All good teachers should provide their students with at least one valuable practical tool useful after graduation. I give my students a model of an ideal history lecture good any time and place, whenever one might be called upon to perform in a learned manner. It provides a universal model of history yet requires only the most limited knowledge for its implementation. All you have to remember are four major propositions; all you have to have is some fast footwork and a quick tongue to get away with it.
The outline is as follows:
You start (some brief attention to place and time sets the proper tone) with the announcement that this (whatever time and place you were supposed to be discussing) was a time of crisis. After all, historians always are finding crises; some sort of crisis can always be found. So your audience will certainly believe you: it was a time of crisis, and who can possibly deny it?
Of course, the crisis (one should be sure to define it with sufficient vagueness or generality) leads naturally to your discussion of the cause of the crisis. That, too, is always easy: it was a period of transition. Once again, what kind of historian are you if you can’t find some kind of transition? The world, it seems is always betwixt and between: feudal to capitalist, rural to urban, the possible list is virtually limitless. Transitions seem the one really stable thing in this transitory world in which we live. There is always a transition occurring.
It now becomes slightly more difficult. That transition must somehow create a significant shift in the social structure: some class previously in control must, during the transition, slip and fall from power or grace. Frequently, it is an old middle class (somehow old classes, especially old middle classes, seem naturally destined to pass away); so let the old middle class go—not without some sorrowful worlds about its past glories and achievements, however.
Now we are ready for our triumphant conclusion: a new class—preferably here again a new middle class—is rising to take its rightful place in the order of things. Of course, some might prefer another class; that is optional as long as it rises and as long as you are aware that sooner or later there will be another lecture where you will have to arrange for it to fall, too.
Warren I. Susman Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973), 233-34.