HIST 4485

US Politics since 1900

Research Paper Assignment


Length: 8-10 pages (double-spaced)

Topic Due: January 26.

Source List Due: February 4.

First Draft Due: March 30.

Paper Due: April 22.


      A research paper offers you the opportunity to ask a historical question and look at primary and secondary source material that will suggest answers to that question.  A research paper should have a strong thesis, and it should make clear, persuasive arguments related to that thesis.  You should look at a minimum of three secondary sources and at least one primary source for your research paper, and you may find it useful to consult more than three or four sources.  Footnotes are required. 

      Your paper may focus on any aspect of American national political history from 1900 to the present, which means that there are hundreds of possible topics that would be acceptable for this paper.  Narrow topics will probably be more manageable than broad ones.  If you are interested in electoral politics, you might want to examine the issues or strategy from a particular election or political campaign.  If you would like to examine presidential or congressional policy, you might be interested in studying the development of a legislative program.  You might also enjoy looking at the history of a grassroots political movement or a third party.  If you need some suggestions to help you choose a topic or find relevant primary and secondary sources, I would be happy to meet with you during my office hours.  On January 26, I will ask you to write your topic on a note card or piece of notebook paper and submit it to me for approval.

      After choosing a topic, you should find at least two secondary sources and one primary source for your paper, and include those on the source list that you submit on February 4.  Primary sources, which are original works produced by a participant in a historical movement or eyewitness of a historical event, might include letters, diaries, memoirs, newspaper and magazine articles, speeches, political advertisements, and first-person accounts, among other things.  For most topics in modern political history, it will be easy to locate a wide selection of primary source materials.  Secondary sources are assessments of a historical event written by a historian who had to rely on other primary and secondary source documents for information.  Nearly all of the assigned online readings are primary sources, but the books that I assigned for this class are secondary sources produced by historians or journalists.

      In addition to the one primary and three secondary sources on your source list, you will need to look at articles from the online database of the historical New York Times or Washington Post.  To access these databases, go to the university library website, click on “Databases,” and type in either “New York Times” or “Washington Post.”  All papers must make use of articles from the New York Times, the Washington Post, or both.

      Your first draft, which is due on March 30, will not be graded, but it will be critiqued.  You will probably want to rely on the comments that you receive on this first draft when you revise it for final submission on April 22.  If you submit a first draft after March 30, but on or before April 6, I will deduct 1/3 of a letter grade from your final grade for this assignment.  Failure to submit a first draft by April 6 will incur a penalty of one full letter grade for the assignment; failure to submit it by April 15 will incur a penalty of two full letter grades.  The first draft is important, so please submit it on time and make it as complete as possible.  The guidelines for footnotes and inadvertent plagiarism apply to first drafts, as well as to all other essays that you submit for this course.

      Please number and staple the pages of your essay.  Do not submit your paper in a plastic binder or folder.