The papers in this course are exercises in research and writing. They are designed to enhance both analytical and communication skills and to provide a deeper understanding of history as students examine evidence and craft arguments.

First Paper: Primary Sources

A short essay (roughly 1000 words) based on the set of primary sources from discussion section in Week 2, which are available on Canvas and on the accompanying course website: http://explorehistory.ou.edu/history-1493/

Those sources are:

  1. “Excepts from The Black Codes of Mississippi” (1865)
  2. “Jourdan Anderson to his old master” (1865)
  3. Frederick Douglass, “What the Black Man Wants” (1865)
  4. Testimony on the Ku Klux Klan in Congressional Hearing” (1872)

Choose three of the four primary sources on Reconstruction. Based on your reading of these three sources: Discuss the meaning(s) of freedom during Reconstruction.

Details, Requirements, and Deadlines

  • This paper is worth 100 points (out of 1000 for the class grade), or 10% of your final grade.
  • It is due at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, September 20
  • The paper must be turned electronically to the appropriate Canvas dropbox for your discussion section. Do not turn in a hard copy.
  • It should be approximately 1000 words (around 3-4 pages in 12-point font).
  • Your essay must have a title that reflects your core theme or argument.
  • Proofread your paper carefully to avoid spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Late papers will automatically be deducted 10% of the final paper grade. Papers that are more than 1 day late will lose an additional 10% of the grade for each day late.
  • You must include footnotes and a bibliography in Chicago Manual of Style format. See:


Writing the Essay

The ExploreHistory web site features tutorials to help you with the following essential elements of a strong paper: http://explorehistory.ou.edu/history-1493/

Crafting a Thesis: A strong thesis goes beyond simply reporting what you found; it uses the evidence to broaden, qualify, or even contradict our understanding of an important theme in U.S. history. Your thesis may emerge gradually as you wrestle with your documents in early drafts. In your finished paper, however, feature your thesis in the introduction.

Working the Evidence:  Most of a history essay should consist of “evidence paragraphs,” which develop and support the thesis with quotations and/or paraphrasing from the sources. Quote when you’ve made an assertion your reader is unlikely to accept without proof. After you quote, always explain: analyze the quoted material carefully to ensure that your quotations support the points you are making.

Structuring the Essay: As your paragraphs begin to emerge from this process of working the evidence, unify each one with a topic sentence, and arrange them in a sequence that builds toward your strongest claims. Your finished essay should thus feature a clearly sign-posted order as it advances from the introduction through your body paragraphs and, finally, to your conclusion.