How to Write a History Research Paper

  • How do I pick a topic?
  • But I can’t find any material…

Research Guide

Writing guide.

See also: How to Write a Good History Essay

1. How do I pick a topic?

Picking a topic is perhaps the most important step in writing a research paper. To do it well requires several steps of refinement. First you have to determine a general area in which you have an interest (if you aren’t interested, your readers won’t be either). You do not write a paper “about the Civil War,” however, for that is such a large and vague concept that the paper will be too shallow or you will be swamped with information. The next step is to narrow your topic. Are you interested in comparison? battles? social change? politics? causes? biography? Once you reach this stage try to formulate your research topic as a question. For example, suppose that you decide to write a paper on the use of the films of the 1930’s and what they can tell historians about the Great Depression. You might turn that into the following question: “What are the primary values expressed in films of the 1930’s?” Or you might ask a quite different question, “What is the standard of living portrayed in films of the 1930’s?” There are other questions, of course, which you could have asked, but these two clearly illustrate how different two papers on the same general subject might be. By asking yourself a question as a means of starting research on a topic you will help yourself find the answers. You also open the door to loading the evidence one way or another. It will help you decide what kinds of evidence might be pertinent to your question, and it can also twist perceptions of a topic. For example, if you ask a question about economics as motivation, you are not likely to learn much about ideals, and vice versa.

2. But I can’t find any material…

No one should pick a topic without trying to figure out how one could discover pertinent information, nor should anyone settle on a topic before getting some background information about the general area. These two checks should make sure your paper is in the realm of the possible. The trick of good research is detective work and imaginative thinking on how one can find information. First try to figure out what kinds of things you should know about a topic to answer your research question. Are there statistics? Do you need personal letters? What background information should be included? Then if you do not know how to find that particular kind of information, ASK . A reference librarian or professor is much more likely to be able to steer you to the right sources if you can ask a specific question such as “Where can I find statistics on the number of interracial marriages?” than if you say “What can you find on racial attitudes?”

Use the footnotes and bibliographies of general background books as well as reference aids to lead you to special studies. If Carleton does not have the books or sources you need, try ordering through the library minitex. Many sources are also available on-line.

As your research paper takes shape you will find that you need background on people, places, events, etc. Do not just rely on some general survey for all of your background. Check the several good dictionaries of biography for background on people, or see if there is a standard book-length biography. If you are dealing with a legal matter check into the background of the judges who make the court decision and the circumstances surrounding the original incident or law. Try looking for public opinions in newspapers of the time. In other words, each bit of information you find should open the possibility of other research paths.

Learn to use several research techniques. You cannot count on a good research paper coming from browsing on one shelf at the library. A really pertinent book may be hidden in another section of the library due to classification quirks. The Readers’ Guide (Ref. A13 .R4) is not the only source for magazine articles, nor the card catalog for books. There are whole books which are listings of other books on particular topics. There are specialized indexes of magazine articles. Modern History Journals are indexed in the Social Studies and Humanities Index (Ref. A13 .R282) before 1976 After 1976 use the Social Sciences Index (REF A13 .S62) and the Humanities Index (Ref. A13 .H85). See also Historical Abstracts (Ref. D1 .H5). Reference Librarians would love to help you learn to use these research tools. It pays to browse in the reference room at the library and poke into the guides which are on the shelves. It also pays to browse the Internet.

3. Help! How do I put this together?

A. preliminary research:.

If you do not already have a general background on your topic, get the most recent good general source on the topic and read it for general orientation. On the basis of that reading formulate as clearly focused question as you can. You should generally discuss with your professor at that point whether your question is a feasible one.

B. Building a Basic Bibliography:

Use the bibliography/notes in your first general source, MUSE, and especially Historical Abstracts on cd-rom in the Library Reading Room (the computer farthest to the left in the front row as you walk past the Reference Desk — or ask there). If there is a specialized bibliography on your topic, you will certainly want to consult that as well, but these are often a bit dated.

C. Building a Full Bibliography:

Read the recent articles or chapters that seem to focus on your topic best. This will allow you to focus your research question quite a bit. Use the sources cited and/or discussed in this reading to build a full bibliography. Use such tools as Historical Abstracts (or, depending on your topic, the abstracts from a different field) and a large, convenient computer-based national library catalog (e.g. the University of California system from the “Libs” command in your VAX account or the smaller University of Minnesota library through MUSE) to check out your sources fully. For specific article searches “Uncover” (press returns for the “open access”) or possibly (less likely for history) “First Search” through “Connect to Other Resources” in MUSE can also be useful.

D. Major Research:

Now do the bulk of your research. But do not overdo it. Do not fall into the trap of reading and reading to avoid getting started on the writing. After you have the bulk of information you might need, start writing. You can fill in the smaller gaps of your research more effectively later.

A. Outline:

Write a preliminary thesis statement, expressing what you believe your major argument(s) will be. Sketch out a broad outline that indicates the structure — main points and subpoints or your argument as it seems at this time. Do not get too detailed at this point.

B. The First Draft:

On the basis of this thesis statement and outline, start writing, even pieces, as soon as you have enough information to start. Do not wait until you have filled all the research gaps. Keep on writing. If you run into smaller research questions just mark the text with a searchable symbol. It is important that you try to get to the end point of this writing as soon as possible, even if you leave pieces still in outline form at first and then fill the gaps after you get to the end.

Critical advice for larger papers: It is often more effective not to start at the point where the beginning of your paper will be. Especially the introductory paragraph is often best left until later, when you feel ready and inspired.

C. The Second Draft:

The “second draft” is a fully re-thought and rewritten version of your paper. It is at the heart of the writing process.

First, lay your first draft aside for a day or so to gain distance from it. After that break, read it over with a critical eye as you would somebody else’s paper (well, almost!). You will probably find that your first draft is still quite descriptive, rather than argumentative. It is likely to wander; your perspective and usually even the thesis seemed to change/develop as you wrote. Don’t despair. That is perfectly normal even for experienced writers (even after 40 years and a good deal of published work!). You will be frustrated. But keep questioning your paper along the following lines: What precisely are my key questions? What parts of my evidence here are really pertinent to those questions (that is, does it help me answer them)? How or in what order can I structure my paper most effectively to answer those questions most clearly and efficiently for my reader?

At this point you must outline your paper freshly. Mark up your first draft, ask tough questions whether your argument is clear and whether the order in which you present your points is effective! You must write conceptually a new paper at this point, even if you can use paragraphs and especially quotes, factual data in the new draft.

It is critical that in your new draft your paragraphs start with topic sentences that identify the argument you will be making in the particular paragraph (sometimes this can be strings of two or three paragraphs). The individual steps in your argument must be clearly reflected in the topic sentences of your paragraphs (or a couple of them linked).

D. The Third or Final Draft:

You are now ready to check for basic rules of good writing. This is when you need to check the diction, that is, the accuracy and suitability of words. Eliminate unnecessary passive or awkward noun constructions (active-voice, verbal constructions are usually more effective); improve the flow of your transitions; avoid repetitions or split infinitives; correct apostrophes in possessives and such. Make the style clear and smooth. Check that the start of your paper is interesting for the reader. Last but not least, cut out unnecessary verbiage and wordiness. Spell-check and proof-read.

– Diethelm Prowe, 1998

A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing Historical Research [without getting hysterical!] In addition to being a scholarly investigation, research is a social activity intended to create new knowledge. Historical research is your informed response to the questions that you ask while examining the record of human experience. These questions may concern such elements as looking at an event or topic, examining events that lead to the event in question, social influences, key players, and other contextual information. This step-by-step guide progresses from an introduction to historical resources to information about how to identify a topic, craft a thesis and develop a research paper. Table of contents: The Range and Richness of Historical Sources Secondary Sources Primary Sources Historical Analysis What is it? Who, When, Where, What and Why: The Five "W"s Topic, Thesis, Sources Definition of Terms Choose a Topic Craft a Thesis Evaluate Thesis and Sources A Variety of Information Sources Take Efficient Notes Note Cards Thinking, Organizing, Researching Parenthetical Documentation Prepare a Works Cited Page Drafting, Revising, Rewriting, Rethinking For Further Reading: Works Cited Additional Links So you want to study history?! Tons of help and links Slatta Home Page Use the Writing and other links on the lefhand menu I. The Range and Richness of Historical Sources Back to Top Every period leaves traces, what historians call "sources" or evidence. Some are more credible or carry more weight than others; judging the differences is a vital skill developed by good historians. Sources vary in perspective, so knowing who created the information you are examining is vital. Anonymous doesn't make for a very compelling source. For example, an FBI report on the antiwar movement, prepared for U.S. President Richard Nixon, probably contained secrets that at the time were thought to have affected national security. It would not be usual, however, for a journalist's article about a campus riot, featured in a local newspaper, to leak top secret information. Which source would you read? It depends on your research topic. If you're studying how government officials portrayed student activists, you'll want to read the FBI report and many more documents from other government agencies such as the CIA and the National Security Council. If you're investigating contemporary opinion of pro-war and anti-war activists, local newspaper accounts provide a rich resource. You'd want to read a variety of newspapers to ensure you're covering a wide range of opinions (rural/urban, left/right, North/South, Soldier/Draft-dodger, etc). Historians classify sources into two major categories: primary and secondary sources. Secondary Sources Back to Top Definition: Secondary sources are created by someone who was either not present when the event occurred or removed from it in time. We use secondary sources for overview information, to familiarize ourselves with a topic, and compare that topic with other events in history. In refining a research topic, we often begin with secondary sources. This helps us identify gaps or conflicts in the existing scholarly literature that might prove promsing topics. Types: History books, encyclopedias, historical dictionaries, and academic (scholarly) articles are secondary sources. To help you determine the status of a given secondary source, see How to identify and nagivate scholarly literature . Examples: Historian Marilyn Young's (NYU) book about the Vietnam War is a secondary source. She did not participate in the war. Her study is not based on her personal experience but on the evidence she culled from a variety of sources she found in the United States and Vietnam. Primary Sources Back to Top Definition: Primary sources emanate from individuals or groups who participated in or witnessed an event and recorded that event during or immediately after the event. They include speeches, memoirs, diaries, letters, telegrams, emails, proclamations, government documents, and much more. Examples: A student activist during the war writing about protest activities has created a memoir. This would be a primary source because the information is based on her own involvement in the events she describes. Similarly, an antiwar speech is a primary source. So is the arrest record of student protesters. A newspaper editorial or article, reporting on a student demonstration is also a primary source. II. Historical Analysis What is it? Back to Top No matter what you read, whether it's a primary source or a secondary source, you want to know who authored the source (a trusted scholar? A controversial historian? A propagandist? A famous person? An ordinary individual?). "Author" refers to anyone who created information in any medium (film, sound, or text). You also need to know when it was written and the kind of audience the author intend to reach. You should also consider what you bring to the evidence that you examine. Are you inductively following a path of evidence, developing your interpretation based on the sources? Do you have an ax to grind? Did you begin your research deductively, with your mind made up before even seeing the evidence. Historians need to avoid the latter and emulate the former. To read more about the distinction, examine the difference between Intellectual Inquirers and Partisan Ideologues . In the study of history, perspective is everything. A letter written by a twenty- year old Vietnam War protestor will differ greatly from a letter written by a scholar of protest movements. Although the sentiment might be the same, the perspective and influences of these two authors will be worlds apart. Practicing the " 5 Ws " will avoid the confusion of the authority trap. Who, When, Where, What and Why: The Five "W"s Back to Top Historians accumulate evidence (information, including facts, stories, interpretations, opinions, statements, reports, etc.) from a variety of sources (primary and secondary). They must also verify that certain key pieces of information are corroborated by a number of people and sources ("the predonderance of evidence"). The historian poses the " 5 Ws " to every piece of information he examines: Who is the historical actor? When did the event take place? Where did it occur? What did it entail and why did it happen the way it did? The " 5 Ws " can also be used to evaluate a primary source. Who authored the work? When was it created? Where was it created, published, and disseminated? Why was it written (the intended audience), and what is the document about (what points is the author making)? If you know the answers to these five questions, you can analyze any document, and any primary source. The historian doesn't look for the truth, since this presumes there is only one true story. The historian tries to understand a number of competing viewpoints to form his or her own interpretation-- what constitutes the best explanation of what happened and why. By using as wide a range of primary source documents and secondary sources as possible, you will add depth and richness to your historical analysis. The more exposure you, the researcher, have to a number of different sources and differing view points, the more you have a balanced and complete view about a topic in history. This view will spark more questions and ultimately lead you into the quest to unravel more clues about your topic. You are ready to start assembling information for your research paper. III. Topic, Thesis, Sources Definition of Terms Back to Top Because your purpose is to create new knowledge while recognizing those scholars whose existing work has helped you in this pursuit, you are honor bound never to commit the following academic sins: Plagiarism: Literally "kidnapping," involving the use of someone else's words as if they were your own (Gibaldi 6). To avoid plagiarism you must document direct quotations, paraphrases, and original ideas not your own. Recycling: Rehashing material you already know thoroughly or, without your professor's permission, submitting a paper that you have completed for another course. Premature cognitive commitment: Academic jargon for deciding on a thesis too soon and then seeking information to serve that thesis rather than embarking on a genuine search for new knowledge. Choose a Topic Back to Top "Do not hunt for subjects, let them choose you, not you them." --Samuel Butler Choosing a topic is the first step in the pursuit of a thesis. Below is a logical progression from topic to thesis: Close reading of the primary text, aided by secondary sources Growing awareness of interesting qualities within the primary text Choosing a topic for research Asking productive questions that help explore and evaluate a topic Creating a research hypothesis Revising and refining a hypothesis to form a working thesis First, and most important, identify what qualities in the primary or secondary source pique your imagination and curiosity and send you on a search for answers. Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive levels provides a description of productive questions asked by critical thinkers. While the lower levels (knowledge, comprehension) are necessary to a good history essay, aspire to the upper three levels (analysis, synthesis, evaluation). Skimming reference works such as encyclopedias, books, critical essays and periodical articles can help you choose a topic that evolves into a hypothesis, which in turn may lead to a thesis. One approach to skimming involves reading the first paragraph of a secondary source to locate and evaluate the author's thesis. Then for a general idea of the work's organization and major ideas read the first and last sentence of each paragraph. Read the conclusion carefully, as it usually presents a summary (Barnet and Bedau 19). Craft a Thesis Back to Top Very often a chosen topic is too broad for focused research. You must revise it until you have a working hypothesis, that is, a statement of an idea or an approach with respect to the source that could form the basis for your thesis. Remember to not commit too soon to any one hypothesis. Use it as a divining rod or a first step that will take you to new information that may inspire you to revise your hypothesis. Be flexible. Give yourself time to explore possibilities. The hypothesis you create will mature and shift as you write and rewrite your paper. New questions will send you back to old and on to new material. Remember, this is the nature of research--it is more a spiraling or iterative activity than a linear one. Test your working hypothesis to be sure it is: broad enough to promise a variety of resources. narrow enough for you to research in depth. original enough to interest you and your readers. worthwhile enough to offer information and insights of substance "do-able"--sources are available to complete the research. Now it is time to craft your thesis, your revised and refined hypothesis. A thesis is a declarative sentence that: focuses on one well-defined idea makes an arguable assertion; it is capable of being supported prepares your readers for the body of your paper and foreshadows the conclusion. Evaluate Thesis and Sources Back to Top Like your hypothesis, your thesis is not carved in stone. You are in charge. If necessary, revise it during the research process. As you research, continue to evaluate both your thesis for practicality, originality, and promise as a search tool, and secondary sources for relevance and scholarliness. The following are questions to ask during the research process: Are there many journal articles and entire books devoted to the thesis, suggesting that the subject has been covered so thoroughly that there may be nothing new to say? Does the thesis lead to stimulating, new insights? Are appropriate sources available? Is there a variety of sources available so that the bibliography or works cited page will reflect different kinds of sources? Which sources are too broad for my thesis? Which resources are too narrow? Who is the author of the secondary source? Does the critic's background suggest that he/she is qualified? After crafting a thesis, consider one of the following two approaches to writing a research paper: Excited about your thesis and eager to begin? Return to the primary or secondary source to find support for your thesis. Organize ideas and begin writing your first draft. After writing the first draft, have it reviewed by your peers and your instructor. Ponder their suggestions and return to the sources to answer still-open questions. Document facts and opinions from secondary sources. Remember, secondary sources can never substitute for primary sources. Confused about where to start? Use your thesis to guide you to primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources can help you clarify your position and find a direction for your paper. Keep a working bibliography. You may not use all the sources you record, but you cannot be sure which ones you will eventually discard. Create a working outline as you research. This outline will, of course, change as you delve more deeply into your subject. A Variety of Information Sources Back to Top "A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension." --Oliver Wendell Holmes Your thesis and your working outline are the primary compasses that will help you navigate the variety of sources available. In "Introduction to the Library" (5-6) the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers suggests you become familiar with the library you will be using by: taking a tour or enrolling for a brief introductory lecture referring to the library's publications describing its resources introducing yourself and your project to the reference librarian The MLA Handbook also lists guides for the use of libraries (5), including: Jean Key Gates, Guide to the Use of Libraries and Information Sources (7th ed., New York: McGraw, 1994). Thomas Mann, A Guide to Library Research Methods (New York: Oxford UP, 1987). Online Central Catalog Most libraries have their holdings listed on a computer. The online catalog may offer Internet sites, Web pages and databases that relate to the university's curriculum. It may also include academic journals and online reference books. Below are three search techniques commonly used online: Index Search: Although online catalogs may differ slightly from library to library, the most common listings are by: Subject Search: Enter the author's name for books and article written about the author. Author Search: Enter an author's name for works written by the author, including collections of essays the author may have written about his/her own works. Title Search: Enter a title for the screen to list all the books the library carries with that title. Key Word Search/Full-text Search: A one-word search, e.g., 'Kennedy,' will produce an overwhelming number of sources, as it will call up any entry that includes the name 'Kennedy.' To focus more narrowly on your subject, add one or more key words, e.g., "John Kennedy, Peace Corps." Use precise key words. Boolean Search: Boolean Search techniques use words such as "and," "or," and "not," which clarify the relationship between key words, thus narrowing the search. Take Efficient Notes Back to Top Keeping complete and accurate bibliography and note cards during the research process is a time (and sanity) saving practice. If you have ever needed a book or pages within a book, only to discover that an earlier researcher has failed to return it or torn pages from your source, you understand the need to take good notes. Every researcher has a favorite method for taking notes. Here are some suggestions-- customize one of them for your own use. Bibliography cards There may be far more books and articles listed than you have time to read, so be selective when choosing a reference. Take information from works that clearly relate to your thesis, remembering that you may not use them all. Use a smaller or a different color card from the one used for taking notes. Write a bibliography card for every source. Number the bibliography cards. On the note cards, use the number rather than the author's name and the title. It's faster. Another method for recording a working bibliography, of course, is to create your own database. Adding, removing, and alphabetizing titles is a simple process. Be sure to save often and to create a back-up file. A bibliography card should include all the information a reader needs to locate that particular source for further study. Most of the information required for a book entry (Gibaldi 112): Author's name Title of a part of the book [preface, chapter titles, etc.] Title of the book Name of the editor, translator, or compiler Edition used Number(s) of the volume(s) used Name of the series Place of publication, name of the publisher, and date of publication Page numbers Supplementary bibliographic information and annotations Most of the information required for an article in a periodical (Gibaldi 141): Author's name Title of the article Name of the periodical Series number or name (if relevant) Volume number (for a scholarly journal) Issue number (if needed) Date of publication Page numbers Supplementary information For information on how to cite other sources refer to your So you want to study history page . Note Cards Back to Top Take notes in ink on either uniform note cards (3x5, 4x6, etc.) or uniform slips of paper. Devote each note card to a single topic identified at the top. Write only on one side. Later, you may want to use the back to add notes or personal observations. Include a topical heading for each card. Include the number of the page(s) where you found the information. You will want the page number(s) later for documentation, and you may also want page number(s)to verify your notes. Most novice researchers write down too much. Condense. Abbreviate. You are striving for substance, not quantity. Quote directly from primary sources--but the "meat," not everything. Suggestions for condensing information: Summary: A summary is intended to provide the gist of an essay. Do not weave in the author's choice phrases. Read the information first and then condense the main points in your own words. This practice will help you avoid the copying that leads to plagiarism. Summarizing also helps you both analyze the text you are reading and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses (Barnet and Bedau 13). Outline: Use to identify a series of points. Paraphrase, except for key primary source quotations. Never quote directly from a secondary source, unless the precise wording is essential to your argument. Simplify the language and list the ideas in the same order. A paraphrase is as long as the original. Paraphrasing is helpful when you are struggling with a particularly difficult passage. Be sure to jot down your own insights or flashes of brilliance. Ralph Waldo Emerson warns you to "Look sharply after your thoughts. They come unlooked for, like a new bird seen on your trees, and, if you turn to your usual task, disappear...." To differentiate these insights from those of the source you are reading, initial them as your own. (When the following examples of note cards include the researcher's insights, they will be followed by the initials N. R.) When you have finished researching your thesis and you are ready to write your paper, organize your cards according to topic. Notecards make it easy to shuffle and organize your source information on a table-- or across the floor. Maintain your working outline that includes the note card headings and explores a logical order for presenting them in your paper. IV. Begin Thinking, Researching, Organizing Back to Top Don't be too sequential. Researching, writing, revising is a complex interactive process. Start writing as soon as possible! "The best antidote to writer's block is--to write." (Klauser 15). However, you still feel overwhelmed and are staring at a blank page, you are not alone. Many students find writing the first sentence to be the most daunting part of the entire research process. Be creative. Cluster (Rico 28-49). Clustering is a form of brainstorming. Sometimes called a web, the cluster forms a design that may suggest a natural organization for a paper. Here's a graphical depiction of brainstorming . Like a sun, the generating idea or topic lies at the center of the web. From it radiate words, phrases, sentences and images that in turn attract other words, phrases, sentences and images. Put another way--stay focused. Start with your outline. If clustering is not a technique that works for you, turn to the working outline you created during the research process. Use the outline view of your word processor. If you have not already done so, group your note cards according to topic headings. Compare them to your outline's major points. If necessary, change the outline to correspond with the headings on the note cards. If any area seems weak because of a scarcity of facts or opinions, return to your primary and/or secondary sources for more information or consider deleting that heading. Use your outline to provide balance in your essay. Each major topic should have approximately the same amount of information. Once you have written a working outline, consider two different methods for organizing it. Deduction: A process of development that moves from the general to the specific. You may use this approach to present your findings. However, as noted above, your research and interpretive process should be inductive. Deduction is the most commonly used form of organization for a research paper. The thesis statement is the generalization that leads to the specific support provided by primary and secondary sources. The thesis is stated early in the paper. The body of the paper then proceeds to provide the facts, examples, and analogies that flow logically from that thesis. The thesis contains key words that are reflected in the outline. These key words become a unifying element throughout the paper, as they reappear in the detailed paragraphs that support and develop the thesis. The conclusion of the paper circles back to the thesis, which is now far more meaningful because of the deductive development that supports it. Chronological order A process that follows a traditional time line or sequence of events. A chronological organization is useful for a paper that explores cause and effect. Parenthetical Documentation Back to Top The Works Cited page, a list of primary and secondary sources, is not sufficient documentation to acknowledge the ideas, facts, and opinions you have included within your text. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers describes an efficient parenthetical style of documentation to be used within the body of your paper. Guidelines for parenthetical documentation: "References to the text must clearly point to specific sources in the list of works cited" (Gibaldi 184). Try to use parenthetical documentation as little as possible. For example, when you cite an entire work, it is preferable to include the author's name in the text. The author's last name followed by the page number is usually enough for an accurate identification of the source in the works cited list. These examples illustrate the most common kinds of documentation. Documenting a quotation: Ex. "The separation from the personal mother is a particularly intense process for a daughter because she has to separate from the one who is the same as herself" (Murdock 17). She may feel abandoned and angry. Note: The author of The Heroine's Journey is listed under Works Cited by the author's name, reversed--Murdock, Maureen. Quoted material is found on page 17 of that book. Parenthetical documentation is after the quotation mark and before the period. Documenting a paraphrase: Ex. In fairy tales a woman who holds the princess captive or who abandons her often needs to be killed (18). Note: The second paraphrase is also from Murdock's book The Heroine's Journey. It is not, however, necessary to repeat the author's name if no other documentation interrupts the two. If the works cited page lists more than one work by the same author, include within the parentheses an abbreviated form of the appropriate title. You may, of course, include the title in your sentence, making it unnecessary to add an abbreviated title in the citation. > Prepare a Works Cited Page Back to Top There are a variety of titles for the page that lists primary and secondary sources (Gibaldi 106-107). A Works Cited page lists those works you have cited within the body of your paper. The reader need only refer to it for the necessary information required for further independent research. Bibliography means literally a description of books. Because your research may involve the use of periodicals, films, art works, photographs, etc. "Works Cited" is a more precise descriptive term than bibliography. An Annotated Bibliography or Annotated Works Cited page offers brief critiques and descriptions of the works listed. A Works Consulted page lists those works you have used but not cited. Avoid using this format. As with other elements of a research paper there are specific guidelines for the placement and the appearance of the Works Cited page. The following guidelines comply with MLA style: The Work Cited page is placed at the end of your paper and numbered consecutively with the body of your paper. Center the title and place it one inch from the top of your page. Do not quote or underline the title. Double space the entire page, both within and between entries. The entries are arranged alphabetically by the author's last name or by the title of the article or book being cited. If the title begins with an article (a, an, the) alphabetize by the next word. If you cite two or more works by the same author, list the titles in alphabetical order. Begin every entry after the first with three hyphens followed by a period. All entries begin at the left margin but subsequent lines are indented five spaces. Be sure that each entry cited on the Works Cited page corresponds to a specific citation within your paper. Refer to the the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (104- 182) for detailed descriptions of Work Cited entries. Citing sources from online databases is a relatively new phenomenon. Make sure to ask your professor about citing these sources and which style to use. V. Draft, Revise, Rewrite, Rethink Back to Top "There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed." --John Kenneth Galbraith Try freewriting your first draft. Freewriting is a discovery process during which the writer freely explores a topic. Let your creative juices flow. In Writing without Teachers , Peter Elbow asserts that "[a]lmost everybody interposes a massive and complicated series of editings between the time words start to be born into consciousness and when they finally come off the end of the pencil or typewriter [or word processor] onto the page" (5). Do not let your internal judge interfere with this first draft. Creating and revising are two very different functions. Don't confuse them! If you stop to check spelling, punctuation, or grammar, you disrupt the flow of creative energy. Create; then fix it later. When material you have researched comes easily to mind, include it. Add a quick citation, one you can come back to later to check for form, and get on with your discovery. In subsequent drafts, focus on creating an essay that flows smoothly, supports fully, and speaks clearly and interestingly. Add style to substance. Create a smooth flow of words, ideas and paragraphs. Rearrange paragraphs for a logical progression of information. Transition is essential if you want your reader to follow you smoothly from introduction to conclusion. Transitional words and phrases stitch your ideas together; they provide coherence within the essay. External transition: Words and phrases that are added to a sentence as overt signs of transition are obvious and effective, but should not be overused, as they may draw attention to themselves and away from ideas. Examples of external transition are "however," "then," "next," "therefore." "first," "moreover," and "on the other hand." Internal transition is more subtle. Key words in the introduction become golden threads when they appear in the paper's body and conclusion. When the writer hears a key word repeated too often, however, she/he replaces it with a synonym or a pronoun. Below are examples of internal transition. Transitional sentences create a logical flow from paragraph to paragraph. Iclude individual words, phrases, or clauses that refer to previous ideas and that point ahead to new ones. They are usually placed at the end or at the beginning of a paragraph. A transitional paragraph conducts your reader from one part of the paper to another. It may be only a few sentences long. Each paragraph of the body of the paper should contain adequate support for its one governing idea. Speak/write clearly, in your own voice. Tone: The paper's tone, whether formal, ironic, or humorous, should be appropriate for the audience and the subject. Voice: Keep you language honest. Your paper should sound like you. Understand, paraphrase, absorb, and express in your own words the information you have researched. Avoid phony language. Sentence formation: When you polish your sentences, read them aloud for word choice and word placement. Be concise. Strunk and White in The Elements of Style advise the writer to "omit needless words" (23). First, however, you must recognize them. Keep yourself and your reader interested. In fact, Strunk's 1918 writing advice is still well worth pondering. First, deliver on your promises. Be sure the body of your paper fulfills the promise of the introduction. Avoid the obvious. Offer new insights. Reveal the unexpected. Have you crafted your conclusion as carefully as you have your introduction? Conclusions are not merely the repetition of your thesis. The conclusion of a research paper is a synthesis of the information presented in the body. Your research has led you to conclusions and opinions that have helped you understand your thesis more deeply and more clearly. Lift your reader to the full level of understanding that you have achieved. Revision means "to look again." Find a peer reader to read your paper with you present. Or, visit your college or university's writing lab. Guide your reader's responses by asking specific questions. Are you unsure of the logical order of your paragraphs? Do you want to know whether you have supported all opinions adequately? Are you concerned about punctuation or grammar? Ask that these issues be addressed. You are in charge. Here are some techniques that may prove helpful when you are revising alone or with a reader. When you edit for spelling errors read the sentences backwards. This procedure will help you look closely at individual words. Always read your paper aloud. Hearing your own words puts them in a new light. Listen to the flow of ideas and of language. Decide whether or not the voice sounds honest and the tone is appropriate to the purpose of the paper and to your audience. Listen for awkward or lumpy wording. Find the one right word, Eliminate needless words. Combine sentences. Kill the passive voice. Eliminate was/were/is/are constructions. They're lame and anti-historical. Be ruthless. If an idea doesn't serve your thesis, banish it, even if it's one of your favorite bits of prose. In the margins, write the major topic of each paragraph. By outlining after you have written the paper, you are once again evaluating your paper's organization. OK, you've got the process down. Now execute! And enjoy! It's not everyday that you get to make history. VI. For Further Reading: Works Cited Back to Top Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Bedau. Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing: A Brief Guide to Argument. Boston: Bedford, 1993. Brent, Doug. Reading as Rhetorical Invention: Knowledge,Persuasion and the Teaching of Research-Based Writing. Urbana: NCTE, 1992. Elbow, Peter. Writing without Teachers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Gibladi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 4th ed. New York: Modern Language Association, 1995. Horvitz, Deborah. "Nameless Ghosts: Possession and Dispossession in Beloved." Studies in American Fiction , Vol. 17, No. 2, Autum, 1989, pp. 157-167. Republished in the Literature Research Center. Gale Group. (1 January 1999). Klauser, Henriette Anne. Writing on Both Sides of the Brain: Breakthrough Techniques for People Who Write. Philadelphia: Harper, 1986. Rico, Gabriele Lusser. Writing the Natural Way: Using Right Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers. Los Angeles: Houghton, 1983. Sorenson, Sharon. The Research Paper: A Contemporary Approach. New York: AMSCO, 1994. Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 3rd ed. New York: MacMillan, 1979. Back to Top This guide adapted from materials published by Thomson Gale, publishers. For free resources, including a generic guide to writing term papers, see the Gale.com website , which also includes product information for schools.

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historical research paper

A history paper--just like a paper in any specific academic discipline--has its own unique traits and guidelines.  Several different types of papers may be assigned in a history course, including book reviews, primary source analyses, synthesis essays and research papers.  Research papers allow you to do the exciting work of historians, studying material from the past and making your own original argument.  The following list outlines the key components of a research paper in the field of history.

1.  A history research paper is guided by a historical question.

Asking an interesting question is the key to writing a successful paper.  Your paper is not so much about a historical topic.  Think of your paper as starting off with a problem that you will then address in subsequent pages, aided by the historical evidence available to you.

2.  A history research paper makes a historical argument.

Your paper must take a position on the problem you have posed.  You are not simply making observations about the material you have read:  you are using your observations to craft an argument that teaches us something new about the past.  The argument you make might revise a claim made by other scholars, might illustrate a completely new way of looking at a topic, or might reveal a point that scholars have missed in previous research.

3.  A history research paper is grounded in evidence from primary sources.

Unlike research papers in other disciplines, a history paper relies on primary source material, meaning materials that were produced during the period your paper addresses.  They might be letters, diaries, census data, maps, speeches, treaties--any raw material from a historical moment.  Primary sources are the key pieces of evidence you will use to support your argument.

4.  A history research paper puts itself in conversation with existing scholarship.

You need to show how your paper connects to what other scholars have said about your topic.  To do this, you will draw from secondary sources, meaning sources that professional historians have written based on their own studies of primary source material.  Your paper will address the main claims made by other scholars, and will show how the argument you are making supports, refutes, or complicates the conversations among scholars.

5.  A history research paper makes an original contribution to historical knowledge.

Because a history research paper is based on your own analysis of primary and secondary source material, you will be making a new contribution to our understanding of the past.  Making an original argument relies on three key ingredients: first, asking a historical question about which you are genuinely interested; two, reading primary sources in new and creative ways;  and three, thinking about questions that the existing scholarship on your topic leaves unanswered.  Your research paper should offer a fresh and insightful way to think about a historical problem.

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This guide is an introduction to selected resources available for historical research.  It covers both primary sources (such as diaries, letters, newspaper articles, photographs, government documents and first-hand accounts) and secondary materials (such as books and articles written by historians and devoted to the analysis and interpretation of historical events and evidence).

"Research in history involves developing an understanding of the past through the examination and interpretation of evidence. Evidence may exist in the form of texts, physical remains of historic sites, recorded data, pictures, maps, artifacts, and so on. The historian’s job is to find evidence, analyze its content and biases, corroborate it with further evidence, and use that evidence to develop an interpretation of past events that holds some significance for the present.

Historians use libraries to

  • locate primary sources (first-hand information such as diaries, letters, and original documents) for evidence
  • find secondary sources (historians’ interpretations and analyses of historical evidence)
  • verify factual material as inconsistencies arise"

( Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age, Fifth Edition, by Diana Hacker and Barbara Fister, Bedford/St. Martin, 2010)

This guide is meant to help you work through these steps.

Other helpful guides

This is a list of other historical research guides you may find helpful:

  • Learning Historical Research Learning to Do Historical Research: A Primer for Environmental Historians and Others by William Cronon and his students, University of Wisconsin A website designed as a basic introduction to historical research for anyone and everyone who is interested in exploring the past.
  • Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students by Patrick Rael, Bowdoin College Guide to all aspects of historical scholarship—from reading a history book to doing primary source research to writing a history paper.
  • Writing Historical Essays: A Guide for Undergraduates Rutgers History Department guide to writing historical essays
  • History Study Guides History study guides created by the Carleton College History Department

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  • URL: https://researchguides.library.wisc.edu/introhist

historical research paper

Princeton Correspondents on Undergraduate Research

How to Write a History Research Paper

historical research paper

In my last post, I shared some tips on how to conduct research in history and emphasized that researchers should keep in mind a source’s category (transcript, court document, speech, etc.). This post is something of a sequel to that, as I will share some thoughts on what often follows primary-source research: a history research paper. 

1. Background Reading   The first step to a history research paper is of course, background reading and research. In the context of a class assignment, “background reading” might simply be course readings or lectures, but for independent work, this step will likely involve some quality time on your own in the library. During the background reading phase of your project, keep an eye out for intriguing angles to approach your topic from and any trends that you see across sources (both primary and secondary).

2. T hemes and Context Recounting the simple facts about your topic alone will not make for a successful research paper. One must grasp both the details of events as well as the larger, thematic context of the time period in which they occurred. What’s the scholarly consensus about these themes? Does that consensus seem right to you, after having done primary and secondary research of your own?

3. Develop an Argument  Grappling with answers to the above questions will get you thinking about your emerging argument. For shorter papers, you might identify a gap in the scholarship or come up with an argumentative response to a class prompt rather quickly. Remember: as an undergraduate, you don’t have to come up with (to borrow Philosophy Professor Gideon Rosen’s phrase) ‘a blindingly original theory of everything.’ In other words, finding a nuanced thesis does not mean you have to disprove some famous scholar’s work in its entirety. But, if you’re having trouble defining your thesis, I encourage you not to worry; talk to your professor, preceptor, or, if appropriate, a friend. These people can listen to your ideas, and the simple act of talking about your paper can often go a long way in helping you realize what you want to write about.

4. Outline Your Argument  With a history paper specifically, one is often writing about a sequence of events and trying to tell a story about what happened. Roughly speaking, your thesis is your interpretation of these events, or your take on some aspect of them (i.e. the role of women in New Deal programs). Before opening up Word, I suggest writing down the stages of your argument. Then, outline or organize your notes to know what evidence you’ll use in each of these various stages. If you think your evidence is solid, then you’re probably ready to start writing—and you now have a solid roadmap to work from! But, if this step is proving difficult, you might want to gather more evidence or go back to the thesis drawing board and look for a better angle. I often find myself somewhere between these two extremes (being 100% ready to write or staring at a sparse outline), but that’s also helpful, because it gives me a better idea of where my argument needs strengthening.

5. Prepare Yourself   Once you have some sort of direction for the paper (i.e. a working thesis), you’re getting close to the fun part—the writing itself. Gather your laptop, your research materials/notes, and some snacks, and get ready to settle in to write your paper, following your argument outline. As mentioned in the photo caption, I suggest utilizing large library tables to spread out your notes. This way, you don’t have to constantly flip through binders, notebooks, and printed drafts.

In addition to this step by step approach, I’ll leave you with a few last general tips for approaching a history research paper. Overall, set reasonable goals for your project, and remember that a seemingly daunting task can be broken down into the above constituent phases. And, if nothing else, know that you’ll end up with a nice Word document full of aesthetically pleasing footnotes!

— Shanon FitzGerald, Social Sciences Correspondent

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historical research paper

Writing a Good History Paper

  • Top Ten Reasons for Negative Comments
  • Making Sure your Paper has Substance

Common Marginal Remarks on Style, Clarity, Grammar, and Syntax

Word and phrase usage problems, analyzing a historical document, writing a book review, writing a term paper or senior thesis, top ten reasons for negative comments on history papers.

(Drawn from a survey of the History Department ) 10. You engage in cheap, anachronistic moralizing .  9. You are sloppy with the chronology .  8. You quote excessively or improperly .  7. You have written a careless “one-draft wonder.” (See revise and proofread)  6. You are vague or have empty, unsupported generalizations .  5. You write too much in the passive voice.  4. You use inappropriate sources .  3. You use evidence uncritically.  2. You are wordy .  1. You have no clear thesis and little analysis.

Making Sure your History Paper has Substance

Get off to a good start..

Avoid pretentious, vapid beginnings. If you are writing a paper on, say, British responses to the rebellion in India in 1857, don't open with a statement like this: “Throughout human history people in all cultures everywhere in the world have engaged in many and long-running conflicts about numerous aspects of government policy and diplomatic issues, which have much interested historians and generated historical theories in many areas.” This is pure garbage, bores the reader, and is a sure sign that you have nothing substantive to say. Get to the point. Here’s a better start: “The rebellion in 1857 compelled the British to rethink their colonial administration in India.” This sentence tells the reader what your paper is actually about and clears the way for you to state your thesis in the rest of the opening paragraph. For example, you might go on to argue that greater British sensitivity to Indian customs was hypocritical.

State a clear thesis.

Whether you are writing an exam essay or a senior thesis, you need to have a thesis. Don’t just repeat the assignment or start writing down everything that you know about the subject. Ask yourself, “What exactly am I trying to prove?” Your thesis is your take on the subject, your perspective, your explanation—that is, the case that you’re going to argue. “Famine struck Ireland in the 1840s” is a true statement, but it is not a thesis. “The English were responsible for famine in Ireland in the 1840s” is a thesis (whether defensible or not is another matter). A good thesis answers an important research question about how or why something happened. (“Who was responsible for the famine in Ireland in the 1840s?”) Once you have laid out your thesis, don’t forget about it. Develop your thesis logically from paragraph to paragraph. Your reader should always know where your argument has come from, where it is now, and where it is going.

Be sure to analyze.

Students are often puzzled when their professors mark them down for summarizing or merely narrating rather than analyzing. What does it mean to analyze? In the narrow sense, to analyze means to break down into parts and to study the interrelationships of those parts. If you analyze water, you break it down into hydrogen and oxygen. In a broader sense, historical analysis explains the origins and significance of events. Historical analysis digs beneath the surface to see relationships or distinctions that are not immediately obvious. Historical analysis is critical; it evaluates sources, assigns significance to causes, and weighs competing explanations. Don’t push the distinction too far, but you might think of summary and analysis this way: Who, what, when, and where are the stuff of summary; how, why, and to what effect are the stuff of analysis. Many students think that they have to give a long summary (to show the professor that they know the facts) before they get to their analysis. Try instead to begin your analysis as soon as possible, sometimes without any summary at all. The facts will “shine through” a good analysis. You can't do an analysis unless you know the facts, but you can summarize the facts without being able to do an analysis. Summary is easier and less sophisticated than analysis—that’s why summary alone never earns an “A.”

Use evidence critically.

Like good detectives, historians are critical of their sources and cross-check them for reliability. You wouldn't think much of a detective who relied solely on a suspect’s archenemy to check an alibi. Likewise, you wouldn't think much of a historian who relied solely on the French to explain the origins of World War I. Consider the following two statements on the origin of World War I: 1) “For the catastrophe of 1914 the Germans are responsible. Only a professional liar would deny this...” 2) “It is not true that Germany is guilty of having caused this war. Neither the people, the government, nor the Kaiser wanted war....”  They can’t both be right, so you have to do some detective work. As always, the best approach is to ask: Who wrote the source? Why? When? Under what circumstances? For whom? The first statement comes from a book by the French politician Georges Clemenceau, which he wrote in 1929 at the very end of his life. In 1871, Clemenceau had vowed revenge against Germany for its defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War. As premier of France from 1917 to 1920, he represented France at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. He was obviously not a disinterested observer. The second statement comes from a manifesto published by ninety-three prominent German intellectuals in the fall of 1914. They were defending Germany against charges of aggression and brutality. They too were obviously not disinterested observers. Now, rarely do you encounter such extreme bias and passionate disagreement, but the principle of criticizing and cross-checking sources always applies. In general, the more sources you can use, and the more varied they are, the more likely you are to make a sound historical judgment, especially when passions and self-interests are engaged. You don’t need to be cynical as a historian (self-interest does not explain everything), but you do need to be critical and skeptical. Competent historians may offer different interpretations of the same evidence or choose to stress different evidence. You will not find a single historical Truth with a capital “T” on any matter of significance. You can, however, learn to discriminate among conflicting interpretations, not all of which are created equal. (See also: Analyzing a Historical Document )

Be precise.

Vague statements and empty generalizations suggest that you haven't put in the time to learn the material. Consider these two sentences: “During the French Revolution, the government was overthrown by the people. The Revolution is important because it shows that people need freedom.” What people? Landless peasants? Urban journeymen? Wealthy lawyers? Which government? When? How? Who exactly needed freedom, and what did they mean by freedom? Here is a more precise statement about the French Revolution: “Threatened by rising prices and food shortages in 1793, the Parisian sans-culottes pressured the Convention to institute price controls.” This statement is more limited than the grandiose generalizations about the Revolution, but unlike them, it can open the door to a real analysis of the Revolution. Be careful when you use grand abstractions like people, society, freedom, and government, especially when you further distance yourself from the concrete by using these words as the apparent antecedents for the pronouns they and it. Always pay attention to cause and effect. Abstractions do not cause or need anything; particular people or particular groups of people cause or need things. Avoid grandiose trans-historical generalizations that you can’t support. When in doubt about the appropriate level of precision or detail, err on the side of adding “too much” precision and detail.

Watch the chronology.

Anchor your thesis in a clear chronological framework and don't jump around confusingly. Take care to avoid both anachronisms and vagueness about dates. If you write, “Napoleon abandoned his Grand Army in Russia and caught the redeye back to Paris,” the problem is obvious. If you write, “Despite the Watergate scandal, Nixon easily won reelection in 1972,” the problem is more subtle, but still serious. (The scandal did not become public until after the election.) If you write, “The revolution in China finally succeeded in the twentieth century,” your professor may suspect that you haven’t studied. Which revolution? When in the twentieth century? Remember that chronology is the backbone of history. What would you think of a biographer who wrote that you graduated from Hamilton in the 1950s?

Cite sources carefully.

Your professor may allow parenthetical citations in a short paper with one or two sources, but you should use footnotes for any research paper in history. Parenthetical citations are unaesthetic; they scar the text and break the flow of reading. Worse still, they are simply inadequate to capture the richness of historical sources. Historians take justifiable pride in the immense variety of their sources. Parenthetical citations such as (Jones 1994) may be fine for most of the social sciences and humanities, where the source base is usually limited to recent books and articles in English. Historians, however, need the flexibility of the full footnote. Try to imagine this typical footnote (pulled at random from a classic work of German history) squeezed into parentheses in the body of the text: DZA Potsdam, RdI, Frieden 5, Erzgebiet von Longwy-Briey, Bd. I, Nr. 19305, gedruckte Denkschrift für OHL und Reichsleitung, Dezember 1917, und in RWA, Frieden Frankreich Nr. 1883. The abbreviations are already in this footnote; its information cannot be further reduced. For footnotes and bibliography, historians usually use Chicago style. (The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.) On the Writing Center’s website you can find a useful summary of Chicago citation style prepared by a former history major, Elizabeth Rabe ’04 ( Footnotes ). RefWorks (on the library’s website) will convert your citations to Chicago style. Don’t hesitate to ask one of the reference librarians for help if you have trouble getting started on RefWorks.

Use primary sources.

Use as many primary sources as possible in your paper. A primary source is one produced by a participant in or witness of the events you are writing about. A primary source allows the historian to see the past through the eyes of direct participants. Some common primary sources are letters, diaries, memoirs, speeches, church records, newspaper articles, and government documents of all kinds. The capacious genre “government records” is probably the single richest trove for the historian and includes everything from criminal court records, to tax lists, to census data, to parliamentary debates, to international treaties—indeed, any records generated by governments. If you’re writing about culture, primary sources may include works of art or literature, as well as philosophical tracts or scientific treatises—anything that comes under the broad rubric of culture. Not all primary sources are written. Buildings, monuments, clothes, home furnishings, photographs, religious relics, musical recordings, or oral reminiscences can all be primary sources if you use them as historical clues. The interests of historians are so broad that virtually anything can be a primary source. (See also: Analyzing a Historical Document )

Use scholarly secondary sources.

A secondary source is one written by a later historian who had no part in what he or she is writing about. (In the rare cases when the historian was a participant in the events, then the work—or at least part of it—is a primary source.) Historians read secondary sources to learn about how scholars have interpreted the past. Just as you must be critical of primary sources, so too you must be critical of secondary sources. You must be especially careful to distinguish between scholarly and non-scholarly secondary sources. Unlike, say, nuclear physics, history attracts many amateurs. Books and articles about war, great individuals, and everyday material life dominate popular history. Some professional historians disparage popular history and may even discourage their colleagues from trying their hand at it. You need not share their snobbishness; some popular history is excellent. But—and this is a big but—as a rule, you should avoid popular works in your research, because they are usually not scholarly. Popular history seeks to inform and entertain a large general audience. In popular history, dramatic storytelling often prevails over analysis, style over substance, simplicity over complexity, and grand generalization over careful qualification. Popular history is usually based largely or exclusively on secondary sources. Strictly speaking, most popular histories might better be called tertiary, not secondary, sources. Scholarly history, in contrast, seeks to discover new knowledge or to reinterpret existing knowledge. Good scholars wish to write clearly and simply, and they may spin a compelling yarn, but they do not shun depth, analysis, complexity, or qualification. Scholarly history draws on as many primary sources as practical. Now, your goal as a student is to come as close as possible to the scholarly ideal, so you need to develop a nose for distinguishing the scholarly from the non-scholarly. Here are a few questions you might ask of your secondary sources (bear in mind that the popular/scholarly distinction is not absolute, and that some scholarly work may be poor scholarship). Who is the author? Most scholarly works are written by professional historians (usually professors) who have advanced training in the area they are writing about. If the author is a journalist or someone with no special historical training, be careful. Who publishes the work? Scholarly books come from university presses and from a handful of commercial presses (for example, Norton, Routledge, Palgrave, Penguin, Rowman & Littlefield, Knopf, and HarperCollins). If it’s an article, where does it appear? Is it in a journal subscribed to by our library, listed on JSTOR , or published by a university press? Is the editorial board staffed by professors? Oddly enough, the word journal in the title is usually a sign that the periodical is scholarly. What do the notes and bibliography look like? If they are thin or nonexistent, be careful. If they are all secondary sources, be careful. If the work is about a non-English-speaking area, and all the sources are in English, then it's almost by definition not scholarly. Can you find reviews of the book in the data base Academic Search Premier? If the book was published within the last few decades, and it’s not in there, that’s a bad sign. With a little practice, you can develop confidence in your judgment—and you’re on your way to being a historian. If you are unsure whether a work qualifies as scholarly, ask your professor. (See also: Writing a Book Review )

Avoid abusing your sources.

Many potentially valuable sources are easy to abuse. Be especially alert for these five abuses: Web abuse. The Web is a wonderful and improving resource for indexes and catalogs. But as a source for primary and secondary material for the historian, the Web is of limited value. Anyone with the right software can post something on the Web without having to get past trained editors, peer reviewers, or librarians. As a result, there is a great deal of garbage on the Web. If you use a primary source from the Web, make sure that a respected intellectual institution stands behind the site. Be especially wary of secondary articles on the Web, unless they appear in electronic versions of established print journals (e.g., The Journal of Asian Studies in JSTOR). Many articles on the Web are little more than third-rate encyclopedia entries. When in doubt, check with your professor. With a few rare exceptions, you will not find scholarly monographs in history (even recent ones) on the Web. You may have heard of Google’s plans to digitize the entire collections of some of the world’s major libraries and to make those collections available on the Web. Don’t hold your breath. Your days at Hamilton will be long over by the time the project is finished. Besides, your training as a historian should give you a healthy skepticism of the giddy claims of technophiles. Most of the time and effort of doing history goes into reading, note-taking, pondering, and writing. Finding a chapter of a book on the Web (as opposed to getting the physical book through interlibrary loan) might be a convenience, but it doesn’t change the basics for the historian. Moreover, there is a subtle, but serious, drawback with digitized old books: They break the historian’s sensual link to the past. And of course, virtually none of the literally trillions of pages of archival material is available on the Web. For the foreseeable future, the library and the archive will remain the natural habitats of the historian. Thesaurus abuse. How tempting it is to ask your computer’s thesaurus to suggest a more erudite-sounding word for the common one that popped into your mind! Resist the temptation. Consider this example (admittedly, a bit heavy-handed, but it drives the point home): You’re writing about the EPA’s programs to clean up impure water supplies. Impure seems too simple and boring a word, so you bring up your thesaurus, which offers you everything from incontinent to meretricious. “How about meretricious water?” you think to yourself. “That will impress the professor.” The problem is that you don’t know exactly what meretricious means, so you don’t realize that meretricious is absurdly inappropriate in this context and makes you look foolish and immature. Use only those words that come to you naturally. Don’t try to write beyond your vocabulary. Don’t try to impress with big words. Use a thesaurus only for those annoying tip-of-the-tongue problems (you know the word and will recognize it instantly when you see it, but at the moment you just can’t think of it).  Quotation book abuse. This is similar to thesaurus abuse. Let’s say you are writing a paper on Alexander Hamilton’s banking policies, and you want to get off to a snappy start that will make you seem effortlessly learned. How about a quotation on money? You click on the index of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations , and before you know it, you’ve begun your paper with, “As Samuel Butler wrote in Hudibras ,  ‘For what is worth in anything/ But so much money as ’t will bring?’” Face it, you’re faking it. You don’t know who Samuel Butler is, and you’ve certainly never heard of Hudibras , let alone read it. Your professor is not fooled. You sound like an insecure after-dinner speaker. Forget Bartlett’s, unless you're confirming the wording of a quotation that came to you spontaneously and relates to your paper.  Encyclopedia abuse. General encyclopedias like Britannica are useful for checking facts (“Wait a sec, am I right about which countries sent troops to crush the Boxer Rebellion in China? Better check.”). But if you are footnoting encyclopedias in your papers, you are not doing college-level research.

Dictionary Abuse. The dictionary is your friend. Keep it by your side as you write, but do not abuse it by starting papers with a definition. You may be most tempted to start this way when you are writing on a complex, controversial, or elusive subject. (“According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary , liberalism is defined as...”). Actually, the dictionary does you little good in such cases and makes you sound like a conscientious but dull high-school student. Save in the rare case that competing dictionary definitions are the subject at hand, keep dictionary quotations out of your paper.

Quote sparingly

Avoid quoting a secondary source and then simply rewording or summarizing the quotation, either above or below the quotation. It is rarely necessary to quote secondary sources at length, unless your essay focuses on a critical analysis of the author’s argument. (See also: Writing a Book Review ) Your professor wants to see your ability to analyze and to understand the secondary sources. Do not quote unless the quotation clarifies or enriches your analysis. When in doubt, do not quote; instead, integrate the author’s argument into your own (though be sure to acknowledge ideas from your sources, even when you are paraphrasing). If you use a lot of quotations from secondary sources, you are probably writing a poor paper. An analysis of a primary source, such as a political tract or philosophical essay, might require lengthy quotations, often in block format. In such cases, you might need to briefly repeat key points or passages as a means to introduce the author’s ideas, but your analysis and interpretation of the text’s meaning should remain the most important aim. (See also: Using primary sources and Use scholarly secondary sources .)

Know your audience

Unless instructed otherwise, you should assume that your audience consists of educated, intelligent, nonspecialists. In fact, your professor will usually be your only reader, but if you write directly to your professor, you may become cryptic or sloppy (oh well, she’ll know what I’m talking about). Explaining your ideas to someone who doesn't know what you mean forces you to be clear and complete. Now, finding the right amount of detail can, admittedly, be tricky (how much do I put in about the Edict of Nantes, the Embargo Act, or President Wilson’s background?). When in doubt, err on the side of putting in extra details. You’ll get some leeway here if you avoid the extremes (my reader’s an ignoramus/my reader knows everything).

Avoid cheap, anachronistic moralizing

Many of the people and institutions of the past appear unenlightened, ignorant, misguided, or bigoted by today’s values. Resist the temptation to condemn or to get self-righteous. (“Martin Luther was blind to the sexism and class prejudice of sixteenth-century German society.”) Like you, people in the past were creatures of their time; like you, they deserve to be judged by the standards of their time. If you judge the past by today’s standards (an error historians call “presentism”), you will never understand why people thought or acted as they did. Yes, Hitler was a bad guy, but he was bad not only by today’s standards, but also by the commonly accepted standards of his own time. Someday you’re going to look pretty foolish and ignorant yourself. (“Early twenty-first century Hamilton students failed to see the shocking inderdosherism [that’s right, you don’t recognize the concept because it doesn’t yet exist] implicit in their career plans.”)

Have a strong conclusion

Obviously, you should not just stop abruptly as though you have run out of time or ideas. Your conclusion should conclude something. If you merely restate briefly what you have said in your paper, you give the impression that you are unsure of the significance of what you have written. A weak conclusion leaves the reader unsatisfied and bewildered, wondering why your paper was worth reading. A strong conclusion adds something to what you said in your introduction. A strong conclusion explains the importance and significance of what you have written. A strong conclusion leaves your reader caring about what you have said and pondering the larger implications of your thesis. Don’t leave your reader asking, “So what?”

Revise and proofread

Your professor can spot a “one-draft wonder,” so don't try to do your paper at the last moment. Leave plenty of time for revising and proofreading. Show your draft to a writing tutor or other good writer. Reading the draft aloud may also help. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, and a few may slip through no matter how meticulous you are. But beware of lots of mistakes. The failure to proofread carefully suggests that you devoted little time and effort to the assignment. Tip: Proofread your text both on the screen and on a printed copy. Your eyes see the two differently. Don’t rely on your spell checker to catch all of your misspellings. (If ewe ken reed this ewe kin sea that a computer wood nut all ways help ewe spill or rite reel good.)

Note: The Writing Center suggests standard abbreviations for noting some of these problems. You should familiarize yourself with those abbreviations, but your professor may not use them.  

Remarks on Style and Clarity

Wordy/verbose/repetitive..

Try your hand at fixing this sentence: “Due to the fact that these aspects of the issue of personal survival have been raised by recently transpired problematic conflicts, it is at the present time paramount that the ultimate psychological end of suicide be contemplated by this individual.” If you get it down to “To be or not to be, that is the question,” you’ve done well. You may not match Shakespeare, but you can learn to cut the fat out of your prose. The chances are that the five pages you’ve written for your history paper do not really contain five pages’ worth of ideas.

Misuse of the passive voice.

Write in the active voice. The passive voice encourages vagueness and dullness; it enfeebles verbs; and it conceals agency, which is the very stuff of history. You know all of this almost instinctively. What would you think of a lover who sighed in your ear, “My darling, you are loved by me!”? At its worst, the passive voice—like its kin, bureaucratic language and jargon—is a medium for the dishonesty and evasion of responsibility that pervade contemporary American culture. (“Mistakes were made; I was given false information.” Now notice the difference: “I screwed up; Smith and Jones lied to me; I neglected to check the facts.”) On history papers the passive voice usually signals a less toxic version of the same unwillingness to take charge, to commit yourself, and to say forthrightly what is really going on, and who is doing what to whom. Suppose you write, “In 1935 Ethiopia was invaded.” This sentence is a disaster. Who invaded? Your professor will assume that you don't know. Adding “by Italy” to the end of the sentence helps a bit, but the sentence is still flat and misleading. Italy was an aggressive actor, and your passive construction conceals that salient fact by putting the actor in the syntactically weakest position—at the end of the sentence as the object of a preposition. Notice how you add vigor and clarity to the sentence when you recast it in the active voice: "In 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia." I n a few cases , you may violate the no-passive-voice rule. The passive voice may be preferable if the agent is either obvious (“Kennedy was elected in 1960”), irrelevant (“Theodore Roosevelt became president when McKinley was assassinated”), or unknown (“King Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings”). Note that in all three of these sample sentences the passive voice focuses the reader on the receiver of the action rather than on the doer (on Kennedy, not on American voters; on McKinley, not on his assassin; on King Harold, not on the unknown Norman archer). Historians usually wish to focus on the doer, so you should stay with the active voice—unless you can make a compelling case for an exception.

Abuse of the verb to be.

The verb to be is the most common and most important verb in English, but too many verbs to be suck the life out of your prose and lead to wordiness. Enliven your prose with as many action verbs as possible. ( “In Brown v. Board of Education it was the opinion of the Supreme Court that the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”) Rewrite as “ In Brown v. Board of Education the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ violated the Fourteenth ”

Explain/what’s your point?/unclear/huh?

You may (or may not) know what you’re talking about, but if you see these marginal comments, you have confused your reader. You may have introduced a non sequitur ; gotten off the subject; drifted into abstraction; assumed something that you have not told the reader; failed to explain how the material relates to your argument; garbled your syntax; or simply failed to proofread carefully.  If possible, have a good writer read your paper and point out the muddled parts. Reading your paper aloud may help too.

Paragraph goes nowhere/has no point or unity.

Paragraphs are the building blocks of your paper. If your paragraphs are weak, your paper cannot be strong. Try underlining the topic sentence of every paragraph. If your topic sentences are vague, strength and precision—the hallmarks of good writing—are unlikely to follow. Consider this topic sentence (from a paper on Ivan the Terrible): “From 1538 to 1547, there are many different arguments about the nature of what happened.”  Disaster looms. The reader has no way of knowing when the arguing takes place, who’s arguing, or even what the arguing is about. And how does the “nature of what happened” differ from plain “what happened”? Perhaps the writer means the following: “The childhood of Ivan the Terrible has provoked controversy among scholars of Russian history.” That's hardly deathless prose, but it does orient the reader and make the writer accountable for what follows in the paragraph. Once you have a good topic sentence, make sure that everything in the paragraph supports that sentence, and that cumulatively the support is persuasive. Make sure that each sentence follows logically from the previous one, adding detail in a coherent order. Move, delete, or add material as appropriate. To avoid confusing the reader, limit each paragraph to one central idea. (If you have a series of supporting points starting with first, you must follow with a second, third , etc.) A paragraph that runs more than a printed page is probably too long. Err on the side of shorter paragraphs.

Inappropriate use of first person.

Most historians write in the third person, which focuses the reader on the subject. If you write in the first person singular, you shift the focus to yourself. You give the impression that you want to break in and say, “Enough about the Haitian revolution [or whatever], now let’s talk about me!” Also avoid the first person plural (“We believe...”). It suggests committees, editorial boards, or royalty. None of those should have had a hand in writing your paper. And don’t refer to yourself lamely as “this writer.” Who else could possibly be writing the paper?

Tense inconsistency.

Stay consistently in the past tense when you are writing about what took place in the past. (“Truman’s defeat of Dewey in 1948 caught the pollsters by surprise.”) Note that the context may require a shift into the past perfect. (“The pollsters had not realized [past perfect] that voter opinion had been [past perfect] changing rapidly in the days before the election.”) Unfortunately, the tense problem can get a bit more complicated. Most historians shift into the present tense when describing or commenting on a book, document, or evidence that still exists and is in front of them (or in their mind) as they write.  (“de Beauvoir published [past tense] The Second Sex in 1949. In the book she contends [present tense] that woman....”) If you’re confused, think of it this way: History is about the past, so historians write in the past tense, unless they are discussing effects of the past that still exist and thus are in the present. When in doubt, use the past tense and stay consistent.

Ill-fitted quotation.

This is a common problem, though not noted in stylebooks. When you quote someone, make sure that the quotation fits grammatically into your sentence.  Note carefully the mismatch between the start of the following sentence and the quotation that follows:  “In order to understand the Vikings, writes Marc Bloch, it is necessary, ‘To conceive of the Viking expeditions as religious warfare inspired by the ardour of an implacable pagan fanaticism—an explanation that has sometimes been at least suggested—conflicts too much with what we know of minds disposed to respect magic of every kind.’” At first, the transition into the quotation from Bloch seems fine. The infinitive (to conceive) fits. But then the reader comes to the verb (conflicts) in Bloch’s sentence, and things no longer make sense. The writer is saying, in effect, “it is necessary conflicts.” The wordy lead-in and the complex syntax of the quotation have tripped the writer and confused the reader. If you wish to use the whole sentence, rewrite as “Marc Bloch writes in Feudal Society , ‘To conceive of...’” Better yet, use your own words or only part of the quotation in your sentence. Remember that good writers quote infrequently, but when they do need to quote, they use carefully phrased lead-ins that fit the grammatical construction of the quotation.

Free-floating quotation.

Do not suddenly drop quotations into your prose. (“The spirit of the Progressive era is best understood if one remembers that the United States is ‘the only country in the world that began with perfection and aspired to progress.’”) You have probably chosen the quotation because it is finely wrought and says exactly what you want to say. Fine, but first you inconvenience the reader, who must go to the footnote to learn that the quotation comes from The Age of Reform by historian Richard Hofstadter. And then you puzzle the reader. Did Hofstadter write the line about perfection and progress, or is he quoting someone from the Progressive era? If, as you claim, you are going to help the reader to judge the “spirit of the Progressive era,” you need to clarify. Rewrite as “As historian Richard Hofstadter writes in the Age of Reform , the United States is ‘the only country in the world...’” Now the reader knows immediately that the line is Hofstadter’s.

Who’s speaking here?/your view?

Always be clear about whether you’re giving your opinion or that of the author or historical actor you are discussing. Let’s say that your essay is about Martin Luther’s social views. You write, “The German peasants who revolted in 1525 were brutes and deserved to be crushed mercilessly.” That’s what Luther thought, but do you agree?  You may know, but your reader is not a mind reader. When in doubt, err on the side of being overly clear.

Jargon/pretentious theory.

Historians value plain English. Academic jargon and pretentious theory will make your prose turgid, ridiculous, and downright irritating. Your professor will suspect that you are trying to conceal that you have little to say. Of course, historians can’t get along without some theory; even those who profess to have no theory actually do—it’s called naïve realism. And sometimes you need a technical term, be it ontological argument or ecological fallacy. When you use theory or technical terms, make sure that they are intelligible and do real intellectual lifting.  Please, no sentences like this: “By means of a neo-Althusserian, post-feminist hermeneutics, this essay will de/construct the logo/phallo/centrism imbricated in the marginalizing post-colonial gendered gaze, thereby proliferating the subjectivities that will re/present the de/stabilization of the essentializing habitus of post-Fordist capitalism.”

Informal language/slang.

You don’t need to be stuffy, but stay with formal English prose of the kind that will still be comprehensible to future generations. Columbus did not “push the envelope in the Atlantic.” Henry VIII was not “looking for his inner child when he broke with the Church.” Prime Minister Cavour of Piedmont was not “trying to play in the major leagues diplomatic wise.” Wilson did not “almost veg out” at the end of his second term. President Hindenburg did not appoint Hitler in a “senior moment.” Prime Minister Chamberlain did not tell the Czechs to “chill out” after the Munich Conference, and Gandhi was not an “awesome dude.”

Try to keep your prose fresh. Avoid cliches. When you proofread, watch out for sentences like these: “Voltaire always gave 110 percent and thought outside the box. His bottom line was that as people went forward into the future, they would, at the end of the day, step up to the plate and realize that the Jesuits were conniving perverts.” Ugh. Rewrite as “Voltaire tried to persuade people that the Jesuits were cony, step up to the plate and realize that the Jesuits were conniving perverts.” Ugh. Rewrite as “Voltaire tried to persuade people that the Jesuits were conniving perverts.”

Intensifier abuse/exaggeration.

Avoid inflating your prose with unsustainable claims of size, importance, uniqueness, certainty, or intensity. Such claims mark you as an inexperienced writer trying to impress the reader. Your statement is probably not certain ; your subject probably not unique , the biggest, the best, or the most important. Also, the adverb very will rarely strengthen your sentence. Strike it. (“President Truman was very determined to stop the spread of communism in Greece.”) Rewrite as “President Truman resolved to stop the spread of communism in Greece.”

Mixed image.

Once you have chosen an image, you must stay with language compatible with that image. In the following example, note that the chain, the boiling, and the igniting are all incompatible with the image of the cold, rolling, enlarging snowball: “A snowballing chain of events boiled over, igniting the powder keg of war in 1914.” Well chosen images can enliven your prose, but if you catch yourself mixing images a lot, you're probably trying to write beyond your ability. Pull back. Be more literal.

Clumsy transition.

If your reader feels a jolt or gets disoriented at the beginning of a new paragraph, your paper probably lacks unity. In a good paper, each paragraph is woven seamlessly into the next. If you find yourself beginning your paragraphs with phrases such as “Another aspect of this problem...,” then you are probably “stacking note cards” rather than developing a thesis.

Unnecessary relative clause.

If you don’t need to restrict the meaning of your sentence’s subject, then don’t. (“Napoleon was a man who tried to conquer Europe.”) Here the relative clause adds nothing. Rewrite as “Napoleon tried to conquer Europe.” Unnecessary relative clauses are a classic form of wordiness.

Distancing or demeaning quotation marks.

If you believe that a frequently used word or phrase distorts historical reality, don’t put it in dismissive, sneering quotation marks to make your point (“the communist ‘threat’ to the ‘free’ world during the Cold War”). Many readers find this practice arrogant, obnoxious, and precious, and they may dismiss your arguments out of hand. If you believe that the communist threat was bogus or exaggerated, or that the free world was not really free, then simply explain what you mean.

Remarks on Grammar and Syntax

Ideally, your professor will help you to improve your writing by specifying exactly what is wrong with a particular passage, but  sometimes you may find a simple awk in the margin. This all-purpose negative comment usually suggests that the sentence is clumsy because you have misused words or compounded several errors. Consider this sentence from a book review:

“However, many falsehoods lie in Goldhagen’s claims and these will be explored.”

What is your long-suffering professor to do with this sentence? The however contributes nothing; the phrase falsehoods lie is an unintended pun that distracts the reader; the comma is missing between the independent clauses; the these has no clear antecedent ( falsehoods? claims? ); the second clause is in the passive voice and contributes nothing anyway; the whole sentence is wordy and screams hasty, last-minute composition. In weary frustration, your professor scrawls awk in the margin and moves on. Buried under the twelve-word sentence lies a three-word idea: “Goldhagen often errs.” When you see awk, check for the common errors in this list. If you don’t understand what’s wrong, ask.

Unclear antecedent.

All pronouns must refer clearly to antecedents and must agree with them in number. The reader usually assumes that the antecedent is the immediately preceding noun. Do not confuse the reader by having several possible antecedents. Consider these two sentences:

“Pope Gregory VII forced Emperor Henry IV to wait three days in the snow at Canossa before granting him an audience. It was a symbolic act.”

To what does the it refer? Forcing the Emperor to wait? The waiting itself? The granting of the audience? The audience itself? The whole previous sentence? You are most likely to get into antecedent trouble when you begin a paragraph with this or it , referring vaguely back to the general import of the previous paragraph. When in doubt, take this test: Circle the pronoun and the antecedent and connect the two with a line. Then ask yourself if your reader could instantly make the same diagram without your help. If the line is long, or if the circle around the antecedent is large, encompassing huge gobs of text, then your reader probably will be confused.  Rewrite. Repetition is better than ambiguity and confusion.

Faulty parallelism.

You confuse your reader if you change the grammatical construction from one element to the next in a series. Consider this sentence:

“King Frederick the Great sought to expand Prussia, to rationalize agriculture, and that the state support education.”

The reader expects another infinitive, but instead trips over the that . Rewrite the last clause as “and to promote state-supported education.” Sentences using neither/nor frequently present parallelism problems. Note the two parts of this sentence:

“After 1870 the cavalry charge was neither an effective tactic, nor did armies use it frequently.”

The sentence jars because the neither is followed by a noun, the nor by a verb. Keep the parts parallel.

Rewrite as “After 1870 the cavalry charge was neither effective nor frequently used.”

Sentences with not only/but also are another pitfall for many students. (“Mussolini attacked not only liberalism, but he also advocated militarism.”) Here the reader is set up to expect a noun in the second clause, but stumbles over a verb. Make the parts parallel by putting the verb attacked after the not only .

Misplaced modifier/dangling element.

Do not confuse the reader with a phrase or clause that refers illogically or absurdly to other words in the sentence. (“Summarized on the back cover of the American paperback edition, the publishers claim that...”) The publishers are not summarized on the back cover. (“Upon finishing the book, many questions remain.”) Who finished the book? Questions can’t read. Avoid following an introductory participial clause with the expletives it or there . Expletives are by definition filler words; they can’t be agents. (“Having examined the origins of the Meiji Restoration in Japan, it is apparent that...”) Apparent to whom?  The expletive it didn’t do the examining. (“After going on the Long March, there was greater support for the Communists in China.”) Who went on the Long March? There didn’t go on the Long March. Always pay attention to who’s doing what in your sentences.

Run-on sentence.

Run-on sentences string together improperly joined independent clauses. Consider these three sentences:

“Galileo recanted his teaching that the earth moved privately he maintained his convictions.” “Galileo recanted his teaching that the earth moved, privately he maintained his convictions.” “Galileo recanted his teaching that the earth moved, however, privately he maintained his convictions.”

The first fuses two independent clauses with neither a comma nor a coordinating conjunction; the second uses a comma but omits the coordinating conjunction; and the third also omits the coordinating conjunction (however is not a coordinating conjunction). To solve the problem, separate the two clauses with a comma and the coordinating conjunction but. You could also divide the clauses with a semicolon or make separate sentences. Remember that there are only seven coordinating conjunctions ( and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet ).

Sentence fragment.

Write in sentences. A sentence has to have a subject and a predicate. If you string together a lot of words, you may lose control of the syntax and end up with a sentence fragment. Note that the following is not a sentence:

“While in Western Europe railroad building proceeded rapidly in the nineteenth century, and in Russia there was less progress.”

Here you have a long compound introductory clause followed by no subject and no verb, and thus you have a fragment. You may have noticed exceptions to the no-fragments rule. Skilful writers do sometimes intentionally use a fragment to achieve a certain effect. Leave the rule-breaking to the experts.

Confusion of restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses.

Consider these two versions of the same sentence:

1. “World War I, which raged from 1914-1918, killed millions of Europeans.” 2. “World War I that raged from 1914-1918 killed millions of Europeans.”

The first sentence has a nonrestrictive relative clause; the dates are included almost as parenthetical information. But something seems amiss with the second sentence. It has a restrictive relative clause that limits the subject (World War I) to the World War I fought between 1914 and 1918, thus implying that there were other wars called World War I, and that we need to distinguish among them. Both sentences are grammatically correct, but the writer of the second sentence appears foolish.  Note carefully the distinction between that (for use in restrictive clauses, with no comma) and which (for use in nonrestrictive clauses, with a comma).

Confusion about who’s doing what.

Remember—history is about what people do, so you need to be vigilant about agency. Proofread your sentences carefully, asking yourself, “Have I said exactly who is doing or thinking what, or have I inadvertently attributed an action or belief to the wrong person or group?” Unfortunately, there are many ways to go wrong here, but faulty punctuation is among the most common. Here’s a sentence about Frantz Fanon, the great critic of European imperialism. Focus on the punctuation and its effect on agency: “Instead of a hierarchy based on class, Fanon suggests the imperialists establish a hierarchy based on race.” As punctuated, the sentence says something absurd: that Fanon is advising the imperialists about the proper kind of hierarchy to establish in the colonies. Surely, the writer meant to say that, in his analysis of imperialism, Fanon distinguishes between two kinds of hierarchy. A comma after suggests fixes the immediate problem. Now look at the revised sentence. It still needs work. Better diction and syntax would sharpen it.  Fanon does not suggest (with connotations of both hinting and advocating); he states outright. What’s more, the comparison of the two kinds of hierarchy gets blurred by too many intervening words. The key point of the sentence is, in effect, “instead of A, we have B.” Clarity demands that B follow A as closely as possible, and that the two elements be grammatically parallel. But between the elements A and B, the writer inserts Fanon (a proper noun), suggests (a verb), imperialists (a noun), and establish (a verb). Try the sentence this way: “Fanon says that the imperialists establish a hierarchy based on race rather than class.” Now the agency is clear: We know what Fanon does, and we know what the imperialists do. Notice that errors and infelicities have a way of clustering. If you find one problem in a sentence, look for others.

Confusion about the objects of prepositions.

Here’s another one of those common problems that does not receive the attention it merits. Discipline your prepositional phrases; make sure you know where they end. Notice the mess in this sentence: “Hitler accused Jewish people of engaging in incest and stating that Vienna was the ‘personification of incest.’” The reader thinks that both engaging and stating are objects of the preposition of. Yet the writer intends only the first to be the object of the preposition. Hitler is accusing the Jews of engaging , but not of stating ; he is the one doing the stating . Rewrite as “Hitler accused the Jews of incest; he stated that Vienna was the ‘personification of incest.’” Note that the wordiness of the original encouraged the syntactical mess. Simplify. It can’t be said too many times: Always pay attention to who’s doing what in your sentences.

Misuse of the comparative.

There are two common problems here. The first might be called the “floating comparative.” You use the comparative, but you don’t say what you are comparing. (“Lincoln was more upset by the dissolution of the union.”) More upset than by what? More upset than who? The other problem, which is more common and takes many forms, is the unintended (and sometimes comical) comparison of unlike elements. Consider these attempts to compare President Clinton to President George H. W. Bush. Often the trouble starts with a possessive:

“President Clinton’s sexual appetite was more voracious than President Bush.”

You mean to compare appetites, but you've forgotten about your possessive, so you absurdly compare an appetite to a man. Rewrite as “more voracious than President Bush’s.” A variation of this problem is the unintended comparison resulting from the omission of a verb:

“President Clinton liked women more than President Bush.”
Re-write as “more than did President Bush.”

A misplaced modifier may also cause comparison trouble: “Unlike the Bush administration, sexual scandal nearly destroyed the Clinton administration.” Rewrite as  “Unlike the Bush administration, the Clinton administration was nearly destroyed by sexual scandal.” Here the passive voice is better than the misplaced modifier, but you could rewrite as “The Bush administration had been free of sexual scandal, which nearly destroyed the Clinton administration.”

Misuse of apostrophe.

Get control of your apostrophes. Use the apostrophe to form singular or plural possessives (Washington’s soldiers; the colonies’ soldiers) or to form contractions (don’t; it’s). Do not use the apostrophe to form plurals. (“The communists [not communists’] defeated the nationalists [not nationalists’] in China.”)

Comma after although.

This is a new error, probably a carryover from the common conversational habit of pausing dramatically after although . ( “Although , coffee consumption rose in eighteenth-century Europe, tea remained far more popular.”) Delete the comma after although . Remember that although is not a synonym for the word however , so you cannot solve the problem in the sentence by putting a period after Europe . A clause beginning with although cannot stand alone as a sentence.

Comma between subject and verb.

This is a strange new error. (“Hitler and Stalin, agreed to a pact in August 1939.”) Delete the comma after Stalin. Finally, two hints: If your word-processing program underlines something and suggests changes, be careful. When it comes to grammar and syntax, your computer is a moron. Not only does it fail to recognize some gross errors, it also falsely identifies some correct passages as errors. Do not cede control of your writing decisions to your computer. Make the suggested changes only if you are positive that they are correct. If you are having trouble with your writing, try simplifying. Write short sentences and read them aloud to test for clarity. Start with the subject and follow it quickly with an active verb. Limit the number of relative clauses, participial phrases, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases. You will win no prizes for eloquence, but at least you will be clear. Add complexity only when you have learned to handle it.

An historical/an historian.

The consonant “H” is not silent in historical and historian , so the proper form of the indefinite article is “A.”

Avoid the common solecism of using feel as a synonym for think, believe, say, state, assert, contend, argue, conclude, or write. (“Marx felt that the bourgeoisie exploited the proletariat.” “Emmeline Pankhurst felt that British women should be able to vote.”) The use of feel in these sentences demeans the agents by suggesting undisciplined sentiment rather than carefully formulated conviction. Concentrate on what your historical actors said and did; leave their feelings to speculative chapters of their biographies. As for your own feelings, keep them out of your papers. (“I feel that Lincoln should have freed the slaves earlier.”) Your professor will be delighted that the material engages both your head and your heart, but your feelings cannot be graded. If you believe that Lincoln should have acted earlier, then explain, giving cogent historical reasons.

The fact that.

This is a clumsy, unnecessary construction. ( “The fact that Nixon resigned in disgrace damaged the Republican Party.”) Re-word as “Nixon resigned in disgrace, damaging the Republican Party.” Never use the hideous phrase due to the fact that.

In terms of.

This phrase is filler. Get rid of it. (“Bismarck was a success in terms of uniting Germany.) Rewrite as “Bismarck successfully united Germany.”

Attend carefully to the placement of this limiting word. Note, for example, these three sentences:

“The government only interred Japanese Americans during World War II.” “The government interred only Japanese Americans during World War II.” “The government interred Japanese Americans only during World War II.”

The first limits the action to interring (as opposed to, say, killing); the second limits the group interred (i.e., not Italian Americans); the third limits the time of interring (i.e., not during other wars).

Thus and therefore.

More than likely, you have not earned these words and are implying that you have said more than you actually have. Use them sparingly, only when you are concluding a substantial argument with a significant conclusion.

Misuse of instead.

Instead is an adverb, not a conjunction. Consider this sentence: “Charles Beard argued that the framers of the constitution were not idealists, instead they promoted their economic interests.” Revise as “The framers of the constitution, Charles Beard argued, did not uphold ideals; instead , they promoted their economic interests.” Now the instead appears properly as an adverb. (Note also that the two clauses are now parallel—both contain transitive verbs.)

Essentially and basically.

These are usually either filler words (the written equivalent of “uh” or “um”) or weasel words that merely call attention to your vagueness, lack of conviction, or lazy unwillingness to qualify precisely. (“ Essentially , Churchill believed that Nazi Germany presented a grave danger to Britain.”) Delete essentially and basically unless you are writing about essences or bases.

Both share or both agree.

These are redundant. If two people share or agree , they are both involved by definition. (“Stalin and Mao both agreed that capitalism belonged in the dustbin of history.”) Delete both .

This word means one of a kind. It is an absolute. Something cannot be very unique, more unique, or somewhat unique.

Incredible.

In casual conversation incredible often means extraordinary, astonishing, or impressive (“Yesterday’s storm was incredible.”). To avoid confusion in historical prose, you should stick with the original meaning of incredible : not believable. If you write that “William Jennings Bryan gave incredible speeches,” you’re saying that you don’t believe his speeches, or that his audiences didn’t believe them at the time—in other words, that he appeared to be lying or mistaken. You probably mean that he gave great speeches. If you write that “It’s incredible that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor,” you’re calling into question the very existence of a historical event. You probably mean that the Japanese attack was unwise or reckless. English is rich with adjectives. Finding the best one forces you to think about what you really mean.

As a synonym for subject matter, bone of contention, reservation, or almost anything else vaguely associated with what you are discussing, the word issue has lost its meaning through overuse. (“There were many issues involved with Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb, and some historians have issues with his decision.”) Stop talking about issues and get to the point.

Beware of the word literally . It’s commonly misused, and you almost never need it in historical prose. Literally means actually, factually, exactly, directly, without metaphor. The careful writer would never say, “Roosevelt literally swamped Landon in the election of 1936.” One imagines Roosevelt (in his wheelchair no less!) dumping the hapless Landon off a pier in the Everglades on election night. The swamping was figurative, strictly a figure of speech. The adverb literally may also cause you trouble by falsely generalizing the coverage of your verb. “London was literally destroyed by the blitz.” This suggests that the whole city was destroyed, when, in fact, only parts were destroyed. Rewrite as “The blitz destroyed parts of London.” Now you’ve qualified properly (and gotten rid of the passive).

When you’re tempted to use this word, resist. Like issue , involve tells the reader too little. (“Erasmus was involved in the Renaissance.”) This statement could mean virtually anything. Delete it and discuss specifically what Erasmus said or did.

This is a fine old word with many precise meanings, but as an overused synonym for feature, side, or part, it is usually a sign of insipid prose (“Another aspect of the issues in this area is the fact that...”). Just get directly to the point.

Most good writers frown on the use of this word as a verb.(“Eisenhower’s military background impacted his foreign policy.”) Affected, influenced, or shaped would be better here. Impacted suggests painfully blocked wisdom teeth or feces. Had an impact is better than impacted , but is still awkward because impact implies a collision.

Here is another beloved but vapid word. (“Many factors led to the Reformation.”) Such a sentence usually opens a vague, boring, weaseling paragraph. If you believe (quite reasonably) that the Reformation had many causes, then start evaluating them.

Meaningful.

Overuse has drained the meaning from meaningful . (“Peter the Great took meaningful steps to westernize Russia.”) Just get to the point.

Interesting.

The adjective interesting is vague, overused, and does not earn its keep. (“Burckhardt had an interesting perspective on the Renaissance.”) This sentence is filler. Delete it and explain and analyze his perspective.

The events that transpired.

Your professor will gag on this one. Events take place or happen by definition, so the relative clause is redundant. Furthermore, most good writers do not accept transpire as a synonym for happen. Again, follow the old rule of thumb: Get right to the point, say what happened, and explain its significance. You don’t need any filler about events and transpiring .

The reason is because.

This phrase is awkward and redundant. Replace it with the reason is, or better still, simply delete it and get right to your reason.

For all intensive purposes.

The phrase is for all intents and purposes , and few good writers use it in formal prose anyway.

Take for granite.

This is an illiteracy. The phrase is “ take for granted .”

Should of/could of.

You mean should have or could have .

Center around.

Good writers frown on this phrase because it’s illogical and jarring. Use center on or center in. Attention to a small detail like this indicates that you’re thinking carefully about what you’re saying, so when the big problems confront you, you’ll be disciplined and ready.

Begs the question.

Recently, many people have started to use this phrase to mean raises, invites, or brings up the question. (“Stalin’s purges beg the question of whether he was paranoid.”) Actually, begging the question is the common logical fallacy of assuming your conclusion as part of your argument. (“In the late nineteenth century, many Americans moved to the cities because of urbanization.”) Note that the use of abstractions (e.g., urbanization) encourages begging the question . Understanding this fallacy is central to your education. The formal Latin term, petitio principii, is too fancy to catch on, so you need to preserve the simple English phrase. If something raises a question, just say so.

Historic/historical confusion.

Everything in the past or relating to the past is historical. Resist the media-driven hype that elevates the ordinary to the historic . (“A three-alarm fire last night destroyed the historic site of the first Portuguese-owned dry cleaners in Cleveland.”) Reserve the word historic for the genuinely important events, persons, or objects of the past. The Norman invasion of England in 1066 was indeed historic . Historically , historians have gathered annually for a historical convention; so far, none of the conventions has been historic .

Affect/effect confusion.

The chances are that the verb you want is affect , which means to have an influence on (“The Iranian hostage crisis affected [not effected] the presidential election of 1980”). Effect as a verb means to bring about or cause to exist ( effect change). Effect as a noun means result or consequence (“The effect of the Iranian hostage crisis on the election...”).

While/whereas confusion.

If you’re stressing contrast, the word you want is whereas . While stresses simultaneity. “Hobbes had a dismal view of human nature, whereas [not while] Rousseau believed that man had a natural sense of pity.”

It’s/its confusion.

This is the classic bonehead error. Note that the spell checker won’t help you. And remember— its’ is not a word at all.

Reign/rein confusion.

A queen reigns during her reign. You rein in a horse with reins.

Their/there/they’re confusion.

You do know the difference. Pay attention.

Everyday/every day confusion.

As an adjective, everyday (one word) means routine. If you wish to say that something happened on every successive day, then you need two words, the adjective every and the noun day . Note the difference in these two sentences: “Kant was famous for going on the same constitutional at the same time every day . For Kant, exercise and thinking were everyday activities.”

Refer/allude confusion.

To allude means to refer to indirectly or to hint at. The word you probably want in historical prose is refer , which means to mention or call direct attention to. “In the first sentence of the ‘Gettysburg Address’ Lincoln refers [not alludes ] to the fathers of the nation [he mentions them directly]; he alludes to the ‘Declaration of Independence’ [the document of four score and seven years earlier that comes to the reader’s mind, but that Lincoln doesn’t directly mention].”

Novel/book confusion.

Novel is not a synonym for book. A novel is a long work of fiction in prose. A historical monograph is not a novel —unless the historian is making everything up.

Than/then confusion.

This is an appalling new error. If you are making a comparison, you use the conjunction than . (“President Kennedy’s health was worse than [not then ] the public realized.”)

Lead/led confusion.

The past tense of the verb to lead is led (not lead ). “Sherman led [not lead ] a march to the sea.”

Lose/loose confusion.

The opposite of win is lose , not loose . “Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment suspected that they would lose [not loose ] the battle to amend the constitution.”

However/but confusion.

However may not substitute for the coordinating conjunction but. (“Mussolini began his career as a socialist, but [not however ] he later abandoned socialism for fascism.”) The word however has many proper uses; however , [note the semicolon and comma] graceful writers use it sparingly.

Cite/site/sight confusion.

You cited a source for your paper; ancient Britons sited Stonehenge on a plain; Columbus’s lookout sighted land.

Conscience/conscious confusion.

When you wake up in the morning you are conscious , though your conscience may bother you if you’ve neglected to write your history paper.

Tenet/tenant confusion.

Your religion, ideology, or worldview all have tenets —propositions you hold or believe in. Tenants rent from landlords.

All are not/not all are confusion.

If you write, “ All the colonists did not want to break with Britain in 1776,” the chances are you really mean, “ Not all the colonists wanted to break with Britain in 1776.” The first sentence is a clumsy way of saying that no colonists wanted to break with Britain (and is clearly false). The second sentence says that some colonists did not want to break with Britain (and is clearly true, though you should go on to be more precise).

Nineteenth-century/nineteenth century confusion.

Historians talk a lot about centuries, so you need to know when to hyphenate them. Follow the standard rule: If you combine two words to form a compound adjective, use a hyphen, unless the first word ends in ly. (“ Nineteenth-century [hyphenated] steamships cut the travel time across the Atlantic.”) Leave out the hyphen if you’re just using the ordinal number to modify the noun century. (“In the nineteenth century [no hyphen] steamships cut the travel time across the Atlantic.”) By the way, while you have centuries in mind, don’t forget that the nineteenth century is the 1800s, not the 1900s. The same rule for hyphenating applies to middle-class and middle class —a group that historians like to talk about.

Bourgeois/bourgeoisie confusion.

Bourgeois is usually an adjective, meaning characteristic of the middle class and its values or habits. Occasionally, bourgeois is a noun, meaning a single member of the middle class. Bourgeoisie is a noun, meaning the middle class collectively. (“Marx believed that the bourgeoisie oppressed the proletariat; he argued that bourgeois values like freedom and individualism were hypocritical.”)

Your professor may ask you to analyze a primary document. Here are some questions you might ask of your document. You will note a common theme—read critically with sensitivity to the context. This list is not a suggested outline for a paper; the wording of the assignment and the nature of the document itself should determine your organization and which of the questions are most relevant. Of course, you can ask these same questions of any document you encounter in your research.

  • What exactly is the document (e.g., diary, king’s decree, opera score, bureaucratic memorandum, parliamentary minutes, newspaper article, peace treaty)?
  • Are you dealing with the original or with a copy? If it is a copy, how remote is it from the original (e.g., photocopy of the original, reformatted version in a book, translation)? How might deviations from the original affect your interpretation?
  • What is the date of the document?
  • Is there any reason to believe that the document is not genuine or not exactly what it appears to be?
  • Who is the author, and what stake does the author have in the matters discussed? If the document is unsigned, what can you infer about the author or authors?
  • What sort of biases or blind spots might the author have? For example, is an educated bureaucrat writing with third-hand knowledge of rural hunger riots?
  • Where, why, and under what circumstances did the author write the document?
  • How might the circumstances (e.g., fear of censorship, the desire to curry favor or evade blame) have influenced the content, style, or tone of the document?
  • Has the document been published? If so, did the author intend it to be published?
  • If the document was not published, how has it been preserved? In a public archive? In a private collection? Can you learn anything from the way it has been preserved? For example, has it been treated as important or as a minor scrap of paper?
  • Does the document have a boilerplate format or style, suggesting that it is a routine sample of a standardized genre, or does it appear out of the ordinary, even unique?
  • Who is the intended audience for the document?
  • What exactly does the document say? Does it imply something different?
  • If the document represents more than one viewpoint, have you carefully distinguished between the author’s viewpoint and those viewpoints the author presents only to criticize or refute?
  • In what ways are you, the historian, reading the document differently than its intended audience would have read it (assuming that future historians were not the intended audience)?
  • What does the document leave out that you might have expected it to discuss?
  • What does the document assume that the reader already knows about the subject (e.g., personal conflicts among the Bolsheviks in 1910, the details of tax farming in eighteenth-century Normandy, secret negotiations to end the Vietnam war)?
  • What additional information might help you better interpret the document?
  • Do you know (or are you able to infer) the effects or influences, if any, of the document?
  • What does the document tell you about the period you are studying?
  • If your document is part of an edited collection, why do you suppose the editor chose it? How might the editing have changed the way you perceive the document? For example, have parts been omitted? Has it been translated? (If so, when, by whom, and in what style?) Has the editor placed the document in a suggestive context among other documents, or in some other way led you to a particular interpretation?

Your professor may ask you to write a book review, probably of a scholarly historical monograph. Here are some questions you might ask of the book. Remember that a good review is critical, but critical does not necessarily mean negative. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it a suggested outline. Of course, you can ask these same questions of any secondary historical work, even if you’re not writing a review.

  • Who is the author, and what are his or her qualifications? Has the author written other books on the subject?
  • When was the book written, and how does it fit into the scholarly debate on the subject? For example, is Smith writing to refute that idiot Jones; to qualify the work of the competent but unimaginative Johnson; or to add humbly to the evidence presented by the redoubtable Brown’s classic study? Be sure not to confuse the author’s argument with those arguments he or she presents only to criticize later.
  • What is the book’s basic argument? (Getting this right is the foundation of your review.)
  • What is the author’s method? For example, does the author rely strictly on narrative and anecdotes, or is the book analytical in some way?
  • What kinds of evidence does the author use? For example, what is the balance of primary and secondary sources? Has the author done archival work? Is the source base substantial, or does it look thin? Is the author up-to-date in the scholarly literature?
  • How skillfully and imaginatively has the author used the evidence?
  • Does the author actually use all of the material in the bibliography, or is some of it there for display?
  • What sorts of explicit or implicit ideological or methodological assumptions does the author bring to the study? For example, does he or she profess bland objectivity? A Whig view of history? Marxism?
  • How persuasive is the author’s argument?
  • Is the argument new, or is it old wine in new bottles?
  • Is the argument important, with wide-ranging implications, or is it narrow and trivial?
  • Is the book well organized and skillfully written?
  • What is your overall critical assessment of the book?
  • What is the general significance, if any, of the book? (Make sure that you are judging the book that the author actually wrote, not complaining that the author should have written a different book.)

Here are some tips for those long, intimidating term papers or senior theses:

  • Start early. If you don’t, none of these tips will matter. Big trouble is looming if you don’t have a specific topic by the end of the first week. You should be delving into the sources during the second week.
  • Keep in mind all of the dos and don’ts in this booklet.
  • Work closely with your professor to assure that your topic is neither too broad nor too narrow.
  • Set up a schedule with your professor and check his or her policy about reading rough drafts or parts of rough drafts. Then keep your professor informed about what you’re doing. You don’t want any unpleasant surprises. You certainly don’t want to hear, “I haven’t seen you for weeks, and it sounds like you’re way off base. How can you possibly get this done with only two weeks left in the semester?”
  • Make an appointment with Kristin Strohmeyer, the history reference librarian in Burke Library. She will help you to find and use the appropriate catalogs and indexes.
  • Use your imagination in compiling a bibliography. Think of all of the possible key words and subjects that may lead you to material. If you find something really good, check the subjects under which it is cataloged. Comb the notes and bibliographies of books and articles you’ve already found.
  • Much of what you need will not be in our library, so get to know the friendly folks in the Interlibrary Loan department.
  • Start early. This can’t be said too often.
  • Use as many primary sources as you can.
  • Jot down your ideas as they come to you. You may not remember them later.
  • Take careful notes on your reading. Label your notes completely and precisely. Distinguish meticulously and systematically between what you are directly quoting and what you are summarizing in your own words. Unintended plagiarism is still plagiarism. Stay clean as a hound’s tooth. Write down not just the page of the quotation or idea, but also the whole run of pages where the matter is discussed. Reread all of your notes periodically to make sure that you still understand them and are compiling what you will need to write your paper. Err on the side of writing down more than you think you will need. Copious, precise notes won’t come back to haunt you; skimpy, vague notes will. Just accept that there is something anal about good note-taking.
  • If you take notes directly into your computer, they will be easy to index and pull up, but there are a couple of downsides. You will not be able to see all of them simultaneously, as you can note cards laid out on a big table. What you gain in ease of access may come at the price of losing the big picture. Also, if your notes are in your computer, you may be tempted to save time and thought by pasting many of them directly into your paper. Note cards encourage you to rethink and to rework your ideas into a unified whole.
  • Don’t start to write until you have a good outline.
  • Make sure that your paper has a thesis. (See the entry State a clear thesis. )
  • Check and recheck your facts.
  • Footnote properly. (See the entry Cite sources carefully .)
  • Save plenty of time to proofread.
  • Start early.

Top Ten Signs that you may be Writing a Weak History Paper

10. You’re overjoyed to find that you can fill the required pages by widening all margins.

9. You haven’t mentioned any facts or cited any sources for several paragraphs.

8. You find yourself using the phrase “throughout history mankind has...”

7. You just pasted in another 100 words of quotations.

6. You haven’t a clue about the content of your next paragraph.

5. You’re constantly clicking on The Britannica, Webster’s, and Bartlett’s.

4. Your writing tutor sneaks another look at her watch as she reminds you for the third time to clarify your thesis.

3. Your main historical actors are this, it, they, the people, and society, and they are all involved with factors, aspects, impacts, and issues.

2. You just realize that you don’t understand the assignment, but it’s 3:00 A.M, the paper is due at 9:00, and you don’t dare call your professor.

1. You’re relieved that the paper counts for only 20 percent of the course grade.

Final Advice

You guessed it — start early.

Studying History at Hamilton

Students will learn to use interdisciplinary methods from the humanities and social sciences to probe the sources of the past for answers to present questions. They will learn to draw comparisons and connections among diverse societies across a range of historical eras. They will further learn to convey their findings through writing that is clearly structured, precise, and persuasive.

Office / Department Name

Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center

Contact Name

Jennifer Ambrose

Writing Center Director

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Research Method

Home » Historical Research – Types, Methods and Examples

Historical Research – Types, Methods and Examples

Table of Contents

Historical Research

Historical Research

Definition:

Historical research is the process of investigating and studying past events, people, and societies using a variety of sources and methods. This type of research aims to reconstruct and interpret the past based on the available evidence.

Types of Historical Research

There are several types of historical research, including:

Descriptive Research

This type of historical research focuses on describing events, people, or cultures in detail. It can involve examining artifacts, documents, or other sources of information to create a detailed account of what happened or existed.

Analytical Research

This type of historical research aims to explain why events, people, or cultures occurred in a certain way. It involves analyzing data to identify patterns, causes, and effects, and making interpretations based on this analysis.

Comparative Research

This type of historical research involves comparing two or more events, people, or cultures to identify similarities and differences. This can help researchers understand the unique characteristics of each and how they interacted with each other.

Interpretive Research

This type of historical research focuses on interpreting the meaning of past events, people, or cultures. It can involve analyzing cultural symbols, beliefs, and practices to understand their significance in a particular historical context.

Quantitative Research

This type of historical research involves using statistical methods to analyze historical data. It can involve examining demographic information, economic indicators, or other quantitative data to identify patterns and trends.

Qualitative Research

This type of historical research involves examining non-numerical data such as personal accounts, letters, or diaries. It can provide insights into the experiences and perspectives of individuals during a particular historical period.

Data Collection Methods

Data Collection Methods are as follows:

  • Archival research : This involves analyzing documents and records that have been preserved over time, such as government records, diaries, letters, newspapers, and photographs. Archival research is often conducted in libraries, archives, and museums.
  • Oral history : This involves conducting interviews with individuals who have lived through a particular historical period or event. Oral history can provide a unique perspective on past events and can help to fill gaps in the historical record.
  • Artifact analysis: This involves examining physical objects from the past, such as tools, clothing, and artwork, to gain insights into past cultures and practices.
  • Secondary sources: This involves analyzing published works, such as books, articles, and academic papers, that discuss past events and cultures. Secondary sources can provide context and insights into the historical period being studied.
  • Statistical analysis : This involves analyzing numerical data from the past, such as census records or economic data, to identify patterns and trends.
  • Fieldwork : This involves conducting on-site research in a particular location, such as visiting a historical site or conducting ethnographic research in a particular community. Fieldwork can provide a firsthand understanding of the culture and environment being studied.
  • Content analysis: This involves analyzing the content of media from the past, such as films, television programs, and advertisements, to gain insights into cultural attitudes and beliefs.

Data Analysis Methods

  • Content analysis : This involves analyzing the content of written or visual material, such as books, newspapers, or photographs, to identify patterns and themes. Content analysis can be used to identify changes in cultural values and beliefs over time.
  • Textual analysis : This involves analyzing written texts, such as letters or diaries, to understand the experiences and perspectives of individuals during a particular historical period. Textual analysis can provide insights into how people lived and thought in the past.
  • Discourse analysis : This involves analyzing how language is used to construct meaning and power relations in a particular historical period. Discourse analysis can help to identify how social and political ideologies were constructed and maintained over time.
  • Statistical analysis: This involves using statistical methods to analyze numerical data, such as census records or economic data, to identify patterns and trends. Statistical analysis can help to identify changes in population demographics, economic conditions, and other factors over time.
  • Comparative analysis : This involves comparing data from two or more historical periods or events to identify similarities and differences. Comparative analysis can help to identify patterns and trends that may not be apparent from analyzing data from a single historical period.
  • Qualitative analysis: This involves analyzing non-numerical data, such as oral history interviews or ethnographic field notes, to identify themes and patterns. Qualitative analysis can provide a rich understanding of the experiences and perspectives of individuals in the past.

Historical Research Methodology

Here are the general steps involved in historical research methodology:

  • Define the research question: Start by identifying a research question that you want to answer through your historical research. This question should be focused, specific, and relevant to your research goals.
  • Review the literature: Conduct a review of the existing literature on the topic of your research question. This can involve reading books, articles, and academic papers to gain a thorough understanding of the existing research.
  • Develop a research design : Develop a research design that outlines the methods you will use to collect and analyze data. This design should be based on the research question and should be feasible given the resources and time available.
  • Collect data: Use the methods outlined in your research design to collect data on past events, people, and cultures. This can involve archival research, oral history interviews, artifact analysis, and other data collection methods.
  • Analyze data : Analyze the data you have collected using the methods outlined in your research design. This can involve content analysis, textual analysis, statistical analysis, and other data analysis methods.
  • Interpret findings : Use the results of your data analysis to draw meaningful insights and conclusions related to your research question. These insights should be grounded in the data and should be relevant to the research goals.
  • Communicate results: Communicate your findings through a research report, academic paper, or other means. This should be done in a clear, concise, and well-organized manner, with appropriate citations and references to the literature.

Applications of Historical Research

Historical research has a wide range of applications in various fields, including:

  • Education : Historical research can be used to develop curriculum materials that reflect a more accurate and inclusive representation of history. It can also be used to provide students with a deeper understanding of past events and cultures.
  • Museums : Historical research is used to develop exhibits, programs, and other materials for museums. It can provide a more accurate and engaging presentation of historical events and artifacts.
  • Public policy : Historical research is used to inform public policy decisions by providing insights into the historical context of current issues. It can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of past policies and programs.
  • Business : Historical research can be used by businesses to understand the evolution of their industry and to identify trends that may affect their future success. It can also be used to develop marketing strategies that resonate with customers’ historical interests and values.
  • Law : Historical research is used in legal proceedings to provide evidence and context for cases involving historical events or practices. It can also be used to inform the development of new laws and policies.
  • Genealogy : Historical research can be used by individuals to trace their family history and to understand their ancestral roots.
  • Cultural preservation : Historical research is used to preserve cultural heritage by documenting and interpreting past events, practices, and traditions. It can also be used to identify and preserve historical landmarks and artifacts.

Examples of Historical Research

Examples of Historical Research are as follows:

  • Examining the history of race relations in the United States: Historical research could be used to explore the historical roots of racial inequality and injustice in the United States. This could help inform current efforts to address systemic racism and promote social justice.
  • Tracing the evolution of political ideologies: Historical research could be used to study the development of political ideologies over time. This could help to contextualize current political debates and provide insights into the origins and evolution of political beliefs and values.
  • Analyzing the impact of technology on society : Historical research could be used to explore the impact of technology on society over time. This could include examining the impact of previous technological revolutions (such as the industrial revolution) on society, as well as studying the current impact of emerging technologies on society and the environment.
  • Documenting the history of marginalized communities : Historical research could be used to document the history of marginalized communities (such as LGBTQ+ communities or indigenous communities). This could help to preserve cultural heritage, promote social justice, and promote a more inclusive understanding of history.

Purpose of Historical Research

The purpose of historical research is to study the past in order to gain a better understanding of the present and to inform future decision-making. Some specific purposes of historical research include:

  • To understand the origins of current events, practices, and institutions : Historical research can be used to explore the historical roots of current events, practices, and institutions. By understanding how things developed over time, we can gain a better understanding of the present.
  • To develop a more accurate and inclusive understanding of history : Historical research can be used to correct inaccuracies and biases in historical narratives. By exploring different perspectives and sources of information, we can develop a more complete and nuanced understanding of history.
  • To inform decision-making: Historical research can be used to inform decision-making in various fields, including education, public policy, business, and law. By understanding the historical context of current issues, we can make more informed decisions about how to address them.
  • To preserve cultural heritage : Historical research can be used to document and preserve cultural heritage, including traditions, practices, and artifacts. By understanding the historical significance of these cultural elements, we can work to preserve them for future generations.
  • To stimulate curiosity and critical thinking: Historical research can be used to stimulate curiosity and critical thinking about the past. By exploring different historical perspectives and interpretations, we can develop a more critical and reflective approach to understanding history and its relevance to the present.

When to use Historical Research

Historical research can be useful in a variety of contexts. Here are some examples of when historical research might be particularly appropriate:

  • When examining the historical roots of current events: Historical research can be used to explore the historical roots of current events, practices, and institutions. By understanding how things developed over time, we can gain a better understanding of the present.
  • When examining the historical context of a particular topic : Historical research can be used to explore the historical context of a particular topic, such as a social issue, political debate, or scientific development. By understanding the historical context, we can gain a more nuanced understanding of the topic and its significance.
  • When exploring the evolution of a particular field or discipline : Historical research can be used to explore the evolution of a particular field or discipline, such as medicine, law, or art. By understanding the historical development of the field, we can gain a better understanding of its current state and future directions.
  • When examining the impact of past events on current society : Historical research can be used to examine the impact of past events (such as wars, revolutions, or social movements) on current society. By understanding the historical context and impact of these events, we can gain insights into current social and political issues.
  • When studying the cultural heritage of a particular community or group : Historical research can be used to document and preserve the cultural heritage of a particular community or group. By understanding the historical significance of cultural practices, traditions, and artifacts, we can work to preserve them for future generations.

Characteristics of Historical Research

The following are some characteristics of historical research:

  • Focus on the past : Historical research focuses on events, people, and phenomena of the past. It seeks to understand how things developed over time and how they relate to current events.
  • Reliance on primary sources: Historical research relies on primary sources such as letters, diaries, newspapers, government documents, and other artifacts from the period being studied. These sources provide firsthand accounts of events and can help researchers gain a more accurate understanding of the past.
  • Interpretation of data : Historical research involves interpretation of data from primary sources. Researchers analyze and interpret data to draw conclusions about the past.
  • Use of multiple sources: Historical research often involves using multiple sources of data to gain a more complete understanding of the past. By examining a range of sources, researchers can cross-reference information and validate their findings.
  • Importance of context: Historical research emphasizes the importance of context. Researchers analyze the historical context in which events occurred and consider how that context influenced people’s actions and decisions.
  • Subjectivity : Historical research is inherently subjective, as researchers interpret data and draw conclusions based on their own perspectives and biases. Researchers must be aware of their own biases and strive for objectivity in their analysis.
  • Importance of historical significance: Historical research emphasizes the importance of historical significance. Researchers consider the historical significance of events, people, and phenomena and their impact on the present and future.
  • Use of qualitative methods : Historical research often uses qualitative methods such as content analysis, discourse analysis, and narrative analysis to analyze data and draw conclusions about the past.

Advantages of Historical Research

There are several advantages to historical research:

  • Provides a deeper understanding of the past : Historical research can provide a more comprehensive understanding of past events and how they have shaped current social, political, and economic conditions. This can help individuals and organizations make informed decisions about the future.
  • Helps preserve cultural heritage: Historical research can be used to document and preserve cultural heritage. By studying the history of a particular culture, researchers can gain insights into the cultural practices and beliefs that have shaped that culture over time.
  • Provides insights into long-term trends : Historical research can provide insights into long-term trends and patterns. By studying historical data over time, researchers can identify patterns and trends that may be difficult to discern from short-term data.
  • Facilitates the development of hypotheses: Historical research can facilitate the development of hypotheses about how past events have influenced current conditions. These hypotheses can be tested using other research methods, such as experiments or surveys.
  • Helps identify root causes of social problems : Historical research can help identify the root causes of social problems. By studying the historical context in which these problems developed, researchers can gain a better understanding of how they emerged and what factors may have contributed to their development.
  • Provides a source of inspiration: Historical research can provide a source of inspiration for individuals and organizations seeking to address current social, political, and economic challenges. By studying the accomplishments and struggles of past generations, researchers can gain insights into how to address current challenges.

Limitations of Historical Research

Some Limitations of Historical Research are as follows:

  • Reliance on incomplete or biased data: Historical research is often limited by the availability and quality of data. Many primary sources have been lost, destroyed, or are inaccessible, making it difficult to get a complete picture of historical events. Additionally, some primary sources may be biased or represent only one perspective on an event.
  • Difficulty in generalizing findings: Historical research is often specific to a particular time and place and may not be easily generalized to other contexts. This makes it difficult to draw broad conclusions about human behavior or social phenomena.
  • Lack of control over variables : Historical research often lacks control over variables. Researchers cannot manipulate or control historical events, making it difficult to establish cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Subjectivity of interpretation : Historical research is often subjective because researchers must interpret data and draw conclusions based on their own biases and perspectives. Different researchers may interpret the same data differently, leading to different conclusions.
  • Limited ability to test hypotheses: Historical research is often limited in its ability to test hypotheses. Because the events being studied have already occurred, researchers cannot manipulate variables or conduct experiments to test their hypotheses.
  • Lack of objectivity: Historical research is often subjective, and researchers must be aware of their own biases and strive for objectivity in their analysis. However, it can be difficult to maintain objectivity when studying events that are emotionally charged or controversial.
  • Limited generalizability: Historical research is often limited in its generalizability, as the events and conditions being studied may be specific to a particular time and place. This makes it difficult to draw broad conclusions that apply to other contexts or time periods.

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Best History Research Paper Topics

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Dive into the world of historical scholarship with our comprehensive guide to the best history research paper topics . Primarily designed for students tasked with writing history research papers, this guide presents a curated list of 100 exceptional topics, divided into 10 distinct categories, each with a unique historical focus. The guide offers clear and practical advice on how to choose the most compelling history research paper topics, and provides 10 handy tips on crafting an outstanding research paper. In addition to academic guidance, the guide introduces the superior writing services of iResearchNet, a reliable option for students needing customized history research papers.

Comprehensive List of Best History Research Paper Topics

The following comprehensive list of the best history research paper topics is crafted to stimulate your curiosity and ignite your passion for historical study. These topics cover a range of historical periods and geographical locations to cater to the diverse interests of history students.

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Ancient History Topics

  • The Causes and Effects of the Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Daily Life in Ancient Egypt
  • The Influence of Alexander the Great’s Conquests on the Hellenistic World
  • The Role of Women in Spartan Society
  • The Construction and Significance of the Great Wall of China
  • The Impact of Confucianism on Ancient Chinese Society
  • Trade Routes and their Role in the Expansion of Ancient Civilizations
  • The Cultural and Political Influence of the Phoenician Civilization
  • Comparing Democracy in Ancient Greece to Modern Democracy
  • The Religious Practices and Beliefs of the Mayans

Medieval History Topics

  • The Role of the Catholic Church in Medieval Europe
  • The Impact of the Black Death on Medieval Society
  • The Cultural Significance of the Knights Templar
  • Gender Roles and Family Structure in Medieval Japan
  • The Causes and Consequences of the Hundred Years War
  • The Political Structure of the Byzantine Empire
  • The Influence of the Carolingian Renaissance on Europe
  • The Role of Vikings in European Trade and Exploration
  • The Crusades: Causes, Events, and Consequences
  • The Architecture and Symbolism of Gothic Cathedrals

Early Modern History Topics

  • The Causes and Effects of the Protestant Reformation
  • The Role of the Enlightenment in the French Revolution
  • The Impact of the Scientific Revolution on European Society
  • The Socioeconomic Consequences of the Industrial Revolution
  • The Influence of the Ottoman Empire on Southeast Europe
  • The Role of Slavery in the Colonial Economies
  • The Politics and Culture of the Renaissance in Italy
  • European Imperialism in Africa and Asia
  • The Cultural and Political Impacts of the Mughal Empire
  • The American Revolution: Causes, Events, and Legacy

Modern History Topics

  • The Causes and Global Consequences of World War I
  • The Great Depression: Causes and Effects
  • The Role of Propaganda in World War II
  • The Impact of the Cold War on International Relations
  • The Civil Rights Movement in the United States
  • The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the End of the Cold War
  • The Effects of Decolonization in the 20th Century
  • The Role of Women in the World Wars
  • The Formation and Impact of the European Union
  • The Causes and Consequences of the Arab Spring

Asian History Topics

  • The Cultural Impact of the Silk Road in Asia
  • The Effects of Colonial Rule in India
  • The Legacy of the Mongol Empire in Asia
  • The Cultural and Political Changes in China’s Cultural Revolution
  • The Korean War: Causes, Events, and Consequences
  • The Role of Samurai in Feudal Japan
  • The Impact of the Opium Wars on China
  • The Influence of Buddhism on Asian Cultures
  • The Cambodian Genocide under the Khmer Rouge
  • The Role of Gandhi in India’s Independence

American History Topics

  • The Impact of the New Deal on the American Economy
  • The Vietnam War: Causes, Events, and Legacy
  • The Influence of the Beat Generation on American Culture
  • The Role of Manifest Destiny in Westward Expansion
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis and Its Effects on the Cold War
  • The Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States
  • The Native American Civil Rights Movement
  • The Role of the Transcontinental Railroad in American Expansion
  • The Civil War: Causes, Events, and Aftermath
  • The Immigration Wave at Ellis Island: Causes and Effects

European History Topics

  • The Impacts of the Russian Revolution
  • The Influence of Martin Luther’s Theses on Europe
  • The British Empire: Rise, Dominance, and Fall
  • The Role of Art in the French Revolution
  • The Impact of the Spanish Inquisition on Spain and its Colonies
  • The Rise and Influence of Fascism in Europe
  • The Role of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages
  • The Consequences of the Treaty of Versailles
  • The Formation and Impact of NATO
  • The Role of the Media in the Fall of the Berlin Wall

African History Topics

  • The Effects of Apartheid in South Africa
  • The Influence of the Trans-Saharan Trade on West African Societies
  • The Role of Nelson Mandela in Ending Apartheid
  • The Scramble for Africa and its Effects on the Continent
  • The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on West Africa
  • The Rwandan Genocide: Causes and Consequences
  • The Role of the African Union in Continental Politics
  • The Impact of Islam on North Africa
  • The Decolonization of Africa in the 20th Century
  • The Role of Women in Pre-Colonial African Societies

Military History Topics

  • The Influence of Technological Innovations on Warfare
  • The Role of the French Foreign Legion in Global Conflicts
  • The Impact of the Manhattan Project on World War II and Beyond
  • The Role of the Spartans in Ancient Greek Warfare
  • The Impact of Drones on Modern Warfare
  • The Influence of the English Longbow on Medieval Warfare
  • The Role of the Maginot Line in World War II
  • The Impact of Naval Power on the British Empire
  • The Influence of Nuclear Weapons on International Politics
  • The Role of Propaganda in World War I

This expansive list of best history research paper topics offers a comprehensive exploration of the past, crossing different eras, regions, and themes. They form a rich tapestry of human experience and a foundation for understanding our present and future. Choose a topic that piques your interest, ignites your curiosity, and promises a journey of intellectual discovery. Remember that the exploration of history is a journey into the roots of our shared humanity and an exploration of the forces that shape our world.

History and What Range of Best Research Paper Topics it Offers

As a subject of study, history is more than a chronological list of events, dates, and prominent figures. History is the exploration of human experiences, societal changes, political upheavals, cultural transformations, economic shifts, and technological advancements across different periods and regions. This exploration allows us to understand how the past has shaped our present and how it can potentially shape our future. It teaches us to appreciate the complexities and nuances of human nature and society, making history a rich field for research paper topics.

History is an interdisciplinary field, interweaving elements from various areas of study, including politics, sociology, economics, anthropology, geography, and literature. This interdisciplinary nature provides a wide array of best history research paper topics. Moreover, the global scope of history further broadens the pool of topics, as it encompasses every region of the world and every period from the dawn of human civilization to the present day.

Exploring Different Periods

Historical research often focuses on specific periods, each offering unique topics for exploration. For instance, Ancient History provides topics related to ancient civilizations like Rome, Greece, Egypt, China, and India, and key events such as Alexander the Great’s conquests or the fall of the Roman Empire.

The Medieval Period offers topics related to the socio-political structure of societies, the influence of religion, the impact of plagues, and the role of significant historical figures. Researching the Renaissance can focus on cultural, artistic, and scientific revolutions that have shaped the modern world.

The Modern History category contains topics related to significant events and transformations, such as world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, decolonization, and various national and international movements.

Geographical Perspectives

Geographical focus is another common approach in historical research. Asian history encompasses topics ranging from the influence of Confucianism in China to the impact of colonial rule in India. European history explores events such as the Enlightenment, the French and Russian revolutions, and the formation of the European Union. American history topics can cover everything from Manifest Destiny to the Civil Rights Movement. African history can delve into the effects of the Atlantic Slave Trade, the apartheid era, and decolonization.

Thematic Approaches

In addition to period- and region-based topics, history offers an extensive range of thematic topics. These themes often intersect with other disciplines, leading to exciting interdisciplinary research opportunities.

Social and cultural history, for instance, covers diverse topics such as the influence of the Harlem Renaissance on African American culture, the counterculture movement of the 1960s, the role of film and television in shaping societies, or the impacts of the Internet on global culture.

Military history provides a wide range of topics related to warfare, strategy, technological developments, and the influence of military conflicts on societies and politics. From the use of the English longbow in medieval warfare to the impact of drones on modern warfare, this field offers a variety of fascinating topics.

Making the Right Choice

The choice of a research paper topic in history should ideally be guided by your interest, the available resources, and the requirements of your assignment. With such a wide range of topics, it can be challenging to make a choice. But remember, a good history research paper topic is not just about the past; it should also engage with the present and potentially shed light on the future. The best research paper topics are those that not only delve deep into the annals of history but also resonate with current issues and debates.

The study of history is a gateway into the vast narrative of human civilization. With an extensive range of periods, regions, and themes to choose from, history offers a rich reservoir of research paper topics. As we delve into the past, we discover the forces that have shaped our world, gain insights into the human experience, and glean lessons for our future. This journey of exploration makes history an incredibly exciting field for research papers.

How to Choose Best History Research Paper Topics

Choosing the best history research paper topic can be the first step towards a rewarding intellectual journey. It’s not just about meeting academic requirements; it’s about uncovering facets of the past that intrigue you and may potentially contribute to the broader understanding of history. Here are twenty in-depth tips that will guide you through the process and help you select the best topic for your history research paper.

  • Understand the Assignment: Understanding your assignment’s requirements is the primary and most critical step in selecting a topic. Take time to carefully read the guidelines given by your instructor. Are there any specific historical periods, geographical regions, or themes you are required to focus on? Do the instructions indicate the scope or complexity level of the topic? Comprehending the parameters set by your instructor will significantly narrow down your options.
  • Choose a Time Period: One way to approach the topic selection is by focusing on a particular time period that sparks your interest. It could be anything from the Bronze Age, to the Renaissance, to World War II. The more interested you are in the chosen time period, the more engaged you will be in the research process.
  • Pick a Region: Similar to choosing a time period, selecting a particular region or country can also help narrow down potential topics. Are you fascinated by the history of East Asia, intrigued by ancient Egypt, or drawn to the socio-political history of Europe? Starting with a geographic focus can provide a strong foundation for your research.
  • Identify a Theme: In addition to or instead of a time period or region, you might want to choose a theme that you wish to explore. Themes can range from political history, cultural history, history of science and technology, to gender history, among others. A thematic approach can offer a unique perspective and can even allow you to cross over different time periods or regions.
  • Conduct Preliminary Research: Even before you have a firm topic in hand, engage in some preliminary research. This could involve reviewing textbooks, scholarly articles, or reputable online resources related to your chosen period, region, or theme. Preliminary research can give you a general sense of the historical context and inspire potential topics.
  • Seek Inspiration from Existing Works: As part of your preliminary research, look at other research papers, theses, or dissertations in your area of interest. This can give you a good idea of what has been done, what gaps exist in the research, and where your research could potentially fit in.
  • Scope Your Topic: The scope of your topic should be proportionate to the length and depth of your paper. If your paper is relatively short, a narrow, focused topic would be more suitable. For a longer and more complex paper, a broader topic that explores multiple facets or perspectives would be more appropriate.
  • Consider the Relevance: Another aspect to consider when selecting a topic is its relevance. Does the topic have any relation to the course you are undertaking? Does it reflect on current historical or social debates? A topic that connects your historical research to broader academic or social issues can make your paper more impactful and engaging.
  • Look for Unique Angles: While not every research paper can revolutionize the field, striving for some degree of originality in your work is always a good practice. Look for unique angles, underexplored areas, or new perspectives on a well-trodden topic. Presenting a fresh approach can make your paper more interesting for both you and your readers.
  • Assess the Availability of Sources: Your research paper is only as good as your sources. Before finalizing your topic, make sure there are enough primary and secondary sources available to you. This could be in the form of books, academic articles, documentary films, archives, databases, or digital resources.
  • Evaluate the Feasibility: Beyond the availability of sources, consider other practical aspects of your chosen topic. Is it feasible to conduct the research within the given time frame? Is the topic too complex or too simplistic for your current academic level? A realistic evaluation of these factors at an early stage can save you a lot of time and effort down the line.
  • Reflect on Your Interests: Above all, select a topic that genuinely piques your curiosity. A research paper is a significant undertaking, and your interest in the topic will sustain you through potential challenges. If you are passionate about the topic, it will reflect in your writing and make your paper more compelling.
  • Solicit Feedback: Seek advice from your instructor, classmates, or any other knowledgeable individuals. They may be able to provide valuable feedback, point out potential pitfalls, or suggest different perspectives that can enrich your research.
  • Be Flexible: Be prepared to tweak, adjust, or even overhaul your topic as you delve deeper into the research process. New information or insights may emerge that shift your focus or challenge your initial assumptions.
  • Bridge the Past and Present: Try to find topics that allow you to connect historical events or phenomena with contemporary issues. This can provide additional depth to your paper and may also appeal to a broader audience.
  • Consult Specialized Encyclopedias and Guides: These can provide overviews of various topics and can often suggest areas for research. They also offer bibliographies which can serve as a starting point for your research.
  • Draft a Preliminary Thesis Statement: Once you have a potential topic, try drafting a preliminary thesis statement. This can help you focus your ideas and give you a clear direction for your research.
  • Ensure Your Topic Meets the Assignment Goals: Check back with your assignment guidelines to make sure your chosen topic meets all the requirements. It’s a good idea to do this before you start your in-depth research.
  • Be Ready to Invest Time and Effort: Choose a topic that you are ready to spend time on. Remember, you will be working on this topic for an extended period, so choose something that you find interesting and engaging.
  • Enjoy the Process: Finally, remember that the process of researching and writing a history paper can be a source of enjoyment and intellectual satisfaction. Choose a topic that not only meets academic requirements but also gives you a sense of accomplishment and discovery.

Choosing the best history research paper topic is not merely about fulfilling an academic requirement. It’s about setting the stage for a journey into the past, an exploration of humanity’s collective memory. The right topic will not only make this journey enjoyable but also deeply enlightening. By considering these tips, you can select a topic that resonates with you and holds the potential for a meaningful scholarly contribution.

How to Write a Best History Research Paper

Writing a history research paper can be a rewarding experience, providing an opportunity to delve into the past and explore the events, ideas, and personalities that have shaped our world. However, crafting a high-quality paper requires more than just an interest in the subject matter. It involves thorough research, analytical thinking, and clear, persuasive writing. Here are twenty comprehensive tips on how to write a best history research paper.

  • Understand the Assignment: Begin by thoroughly understanding the assignment. Ensure you grasp the requirements, the scope of the paper, the format, and the deadline. Clear any doubts with your professor or peers before you start.
  • Select a Suitable Topic: As discussed earlier, choosing an appropriate topic is crucial. It should be engaging, manageable, and meet the assignment’s requirements. Consider your interests, the available resources, and the paper’s scope when choosing the topic.
  • Conduct In-Depth Research: Once the topic is decided, embark on thorough research. Use a variety of sources, such as books, academic journals, credible online sources, primary sources, and documentaries. Remember to take notes and record the sources for citation purposes.
  • Formulate a Thesis Statement: The thesis statement is the central argument or point of your paper. It should be clear, concise, and debatable, providing a roadmap for your entire paper. The thesis statement should guide your research and each main point you make in your paper should support this central idea.
  • Create an Outline: An outline helps organize your thoughts and arguments. Typically, it should include an introduction (with the thesis statement), body paragraphs (with topic sentences), and a conclusion. Each point in your outline should be a reflection of your thesis statement.
  • Start with a Strong Introduction: The introduction should be engaging, provide some background on the topic, and include the thesis statement. It sets the tone for the rest of your paper, so make it compelling and informative.
  • Develop Body Paragraphs: Each body paragraph should focus on one main idea that supports your thesis. Begin with a topic sentence, provide evidence or arguments, and then conclude the paragraph by linking it back to your thesis. Be clear and concise in your arguments.
  • Use Evidence Effectively: Support your arguments with evidence from your research. This could include quotations, statistics, or primary source materials. Remember to interpret the evidence and explain its relevance to your argument.
  • Maintain a Logical Flow: The ideas in your paper should flow logically from one point to the next. Use transitional words and phrases to maintain continuity and help guide your reader through your paper.
  • Write a Compelling Conclusion: Your conclusion should sum up your main points, restate the thesis in light of the evidence provided, and possibly offer areas for further research or a concluding insight. It should leave the reader with something to think about.
  • Cite Your Sources: Always cite your sources properly. This not only gives credit where it’s due but also strengthens your argument by indicating the breadth of your research. Ensure you follow the required citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.).
  • Revise for Clarity and Coherence: After finishing your initial draft, revise your work. Check for clarity, coherence, and consistency of argument. Ensure each paragraph has a clear focus, and that the paragraphs flow smoothly from one idea to the next.
  • Proofread: Proofread your paper for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Such errors can distract from the content and undermine your credibility as a writer. Reading your paper aloud or having someone else read it can help catch errors you might have missed.
  • Seek Feedback: Before finalizing your paper, consider seeking feedback from your professor, peers, or a writing center tutor. They can provide valuable perspectives and suggestions for improvement that you might not have considered.
  • Write in a Formal Academic Style: Your paper should be written in a formal academic style. Avoid slang, colloquialisms, and overly complex language. Be clear, concise, and precise in your expression.
  • Avoid Plagiarism: Plagiarism is a serious academic offense. Ensure that all ideas and words that are not your own are properly cited. When in doubt, it’s better to over-cite than to under-cite.
  • Stay Objective: A good history paper is objective and does not include personal opinions or biases. It relies on facts and evidence, and presents balanced arguments. Stick to the evidence and avoid emotional language.
  • Be Original: Strive for originality in your argument and interpretation. While your topic might not be entirely new, your perspective on it can be. Don’t be afraid to challenge established interpretations if you have evidence to support your argument.
  • Use Primary Sources Wisely: Primary sources are invaluable in historical research. However, remember that they should be used to support your argument, not to construct it. Your analysis and interpretation of the sources are what matters.
  • Enjoy the Process: Finally, remember to enjoy the process. Writing a research paper is not just an academic exercise, but a journey into the past. It’s a chance to learn, explore, and contribute to our understanding of history.

In conclusion, writing a best history research paper requires careful planning, thorough research, clear writing, and detailed revision. However, the process can be highly rewarding, leading to new insights and a deeper understanding of history. These tips provide a comprehensive guide to help you craft a top-notch history research paper. Remember, history is a continually evolving dialogue, and your paper is your chance to join the conversation.

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When it comes to academic writing, particularly in the realm of history, the challenges are manifold. Selecting a suitable topic, conducting thorough research, forming persuasive arguments, and structuring your thoughts in a coherent and scholarly manner can often be a daunting task. This is where iResearchNet comes to your aid. As a premier academic writing service, iResearchNet provides students with the opportunity to order a custom history research paper on any topic. The goal is to alleviate your academic stress while ensuring that you meet your educational goals.

Key features of iResearchNet’s services include:

  • Expert Degree-Holding Writers: Our team consists of professionals who are not just well-versed in various historical topics, but also have extensive experience in academic writing.
  • Custom Written Works: Every paper we deliver is created from scratch, tailored to your specific requirements and instructions, ensuring originality and uniqueness.
  • In-Depth Research: Our writers are committed to conducting meticulous and comprehensive research to gather relevant information and provide insightful perspectives for your paper.
  • Custom Formatting: Whether your paper requires APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, or Harvard style, our team is proficient in all these citation formats.
  • Top Quality: Quality is not negotiable for us. We strive to provide superior writing services that align with the highest academic standards.
  • Customized Solutions: Every student is unique, and so are our solutions. We customize our approach based on your individual needs and the demands of your project.
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  • Short Deadlines: We accept orders with deadlines as short as 3 hours, always delivering on time without compromising the quality of work.
  • Timely Delivery: We understand the importance of meeting deadlines in academia and ensure timely delivery of all assignments.
  • 24/7 Support: Our customer service team is available round the clock to assist you with any queries or issues you may have.
  • Absolute Privacy: We maintain strict confidentiality and privacy policies to protect your personal information.
  • Easy Order Tracking: With our seamless order tracking system, you can easily monitor the progress of your paper.
  • Money Back Guarantee: We offer a money-back guarantee if our work does not meet the agreed-upon standards, giving you peace of mind when using our services.

In conclusion, iResearchNet offers a comprehensive suite of academic writing services designed to support students in their academic journey. From expert writers and custom written works to in-depth research and timely delivery, iResearchNet is equipped to handle any history research paper with excellence and dedication. We believe in delivering high-quality, original, and impactful research papers that can elevate your academic experience and success. So why wait? Avail of iResearchNet’s services today and experience the relief and satisfaction of handing in a top-quality history research paper.

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Join us in celebrating another year of excellence in history research at Oxford University Press. Our 'Most Read in History’ collection brings together the most read content published in our history portfolio in 2022, offering a free selection of journal articles and book chapters from the year's most popular publications.

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Browse our journals, browse our books, browse our handbooks, historical thinking and the democratic mind: an apprenticeship approach to teaching narrative complexity in the history classroom, latin america and the radicalization of u.s. abolition, rethinking nationalism, the privilege of family history, poverty, inequality statistics and knowledge politics under thatcher, the last voyage of the gloucester (1682): the politics of a royal shipwreck*, gendered labour, negritude and the black public sphere, town talk: enhancing the ‘eyes and ears’ of the colonial state in british hong kong, 1950s–1975, fiction and disinformation in early modern europe: an introduction, reply: out of the west — and neither east, nor north, nor south, chiefs and rural health services in south-western nigeria, c. 1920—c. 1950s, wilful blindness: sleeping sickness and onchocerciasis in colonial northern ghana, 1909–1957, from particularism to mass murder: nazi morality, antisemitism, and cognitive dissonance, surviving art from terezín: the satirical drawings of pavel fantl, medicine, religion, and the humanitarian ethos: walter b. cannon, unitarianism, and the care of spanish republican refugees in france, fighting a plague: doctors' stories of challenge and innovation combatting the aids epidemic in 1980s new york city, u.s. foreign policy think tanks and women’s intellectual labor, 1920–1950*, the cold war construction of the amerasian, 1950–1982, who is doctor bauer: rematriating a censored story on internment, wardship, and sexual violence in wartime alaska, 1941 - 1944, searching the shadows: thoughts on the west’s political history an extended field note, marianne en guerre, 1913–1923: the french republic in the era of the great war, la cité de demain: french urbanism in war and reconstruction, 1914–1928, prisoners of the world unite: the internationalism of the 2 june movement from berlin moabit prison, ideal men and dream women: computer matchmaking in twen during the west german sex wave, 1967–1970, ethnic jokes: mocking the working irish woman: winning essay, journal of victorian culture graduate essay prize 2021, soldiership, christianity, and the crimean war: the reception of catherine marsh’s memorials of captain hedley vicars, open secrets: the british ‘migrated archives’, colonial history, and postcolonial history, mapping the notting hill riots: racism and the streets of post-war britain, the other little house: the brothel as a colonial institution on the canadian prairies, 1880–93, white ethnicity in the urban crisis: newark’s italian americans, decolonizing britain: an exchange, women, mobility, and education in twentieth-century england and wales: a new analytical approach, gender and the long-run development process. a survey of the literature, the panopticon of germany’s foreign trade, 1880–1913: new facts on the first globalization, dan pagis’ bilingual poem ‘ein leben’ – an ophthalmologic poetics of german–hebrew eye contact, the foundations of constitutional history, labor in hot climates: the seventeenth century, introduction, defeat and internment: the french army in german hands, conceptualising corruption in office, introduction: towards a political ecology of aridity, builders and organizers, christian and literary rhetorics of the early middle ages: emotion as the property of style, introduction elizabeth’s and caty’s failed escapes: the materials of legal meaning, an exhausted soil, introduction: the bbc’s century, networks of cartographic influence, patronage, and reception, introduction: ‘the ever-memorable battle of waterloo’, caste and partition, the mishnah between jews and christians in early modern europe, introduction: republics and the politics of self-governance, climbing the ladder, 1578–1612, introduction: framing nigerian history in the twenty-first century, introduction: a new global history of drugs, introduction: the history of the history of the jewish diaspora, affiliations.

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Handbook for Historians

  • Choosing a Paper Topic
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The Newport Historical Society goes deep on Black and Indigenous experiences

A ledger showing purchases made by Abraham Casey at a general store owned by his employer, who used a debt bondage system to exert control over his laborers.

☘️ We’re about a month from St. Patrick’s Day, and this year, I’m honored to be the Grand Marshal of the Providence St. Patrick’s Day Parade (the great James Riley is our Deputy Grand Marshal this year). I’d love to invite you to our dinner on Feb. 28. You can purchase tickets here.

It’s Black History Month, and the Newport Historical Society just launched a fascinating research project that centers the Black and Indigenous experiences embedded in the City by the Sea’s historical record.

You can check out “Voices from the NHS Archives” for yourself by clicking here, but I asked Rebecca Bertrand, executive director of Newport Historical Society, to tell us more about the project.

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Q: This was a project that took more than four years to complete, and you say you reviewed 4,000 church records, business papers, ship logs, and more from the NHS archives. Why was this such an important undertaking?

Bertrand: It took our team four years to build and launch this free, expansive digital archive, but this project is far from complete. The historic narrative of Newport has predominantly centered on the white and the powerful, but the materials we have reviewed, digitized, and added to the database center the lives, stories, and personhood of Black and Indigenous Newporters.

We will continue to add to it for many years to come. Thanks to the support of the van Beuren Charitable Foundation , the example provided by Enslaved.org , and the expertise of dozens of scholars and partners, these records are now available to all — whether you’re a historian, a teacher, a visitor, or just curious about our Newport County community.

Q: You also curated more than 15 stories of people who lived and worked in Newport during the era of slavery. How did you put those stories together?

Bertrand: We examined over 4,000 documents in painstaking detail, digitizing and tagging each item with the names of people, families, businesses, and other details. Many people appeared across a number of documents, allowing our team to curate more complete life stories. With our featured stories section, we wanted to illustrate the kind of narrative that can be built through this in-depth archival research. The 15 features are just the beginning, and we will continue to add to that section as our work continues.

Q: Was there anything you really wanted to find — but couldn’t?

Bertrand: We’re proud of how rich and robust the database is, but we also know that there is so much more to discover. More families, more connections, and more events that helped shape Newport’s history and the city today. In many of the historic documents we study, we see the names of people — including enslaved people — intentionally omitted.

As researchers, it is our job to try to overcome the limitations and biases of the historical record by looking for other documents that might shed light on who these people were. Only 2 percent of our manuscript collection has been digitized, so our small but committed team is going to continue to help make accessible a more complete history of this period.

Q: What’s the long-term goal with this project?

Bertrand: Voices from the NHS Archives is about increasing understanding of and access to history. Through partnerships with Enslaved.org , the Harvard Dataverse , and 10 Million Names , we hope to have a global reach. We also hope the database will be a tool for people to research their ancestors in Newport and encourage them to engage with us in other ways, like through our Black history walking tours or lecture series.

We’re especially excited to host a free exhibition in May to celebrate the stories uncovered through this research project. We are working with three local artists of color who will be creating pieces to depict some of the individuals identified in the database.

Stay tuned for more details, and we hope people will reach out to learn more.

This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, links to interesting stories, and more. If you’d like to receive it via email Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Dan McGowan can be reached at [email protected] . Follow him @danmcgowan .

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Title: an interactive agent foundation model.

Abstract: The development of artificial intelligence systems is transitioning from creating static, task-specific models to dynamic, agent-based systems capable of performing well in a wide range of applications. We propose an Interactive Agent Foundation Model that uses a novel multi-task agent training paradigm for training AI agents across a wide range of domains, datasets, and tasks. Our training paradigm unifies diverse pre-training strategies, including visual masked auto-encoders, language modeling, and next-action prediction, enabling a versatile and adaptable AI framework. We demonstrate the performance of our framework across three separate domains -- Robotics, Gaming AI, and Healthcare. Our model demonstrates its ability to generate meaningful and contextually relevant outputs in each area. The strength of our approach lies in its generality, leveraging a variety of data sources such as robotics sequences, gameplay data, large-scale video datasets, and textual information for effective multimodal and multi-task learning. Our approach provides a promising avenue for developing generalist, action-taking, multimodal systems.

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Reproductive rights in America

Research at the heart of a federal case against the abortion pill has been retracted.

Selena Simmons-Duffin

Selena Simmons-Duffin

historical research paper

The Supreme Court will hear the case against the abortion pill mifepristone on March 26. It's part of a two-drug regimen with misoprostol for abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images hide caption

The Supreme Court will hear the case against the abortion pill mifepristone on March 26. It's part of a two-drug regimen with misoprostol for abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

A scientific paper that raised concerns about the safety of the abortion pill mifepristone was retracted by its publisher this week. The study was cited three times by a federal judge who ruled against mifepristone last spring. That case, which could limit access to mifepristone throughout the country, will soon be heard in the Supreme Court.

The now retracted study used Medicaid claims data to track E.R. visits by patients in the month after having an abortion. The study found a much higher rate of complications than similar studies that have examined abortion safety.

Sage, the publisher of the journal, retracted the study on Monday along with two other papers, explaining in a statement that "expert reviewers found that the studies demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor that invalidates or renders unreliable the authors' conclusions."

It also noted that most of the authors on the paper worked for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of anti-abortion lobbying group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, and that one of the original peer reviewers had also worked for the Lozier Institute.

The Sage journal, Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology , published all three research articles, which are still available online along with the retraction notice. In an email to NPR, a spokesperson for Sage wrote that the process leading to the retractions "was thorough, fair, and careful."

The lead author on the paper, James Studnicki, fiercely defends his work. "Sage is targeting us because we have been successful for a long period of time," he says on a video posted online this week . He asserts that the retraction has "nothing to do with real science and has everything to do with a political assassination of science."

He says that because the study's findings have been cited in legal cases like the one challenging the abortion pill, "we have become visible – people are quoting us. And for that reason, we are dangerous, and for that reason, they want to cancel our work," Studnicki says in the video.

In an email to NPR, a spokesperson for the Charlotte Lozier Institute said that they "will be taking appropriate legal action."

Role in abortion pill legal case

Anti-abortion rights groups, including a group of doctors, sued the federal Food and Drug Administration in 2022 over the approval of mifepristone, which is part of a two-drug regimen used in most medication abortions. The pill has been on the market for over 20 years, and is used in more than half abortions nationally. The FDA stands by its research that finds adverse events from mifepristone are extremely rare.

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, the district court judge who initially ruled on the case, pointed to the now-retracted study to support the idea that the anti-abortion rights physicians suing the FDA had the right to do so. "The associations' members have standing because they allege adverse events from chemical abortion drugs can overwhelm the medical system and place 'enormous pressure and stress' on doctors during emergencies and complications," he wrote in his decision, citing Studnicki. He ruled that mifepristone should be pulled from the market nationwide, although his decision never took effect.

historical research paper

Matthew Kacsmaryk at his confirmation hearing for the federal bench in 2017. AP hide caption

Matthew Kacsmaryk at his confirmation hearing for the federal bench in 2017.

Kacsmaryk is a Trump appointee who was a vocal abortion opponent before becoming a federal judge.

"I don't think he would view the retraction as delegitimizing the research," says Mary Ziegler , a law professor and expert on the legal history of abortion at U.C. Davis. "There's been so much polarization about what the reality of abortion is on the right that I'm not sure how much a retraction would affect his reasoning."

Ziegler also doubts the retractions will alter much in the Supreme Court case, given its conservative majority. "We've already seen, when it comes to abortion, that the court has a propensity to look at the views of experts that support the results it wants," she says. The decision that overturned Roe v. Wade is an example, she says. "The majority [opinion] relied pretty much exclusively on scholars with some ties to pro-life activism and didn't really cite anybody else even or really even acknowledge that there was a majority scholarly position or even that there was meaningful disagreement on the subject."

In the mifepristone case, "there's a lot of supposition and speculation" in the argument about who has standing to sue, she explains. "There's a probability that people will take mifepristone and then there's a probability that they'll get complications and then there's a probability that they'll get treatment in the E.R. and then there's a probability that they'll encounter physicians with certain objections to mifepristone. So the question is, if this [retraction] knocks out one leg of the stool, does that somehow affect how the court is going to view standing? I imagine not."

It's impossible to know who will win the Supreme Court case, but Ziegler thinks that this retraction probably won't sway the outcome either way. "If the court is skeptical of standing because of all these aforementioned weaknesses, this is just more fuel to that fire," she says. "It's not as if this were an airtight case for standing and this was a potentially game-changing development."

Oral arguments for the case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA , are scheduled for March 26 at the Supreme Court. A decision is expected by summer. Mifepristone remains available while the legal process continues.

  • Abortion policy
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  • judge matthew kacsmaryk
  • mifepristone
  • retractions
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A lost 22-page transcript discovered at the National Archives reveals the secret history of how Abraham Lincoln pardoned Joe Biden's ancestor

  • Abraham Lincoln pardoned President Joe Biden's great-great-grandfather, Moses J. Robinette, in 1864.
  • Robinette was convicted after a fight with an army colleague during the Civil War, documents show.
  • He was pardoned after receiving support from several army officers and a West Virginia senator.

Insider Today

President Joe Biden's former boss, ex-President Barack Obama, used to say that his favorite American president was Abraham Lincoln , who kept the nation from splintering during the Civil War. But, on this Presidents Day , Biden may have a reason to show Lincoln some gratitude.

Indeed, Lincoln, the country's 16th commander in chief, pardoned Biden's great-great-grandfather, US Army employee Moses J. Robinette, after he was caught up in an altercation on a Union Army base in 1864, according to a Washington Post report . Robinette was sentenced to two years hard labor in a Florida military prison for his role in the fight with a colleague, the Post reported, citing a transcript of Robinette's military trial — until Lincoln stepped in and set him free.

Robinette was serving as a civilian veterinary surgeon in the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War when, on the evening of March 21, 1864, he got into a verbal altercation with another civilian employee, John J. Alexander. The shouting match turned physical, and eventually, Robinette injured Alexander with his pocketknife, according to the Post.

The camp's watchmen arrested Robinette. He was charged with intoxication, causing a "dangerous quarrel," disturbing military discipline and order, and — as a result of the knife wounds — making an "attempt to kill." A military court convicted Robinette of all charges except the "attempt to kill" charge and sentenced him to the two-year prison sentence in Florida as punishment.

Three Army officers petitioned Lincoln to overturn Robinette's conviction. After a senator from the recently formed state of West Virginia took up the case, Lincoln pardoned Biden's ancestor on September 1, 1864. The War Department issued Special Order No. 296, and Robinette was released, returning to his family's farm in Maryland.

Newly discovered docs

The Post's account of these events is based on a 22-page transcript unearthed by David Gerleman, a history instructor at George Mason University in Virginia, who discovered the document at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The surprise pardon by Lincoln represented a reversal of Robinette's fortunes up until that point after he'd endured a pretty dismal time during the war. In 1861, when the war kicked off, Robinette operated a hotel in Grafton, Virginia. The area, now in West Virginia, was full of Union supporters and became a key early battleground of the war. Union soldiers destroyed Robinette's hotel, and his wife Jane died early in the war. The Post said Robinette fled with his children to other relatives in Allegany County, Maryland.

By 1863, he was hired to help care for the ammunition pack horses and mules of the Army of the Potomac's reserve artillery. That assignment led Robinette to his scuffle with Alexander, who was serving as a brigade wagon master in the Army's winter camp on the bank of Virginia's Rappahannock River.

Alexander is said to have confronted Robinette after overhearing Robinette badmouthing him to a female cook. The argument devolved into a physical fight, according to the transcript. First, both participants brandished their fists. Then, Robinette took out his pocket knife.

Afterward, Robinette claimed he was only acting in self-defense and "had no malice towards Mr. Alexander before or since." In a letter the three Army officers sent encouraging Lincoln to overturn Robinette's conviction, they claimed he was merely "defending himself" against an adversary far larger and stronger than he was.

Ultimately, Robinette waited three months between being charged and convicted. He went on to spend one month in the military prison at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, near Key West, Florida, before Lincoln pardoned him.

Now, Robinette's direct descendant is sitting in Lincoln's old seat.

historical research paper

Watch: Biden joked he was "sandbagged" after tripping at US Air Force Academy graduation

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  1. PDF A Brief Guide to Writing the History Paper

    Some papers are concerned with history (not just what happened, of course, but why and how it happened), and some are interested in historiography (i.e., how other historians have written history, specifically the peculiarities of different works, scholars, or schools of thought).

  2. How to Write a History Research Paper

    1. How do I pick a topic? Picking a topic is perhaps the most important step in writing a research paper. To do it well requires several steps of refinement. First you have to determine a general area in which you have an interest (if you aren't interested, your readers won't be either).

  3. A Step by Step Guide to Doing Historical Research

    Historical research is your informed response to the questions that you ask while examining the record of human experience. These questions may concern such elements as looking at an event or topic, examining events that lead to the event in question, social influences, key players, and other contextual information.

  4. Historical Research

    Published since 1923, Historical Research, flagship publication of the Institute of Historical Research, is a leading generalist history journal, covering the global history of the early middle ages to the twenty-first century... Find out more Classic articles from the recent archives

  5. What Is A History Paper?

    A history research paper makes an original contribution to historical knowledge. Because a history research paper is based on your own analysis of primary and secondary source material, you will be making a new contribution to our understanding of the past.

  6. Steps for Writing a History Paper

    Writing a history paper is your opportunity to do the real work of historians, to roll up your sleeves and dig deep into the past. What is a History paper? History papers are driven by arguments. In a history class, even if you are not writing a paper based on outside research, you are still writing a paper that requires some form of argument.

  7. PDF Writing Graduate Papers in History: Research Papers ...

    An historical research paper does not merely recount "what happened," but makes an argument about why something happened the way it did. A history paper should never be mere summary, but should present a claim and analyze it through the lens of larger social, political, and cultural trends.

  8. Introduction to Historical Research : Home

    This guide is an introduction to selected resources available for historical research. It covers both primary sources (such as diaries, letters, newspaper articles, photographs, government documents and first-hand accounts) and secondary materials (such as books and articles written by historians and devoted to the analysis and interpretation of historical events and evidence).

  9. How to Write a History Research Paper

    1. Background Reading The first step to a history research paper is of course, background reading and research. In the context of a class assignment, "background reading" might simply be course readings or lectures, but for independent work, this step will likely involve some quality time on your own in the library.

  10. Writing Resources

    Analyzing a Historical Document Writing a Book Review Writing a Term Paper or Senior Thesis Top Ten Reasons for Negative Comments on History Papers (Drawn from a survey of the History Department) 10. You engage in cheap, anachronistic moralizing. 9. You are sloppy with the chronology. 8. You quote excessively or improperly. 7.

  11. PDF What is a historical paper? The Basic Framework

    Most importantly, all papers must convey and support a historical argument. Look at the NHD criteria for a paper to see how you can combine a creative style of writing with historical research and analysis. Creating a paper for History Day is similar to other research papers you have written and generally falls into three basic steps: 1.

  12. Historical Research

    Historical research is the process of investigating and studying past events, people, and societies using a variety of sources and methods. This type of research aims to reconstruct and interpret the past based on the available evidence. Types of Historical Research There are several types of historical research, including: Descriptive Research

  13. The Historical Journal

    The Historical Journal continues to publish papers on all aspects of British, European, and world history since the fifteenth century. The best contemporary scholarship is represented. Contributions come from all parts of the world.

  14. Best History Research Paper Topics

    The following comprehensive list of the best history research paper topics is crafted to stimulate your curiosity and ignite your passion for historical study. These topics cover a range of historical periods and geographical locations to cater to the diverse interests of history students.

  15. Most Read in History

    Most Read in History Join us in celebrating another year of excellence in history research at Oxford University Press. Our 'Most Read in History' collection brings together the most read content published in our history portfolio in 2022, offering a free selection of journal articles and book chapters from the year's most popular publications.

  16. PDF Formulating a Research Question

    Formulating a Research Question. Every research project starts with a question. Your question will allow you to select, evaluate and interpret your sources systematically. The question you start with isn't set in stone, but will almost certainly be revisited and revised as you read. Every discipline allows for certain kinds of questions to be ...

  17. The Purpose of a Historical Research Paper

    A research paper is taking a theory and proving it. Using the example of George Washington, a research paper on him could have a thesis statement, such as Washington's military career under the British crown was crucial in helping him defeat the British during the American Revolution. This thesis proposes a theory of Washington's military career and its impact on the entire American ...

  18. What is a History Paper?

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  19. PDF Guidelines for Historical Research and Writing

    The purpose of writing a historical research paper is to interpret the past. Do not simply provide what one would find in an encyclopedia entry, whose purpose is, in the words of Sergeant Joe Friday, "to state the facts, and nothing but the facts." Find a problem and try to solve it. Ask a question and seek to answer it.

  20. Sample Papers

    Sample History Papers. These are examples of well written, properly cited history papers. Example of full paper with outline. For World Civilizations I & II. Outline Example . Example of an outline for a first year level history paper. Judge and Langdon Book Review/Research Paper - Example 1.

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    Chronicling America

  22. (PDF) Historical Research Approaches to the Analysis of

    Historical research methods and approaches can improve understanding of the most appropriate techniques to confront data and test theories in internationalisation research. A critical analysis of ...

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    The development of artificial intelligence systems is transitioning from creating static, task-specific models to dynamic, agent-based systems capable of performing well in a wide range of applications. We propose an Interactive Agent Foundation Model that uses a novel multi-task agent training paradigm for training AI agents across a wide range of domains, datasets, and tasks. Our training ...

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