Posted on December 25th 2012

Criteria for Outstanding History Papers :

Note : KMLA is a high school located in the Republic of Korea. These notes are addressed to students new to writing history papers at High school level.
Links on this page lead to WHKMLA pages where the student's papers written in specific semesters are introduced. Links to the specific papers are found there.

The Basics :

Understanding of the matter discussed.
Conciseness, Clarity of expression (grammatical, stylistic, spelling errors are disregarded as long as they do not affect the message conveyed).
Proper quotation, use of references.
There are no minimum and maximum word or page limits for papers in Mr. Ganse's history class.

Distance to Primary and Secondary Sources :

Is a precondition to originality. Famous historian Edward Gibbon in his multi-volume Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1770es) remained too uncritical of the Roman historians he used as primary sources. As a result, he provided an exaggerated description of the Germanics as Barbarians because the Roman historians had cultivated that cliche.
In order to objectively analyse, distance to the sources is necessary. A historian will compare the various available sources and apply source criticism, examine the credibility of his sources. The following are examples of papers, in which the students had been asked to critically examine a specific source base : 12th waver Jun, Bum Sun's Improvement of European Jews' Status as Described in 19th Century German Encyclopedias, 12th waver Kim, Hong's The History of Crimea and Circassia as Portrayed in 19th Century Encyclopedias, 12th waver Kim, Hyun Kyu's The Papal State as Portrayed by 19th Century Encyclopedias.


Balance of Coverage :
In case of overview papers, a balance in the coverage of the various historical periods respectively regions observed. Examples : 13th waver Kang Jun-suk's A History of Textiles in Egypt; 13th waver Yoon Sung-Ah's The History of Nutrition in South America.

Originality :

Originality may express itself
in the choice or interpretation of a topic
in the organization of a paper; examples 12th waver Lee, Won Jae, History of the Quechua-Speaking People (he followed inverse chronological order); 13th waver Kang Jun-suk, Iranian Historiography : Various Perspectives on Defining Moments in the Modern History of Iran (by distinguishing 3 different threads of Iranian historiography); 15th waver Myeong, Do Hyeong's The Clash of Cultures in Malabar (where she examines the mutual relations between various "host cultures" and various "guest cultures")
in the method used; example 13th waver Kim, Jisoo, Morocco as Portrayed in 19th Century Encyclopedias (she applied a scoring system for her primary sources)
in the aspects examined; example 12th waver Park, Keuk Ryul, Sino-Korean Relations Portrayed by European Encyclopedias, 1771-1930
in sources used; example 12th waver Choi, June Young, The Introduction of Tropical Flavours into British Cuisine, 1850-1950 (source base cookbooks)
in an interpretation; example 15th waver Cho, Naan, Comparative Culinary History : Italy and Spain
in coming up with one's own definitions; examples include 14th waver Ryu, Seung Hyun's A Utopian Concept Becoming Political Reality : Richard Nikolaus Graf Coudenove Kalergi and the Paneuropa Movement from 1920 to 1950, 15th waver Myeong, Do Hyeong's The Clash of Cultures in Malabar (where she examines the mutual relations between various "host cultures" and various "guest cultures")

Quality of the Source Base :

Primary sources and academic secondary sources preferred
Ingenuity in finding the right sources

Depth :

Which is achieved by a solid overview of the existing sources, full understanding of the examined aspect and the context, proper distance from the sources. Among the numerous examples are 13th waver Song, Jeeun's History of Metallurgy and Mining in the Andean Region, 13th waver Yeon, Haram's History of Textiles in South Asia, 13th waver Kim, Ji Yang's The National Historiography of Ethiopia.
Such depth is usually achieved by using a base of academic secondary sources, either a university library, or online academic libraries such as Questia or Jstor (both requiring registration and charging a moderate fee). Papers of such depth are usually produced by ambitious, experienced students (in their sophomore or senior year).
Another way of establishing depth may be traveling, visiting the environment one is to write about. Examples of papers Based on such experience include 14th waver Kim, Min Ju's The Gender Issue in the Modern History of Turkey : The Discrepancy between modernization of legal institutions and social customs.
An example for a freshman paper of great depth is 14th waver Son Bo Kyung's Usury in Christian terms and remedies of in medieval Italy - Evaluating the accuracy of the contents of Saint Antonio (written in her first semester at KMLA).

Expertise in Other Subjects

Example : 13th waver Choi, Jeong Hoon's Impact of Climate Change in East Asian History

Obstacles Encountered and Overcome

Primary or secondary sources in languages other than Korean and English used. Examples : 12th waver Ryu, Hye Jin's 120 page paper Nationalism and High School History Instruction : A Comparison of History Books from China, Korea and Japan; 13th waver Song, Jeeun, A Dissection of the National Historiography of Kazakhstan (primary sources used were in Russian language)
Sources with limited access used
A first approach proved unproductive, so a second approach was taken (this rarely shows in papers, as unsuccessful approaches were screened out).
An approach unsuaual for historians taken (f.ex. usage of a laboratory to examine the purity of copper objects from different historical periods; the obstacles including getting access to the objects to be examined, to the laboratory, and learning how to use the equipment).
An example that high school freshmen can show initiative and successfully take on obstacles is 14th waver Park Hyun's freshman paper Scandals in French History Portrayed in Historic Encyclopedias (she used a Danish language encyclopedia to complement an otherwise unsatisfactory source base).


A criterion applying to only a small number of topics. One coming to mind is Kim, Young Yoon's paper on Posthumous Appointment to Gov. Positions in Korean History.

Detailed Region-Specific Information

Papers covering topics where information is not generally accessible to an English language readership may not need to achieve the same level of originality as the 'usual' history paper in order to stand out. An example for such a paper is 13th waver Nam, Sang Joon's Japanese Economic History Prior to the Meiji Restoration (based on Japanese language secondary sources)


Every couple of years, Japanese revisionists republish a high school history textbook which stirs up emotions in Korea and China. When this happens, the world media report about the protests by Korean and Chinese authorities; very few western consumers of the news understand what "the fuss is about". 12th waver Ryu, Hye Jin's 120 page paper Nationalism and High School History Instruction : A Comparison of History Books from China, Korea and Japan filled that information gap.

KMLA History Program, Term Paper Topics from Spring 2009

KMLA Students' Papers of Spring 2012
KMLA Students' Papers of Fall 2011
KMLA Students' Papers of Spring 2011
KMLA Students' Papers of Fall 2010
KMLA Students' Papers of Spring 2010
KMLA Students' Papers of Fall 2009
KMLA Students' Papers of Spring 2009