Brief History of College Essays

Essays are an integral part of college, high school, and university studies. We can’t imagine education without them. This writing style has come a long way from being a literary form to tell about anything in the world and a means of philosophical meditations to a very defined academic piece of writing with a clear purpose and structure. 

At college, essays are one of the main requirements. So, an essay as we know it today is a short piece of writing on a specific topic that often aims to analyze and interpret a concept or phenomenon. Sometimes it includes the task to give a personal point of view and prove it to the reader. Among college papers, essays stand out as less systematic and formal than term papers or dissertations. 

How Old Is the Essay Genre and Who Made Contributions to Its Development

Compared to other literary genres, an English essay is not ancient: in 1571, the French philosopher de Montaigne (1553-1592) invented it as a short piece of writing that attempts to describe something. The name comes from the French verb ‘essayer’, which means ‘to try’. At that time, there wasn’t any strict rule that determined how an essay should flow and what it should include. 

This lack of order and composition was later criticized by another essayist, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). He called it a ‘loose sally of the mind’ and ‘an undigested piece’. Still, the genre hasn’t been originally created and claimed as a piece of writing to methodically explain terms and events. On the contrary, – it existed as a chaotic but effective way to give way to a person’s own feelings and thoughts in an easy way. 

After Montaigne, considered the father of the essay, came personalities such as Francis Bacon (1561-1626), – the scientist and greatest essay writer whose essays first saw the world in 1597. They were brief and, though personal, not too open about the details. Bacon called his writing ‘detached meditations’ and claimed that they were mostly written to encourage some thinking about morality and manners in the context of the time. 

To be more precise, Francis Bacon’s mission was to counsel young and ambitious people who longed to live up to their full potential and find their places under the sun. Accordingly, he divided his meditations into topical essays with advice and named them with respect to the key topics: Love, Truth, Studies, Travel, Envy, and more. Even today, these short essays are broken down into aphorisms and widely cited. 

Talking about the origin of essays, we couldn’t miss another prominent essayist Abraham Cowley (1618-1667), who has earned the reputation of being the most self-conscious. They are somehow more difficult to read, but they played a huge role in letting the essay genre develop further. Cowley used to unveil human characters rather than sketch funny stories to entertain the public.  

Another personality in the history of the essay is Charles Lamb (1775-1834), – the prince of essay, who strived to become a poet but was not acknowledged as he anticipated. He charmed readers with a perfect combination of humor, wise advice, pathos, and deep reflection on his own life path. The writing of Lamb was very much personal. He didn’t avoid childhood topics and transitioning from being a youngster to becoming a man, including describing different cases from his personal life. At the same time, facts are often mixed with fiction to the extent that one can’t tell where the truth ends and mystic stars. 

In the 18th century, periodicals came into the masses, and common people started reading more. At that time, Daniel Defoe started creating his essays. From his steady writer’s hand came essays rich in irony and painfully realistic. Many such writings exposed the issues and inequalities of the time and aimed to teach and correct human flaws. Other young writers followed the same style, including Addisson and Steele, who also introduced allegory to a wide audience.

What Modern College Essays Are Used for 

Now, five-paragraph college essays are way less free-style than it was at the dawn of this style. In the broad sense, an essay is a brief prose that either proves that a student is knowledgeable and competent in the given topic and can do good quality research or show that they can be successful in the academic environment and beyond. 

Some essays need students to share details about themselves and describe specific accomplishments and experiences. They are called to showcase special things in young people’s lives and the influence they are already making on the world or are dreaming of making. Such papers are often used as a part of the admission process and earn points just like exam papers do. To cope with essay writing tasks, students often resort to expert writing services and buy IB history IA and other kinds of essays. 

However, many essays focus on particular topics and issues within a discipline, e.g., history essays. They require critical thinking, logics, and analytical skills subdivided into several groups based on purposes. 

  1. Persuasive essays: challenge students to use facts and evidence to prove their viewpoint is right. They require reasoning, using solid arguments, and smart research. 
  2. Argumentative essays: discuss two sides (two controversial standpoints) and need the writer to present valid arguments to both sides and approach them without emotions or biases. 
  3. Analytical essays: gather and discuss data on multiple facts and points to practice making research based conclusions and back them up with previous research by other scientists.
  4. Descriptive essays: present a detailed picture of an object, appealing to sensory and emotional sides of perception.   
  5. Narrative essays: describe events as a story, often in chronological order.
  6. Expository essays: explain an issue using facts, reliable data, examples, etc., in compare and contrast and how-to essays.   

Over time, the concept essay has changed immensely. Its roots go to the creative mind-flowing writing of philosophers. Now essays need to focus on proving your points or describing things accurately according to the structure. 

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