HIST 6687

Research Paper Assignment


Length: 15-20 pages (double-spaced).

Topic Due: January 26.

Bibliography Due: February 9.

First Draft Due: March 30.

Paper Due: April 20.


      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.  In researching this paper, you should consult as many of the major secondary and primary sources in your subject area as possible, and you should write a paper that reflects an understanding of the historiography of the field.  Footnotes are required. 

      Your paper may focus on any aspect of American liberalism and / or conservatism from 1945 to the present, which means that there are hundreds of possible topics that would be acceptable for this paper.  You could choose a topic of intellectual history, for instance, and look at the influence of a thinker such as William F. Buckley, Jr., Milton Friedman, or Ayn Rand on the development of American conservatism, or the influence of an intellectual such as John Kenneth Galbraith or John Rawls on American liberalism.  You could focus your study on policy history by looking at an aspect of the Great Society, Reaganomics, or another postwar American political program.  You could look at voting behavior or partisan realignment.  You could examine campaign rhetoric from a particular election or a series of elections.  You could look at the way in which the public image of liberalism or conservatism has changed over time.  You could look at the role of particular interest groups (e.g., labor unions, the Christian Right, business interests, or civil rights organizations) in promoting liberal or conservative policies.  Or, you could choose any other aspect of postwar liberal or conservative politics.     

      Narrow topics will probably be more manageable than broad ones.  The topic that you choose should be sufficiently narrow for you to be able to master the secondary source literature, conduct thorough primary source research, and make an original argument. 

      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 submit a comprehensive bibliography on your topic on February 9.  That bibliography should list all of the major sources on your topic, and should also list the six secondary sources that you think will be most useful for your research (and which you plan to examine in more detail).  By the time that you finish your paper, you should be familiar with the arguments of nearly all of the major secondary sources listed in your bibliography (even though you may had time to read only six of them in detail), and you should include a paragraph of historiographical discussion in your essay that situates your work in the context of previous scholarship on the subject.  Your bibliography should also list the primary sources that you plan to use in your research.  If you plan to use newspaper databases, you do not have to list every relevant article, but you should list the names of the databases, as well as the names of any archival collections, and the titles of any memoirs, books, or other primary sources that you think will be useful in your research.  I understand that in the course of only a few weeks, you will not have enough time to do the extensive research that would be expected for an M.A. thesis chapter, and perhaps you will not have time to visit any archival collections.  However, you should try to do enough primary source research to make an argument that is at least somewhat original and that expands on the existing scholarship in some way.

      Primary sources, which are original works produced by a participant or eyewitness of a historical event, might include letters, diaries, memoirs, newspaper and magazine articles, speeches, and first-person accounts, among other things.  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. 

      Your first draft, which is due on March 30, will not be graded, but it will be critiqued.  The final version of your paper, which is due on April 20, should incorporate the suggestions for revision that you receive on your first draft.  My comments on your first draft will be most useful to you if you make the effort to produce a first draft that is as complete and polished as possible.  Although first drafts of 15-20 pages are preferable, the first draft must be a minimum of eight pages long to be accepted, and it must include a clear thesis statement or question in its introductory section.    

      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 13 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.