Your History Research Paper

by Ethan M. Lewis

February, 2015 (revised April 2015)

I. Introduction

During the Winter and Spring trimesters you will have the opportunity to become an expert on a part of 20th century United States history. You will choose a topic that interests you, research it, and develop a thesis that you will then use to produce a report which is between 7 and 11 pages long (double spaced--Times font size 12). You will write the paper and then revise it based on comments from me. Before the end of the school year we will have a symposium in class, during which you will be able to share the fruits of your labors with your classmates.

The following are some details on all of the component parts of this research paper, including due dates. Please note that, since each part of the project depends upon the preceding parts, the due dates are fixed. Lateness is not an option!  If you are absent on the day that something is due you are required to submit your work by email. Failure to submit an assignment will result in a zero for that assignment.

II. Topic--Due Friday, February 6th at start of class. Bring me a printed list of three (3) possible topics.  You should have a certain level of specificity.

Your final topic will be approved by me by Monday, February 9th.  Once your topic is approved it CANNOT change.


III. Thesis--Due Friday, February 20th at start of class--5% of total.

What's more important: a topic or a thesis? In my opinion, the thesis is more important. Without a topic there is no paper, but without a thesis, there might as well not be a paper. The research project on which you are embarking is a chance for you to learn a great deal about a particular piece of United States History, and then share your knowledge with others. The way that historians do this (and you should all consider yourselves historians, at least for the time being) is by writing papers in which they argue specific points, trying to convice the reader to believe their particular interpretations of the events they are discussing. Remember that we study history to make better sense of the world in which we live. The number of potential "facts" and "sources" that an historian can consult is nearly infinite. Your job is to find a selection of sources that help you make a persuasive case for your thesis.

A thesis statement is a sentence (or sentences) that clearly previews the main ideas that the body of the paper will explore. In a history paper, a thesis statement answers a question. The following are examples of thesis statements in some papers I've written :

This is from my Master's Thesis on major league baseball in 1890. It is wordy, but the paper was much longer than what you have been assigned. Your thesis statements CAN be this long, but they will probably be shorter:

The Players' National League of 1890 represented the final significant challenge to professional sports as we know them. The Players' League was a case of skilled laborers attempting to regain control over the sale of their product (baseball games) from the profit driven entrepreneurs who controlled the established major leagues. The Players' League was a conservative revolution, which looked back to the earliest days of professional baseball as an organizational model which enabled players to have more rights and options than the established major leagues permitted. Contrary to most historians' treatment, the Players' League was not doomed from the start; in fact, it was a highly viable product which ultimately fell apart due to naivete, and the victory of profit over principle on the part of some of its members.

This is from a paper I wrote about Jesse Bright, who was expelled from the US Senate at the start of the Civil War:

During the 1860's, as the sectional crises that had sundered Americans politically for years exploded into a civil war between North and South, many northern politicians continued to practice politics as usual. Contrary to calls for "the patriotic of all classes [to] unite in invoking ...a spirit of [political] harmony" in the union, partisanship continued to flourish. This partisanship included efforts to purge government of elected Democratic officials who were deemed to be unsympathetic to the goals and policies of the dominant Republican Party. A common method of neutralizing opponents was to label them disloyal, a charge which is naturally highly serious during wartime.

The following links give some good tips for generating and evaluating thesis statements in academic writing:

  • -Purdue University: This page, from Purdue's On-line Writing Laboratory (OWL) is a good jumping off point. See especially the section on "Argumentative Thesis Statements". You may also want to explore the other hundreds of handouts at the OWL site, as they are very useful and informative on all areas of writing.


IV. Annotated Working Bibliography--Due at the start of class on Friday, March 20th--10% of total

You will utilize the annotation feature in NoodleTools to explain to me HOW you plan to use each source, WHY the source is a good one and to give a brief summary of the source.  This will require you to get a head start creating citations in NoodleTools.  See me or one of the librarians with questions. As a guideline, the following are the minimum requirements for your sources:

  • AT LEAST 10 articles from the Historical Newspapers database or equivalent
  • AT LEAST 2 scholarly journal articles from the History Study Center database or equivalent
  • AT LEAST 1 reference book
  • AT LEAST 1 circulating book
You will hand me a printed copy of the annotated bibliography at the start of class. Use the "Print/Export" feature of NoodleTools to generate the document.  MAKE SURE TO PUT YOUR NAME ON IT!!!

V. Note Taking--notes will be reviewed on NoodleTools on three separate occasions--20% of total

Taking notes is a crucial skill when writing a research paper. You take notes for the following reasons:

          • to keep track of important information
          • to help you organize your thoughts
          • to protect you from plagiarism

When you are reading the sources you consult for your paper, it is important for you to take written notes. No matter what you are reading, it is important for you to record it in writing, listing the source, the author, the page number and the copyright information (This will be a huge help when you are writing your footnotes). Remember that you have to cite sources when you quote directly, and also when you paraphrase. In your notes, you should always copy the exact quote.

Some people keep notes on index cards, others use notebooks, and some use a computer to keep track of their notes. In future, you will be able to develop your own notetaking style, but for this project you will all use a notetaking style taught to you by Mrs. Lewis, and you will need to submit your notes through NoodleTools. I will review your notes to keep track of your progress. Note that I will be checking your notes on the following days:

          • February 23
          • March 23
          • March 30

You should demonstrate consistent research work. Naturally you will have more notes to share on March 23rd than on February 23rd, but I will want to see notes on each of the days listed above. Notetaking will comprise 20% of your grade. It is very important that your notes be thorough--otherwise they won't help you write the paper. Therefore, half of each notecard grade will be on the QUALITY of the notes.

We will spend time in class talking about this very important topic.


VI. Outline--Preliminary Outline will be due Friday, April 10th Friday, April 17th--15% of total

On Friday, April 17th, you will be expected to hand in an outline of your paper. This is 12 days before the first draft is due, so the outline will be preliminary at best. However, it is a good habit to prepare an outline during the note taking process, as it really helps you when it comes time to write. We will spend time in class discussing outlining as we get closer to the due date. You will turn in a PRINTED version of the outline WITH YOUR NAME ON IT at the end of class today.


VII. Citation of Sources

For this project footnotes using the Chicago style are required. Your paper will also include a bibliography page listing every source you looked at. Even if you do not quote from a source, even if you don't think you "used" it, every source you ever consulted for the project needs to be included.

If you have questions about proper citation format, please ask me or a librarian. Remember that YOU ARE EXPECTED TO USE NOODLETOOLS IN COMPILING YOUR CITATIONS AND BIBLIOGRAPHY.

You are more than welcome to use the Internet to help you find sources, but every source that you use should be of high quality, and you should be able to assess the author's qualifications to write about the topic. It is almost always easier to perform this assessment on books, journal articles and periodicals than on web pages. The librarians can help you find reputable sources online--it is likely that with their help you will find much better electronic sources than if you try on your own. Don't waste time on Google--work with the librarians to find high quality sources.

To summarize:

  • Books are often the best sources since they often have indexes, footnotes and other useful features
  • The librarians can obtain almost any book for you via InterLibrary Loan
  • The textbook is not an acceptable source for this project.
  • The librarians can help you find many articles that are published online. Make an appointment with Mrs. Lewis or Mrs. Miller if you need help searching the library databases. You can find excellent sources there, but you will probably NOT find good sources on your own, using Google, or other similar search tools.


VIII. First (not "rough"!) Draft--Due Wednesday, April 22nd Wednesday, April 29th Friday, May 1 at start of class--20% of total

On Wednesday, April 29th Friday, May 1st I will expect a first draft of your paper. It needs to be complete with proper citation of sources, and should be between 7 and 11 pages long. You should seriously consider taking advantage of the Peer Writing Lab to help you whip this draft into shape. I will read the paper and mark it with suggestions for revisions. I will also give it a grade based on the term paper grading rubric. After I return the paper to you, you will have a week to make revisions before turning in the final draft.  You will submit the paper using  Make sure to meet with me or a librarian in advance if you have questions about


IX. Final Draft--Due Friday, May 8th Friday, May 15th Monday, May 18th at start of class--25% of total

On Friday, May 15th Monday, May 18th your final draft is due on by the start of class.

X. Symposium--Due TBA.--5% of total.

At a date to be determined we will have a symposium where you will make a poster summarizing your research for your classmates.

Note: This might end up being replaced by a self-evaluation essay. I will let you know in advance.