Essay Two: Research Paper

This assignment is an original research paper of approximately 2,000 words, or six to seven double-spaced pages. In the process of writing this paper you will learn and then demonstrate the essential skills of the historian: defining a research question, gathering evidence, interpreting sources, and articulating an original argument about the significance of your findings.

You will have homework assignments throughout the second half of the semester that help you prepare for this paper, which will be a part of your final grade. The paper must be submitted via the assignment link on Canvas no later than 11:59 p.m., Monday, April 20. Depending on your discussion teacher’s preferences, you may also need to submit a hard copy in lecture.


Select a topic from the six research kits provided at Begin exploring the research kit you have chosen by reading the primary sources. As you get a feel for the sources in the collection that most interests you, identify a specific set of sources on a particular topic, theme, or event. Once you have narrowed down your area of focus, read the secondary sources for historical background and context for your analysis.

Collect and take notes on your primary materials. The number of primary sources you’ll need will vary a lot by subject, but 5-7 at a minimum that give you about 30-50 pages of material to work with. Make sure you have a system for keeping track of what you’ve looked at and that you make note of how to cite these sources in your paper. What sources seem persuasive? Which need back up and checking? Are there other sources in the research kit that can answer those questions?


Thesis and Introduction: 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. See Thesis Statement tutorial.

Using Quotations: Most of a history essay should consist of “evidence paragraphs,” which develop and support the thesis with quotations. Quote when you’ve made an assertion your reader is unlikely to accept without proof. After you quote, always explain: tell your reader what the implications are that might not be obvious and try to imagine how someone might not agree with your reading of the material and the quotation. See the online tutorial.

Structure: 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.

Citations should include properly formatted footnotes that use Chicago Style. The paper should be double-spaced and typed in 12-point font with one-inch margins and page numbers. Students should consult the Chicago Manual of Style as they compose footnotes. Helpful guidelines for Chicago-style citations can be found here:


Your discussion teachers will guide you through the process of researching and writing these papers in discussion section, beginning with the process of defining your topic using the material on the course website. Each piece of the paper has assignments that count toward your grade. The process looks like this:

  • In Week 11 (March 30) you will submit an annotated bibliography on the sources that you plan to use in your paper. The bibliography should include at least 5-7 primary sources and 2 secondary sources from the research kit you have chosen. You must “annotate” this list by providing one or two sentences summarizing each source, indicate how they relate to your topic, and suggest how you will use them. This is worth 25 points.
  • In Week 12 (April 6) Turn in a first draft of your essay’s introductory paragraph and an outline for the paper. This is worth 25 points.
  • Your final paper is due April 20 (Week 14) in class. You will turn in a hard copy in class and a digital copy on Canvas. The final draft is worth 200 points.

The assignment, combined with the annotated bibliography and introductory paragraph, is worth 25 percent of your total course grade. Take it seriously and begin early!  Decide on a topic as early as you can.  This project has the potential to be a foundational experience for you, one that will improve your critical thinking, research and writing skills and benefit your entire degree program.