21H.102 | Spring 2018 | Undergraduate

American History Since 1865


Final Paper Proposal and Guidelines

For the final assignment of the course you will be asked to write an original research paper on a topic of your choosing. This topic should relate in some way to the major themes we have addressed in class over the course of the semester. There are two graded components related to this assignment:

A Paper Proposal describing your proposed research topic, as well as the primary sources or source collections that you plan to analyze, will be due during Lecture 20.

The Final Paper itself, which will be due during Lecture 26.

1. Requirements for the Paper Proposal

Proposals should be written in prose, and should include three paragraphs that offer the following information:

  • Paragraph 1: The broad topic you plan to study and initial ideas for ways to narrow, refine, and focus that topic. This paragraph should include some kind of reference to material covered in the course (this can be a direct quote from a lecture or reading, or an indirect reference to an argument / idea / concept).
  • Paragraph 2: 1–3 historical questions (see Choosing a Topic and Asking a Question) you might consider asking about your topic, and an articulation explaining why this topic matters (to you, and potentially to other historians or scholars).
  • Paragraph 3: A preliminary plan for how you will approach your topic, and the sources you will draw on. This should include relevant secondary sources (from class or found outside class) and a discussion of specific primary sources or source collections you plan to analyze (for example, “beer advertisements from the 1950s,” “issues of the MIT Technology Review describing student activism in the 1960s”).

2. Requirements for the Final Paper

All papers should present an argument. This argument should be unique (of your own making), compelling (it should communicate an interesting idea), and clearly articulated (a reader should have no problem identifying it). In crafting your argument, you should draw on lectures, discussions, and readings, as well as your own ideas about the topic you have chosen.

The argument in your paper should be supported by ample evidence. Evidence supporting your argument should come from both primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources should be drawn from assigned course materials and secondary research of your own.

All papers must include analysis of at least three primary sources (depending on your topic, you will likely need more). You will be responsible for finding these sources on your own. Primary sources can include newspaper or magazine articles, films, images, advertisements, diaries, memoirs, oral histories, manifestoes, government documents, or any materials produced by historical actors during your period of study. Students experiencing difficulty in locating primary sources should consult an instructor or a librarian.

Papers should no shorter than 2500 words (or approximately 10 pages) in length, double-spaced, and written in a 12 point font (Times New Roman or an equivalent). They should include page numbers, properly formatted footnotes with accurate citations (see the Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide ), and a title that reflects the paper’s argument. 

Final Papers 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)

Student Example

“The Power of Female Voters: Why The Eisenhower Campaign’s Use of Television to Target Female Voters in the 1956 Election Matters.” (PDF)

This example appears courtesy of an MIT student and is anonymous by request.

Course Info

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