21H.102 | Spring 2018 | Undergraduate

American History Since 1865


Essay #2

For Essay #2 you will choose from one of three essay prompts, each of which addresses major themes and questions from the period between the 1870s and 1930. The prompts are below - please choose only one, and respond to it as clearly and comprehensively as possible.

Prompt 1

In his book, The Incorporation of America, historian Alan Trachtenberg argues that “the meaning of America” became “the focus of controversy and struggle” during the final decades of the nineteenth century.1 Drawing on course lectures and readings, craft an argument that responds to Trachtenberg’s claim and its applicability to the period between 1870 and 1930. Questions to consider in your essay include: How did different groups understand the meaning of “America”? What historical contexts led to controversy and struggle? Did one particular vision for the meaning of “America” win out over others?

Prompt 2

Between 1870 and 1930, many communities of color - former slaves, Chinese immigrants, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, among others - found their lives disrupted and transformed by both government policy and changing understandings of ethnic and racial difference in America. Drawing on course lectures and readings, craft an argument about how American ideas about race and ethnicity changed during the period in question. What historical contexts shaped government policies like conquest, exclusion, and assimilation? How did communities of color respond to these policies and transformations?

Prompt 3

The image on the front cover of our course syllabus is one of several panels from the mural “America Today,” painted between 1930 and 1931 by the American artist Thomas Hart Benton. The rest of the panels from the mural can be viewed here. In your essay, place 2–3 of these panels in historical context. How do these paintings reflect key themes and questions from American life at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth? In crafting an argument about the paintings, be sure to place them in conversation with lectures and assigned readings from the course. Avoid statements about artist intent, and focus instead on historical context and what the paintings reflect and reveal from the period in question.

Essay Guidelines

Essays should present an original argument that clearly responds to one of the above prompts. This argument should be unique (of your own making) and should reflect careful engagement with course materials. It should also be clearly expressed and organized, so a reader would have no problem understanding both the overall argument and its progression through your essay. In crafting your argument, you should draw on lectures, discussions, and assigned readings.

Evidence in support of your argument should be drawn entirely from readings assigned in class. This includes recitation handouts and materials from lecture. All essays, regardless of which prompt they respond to, must engage (and cite) a minimum of five assigned readings. At least three of those must be primary source documents.

Essays should be approximately 1250 words in length (please include a word count at the end of your essay), double-spaced, and written in a 12 point font. They should include page numbers, properly formatted footnotes with accurate citations, and a title that reflects the paper’s argument. All sources should be cited using the Chicago Manual of Style (see the Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide).

Essays will be evaluated according to:

  • The quality of the analysis and argument presented
  • The strength of the evidence marshaled in support of that argument
  • The quality of written expression (this includes style, grammar, and proper citation)

Essay #2 is due during Lecture 13.

1 Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York: Hill and Wand, 1982), 7.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2018
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples
Lecture Notes