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History 117A Research Paper Assignment
Prof. Helton, Ohlone College, Spring 2022
Your final project for this class is to produce a piece of original research relating to a topic in the
History of the United States before 1877. The research project counts as 30% of your final
Your goal in this paper is to provide an intelligent and well-researched interpretation of history.
You will choose a topic, research it, and then prepare a thoughtful, evidence-based paper in
which you present your own point of view on that topic. Your interpretation of the topic will be
encapsulated in your thesis statement, which should be clear, succinct, and appear early in the
paper. The goal of the paper will be to prove to the reader that the thesis is a reasonable
interpretation of the past. You will do this by providing evidence from primary and secondary
sources, and organizing that evidence in a logical and convincing way. You must use at least
three primary sources and three scholarly secondary sources. Encyclopedias (either print or
online) are not acceptable secondary sources for the final paper. This includes Wikipedia.
Remember that you want to express your interpretation of your topic. Your paper should not
simply summarize other people’s views, blandly recite facts or quote sources without explaining
their significance. Nor should it be a boring narrative (The Civil War started in 1861. There
were many battles. Then the war ended). Your job is to develop a creative and accurate
interpretation of the past, and to support that interpretation with as much evidence as
If at any point you get confused, exhausted, or frustrated, send me an email or come to my
office hours. I am here to help you (and to make sure you do your best work)!
What is Research, and Why Do I Have to Do It?
You do research every day. Every time you turn on your computer and type a search term into
Google or Wikipedia, you are conducting research. Each time you click a headline in social
media, you are faced with the decision of whether or not to believe what you read. Knowing
how to research efficiently and effectively, and to critically assess the reliability of the sources
you use, is an essential life skill.
We are living through one of the biggest revolutions in all of human history. The internet,
mobile computing, and social media are expanding our access to information in ways that our
ancestors never could have imagined. We have access to more information than has ever been
available at any time in human existence. Some research suggests that even the very neurons
in our brains are being rewired by these new technologies.
But what does it mean to have the sum of all human knowledge available on a device we carry
in our pockets? Does it mean that we are suddenly all omniscient?
Technology and knowledge are human creations. Every Wikipedia article, every story on your
news feed, and every textbook are written by people. How can you know whether those
people are telling you the truth? How do you tell truth from lies, and opinions from facts?
Conducting your own historical research will help you to better understand how knowledge is
created. You will learn what types of sources scholars use to build arguments, how to evaluate
a source for reliability, and how to use sources to develop an argument that is based on
evidence. These skills will be useful to you for any type of research, and will help you to make
more informed decisions in any area of your life.
v Anything about U.S. History in this period that you find interesting.
v Any unanswered questions you have about the material discussed in the class.
v Any perspective or issue that provoked a strong reaction in you during class. It’s always
better to write about things for which you have a passion.
v If you are stuck for ideas, please email me. Its also a good idea to browse through the
course books and to talk to a reference librarian.
v Below is a list of suggested topics:
Any Indigenous tribe
The Shellmounds of the Bay Area
The history of Tenochtitln
The role of women in Puritan society
Environmental changes brought to
this continent by Europeans
Religious tolerance / intolerance in
The origins of the American
The role of Native Americans in the
African Americans in the American
Women in the American Revolution
The origins of slavery in the United
Slave Life and Culture
The California Missions
Cultural and military conflict
between Europeans/ Americans and
First Nations peoples
The American Revolution
The writing of the Constitution
The evolution of the Constitution
The history any of the amendments
to the Constitution (Amendments #1
Thomas Jeffersons relationship with
his slave, Sally Hemings
Slavery and the Founding Fathers
Federalism vs. Republicanism
The explorations of Lewis and Clark
The Whiskey Rebellion
The Mountain Men
Early American folk culture / art
Immigration to the colonies or the
U.S. from Europe, Latin America or
The Monroe Doctrine
The Know Nothings
The Mexican American War
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The California Gold Rush
The Seneca Falls Convention & the
Origins of the Womens Rights
The History of the Mormons
Building the Transcontinental
Andrew Jackson: Hero or Racist?
Indian Removal / The Trail of Tears
The Bank War
Early Presidential Campaign Tactics
The factory women of Lowell,
The Industrialization of America
The American Renaissance
The Pony Express
Early Chinese immigration into the
Frances Wright, First Female Public
Speaker in U.S. history
Irish Immigration into the U.S.
Dorothea Dix and Mental Health
African American Abolitionist
Women, such as Sojourner Truth,
Frances Harper, Harriet Tubman
The Abolition movement
Alcoholism & The Temperance
The Labor Movement
The Womens Rights Movement
The Compromise of 1850
History of the Republican Party
History of the Democratic Party
Causes of the Civil War
The Dred Scott Decision
The Role of Women in the Civil War
Military Strategy and Tactics in the
The Reconstruction Amendments
You could also do a biography of a historical figure, for example:
Sarah and / or
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Susan B. Anthony
Maria Amparo Ruiz de
William Lloyd Garrison
Ralph Waldo Emerson
John C. Fremont
Blanche K. Bruce
For this paper, you will need at least six sources. Three of these should be primary sources and
three should be scholarly secondary sources. How can you find these sources?
Primary sources can be found in books, in archives, and in databases available through our
college library. For a historical paper, primary sources are usually speeches, laws, diaries,
letters or other written documents. However, they can also include visual art, oral interviews,
and other non-written sources. There are also great archives of primary and secondary sources
online; however, before using an online archive or website, make sure that it is maintained by a
reputable institution or scholar. During the semester, we will be discussing how to find, search,
and evaluate online archives.
Scholarly secondary sources are best found by visiting the library or through searching our
library databases. A scholarly secondary source is a source that is written by a professional
historian or academics. Scholarly works have been through the peer review process. This
means that before being published, they have been read and criticized by multiple professional
scholars. This process is intended to ensure the accuracy of the research.
Generally speaking, there are two types of scholarly secondary sources that you might use in a
research paper. The first is books. A scholarly book represents many years of research on the
part of its author. A book on your topic will provide you with an overview of the subject, and
also give you deep analysis of the topic.
You may also want to use journal articles. These are shorter works published in academic
journals. They are usually more narrowly focused than books.
Your secondary sources must be scholarly. Wikipedia, Study.com, About.com, The History
Channel, random YouTube videos, etc. may be informative and can be useful for gaining an
overview of your topic. However, they are not peer reviewed scholarly sources and cannot be
used as sources for the final paper.
The texts and primary source readings from the class can also be used for your paper, as can
the class lectures or videos.
How To Find Sources
Most students begin their search for sources on Google, which is a TERRIBLE place to conduct
serious research. Google is great for many purposes, but for a serious, deep look at a topic, it is
not the best place to start.
Why? Googles search algorithm returns results that are popular and recent. Google does not
use accuracy as a criteria, simply because it cant. Things like reliability and truthfulness are
not qualities that an algorithm can determine for that, human judgement (your judgement) is
required. Typically, if you search a topic on Google, you will get literally thousands of results,
and only a small fraction of those will link to a site that is scholarly or peer-reviewed. Also,
some people publish false or poorly researched material on the internet, for a variety of
reasons. It can take a great deal of time and effort to determine if a particular website is
accurate or not.
Sometimes, students use Google Scholar. Scholar searches sites that publish peer-reviewed
material, so you will generally get results that are reliable. However, these results are
undifferentiated by topic Google only searches for keywords. So again, you may get
thousands of results, but only a small fraction will be related to your particular topic.
So, where you should search for information? The best place to begin your research for this
paper is the Ohlone library. Our library has books (both physical books and ebooks) on most of
the topics students research for this class. Our library also pays for access to dozens of curated
databases that contain primary and secondary sources. Finally, the library has reference
librarians, whose job it is to help you with your research. We will learn more about using the
library to find books and use research databases later in the semester.
Before you begin searching for sources, take some time to brainstorm a list of search keywords.
Keywords are the terms that you use in databases and library catalogues to find sources.
Sometimes you may put in one keyword and get no results; if so, try another, related term and
see what pops up. For example, if you want to research the history of voting, you might start
with vote. If that gives you no results, try voting rights suffrage or franchise.
Here are some other resources that might prove useful:
Online Databases, accessible from the Ohlone Library Website
The Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov
The National Archives: http://www.archives.gov/research/catalog/
Chronicling America: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov
The Online Archive of California: www.oac.cdlib.org
Ask a reference librarian, either at Ohlone or your public library (online reference services
are still available even during shelter in place).
See the Resources for Writing and Research Module on our class Canvas page for more
Matters of Content and Form
Your research paper is a formal argumentative essay. As such, it needs the following elements:
Introduction The opening paragraph(s) of your essay should introduce the topic and
state your thesis. Your thesis should be a clear statement of your opinion on your topic.
It should represent your own point of view on the evidence you have collected through
Body The body of the paper should present both primary and secondary evidence to
support your thesis statement. Your goal in this part of the paper is to prove that your
thesis statement is a reasonable and accurate interpretation of history. You should also
define your terms in this portion of the paper for example, if you are writing about
placer mining, you should define what a placer mine is.
Conclusion Your conclusion should restate your thesis and summarize the evidence
which supports it, and generally wrap up your argument.
Footnotes All the sources of the information in your paper must be cited using Chicago-
Bibliography A list of all the sources you used in writing the paper.
The text of the paper must be ten to twelve pages in length: double-spaced, 12 point type, with
1 inch top and bottom margins and 1.25 inch left and right margins. Each page should be
numbered and have your last name on it. The bibliography does not count toward the page
You are welcome (and encouraged) to include photos, maps, charts, or other visual materials as
part of your report, but these materials will not substitute for text. In other words, you cannot
submit eight pages of text and two pages of pictures.
In general, try to avoid the first person I in your paper. NEVER use you in your paper. I will
take points off for every time that you do.
Use Chicago-style footnotes for your citations. Do not use any other format. If you have
questions about how to do footnotes, see A Manual for Writers, or come ask me during office
** Research Proposal (5 points)
DUE: February 14
Type a one page description of your topic and a brief discussion of why you have chosen
it. Also, include three interesting research questions you would like to answer in your
paper. When developing your questions, think about the issues of context, causality,
agency, continuity and change that we discussed in class.
Be specific as to the place and time period that you want to research. For example,
The Gold Rush is too broad a topic. Mexican American Miners in the Gold Rush is
much better. You do not need to include a thesis statement in the proposal – you
shouldn’t have a thesis until you have done some research. Just jot down some of your
preliminary ideas and questions.
Before you write your proposal, you should do a little background research on your
topic in the library or on the internet (this is the only step of the project at which you
can use encyclopedias and Wikipedia). This will help you to develop intelligent
** Proposed Bibliography (5 points)
DUE: February 28
For this assignment, you will submit a list of sources you intend to use in your final
paper, along with a brief reflection on your research process to this point.
Submit a typed list of all the primary and secondary sources you are using in your
research paper. The sources must be listed using correct Chicago Style bibliographic
form (see A Manual for Writers if you need examples). Remember that a bibliography
should be single-spaced and formatted as a hanging indent.
You will need at least three primary sources and three secondary sources for this paper.
All of your secondary sources must be scholarly in other words, peer reviewed
materials written by professional historians, archeologists, or other experts. Your
sources should also be in-depth, with enough specific detail and evidence to help you
develop a thorough understanding of the topic.
You cannot use sources such as history.com, biography.com, about.com, or Wikipedia
for this paper. If you are having trouble finding sources, please make time to consult the
reference librarians in the Ohlone library.
Remember that both electronic and print encyclopedias are not acceptable sources for
this paper. It was ok during the proposal phase to use them for background when
developing your research questions, but from this point on stay away from
encyclopedias and look for deeper sources.
You can add more sources later, if necessary. This need not be your final bibliography,
but it should represent a solid start to your project.
In addition to your list of sources, this proposed bibliography should include a brief (one
or two paragraph) reflection which addresses the following questions:
Describe the process you have used so far to find sources.
Where have you looked for sources?
What search tools or databases have you used?
What keywords have you used in your searches?
What steps have you taken to verify that your sources are reliable?
** Timeline (5 points)
DUE: April 4
For this step in your research project, you will use Sutori www.sutori.com to create a
timeline of important events that shape the period your paper deals with. This should
include the birth/death dates of important people, publication of key documents, dates
of important political / economic / social / artistic / architectural events, etc. Include
whatever is important for the subject you are examining.
Many students find the note-taking and organizing phase of research to be confusing
and frustrating. Keeping a timeline as you read through your various sources can help
you keep track of the events and people of your time period.
To create your timeline:
Go to: sutori.com/signup.
Create an account. Pro Tip: Use your actual name for your account so that I can
After you are logged in, click on your profile (it will be a circle with your initials in it)
Click “Add Teacher.”
When asked, put in this code: bqp1f
Once you are registered, click “Create a Story” and get started on your timeline!
Check out the How To Create A Story Using Sutori tutorial so that you know how to
use the site.
Once you are logged in to Sutori, go to “Stories” and chose “Create a Story.” Then,
begin creating your timeline. Your timeline should include important information about
your research topic. Who decides what is important? You do! Possible items to include:
Birth / death dates of important people
Publication of key documents, laws, proclamations, etc.
Dates of important battles, if you are discussing a war
Dates of important political / economic / social / artistic / architectural events, etc.
Include whatever is important for the subject you are examining.
Your timeline should be in chronological order.
To earn credit for this assignment, you must submit the URL of your Sutori timeline
Your timeline should include:
A banner image at the top.
A title & subtitle. The subtitle should include the research questions you are hoping
to answer in the paper.
At least 15 substantive timeline items. Each item should include a date or date range
and a description of the relevant important events / trends.
Each item should be at least two or three sentences long, explaining why this date or
event is relevant.
o DO THIS: 1754: George Washingtons actions at Fort Necessity sparked the
French and Indian War, which caused the British government to go into debt.
o NOT THIS: 1754: French and Indian War starts
Your timeline should be in chronological order.
Sutoris format does not make it possible to use Chicago style footnotes. However,
it is still important that you cite your sources.
In each item, note the source of the content in the same manner as you do on the
Collaborative Timeline. Use a dash, and then give information about the source, like
For a book: — Authors Last Name, p. 32
For a website: — Creator, Title, Publisher (usually the website
title) & Link
For a video: — Creator, Title, Publisher & Link
At the bottom of your timeline, include a properly formatted bibliography listing all
of your sources (both books and websites). Use the Bibliography option of Sutori
to do this.
Sutori gives you the ability to add images, videos, audio, text, quizzes, forums and
many other items. Use any of these options you like.
You are not required to add images to your timeline (except in the banner), but you
may if you like. If you do use images or videos, be sure to include a caption or note
that indicates the source from which you got the material. Check to ensure that it is
legal for you to use the image. Include the sources of these images in the
bibliography you create for this timeline. Helpful hint: Wikimedia Commons is a
great source for copyright-free images.
Be careful out there on the internet! In choosing sources for your timeline, be sure
that the sources you are looking at are reliable and scholarly. The websites of
colleges, museums and libraries are good places to start.
Though there are many excellent timelines available for your reference on the Internet,
you should NOT COPY one of these timelines into Sutori for this assignment, as that
would constitute plagiarism.
** Rough Draft (5 points)
DUE: April 18
Submit a rough draft of your final paper. Your draft should be four to five pages long.
At the top of the draft, write out two things:
the research question(s) you are trying to answer, and
a draft thesis statement.
The rest of the draft can be very rough – don’t worry about grammar, spelling, etc.
(though it must be typed). All I want to see is that you are working in the right direction.
I will not give extensive comments on the draft; I just want to check to that you are on
** Final Draft (100 points)
DUE: May 20
Remember that late passes CANNOT be used on your final research paper. It MUST be
turned in on time.
Be sure that your final draft contains footnotes and a bibliography. The final draft will
be graded on the following:
Clear, Strong Thesis
o Does your thesis clearly state your position on the issue?
o Is your thesis arguable?
o Is your thesis specific?
Use of Appropriate Sources
o Does your paper include primary sources?
o Does your paper include scholarly secondary sources?
o Does your paper avoid usage of tertiary sources such as Wikipedia,
Adequate Primary and Secondary Support (Evidence) for Thesis
o Do you back up all of your assertions with specific, verifiable evidence?
o Is your paper your own original research, written in your own words?
Historical and Factual Accuracy
o Are there factual errors in your paper?
o Is your chronology of events correct?
Organization, Clarity and Tone
o Is the organization of the paper clear and logical?
o Is the tone of the paper academic and professional?
o Do you adequately cite all of the sources of all of your evidence, including
both primary and secondary sources?
o Are your citations properly formatted Chicago Style footnotes?
o Does your paper include a properly formatted bibliography which lists all of
o Is your paper between ten and twelve pages long?
o Is your paper formatted according to the requirements described in the class
o Do you use proper grammar, spelling and syntax?
o Is your paper in the correct format?
o Is your paper neat?
Just a reminder if you turn in a final research paper which has been plagiarized, you
will receive a zero on the assignment and could fail the class. Dont do it.