Sentence structure, paragraphing, cohesion—these are some of the things that Catherine and I focus on in our exercises for Europe in the Modern World.
As an example of how these techniques can liven up content, consider these paragraphs from a popular high school history book—McDougal and Little’s World History:
Frederick I was the first ruler to call his lands the Holy Roman Empire. However this region was actually a patchwork of feudal territories. His forceful personality and military skills enabled him to dominate the German princes, yet whenever he left the country, disorder returned. Following Otto’s example, Frederick repeatedly invaded the rich cities of Italy. His brutal tactics spurred Italian merchants to unite against him. He also angered the Pope, who joined the merchants in an alliance called the Lombard League.
In 1176, the foot soldiers of the Lombard League faced Frederick’s army of mounted knights at the Battle of Legnano. In an astonishing victory, the Italian foot soldiers used crossbows to defeat feudal knights for the first time in history. In 1177, Frederick made peace with the pope and returned to Germany. His defeat, though, had undermined his authority with the German princes. After he drowned in 1190, his empire fell to pieces.
When I first read this section, I found my attention wandering. Was it the content, somehow? Is a summary of the escapades and demise of a pivotal 11th century ruler really that dull?
Or is it possible that, simply by restructuring the two paragraphs—along with the 11 sentences they contain–we can bring out the underlying narrative and highlight what’s exciting?
In a day or two, I’ll post a possible rewrite. In the meantime, readers are welcome to submit their own suggestions as comments.