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Preparing for the Midterm

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Thinking about the question and your essay


Introduction 1

The question


Breaking down question into its parts

How to write an expository essay

Thesis, arguments/evidence, conclusion

Paragraphs, topic sentences, word limit

Essay objectives

Familiarity with evidence, arguments and materials

Accurately summarize, compare and contrast, critically evaluate

Test both easy and hard

No surprises

High level of quality required


Introduction 2

Comparing Diamond, Morris and Gordon

Geography, technology and destiny

Diamond: Geography Is Destiny

Morris: Geography Destiny until Now

Gordon: Technology Is Destiny until Now


Diamond: we are all the same but where we came from shaped our relative power

Morris: for most of the last 14,000 years Western Eurasia was wealthier and more power using than Eastern Eurasia but maybe not going forward

Gordon: between 1870 and 1970 the US grew faster than anywhere at any time before of since. Don’t count on it continuing


Preparing for the Midterm (part 2)

Thinking about the question and your essay: breaking apart the question


The Question

Compare, contrast and critically evaluate Jared Diamond, Ian Morris and Robert Gordon in analyzing the causes and consequences of the pace and pattern of growth






Readings (primarily Gordon)

Outside material


https://www.researchgate.net/publication/310651303_Book_Review_of_the_Rise_and_Fall_of_American_Growth_by_Robert_J_Gordon_Princeton_University_Press_2016 (download pdf button upper right)


Growth of What?




Harnessing energy


Living standards


Aggregate growth

Per capita growth


Comparing Who or What?

Eurasian civilization compared to Western Hemisphere and other Neolithic societies

Asia vs the West meaning Europe and after Columbus the trans-Atlantic society of Europe and the colonized parts of the Western Hemisphere

100 years of the second industrial revolution compared to 50 subsequent years of slowdown


Pace and Pattern

Changes in rate of growth

Changes in the location of growth











Natural resources

Integration and sharing: trade





Standard of living





Preparing for the Midterm (part 3)

Thinking about the question and your essay: how to write your essay and how your essay will be graded


The Question

Compare, contrast and critically evaluate Jared Diamond, Ian Morris and Robert Gordon in analyzing the causes and consequences of the pace and pattern of growth


How to write your essay 1

Expository essay

Introductory paragraph


Outline of argument

Supporting paragraphs

Topic sentence in each a sub-thesis supporting general argument

Followed by evidence supporting sub-thesis

Concluding paragraph

Summarizes and tells the importance and limitations of your conclusions

You are limited to 1000 words.

Keep an eye on the word count

Reserve enough time to have your essay read by another or others

Revise and edit your essay based on the feedback you receive

Clear well written essays are the necessary if not sufficient condition for a good grade


How to write your essay 2

Essay objectives

Show familiarity with material

Accurately summarize what you choose to include

Pick issues that are central showing you understand the big picture

Pick examples that are telling showing how specific evidence illustrates central issues

Show ability to compare and contrast the three authors

The web is full of material summarizing each author but not full of material comparing the three

Here you show your own understanding by indicating where these authors are similar in their topics and approaches and where they differ in theses, evidence and conclusions

Show you ability to critically evaluate each and all three authors

Where are they insightful

Where do each or all of them fall short in either the questions they ask, the evidence they bring or the conclusions they reach

Tell your reader what all this means

Why is it important or not important

What should your reader conclude from these materials?


How to write your essay 3

Grading your essay

I will read your introductory and concluding paragraphs before I read you whole essay

Make sure that the key thesis, arguments and conclusions can be found there

But your middle paragraphs will be where you show familiarity and understanding of the material

Your grade will be based on

Clarity of thesis

A thesis is stated in a declarative simple clear argumentative sentence


(good) “We cannot understand our future if we do not understand our past”

(bad) “Understanding the past and future are important”

(bad) “Some people think about the past and others think about the future”


How to write your essay 4

Your grade will be based on

Essay organization

Writing in paragraphs

Introductory and concluding paragraphs

Topic sentence in each paragraph

Topic sentences avoid passive (“to be”) construction

Clear sentences

More simple and fewer compound or run-on sentences

Accurate word usage

Showing familiarity with course materials

It is permissible to use Wikipedia or other sources to help you understand these authors

But you need to demonstrate a familiarity and understanding of the readings, videos and lectures in the course also


How to write your essay 5

Your grade will be based on

An ability to accurately summarize the material you deem relevant

Get your facts right

Get your summary of the authors’ arguments right

Pick central arguments and facts showing you understand the basic and central points of the issues you deem relevant

An ability to critically evaluate the material you find relevant

Knowing what is relevant is one demonstration of a critical understanding of the material

Finding points of contention or contradiction between the authors is another demonstration of a critical understanding

Identifying the limitations or anomalies in the author(s) evidence or arguments is also a demonstration of a critical understanding


Adding a “hook” to your essay

All great expository essays begin with a hook that captures the importance of a thesis in a striking and memorable way

Typical expository essays place their thesis in the first sentence of the essay


Energy and technology determine how societies differ in their wealth and power.

Looking over decades, technology apparently drives growth but looking over millennia geography becomes the fundamental driver

Examples with hooks however tie a thesis to its importance

Getting on the wrong side of history boils down to getting on the wrong side of technology. Energy and technology determine how societies differ in their wealth and power.

It is not who you are but where you are that determinizes your society’s destiny. Looking over decades, technology apparently drives growth but looking over millennia geography becomes the fundamental driver


This Essay is both Easy and hard

There are no surprises or “got you” aspects to this test

You see the question coming

You do not have to write from memory

You have plenty of time

You can work with others and/or get feedback from others

You have time to rewrite and refine your essay

The standards for this essay are high

Good clear writing is essential

You have to triage your argument and evidence to fit within 1000 words

You have to synthesize three authors who are related but not the same

You have to have a thesis: you cannot hide behind vagueness and indecision

You have to show that you KNOW the material and are not just cribbing from Wikipedia


Warning About Grades

Because of the way this exam is being administered (open book, week long, cooperation etc) students will write a better midterm than they usually do in other classes

This leads to an expectation that their grade will be high

But the bar has been raised by the way the rules have been set

Typically, the average essay is a B- or a C+

Of the 90 plus students in this course, only about 10 will receive an A and another about 10 an A-

About half (45 students will receive a B- or less)

This easy exam is hard!

Familiarity, understanding, critical evaluation all wrapped in clear expository writing are baseline criteria for a B- or above grade


Preparing for the Midterm (part 4)

Thinking about the question and your essay: basics of comparing Diamond, Morris and Gordon emphasizing Morris


The Question

Compare, contrast and critically evaluate Jared Diamond, Ian Morris and Robert Gordon in analyzing the causes and consequences of the pace and pattern of growth


Jared Diamond: Guns Germs and Steel Ian Morris: Why the West Rules for Now Robert Gordon: Rise and Fall of American Economic Growth

Diamond: Geography Is Destiny

Morris: Geography Destiny until Now

Gordon: Technology Is Destiny until Now

(This is a bit simple but helps get one started thinking about these folks)


Gordon: economic growth we still consider our due, and expect to continue forever, was in fact a one-time-only event

Second Industrial Revolution

1870 to 1970


urban sanitation

chemicals and pharmaceuticals

the internal combustion engine

modern communication

Digital Revolution

1970 to the Future


the web

artificial intelligence



One Time Event? How Fast Do Economies Grow?



Economic Growth Exploded with Industrial Revolution

The Social Development Index shows the West leading until the 6th century, China leading until the 18th century, and the West leading again in the modern era.


Ian Morris’ Growth Index and Thesis

Measure and Source of Economic Growth

energy capture


war making

information technology


the difference in the west’s lead is the benefit of geography, not some innate superiority. 

the east surpassed the west for over a thousand years from approximately 500 CE to about 1700 CE

social development has stalled many times due to a ceiling on development that limits the scope of a society’s ability to continue developing 


Morris: Geography and Climate Shape Agricultural Takeoff

When agriculture was first invented, areas with reliable rainfall benefited most.

Irrigation benefited drier areas such as Egypt and the Fertile Crescent.

Plants and animals more easily domesticated gave certain areas an early advantage, especially the Fertile Crescent and China.

Development of Africa and the Americas started on the same path, but it was delayed by thousands of years.



Morris: Water Connected and Facilitated Growth

With the development of ships in Eurasia, rivers became trade routes.

Europe and empires in Greece and Rome benefited from the Mediterranean,

China built the Grand Canal for similar purposes).



Morris: Pandemics Undercut Civilization

Raids from the Eurasian Steppe brought diseases that caused epidemics in settled populations.



Morris: Geography Destiny—Oceans become Rivers

After the development of ocean-going ships, the significantly greater size of the Pacific Ocean made trans-Atlantic exploration and trade more feasible and profitable for Europe than trans-Pacific exploration and trade for East Asia.

Though the mariner’s compass was invented in China in the 11th century, Chinese exploration was less successful than the European Age of Discovery and subsequent colonization.



Morris: Geography Destiny—Disease

Eurasian diseases to which people in the Americas had no immunity were a byproduct of Eurasian development that devastated Native Americans after contact, in addition to superior European weapons.



Morris: Information becomes Rivers: Geography No Longer Destiny

Globalization and advances in information technology are leveling differences between civilizational areas.




2) write in paragraphs.  the intro should have a hook, thesis and supporting sub-arguments which outline the argument of the essay.  All the body paragraphs should have topic sentences at their beginning.  These topic sentences should relate closely to the sub-argument sentences in your intro paragraph.  The concluding paragraph should have a take-away sentence that captures the meaning or implication of your essay. 

3) highlight your “hook”, thesis, topic sentences and take-away sentence

4) you are limited to a maximum of1000 words not counting your name(s) and any citations you may provide

5) citations may be informal. outside information is fine. but you need to demonstrate a familiarity with material assigned in the course that is relevant to the question.

6) Avoid plagiarism.  If you rely on material from outside the course, be sure to cite your source(s).  If you have any concerns about this, here is a page describing the issue of plagiarism.  They key point is that plagiarism is easy to catch even if you are paraphrasing.  So avoid this pitfall.

7) points for this essay will be weighted as follows:

 points by category
 Clear relevant insightful thesis (2 points)
 Familiarity with course material (5 points)
 Intro, conclusion, paragraphs topic sentences (3 points)
 Essay shows critical understanding (2 points)


“Compare, contrast, and critically Evaluate Jared Diamond, Ian Morris, and Robert Gordon in analyzing the causes and consequences of the pace and pattern of growth.”

This essay should demonstrate a critical understanding of each author and the relationships between them as well as an understanding of the course material relevant to this question.

Essay instructions:

Write in paragraphs with an introductory and concluding paragraph plus 3 or 4 body paragraphs.  Your introductory paragraph should have one sentence which is the thesis or basic argument of the essay.  Each of the body paragraphs should have topic sentences that proclaim the basic argument of that paragraph. Each of those topic sentences should support the main thesis of the essay.  In your introductory paragraph also place the sub-arguments found in the topic sentences of your body paragraphs.  This can be simply replicating those topic sentences or they can be restatements or re-phrasings of those topic sentences.  The concluding paragraph summarizes your essay following the basic rule of tell the reader what your are going to say, say it and then tell the reader what  you said.  You concluding paragraph should also have a “so what” sentence which tells the reader the punchline or take-away or meaning of your essay.  This punchline sentence can then be the basis for a “hook” sentence at the beginning of your introductory paragraph that draws the reader into your essay.

Highlight in yellow your hook sentence, thesis sentence, topic sentences and so-what or take-away sentence. 

General instructions:

You are limited to 1000 words.  Provide an introductory paragraph summarizing your argument (including both the theses and your critical evaluation of the thesis).  Write in paragraphs with each paragraph containing a topic sentence at its beginning which states the sub-thesis or supporting argument explained and supported in that paragraph.  Provide a concluding paragraph which summarizes your argument and critical evaluation plus indicates the importance of the issue and you position on the issue.

This is an open book, open notes, open web, open submitted assignments exam.  However, to the extent you quote or paraphrase the material of others, please add an endnote indicating your source.  The form of citation may be informal but if it comes from the web, please include the website url.  Note that your essay may be submitted to a service that scrapes the web for possible plagiary.  You may work from home or the library as well as the classroom.

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