What did you choose as your topic for the history IA and why?
I chose to study the Cuban Missile Crisis for my history IA – specifically I focused on the US response towards the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba and examined if Kennedy’s response of a blockade was an appropriate one. The reason I chose this topic was partially out of interest – I’ve always been fascinated by nuclear diplomacy and how close the world came to nuclear war, particularly during that incident in 1962.
For more practical purposes, I chose a topic related to the Cold War because I knew there would be an abundance of primary and secondary source material I could refer to. Some of my friends decided to do more obscure topics like the Crusades and struggled to find appropriate source material addressing their research question – as such I would recommend picking a time period which has been well documented.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your IA?
I wish I would have known that I would have to basically redo my IA from scratch in Year 6. In light of this, it’s really important to do adequate research for your history IA – it helps having an intimate knowledge of historical events so that you can craft appropriate research questions. You might even choose to do something related to your history syllabus – this could possibly help in your essay writing by giving you a vast understanding of the factors involved (in, say, Hitler’s rise or his maintenance of power).
I also wish I knew how far SAFTI library really was – it’s a long walk from Joo Koon MRT and through SAFTI itself. So if you live further than that, take travelling time into account if you want to go there. Admittedly it was rather tiring having to go all the way there for research material almost every day during the March holidays. Alternatively, you could be less lazy than I was and sign up for membership so that you can borrow books from there. You might also want to pick your research topic based on the availability of research material at the various libraries, so that you can base your research around one library’s materials. This wasn’t the case for me, however, and I visited both NLB’s Central Public Library as well as SAFTI Library.
What was the commitment like?
I tend to work in short intense spurts – I would devote an entire week to working on just one task and that was the case for my history IA. The bulk of my work was done during the March holidays, with many more visits to the library during term 2 (sometimes after school until the Central Library closes, even!). It was definitely rigourous – I had to edit my IA at least 7 times following consultation, and this was on top of all the other assessments I had. In fact, I worked longer on my IA than I did for my history EE. And that’s saying something.
Yes, I mostly worked on my history IA in term 2 of Year 6. You can make your life infinitely easier by studying the source material during the November/December holidays – even if your existing IA gets shot down in Year 6 your source material won’t change and it’s good to have that knowledge at the back of your head. Create a table summarising (or even quoting) each source and where each sliver of information can be found in the books – this will save you from having to flip through multiple sources when you’re writing your IA.
I guess it’s safe to say that a moderate to high degree of commitment is needed if you’re aiming to score well for your history IA. It would be detrimental if you left your IA alone for too long – most of the time people end up forgetting all their historical evidence and end up having to re-read most of their sources. This is why I adopted my ‘intense’ approach – so I would be familiar with the source material for every day of work, spending only the first day familiarising myself with it. Perhaps you could try it too!
What are some common pitfalls of students who have to write a history IA?
Other than being lazy, one common pitfall is that students end up forgetting their source material or have no idea what their sources argue. It is absolutely important that your arguments are well-substantiated. Another problem related to this is that students find it difficult to find source material related to their research question. Choosing an appropriate topic is one thing, while finding all your sources in advance is another thing. Use JSTOR to your advantage, and don’t forget to use the catalogue for both SAFTI Library and NLB to check if your source material is there. An advantage of using the reference library is that you can be sure your source material will be there – as long as someone else there doesn’t get to it first. Alternatively, you could also access NUS Library if you have someone else’s card pay the registration fee – this might be worth it as some books there aren’t available at the other libraries.
Oh, and don’t forget to return your library materials after you’re done with them/they’re due. One of my friends racked up a $200 fine from NLB, and you definitely do not want to be in that position. Imagine the number of meals $200 could buy you! Another had to go all the way to SAFTI from his home in Woodlands just to pay a fine that was less than $1. Don’t forget to return your books!
What skills would you specifically need for a history IA?
The most important skill is being able to absorb large amounts of information and then summarising it all in your own words. You will quickly realise that 2000 words is hardly enough to cover everything. Considering the requirements of the history IA format, you will be left with even fewer words to expound on the historiographical arguments. As such, it is important to develop a knack for extracting the important facts and arguments from your sources, along with being able to separate the historical facts from the arguments. This will greatly help you when you’re writing your IA. Creating a table of sorts, as mentioned previously, might help. Don’t be afraid to annotate your research articles as well – by highlighting only the important bits on PDF I was able to quickly get the information I needed every time.
Also, being able to write concisely is a very important skill. As mentioned, your word limit might just turn out to be your greatest enemy, and knowing how to omit arbitrary information that does not contribute to your analysis is critical. Don’t be like those hoarders and assume you’ll need everything – sometimes you just have to let it go.
In addition, your footnoting and citation skills need to be solid. The last thing you would want is to have to redo only your footnoting and bibliography because of poor formatting – searching for individual page numbers is a nightmare. As such, it pays to do your footnoting as your write your IA, rather than take the approach of writing your entire IA first then footnoting it later. You’ll thank me for this, I assure you.
What’s the difference between a history IA and a history EE?
The processes of writing both are pretty much the same, actually. The main difference is that you get twice the number of words for your EE and you have more freedom to pick your own structure for your essay. Personally, I preferred being able to choose my own structure rather than having to follow the set one for history IA where you have to separate evidence and analysis.
In addition, it is worth noting that you’ll get far more time with your teachers to consult for your history IA – they know exactly what they’ll be looking out for when marking and will do their best to help you. As for EE, the work is a tad more independent but your supervisor will (probably) be there if you need help too.
Content-wise, it’s safe to assume that a history EE requires a lot more in-depth analysis and a wider range of historical evidence considered. And no, you won’t be able to do the same topic for both the IA and the EE. In addition, a history EE requires you to have your own historiographical interpretation of the evidence while a history IA does not credit individual perspectives (it’s harder to bullshit create fluff).
Other than that, both primarily consist of analysing historical evidence in detail to answer your research question – quite straightforward, really.
Samuel Lim (6.11) is from the graduating batch of 2014.