Carbon and Politics

What is an Op-Ed?

Op-Ed is short for “opposite the editorial page,” though is often interpreted as “opinion-editorial.” Op-Eds regularly appear in major and not-so-major newspapers such as the Seattle Times, WSU’s Daily Evergreen, or the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. While you will take a position on a topic, you will ground your position not in feeling or belief (opinion) but in substantiated evidence (historical analysis).

Who is your audience?

Your audience for this written assignment is not an academic one but the general reading public. Write in a way that engages the casual newspaper reader. Because this assignment asks you to simulate a newspaper column, be sure to keep to the world limit of 500-750 words.

What is the purpose of an Op-Ed?

Your goal in a historical op-ed is to connect an important and very specific contemporary event/controversy to the historical issue we’ve just covered.

Basic questions that should inform any good historical op-ed include:

  • How does the past help us better understand today’s world?
  • In what ways do past events clarify the origins problems we face in the present?
  • Do past events parallel present-day controversies?
  • How does an understanding of the historical origins of a current problem help us solve the problem?
  • How might we learn from the mistakes and triumphs of the past?

How do I approach and structure an op-ed?

Your op-ed must: range from 500-750 words (excluding the title and footnotes; be single-spaced with paragraphs of no more than 3-4 sentences; and use 12-point font and one-inch margins.

First, select a specific, concrete current event and/or controversy that can be better understood by looking at the past. Scour recent headlines to find your hook. Stick with a headline no more than a month old for the purposes of this assignment. Write a succinct argument about the event’s/controversy’s connections to history. This is called the “lede.”

Second, provide at least 3 concrete historical examples drawn from assigned readings, films, and discussions that inform and support the argument you are making about the contemporary event/controversy in question. At least one of your examples must come from a primary source. Consider using one of the sources you or a classmate provided to supplement understanding of the assigned readings (see discussion post threads).

Quote sparingly and when you do, be sure to set up and provide context for quotes. While you need to provide Chicago-style footnote citations for your sources in your op-ed (you should have at least three – see example), you should also cue your examples in the text of the op-ed itself.

For example: In a 1915 letter to Sharif Husayn, Sir Henry McMahon wrote…” Or…”In his 2001 book Late Victorian Holocausts, historian Mike Davis argued…”

Third, return to your argument and to the contemporary event/controversy in question in your conclusion.

*Consult the example provided below, examples published in newspapers, and visit for additional structural guidance.