Suggested topics based on assigned readings are listed below. Students can also write on other topics, particularly for the second paper, but must have the topics approved by the instructor before the date they are due. Papers should be about five to seven pages long. They must be typed, double-spaced, with adequate margins for comments and corrections. Any document-based research paper must include notes and bibliography, and all papers must provide page citations for direct quotations.
Due: Week #4
Write a review of Fred Anderson's A People's Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War. The challenge here is to summarize the book carefully and accurately and then to evaluate the persuasiveness of the argument or arguments that the author makes. What point or points does Anderson make from the material he gathered? Were you convinced? Does the book add to your previous knowledge in a valuable way?
At the end, Anderson tries to connect the experiences of Massachusetts soldiers in the French and Indian war with the American Revolution, the development of which began soon after the war, when the colonists began opposing British efforts to levy taxes on them. Was he convincing there? How important was that argument to the rest of the book?
Due: Week #11
The first option is based on an assigned book, Thomas Dublin's Women at Work, on the early history of Lowell, Massachusetts, a center of the developing American textile industry.
Time and again, supporters of the Waltham-Lowell system argued that the noteworthy feature of the mills was the fact that they were not dependent on a permanent factory population as was the case in England. Indeed, the high level of turnover in the work force was often praised as a safeguard against the degradation of operatives thought to be a consequence of the English factory system.
—Women at Work, p. 184
From the perspective Dublin described, Lowell was a latter-day product of the American Revolution, a man-made industrial community designed to avoid the demeaning class divisions of England and manifest the equality of republican society. To what extent do you think the claim was justified? And, to the extent it was at one time justified, did Lowell cease to have that idealistic character by 1860? If so, how and why; if not, how did it remain true to the supposed original vision of its creators? And is the story of what happened to Lowell of any larger significance for American history?
You can write on another topic of your choice. Before embarking on such a paper, check your topic with the instructor, who can also give suggestions for sources to consult. This option requires doing some reading not assigned for the course—but not necessarily a lot of it. What follows are a few examples.
The controversy over slavery offers many possible paper topics. In previous years, when the term was a bit longer, students read a set of Abolitionist writings and resolutions, which would be an appropriate focus for a paper. You might read, for example, the American Anti-Slavery Society's 1845 tract The Constitution, a Pro-Slavery Compact (View at Google Books). It is only 131 pages long, but it consists of an introduction and a series of historical documents designed to prove the assertion in its title. Take a look at it. The obvious question there is why the compiler (and a lot of other people, then and since) said the Constitution was a pro-slavery document, and whether you think the tract is persuasive. Some of the documents included, such as the final, quite striking speech of 1844 by John Quincy Adams, might get you going in a slightly different direction.
You could also focus on the ex-slave Frederick Douglass. You could discuss his first autobiography (he wrote three!), published in 1845 as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which was an abolitionist tract, and/or some of his speeches, such as "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?" An edition of the Narrative with some of Douglass's major writings is available in a short book edited by the Yale historian David W. Blight. The same series—Bedford Series in History and Culture—has a book on William Lloyd Garrison that, again, collects some of his most important writings.
The readings include a brief essay by a defender of slavery, George Fitzhugh. The assigned reading was drawn from an appendix, pp. 225-258, to Fitzhugh's Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society (Richmond, Virginia, 1854). To write on Fitzhugh, you must read more than the handful of assigned pages to understand and evaluate his argument.
There are many other possibilities. Do you want to know more about early industrial communities? The Trail of Tears? John C. Calhoun? The Marshall and Taney courts? Just be sure to check your topic with the nstructor. Remember that good papers generally ask and answer some historical question, citing evidence, ideally from historical documents, to support their arguments. Note, too, that end-or footnotes are necessary except in the unlikely contingency that everything was drawn from one source, and that papers under option 2 require a bibliography of the sources, primary and secondary, that were used in preparing the papers.
The Constitution, a Pro-Slavery Compact. New York, NY: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1845. (View at Google Books)
Fitzhugh, George. Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society. Richmond, VA: A. Morris, 1854.