IX. American History Papers – Grading Rubrics

It may help you to know what teachers expect in a good history paper. Papers are assessed according to a number of basic elements, beginning with use of primary sources, and including thesis-building, writing, and structure. The grading follows thus:

A Papers

-Show exceptional use of primary sources: sources are interpreted correctly, analyzed in depth, and correctly applied to support the thesis.

-A well-defined and specific thesis, exhibiting original thought, arguing a point created through reading of primary sources.

-Thesis is sustained throughout the paper with explicit connections, and the paper is predominantly analytical.

-Thesis is proved through extensive use of primary sources, properly cited.

-Background information minimal, correct, and essential to the thesis; all information from outside sources cited.

-Paper is well-written, well-organized, and all parts supports the thesis with evidence and analysis.

-Paper is proofread, with correct citations and an appropriate bibliography.


B Papers

-Shows good use of primary sources: interpreted and analyzed correctly, and used appropriately to support the thesis.

-A clearly stated thesis, arguing a point created through reading of primary sources.

-Thesis is sustained throughout the paper, and the paper is largely analytical.

-Thesis is demonstrated mostly through the use of primary sources.

-Background information correct and relates to the thesis; information from outside sources cited.

-Paper is well-written and organized, and supports the thesis.

-Paper is proof-read, with correct citations and an appropriate bibliography.


C Papers

-Uses primary sources throughout the paper, with indications of understanding and analysis, and sources support the thesis.

-Thesis may elaborate on, or prove, an existing thesis. Thesis may be weak or self-evident.

-Thesis or related ideas are sustained throughout the paper, with more narrative than analysis.

-Thesis is demonstrated using primary and secondary sources.

-Background information correct and relates to the topic; outside information cited.

-Paper is well-written and organized, and largely supports the thesis.

-Paper may have some typing errors, with mostly correct citations and an appropriate bibliography.


D Papers

-Paper makes only limited use of primary sources, relying instead on secondary sources or general information; no meaningful use of primary sources, although the paper tackles the question.

-Thesis missing, or very weak; paper is largely narrative rather than analytical.

-Little or no use of primary sources, or no meaningful use of primary sources – for example, 'sound-byte' quotes which demonstrate nothing.

-Background information has errors or omissions, or gives information unrelated to the topic; some information from outside sources not cited.

-Writing / organization may be below average for a project of this duration, given multiple drafts.

-Paper has typing, citation, or other errors, or fails to present an appropriate bibliography.

pssst.... wanna see a fine example of a thesis, analysis, footnote, and an actual block quote??


Following the collapse of the South after the Civil War, blacks had gained political freedom and, ostensibly, rights equal to those of whites. In reality though, life for blacks proceeded much as it had before the war. Without finances, education, and with no knowledge of life outside of farming, the majority of blacks effectively remained bound to the land. For most of them, life offered little beyond the promise of poverty and subservience to whites. However, when America entered the Great War in 1916, this began to change. Northern industries, having lost much of their labor force to war recruitment, launched a campaign to attract southern black labor northward, beginning what would become known as the Great Migration. Though the Great Migration could have presented an opportunity for blacks to be integrated into American society, this clearly did not occur. The white media of the North and the South portrayed the Great Migration in a largely negative light. By generating misconceptions, fear, and racism towards the blacks moving northward, the media of both the North and the South prevented those blacks who moved from becoming integrated into northern society.   

Initially blacks were welcomed to the North because they filled a pressing need for labor. However, northern sources quickly began to contemplate the dangers of blacks moving northward. The New York Times was an early supporter of the Great Migration. However, a letter to the editor from 1916 reveals early misgivings about the migration of blacks. The letter, responding to an earlier article lauding the migration of blacks northward, read:

[The negro] coming from an environment of social and civil restriction into one of complete public and civil freedom, he will, naturally, at first, mistake liberty for license…Should the influx of negro laborers to the North from the South, without proper restriction and control, be allowed to prejudice public opinion and thus reproduce the southern proscription in the northern states, the last state would be much worse than the first.[1]


This letter shows a naked fear of blacks disguised as logical reasoning. By suggesting that blacks are not entirely mature and that their presence has the potential to cause problems in the North “without proper restriction and control,” the author demonstrates his mistrust of blacks and raises the question of whether blacks can be trusted in general.  Furthermore, the article, in suggesting that the influx of blacks could generate an atmosphere of northern racism greater than that of the South, insinuates that the Great Migration is a negative thing, serving the interests of no one.



[1] Kelly, Miller, “New Problems Raised by Large Numbers Coming North,” The New York Time, 9 September 1916, 10. http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb    (10 February 2007)