Guide to writing history essays

Appendix 2: Sample ‘mini-essay’ with footnotes and commentary

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Appendix 2: Sample ‘mini-essay’ with footnotes and commentary
The question of where to assign responsibility for the rise to power of Adolf Hitler has generated historical debate since the very moment of his appointment as Chancellor on 30 January 1933. There is, for instance, a long history of placing blame on Britain and France, the former allied powers, for their mishan­dling of relations with Weimar Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s.1 Richard Lamb has argued that Britain ‘refused [concessions] to democratic German governments before January 1933, when they could have been a potent factor in keeping the Nazis out of power’.2 On the other side of the Channel, according to Anthony Adamthwaite, French leaders gave in to fear and indecision as ‘the conservative, unimaginative, overcautious outlook of political and military chiefs blocked concessions’.3 He shows also the lack of military preparedness as military spending in France fell from 15.1 billion francs in 1930 to 10.4 billion francs in 1935, while for Germany it rose from under one billion RM in 1930 to 6.1 billion RM in 1935.4 The real problem was that Britain and France never seemed to be able to work together: even as France was collapsing before the German invasion in May 1940, one British official could rather smugly note in his diary:

[T]hey are in a fix—quite helpless and no stomach for the fight. I think we’d be

better [off] without them. If we keep them in the fight, we’ve got to give them air

protection and drain away our defences… Better said [sic], ‘All right: if you can’t

stick it out, get out or give in: We go on alone.’ 5

Yet some of key aspects of the impact of Anglo-French relations on Hitler’s rise to power remain unexplored in any depth by historians.6 Though some historians have felt the two powers to be inevitably defined by their differences, a recent study argues more persuasively that their ‘long separation’ is by no means a permanent or inevitable state of affairs.7 In the end, perhaps, the fundamental problem was put most succinctly by the former British Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain, when he wrote in 1935 that ‘No two countries have a greater need to understand one another than England and France; and yet no two peoples find national understanding more difficult.’8


1 See, for instance: Richard Lamb, The Drift to War, 1922-1939 (paperback edn., London: Bloomsbury, 1991); John Cairns, ‘A nation of shopkeepers in search of a suitable France, 1919-1940’, American Historical Review, vol. 79, no. 3 (June 1974); and Alan Sharp, ‘Anglo-French relations from Versailles to Locarno, 1919-1925: The quest for security’, in A. Sharp and G. Stone (eds.), Anglo-French Relations in the Twentieth Century: Rivalry and Cooperation (London and New York: Routledge, 2000).

2 Lamb, Drift to War, p. 89.

3 Anthony Adamthwaite, Grandeur and Misery: France’s Bid for Power in Europe, 1914-1940 (London: Arnold, 1995), p. 228.

4 Ibid., p. 145.

5 Diary entry, 31 May 1940, in David Dilks (ed.), The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, 1938-1945 (London: Cassell, 1971), p. 293 (emphasis in original).

6 There are, for instance, no significant studies of the reception of Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, in British and French political circles and how this might have affected policy-making.

7 See P.M.H. Bell, France and Britain, 1940-1994: The Long Separation (London: Longman, 1997), p. 7.

8 Austen Chamberlain, Down the Years (London: Cassell, 1935), quoted in Sharp, ‘Anglo-French relations’, p. 134.

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