First Writing Assignment


Per the syllabus, your first major essay assignment is due March 28th. The paper is to be a history research paper, from 8 to 10 pages long (2,000 to 2,500 words), incorporating the use of secondary and primary sources. With regards to subject, we would like you to explore the history of one of three topics:

  • Person: an individual involved in MIT's history in some significant role, who has not been previously fully explored. This might be one of the original charter signers, an early student, or a faculty member. Off limits are MIT's presidents, who we have discussed in class or have been written about.

  • Place: a building on the MIT campus. Its origins, function, changes in use over time.

  • Thing: a laboratory or a scientific instrument. When was it used? What for? When was it considered obsolete and removed/closed down.

Important: your paper must link the topic you are studying to the themes of the course as we have discussed them so far. An excellent way to do this is to use primary sources on your topic of interest, and then discuss it in the context of secondary sources we have read in class.

Sources and Resources

  • The MIT Archives, particularly past issues of The Tech, MIT's oldest newspaper. They also have a great collection of nearly every book ever written about MIT, all in one place.

  • The MIT150 website

  • Also look at the bibliography and citations of the Kaiser book for further sources.

Keep in mind that doing historical research is, in many ways, like doing detective work. One source, however small, leads to another and another until you've compiled enough source materials to sit down and write about the subject in question. The research that goes into the essay is important. The more deeply researched your paper is, the better your grade. We will grade the submitted paper for content (research), organization, level of perception/analysis, and writing style.

For those of you who would like an introduction to the MIT Archives and history collections at the Institute, Michaela will be running an introduction to using the archives with Michelle Baildon. A guide to preparing the essay, using footnotes, etc. will be posted on the Stellar site for STS.050.