How to Write Analysis: The Power of ‘Although’

A typical problem history teachers confront is how to get pupils to analyse rather than describe or ‘tell the story’ (a problem exacerbated by our tendency to teach through storytelling). One of the solutions most often discussed is to provide writing frames: point, evidence, explain (‘this meant that…’ ‘as a result…’ ‘as a consequence…’) etc.

These sometimes have value, but as Lee and Shemilt have written, they can also constrain rather than empower.

I took this problem to a friend and senior colleague a few years ago and he made a suggestion. ‘It is nearly impossible,’ he said, ‘to analyse without using the word although‘.’

This advice I have found helpful over the years, particularly when pupils are dealing with causation.

For the sake of ease, let us take a well-worn example: ‘Why did Hitler come to power in January 1933?’ 

Pupils can often struggle with paragraphs on, say, the Treaty of Versailles or the Munich Putsch. Some pupils find it difficult to explain the relevance of either the peace treaty or the putsch considering that, despite these two events, support for the Nazis actually declined in the years 1924 to 1928. How then, a pupil might ask, can these events be considered as factors in Hitler’s rise to power?

This is where ‘although’ comes in. It takes some time to model and requires plenty of teacher-led discussion to tease out the relevant points, but, done well, it can lead to effective analysis.

For example, the end of a paragraph on the Munich Putsch might read:

Although the Munich Putsch did not bring Hitler directly to power, it did have two important consequences. Firstly, Hitler’s trial gave him a national platform. His speeches about the betrayal of Germany were widely reported in the national press and allowed his ideas to spread far beyond just Bavaria. Secondly, his time in Landsberg prison allowed him the opportunity to change his views on how to take power. Hitler realised that he would have to seize it by working the system – not by overthrowing it. Thus while in the short-term the Munich Putsch was not a success, it nonetheless laid Hitler’s long-term pathway to power. 

Or an end of a paragraph judgement on the Treaty of Versailles might read:

Although the Treaty of Versailles did not directly bring Hitler to power, it nonetheless left a bitter legacy. The Germans were united in their hatred of the ‘diktat’ and the unfair punishment it laid at their door. It also stained the reputation of the Weimar Republic from the outset. Whilst this mattered less while the economy flourished in the mid to late 20s, these old hatreds quickly reemerged during the Depression. Hitler was thus helped to power by the long-lasting and underlying bitterness the treaty created and was able to exploit this anger in the poverty-stricken years after the Wall Street Crash. 

These are relatively high level responses, but they illustrate a point. ‘Although’ (and similar words such as ‘whilst’) can help pupils explain why something was important even if it did not lead to a person coming to power or a war breaking out.

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