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Gordon DesBrisay, History Faculty

Tense

What tense do you use when writing a history paper?

Past, keep it simple. People don't, increasingly. I don't know quite... (Historians don't?) No, History students don't, if I want to make that distinction. You get people saying, "Napoleon's forces advance on the left, so and so is coming from the right." Which is a play by play. It's documentary speak. But, you get tangled. If you try to write that way in a History paper, inevitably at some point you'd probably be trying to integrate quotations, and, chances are, they'll be writing in the past tense. Just keep it simple. We're simple people, Historians. We're writing about the past. The past tense: they named it after us. Just stick with what we know.