Quotations are used in a variety of different essays and mean different things in the way that they are used. One of the most popular forms of analysis in History Essays is to use a quote from a particular figure from the period or a particular account of the period and to comment on it and assess whether it can be judged to be an accurate depiction of the events that the essay is about. You can discuss, if it is not viewed to be accurate, what possible biases or inferences that, therefore, may lead the reader to take regarding the author. You, of course, may not be writing an essay about History; however, it is still important to understand the various ways that quotes are used in different types of essays and to then see how they may apply to your own subject.
In History Essays, as with lots of essays, quotations are usually imbedded into the text with some indication in the surrounding text as to their origin and to how they are relevant to the question that you have been set. Therefore, when using a quotation in a History essay and, indeed, in many other types of essays, it is important to be clear that most of the text will not be the quotation but rather an explanation as to its origin and an examination as to its meaning. Your point should focus on the quotation in relation to the question, but the quotation should not take up too much room. Some people believe that the use of long stretches of quotations is good as it means that you will have more text to analyse. This is an erroneous assumption; rather than having more text to analyse you will have less space to properly analyse your text to the fullest degree and this means your essay will come across as if it doesn’t have the intellectual rigour that is necessary to demonstrate that you can respond to the question you have been set but also that you cannot analyse the text in a way that supports your argument. Let’s look at an example of a quotation in a History essay and examine what it is doing:
“At the end of his inauguration speech in January 1961, President John F Kennedy spoke the immortal words “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Kennedy’s inference was simple; rather than taking for granted the economic prosperity of the late 50s/ early 60s America, a boom that was much more fragile than most Americans thought, that the citizens of his country should step up to the plate and help improve their country. This did not simply mean improve it economically – it meant to embrace the founding principles of America and to help ensure that it was seen as a shining beacon to all other nations of democracy in action rather than democracy inactive.”
This particular use of a quotation is short and yet it helps to build on the argument of the author and also to help explain the context in which the quotation is made. It, therefore perfectly demonstrates how to use a quotation in a History Essay. Rather than using a long section of the speech, it chooses a well known and particularly important section to highlight and support the main thrust of the writer’s argument. This can, therefore, be seen as a golden example of how to quote in an essay effectively and straightforwardly. Rather than meandering around the point of the argument, it goes straight into the heart of it and effectively and succinctly uses the quotation to support the point and to elaborate on it, giving further details to the reader that provide context and factual support to the rest of the point and the essay.