What is the difference between contextualization and synthesis in history?

Remember the metaphor about the trees in a forest? You know… sometimes we focus on small details (i.e., the trees) and forget about the bigger picture (i.e., the forest). At other times we overlook the small details and think about the big picture too much.

Contextualization

Think of contextualization as providing the setting of the main topic in question. It is the people, places, events, actions, and ideas that provide a richer understanding of what is going on inside a time period.

By providing context, we are able to differentiate the details within a time period that influence and relate to the main topic in an essay question. When we consider multiple details, this paints a fuller understanding for us the writer and also for the reader.

Synthesis

Synthesis is showing the reader that you can you make larger connections across time periods, geographic regions, themes, and subject areas. Think of this as a form of comparison, but in this instance, you are comparing the main topic to something else that is not referred to in the essay question prompt.

Contextualization and Synthesis

Where to Incorporate Contextualization and Synthesis in My Essay

When writing a history essay, there is no necessarily right or wrong place to incorporate contextualization and synthesis, even on the AP exam. However, AP readers and seasoned teachers recommend incorporating contextualization into the introduction of your essay. Again, think of it as illustrating the setting of a story.

Synthesis can be saved for your conclusion after you have addressed all the components of the essay question, whether it is a document-based (DBQ) or long-essay question (LEQ).

By incorporating contextualization and synthesis into specific parts of your essay, this will also help you, the writer, in differentiating between the two. This will also ensure you are making a concrete effort to illustrate both historical thinking skills into your writing.

Need help with writing history essays? Contact Histropolis Teaching & Learning to find out how we can help you!

Additionally, sign up below for learning resources and tools to gain confidence and understanding of history. Plus, you will receive your FREE copy of the Historical Thinking Skills Toolkit, which provides graphic organizers with examples on how to make meaning of contextualization and synthesis in history. 

References

Griffin, N. (2017, April 17). Getting the “big picture”… or contextualization [Web blog post]. Retrieved fromhttps://classroomcompass.bfwpub.com/community/history/blog/2017/04/17/getting-the-big-picture-or-contextualization

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