William Hughes Fitzhugh, Founder & Publisher, The Concord Review
1. Please tell us about yourself. What inspired you to start The Concord Review?
Diane Ravitch, an American historian of education, wrote a column in The New York Times in 1985 about the ignorance of history among 17-year-olds in the United States, based on a recent study of 7,000 students, and as a history teacher myself at the time, I was interested to see that what concerned me was a national problem. I did have a few students at my high school who did more than they had to in history, and when I began a sabbatical leave in 1986, I began to think about these issues. In March 1987, it occurred to me that if I had one or two very good students writing history papers for me and perhaps my colleagues had one or two, then in 20,000 United States high schools (and more overseas) there must be a large number of high school students doing exemplary history research papers. In June of 1987, I incorporated The Concord Review to provide a journal for such good work in history. In August 1987, I sent a four-page brochure calling for papers to every high school in the United States, 3,500 high schools in Canada, and 1,500 schools overseas. The papers started coming in, and in the Fall of 1988 I was able to publish the first issue (of now 89 issues) of The Concord Review.
2. What makes for a great history research essay?
In order to write a great history essay it is first necessary to know a lot of history. Students who read as much as they can about a historical topic have a better chance of writing an exemplary history paper. Of course they must make an effort to write so that readers can understand what they are saying and so they will be interested in what they are writing, and they must re-write their papers, but without knowing a good deal about their topic, their paper will probably not be very interesting or very good.
3. Please tell us about some of the most outstanding essays you have received. What made them special?
In 1995, I as able to begin awarding the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes for the best few papers from the 44 published in each volume year of The Concord Review. Many of these papers are now on our website at www.tcr.org, and students and teachers who are interested may read some there. I have several favorites and would be glad to send some to anyone who asks me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Please tell us about some of your most interesting authors. Where did they go to college, what did they study, and what are they doing now?
About 30% of our authors have gone to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford and Yale, and many have gone to other good colleges, such as those at Cambridge and Oxford. Three, that I know of, have been named Rhodes Scholars. I work alone, so that I am not able to follow up on authors very well. I know that many are doctors and lawyers and some are professors and entrepreneurs, but I have lost track of almost all of them, for lack of funding and staff to help me keep in touch with them.
5. Please tell us how you evaluate and select essays for publication in The Concord Review.
The purpose of The Concord Review is two-fold. We want to recognize exemplary work in history by secondary students (from 39 countries so far) but we also want to distribute their work to inspire their peers to read more history and work harder on their own research papers, because being able to read nonfiction and write term papers are important skills for future success in college and beyond, and also because students should know more history if they want to be educated. So I look for papers that are historically accurate, well-researched, serious and worth reading.
6. What are your favorite books and why?
I was an English Literature major at Harvard College and I read English Literature at Cambridge for one year, and I still enjoy Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, and so on, but I also have a number of favorite historians, such as Martin Gilbert, David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer, James McPherson, G.M. Trevelyan, John Prebble, Max Hastings, and others. I also read a fair number of books on education and contemporary intellectual culture.
7. Do you have any advice on how to write well?
As I suggested, there is no substitute for knowing a lot about the subject you are writing about. I think it helps to read your drafts to a friend or family member as you go along as well. You will find all sorts of things you want to improve or correct as you offer what you write to another person. So, read (study), write, and re-write…that is about it. And read the good writing of other authors.
8. Do you have advice on how students can best prepare themselves to do well in college?
There is a great deal of emphasis, at least in the United States, on math and science, but, in my view, there is much too little attention here on the importance for secondary students of being able to read complete nonfiction books and to write serious (e.g. 6,000-word) research papers. I have heard from a few of my authors that they are mobbed when they get to college by their peers who never had to write a research paper when they were in high school and so have no idea how to do it. Students who write Extended Essays for the International Baccalaureate Diploma have an advantage, as do the many students from all over the world who write history research papers on their own as independent studies and send them to The Concord Review.
Chinese International Schools’ website, Hong Kong.