Paper #3: Historiography/Major (research paper)
Goals of the assignment:
This assignment will help you to better understand the purpose and techniques of academic research. The assignments goal is to have you engage in the complexities of research and make you a competent researcher. I have chosen to restrict your possible topics to either something about modern history, or something about your intended major (or a possible major). Many current events and political topics are too charged, you may already have formed opinions on them, and they make for very boring papers (we already know the pros and cons of gun control, abortion, capital punishment etc.). I want you to consider the primary and secondary sources that you find about your topics as ideologically informed documents that necessarily provide only one perspective on the historical event or topic that you have chosen to analyze. You should choose a topic in which you are personally invested for some reason, and about which you would like to know more. You should approach this research with an open mind, not having come to any definite conclusions about the event, period, or topic you will be studying. You will need to make a claim (argument) about your topic, but you should not know what that claim will be before doing some research. It may seem daunting to look back at modern history and have to pick out one topic on which to focus, or to engage in a detailed argument about some topic within your major when you havent taken most of those classes yet. Try to have a more holistic view of what the assignment is asking. This does not need to be about a national or political event; it does not need to be about a famous conflict or person; it only needs to be a paper that does some serious investigation into and tries to clarify some thing or set of things that have happened in recent history or that have some bearing on your (potential) major.
General things to keep in mind:
It may be tempting to begin writing a narrative that summarizes the historical event or topic that you have chosen to investigate. Resist this temptation! You will need to contextualize your reader by providing some background and expository information on your topic, and you should have found out some interesting things that you want to share. That is fine as long as you remember, while drafting, that in the final version all of the information that you present should be in the service of a larger analytical argument that you are making. You are joining a conversation with educated historians and professionals who know a lot about your topic. Your task is to engage the existing scholarship on this topic in order to carve out your own unique position. Your claim does not need to be massive or epoch-making; indeed, it should not be. It should be specific, well-thought, out and worth making. Keep asking yourself, as you write, whether you are simply summarizing somebody elses ideas, or actually engaging and speaking to other peoples arguments.
You must incorporate at least four academic sources, and only one of these may be an electronic source. You can access print sources electronically, but you may only use one actual website as a source.
Specific methods for drafting and revising:
*Dont try to do too much. Make a modest and arguable claim based on your research.
*Make sure that your thesis evolves. Present a general thesis in the introduction, but evolve and complicate it as you go.
*Always use attributive tags and in-text citations when dealing with sources. Never present quotations from sources unless you are going to use them or analyze them. The reasons that you have included quotations should always be clear.
*Dont allow your sources to take over your paper. Your own voice and your own position- about the topic and about your sources- should be clear.
*As always, style is not separate from meaning, it constitutes your meaning. As you draft, keep on looking at ways to reduce wordiness and increase clarity. If you are in the habit of padding your sentences and repeating yourself to increase the length of your paper, break the habit! It can only lead to a lowered grade. Every sentence should say something important and say it precisely. At every step of the drafting process, be conscious of and work to improve style.
*As always, keep questioning your own assumptions and try not to make any. Watch out for assumptions about shared values. Avoid words like normal, typical, obviously, most people, and any grand claims to the truth.
*Think of an interesting and original title.
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