel. Get on with it and explain why things were the way they were, with an emphasis on 'why'.