English 100 Essay #2 Tipsheet


Begin by reading:

Your writing task:

Niman refers to the "whitewashing of American history" in paragraph 15. What does this mean? Think of the history you know. Is it "whitewashed"? Using examples drawn from school, books, or television, explain why you think the history you learned is or is not whitewashed.


When I grew up in Maryland, the Civil War was our neighborhood history. The Antietam Battlefield was just up the road. I had a friend who had a large collection of Civil War bullets he just picked up in fields. When I was in college, I had a summer job at a county park which included one of the safe houses of John Singleton Mosby (nicknamed "The Gray Ghost"), a Confederate guerrilla officer. Because Maryland wasn't quite Southern (being part of the Union) nor quite Union (being south of the Mason-Dixon line), textbook publishers could not quite figure out what to send us, so in any given classroom about half of our textbooks referred to the "Civil War" and about half of them referred to the "War between the States" or sometimes the "War of Southern Succession." More recently, I've heard it referred to as simply the "War of 1861 – 1865." And I had to get to college (in Missouri) to read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself.

A high school kid in Maryland would never have guessed that the Civil War was an attempt to split the country over the issue of slavery, and before I read Douglass (who was, in fact, enslaved in Maryland), I had no clue about the brutality and heartbreak of slavery. Most of my mental images of slavery came from Walt Disney's Song of the South, where Uncle Remus (a slave) cheerfully sings "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah."

Hints for success:

  1. Like many college-level writing assignments, this one is somewhat complex. It asks you to do three things (and if you do not do them all, you have not really fulfilled the assignment).
    1. Define "whitewashing of American history."
    2. Argue the point that the history you learned is (or is not) whitewashed.
    3. Provide concrete examples to support your point about the history you learned.
  2. You will be tempted to do this as a bullet-point list—perhaps even to just list the items a, b, and c to match my three points above. That's not an essay yet. You need to come up with a single sentence thesis that covers the whole essay and write an introduction and conclusion to your major points.
  3. This assignment explores a common strategy for academic writing: discussing the implications of the definition of a common term. If you look up the word "whitewash," perhaps in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, you learn that the first definition is a very cheap sort of white paint, but if you go deeper, you get a definition which fits this assignment.
  4. Like most college writing, this one has a persuasive edge (Item #b above). The general idea of most college writing goes beyond "list all the stuff" and proceeds to "show why the point you just made is true."

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Revised 7/22/20 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.