V. Assignments explained

1. Getting Started: 3 Potential Sources, 3 Paragraphs

Start with the documents, and Start Early!

You are at liberty to choose any research topic in American History, 1620-1990 [EXCEPT SPORTS, OR MUSIC, or certain other subjects] that uses at least one of the databases listed on p.14. You may also add other primary sources relevant to your topic that are not on the listed sites, but please, you must check with your teacher first.

The easiest way to begin a research project is to begin with the documents and then frame a question for your research.  A list of research sites – offering reports, advertisements, letters, magazines, newspapers, etc. – is included in this packet and on the class website. Additional suggestions for finding a topic begin on page 12.

…[W]hen you choose your own research topic, you are engaged in the practice of history at a much more sophisticated level. You are, in fact, doing the same work that a professional historian does…[1]

Shop for interesting documents at these websites – you will need to find and print out three different documents for three different potential topics. You will also write a paragraph for each document, outlining how you would use the document. You may want to consider potential questions that would be answered by the document. The three topics will be evaluated for feasibility and depth, and please feel free to meet with your teacher for help defining what is a workable topic for a 4-month research project. Quality counts!

Turn in:

3 photocopies of documents, and

3 typed paragraphs.

2. Getting Committed: Preliminary Bibliography, Five sources and a Research Question

 You have your topic, you have your documents: now you need to prepare a bibliographical list of the same. Generally, this is the form they will take:

             Author. “Title: in  Quotation Marks.” Publication date.

                         <website> (date you visited website)

 Here is one using the Proquest Database:

            "Record Crowd Sees Mummers' Parade." The New York Times, 2 January 1965, 16.

                         <http://proquest.umi.com> (12 February 2007).


Kennedy, John F. “Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy. “ January 1961.  

                        <http://www.cs.umb.edu/jfklibrary> (17 October 1998).


Darwin, Charles. “Origin of Species.” 1871. 

                        <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1871darwin.html> (17 November 2003).


You will also need to shape and refine the subject for a more manageable research question. This is called “framing the question.”  You must figure out how you are going to study the subject, and these are some of the more common approaches historians take:

-change over time

-comparison, based on differences of class, region, sex, etc.

-old question, new evidence

-old evidence, new question

Specifics for this approach are found on p.12  -- "Choosing a Topic: How Historians Work." This is probably the hardest part of your research, but it is worth the effort. A good question will lead you to a good answer, also known as your thesis.


Please feel free to meet with your teacher before the due date for help with this. You may also want to begin your background reading on your own, and this will help to shape your research question. 

Turn in:

-bibliography of 5 documents in the appropriate format

-your research question.

3. Getting Serious: Updated Bibliography, Background Summary & Focus Statement

You have documents, now it’s time for some serious background reading.

You will need to list all of your primary sources and add at least two secondary sources,[2] with brief annotations explaining how each book will be used in your research. Remember that for the most part, older is NOT better with secondary sources: try for secondary sources written after 1970.

Bibliography: primary and secondary sources should be listed separately, and be in proper format -- see Chicago style sheet, found starting on p.19. This should be a nearly complete list of the works you are using, both the primary and the secondary sources. Your secondary sources should be predominantly scholarly works [i.e. nothing from Time/Life books or children’s presses, and no websites]. You should have only one book listed for “general information,” since by this time you should be digging for information specific to your question.

Background Information: one or two pages, typed, summarizing what other historians have already said about your subject.

Focus Statement, which is your research question with some elaboration on sources and methods. You need to describe how you hope to find an answer, and this is a typical focus statement:

How did the anti-feminists of the late nineteenth century view women’s education?

I am interested in what these people thought were the dangers of education for women – to the women themselves, to the society, and to the school system, which belonged to men. I will be looking, I think, at a lot of editorials, although I expect to find some news stories as well.  I am looking primarily at newspaper editorials from the NY Times, and maybe some pamphlets.

This will help with your next stage of research, to find information that relates just to this question. You will be working with several different types of computer search engines [instructions in this packet] but for most of them you need key words:

            -women's education     -women's schools        -antifeminism

            -Bryn Mawr College      -education                  -Oberlin College       


Turn in:

-annotated bibliography

-background summary

-focus statement.

4. In–Class Presentation

It’s your turn!

Fascinate us! Enlighten us! Tell us all about it! You will have approximately 10 minutes to summarize your research. That is, you should tell us about your materials, your question, and your method for research. You should not use this time to summarize what other historians have said on the topic –i.e., the “background.” You must prepare a handout for the class – a map, a picture, or a paragraph-length section of one of your documents. See your teacher for permission to use the copy room.

Turn in: handout for the class,  ____ copies.

5. Thesis Statement, preliminary quotes and Outline

Your thesis is nothing more than an answer to your focus question:

            Q - How did the anti-feminists of the late nineteenth century view women’s education?

            A - Anti-feminists thought women’s education would make women unsatisfied with the role    

                 society created for them.

Once you have a thesis statement, you can continue to collect information from the documents that relate to it. The rest of your paper should advance your point about the subject, not report the facts that other historians have discovered. When you start writing, your first paragraph will state the thesis, and the rest of the paper will try to prove it.


Your thesis is a minor deity, which demands attention and offerings.


Respect your thesis, and respect your primary sources. Each and every paragraph should support the thesis using your primary sources. The more evidence from primary sources, the stronger the thesis, the better the paper, the higher the grade.

Just a coincidence? You be the judge.


The second part of this assignment is a list of at least five quotes from your sources [with citations] accompanied by your analysis. Quality counts, yet again.

Turn in:

-a typed thesis statement, with your original research question

-list of quotes, with citations, and analysis


6. Rough Draft: the state of almost being there

The rough draft is the nearly finished version of your paper, and your teacher's last chance to check in with you about problems with analysis, writing, etc.

Your typed [double-space] draft should be proof-read for typing errors and misspellings. There should be no contractions, colloquial phrases, and no personal pronouns [except in quotes]. Please write in the past tense. Your draft should include citations indicating any ideas or information you took from primary or secondary sources. Your draft should include a bibliography, with a separate listing for primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources should be very much in evidence in the rough draft, either paraphrased or directly quoted. In either case, you must explain the meaning of the idea, and relate it your thesis. Otherwise your quote gets orphaned, and that’s just not right. Please remember that your reader [your teacher] already knows a lot of history – your reader doesn’t need a great deal of background material. Your reader wants to see that you have read primary sources and you know all about them. Remember, too, that all information from documents and secondary sources must be cited.

Please indicate your thesis – underline it, highlight it, print it in bold. I am reading this draft to see how well your paper supports the thesis, so I must be totally clear on what you want to prove. You, too, will benefit from being totally clear on what you want to prove. Please include citations with your paper – either endnotes or footnotes. You must have sufficient citations to demonstrate to your reader [your teacher] which ideas are yours and which come from your primary and secondary sources.

Please remember that your grade will be an assessment of your work with the documents. Be sure that each part of the paper exists only to support your thesis. The more background information you include, the less room you have for analysis of documents.

Turn in: a typed rough draft.

7. Final Draft 

This paper represents some of the most difficult work you have done thus far in school, and it is a vital part of your preparation for work in college. Now is the time to wrap it up, and turn it in, and then practice being proud of a challenge well met.

Please staple your paper  – no plastic covers or paper clips, please – and you should make sure that

    -you have run the spell-checker one more time…

    -your pages are numbered

    -the footnotes or endnotes are numbered

    -your bibliography conforms to the Chicago style

    -primary and secondary sources are listed separately and in alphabetical order

    -all corrections called for in the rough draft reading have been made – no contractions! past tense! citations wherever they are needed!

    -create a title - which can be a version of your research question.


Turn in:

- a 10-page research paper with bibliography



[1] Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing About History. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 1998), p. 22.

[2] Secondary sources are to be used as background reading: they help you to understand your primary sources, and should used very little in the final paper. Remember your paper is graded on the quality of work with the primary sources.