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Junior History Research Paper: A Tale of Two Cities: Assignment

Junior History Research Paper

A Tale of Two Cities: Nineteenth-Century London and Paris and the Making of Modern Life
Dr. Whitta
Spring 2016


Junior History Research Paper Assignment

As a junior enrolled in a history seminar at Bentley this spring, you will complete an independent research project based on the topic of your course that will occupy the last six weeks of the course. This paper will be eight to nine pages in length and must be based upon original research involving an array of both primary and secondary sources suitable to support an original argument and analysis developing that argument. This paper will be researched and written over the remainder of the term and as such, the grading of the paper will not only emphasize product (the final draft), but also process, including each of the steps outlined below. You will receive grades on each portion of the writing process including the proposal, draft annotated bibliography, outline/thesis, first draft, and final draft. Students will also be expected to present their work to their peers in the closing weeks of the course.

Step One: Choosing a Topic: We have traced in our course so far a broad trajectory of change in the fashioning of “modern” identity as a function of urban identity, attempting to define what modern consciousness might involve in the contexts of nineteenth-century London and Paris.  Both as homo faber and homo ludens, modern identity seems to come together especially in the city.  The “world capitals” of London and Paris have served in our study as iconic places where our modern capacities as producers and consumers – of economic, material and cultural capital – are most fully explored (created, constructed, developed, interrogated, challenged).  We have read a series of representative essays and surveyed the terrain of nineteenth-century urban life in these metropolises through its material culture as well as its literary, philosophical and aesthetic artifacts. 

Now it is time to go deeper.  For this extended research paper, you will have the opportunity to explore in depth a more specific field of nineteenth-century urban history, incorporating serious scholarship and theory about how the city contributes to the representation of “modernity.”  You will choose an area of investigation that we have not been able or have only begun to cover in class, and will develop an argument about how your scholarly area of expertise contributes to the project of crafting modern identity.

In this project, you will explore some of the key academic issues fundamental to the topic of nineteenth-century urban consciousness: how does population density affect consciousness?  How does the class divide consolidate or evolve urban identities?  How much of and in what ways might the revolutions in industrialization, technological innovation, and transport underwrite the structures of modern life in cities?  How does the rise of consumer capitalism transform the urban experience and make it “modern”?  In what ways might the relationship of the city to its own past embody its sense of relationship its present, its future, to time itself?  How might the modern urban experience become particularly enmeshed in a new sense of the passing of time?  Of the power of memory?  How do art, architecture or other areas of design reflect the Zeitgeist?  How might the field of urban planning be considered a modern phenomenon?  What political changes seem to go hand-in-hand with the (r)evolution of “the modern”?  What kinds of texts (or contexts) serve as voices of modernity?   We will have access to a wide range of sources in the field of scholarship in the period’s history from which to choose – from sociological to economic, political to psychoanalytic, aesthetic to anthropological, Marxist to monarchist.  The burgeoning field of cultural and memory studies will also help us explore nineteenth-century urban history from another intellectual and scholarly perspective, complementing the survey of materials we have begun in the first half of the course.


Finding an area of analytical focus, let alone a mere paper topic in history, is certainly a daunting task. Remember, for a short paper (eight pages isn’t much in the end), a narrow topic illustrating an aspect of your field of interest will produce the best results. Draw on your experience in your history courses thus far and find a question (or set of questions) that excites or challenges you about the material. It will be helpful is to identify an arena or genre of historical scholarship that you want to pursue and begin exploring primary sources available to you. Sources, rather than theories, should drive your research questions. Thus, as you begin to explore a topic, consider the sources available to you rather than just choosing an area of interest blindly. As you find sources, you will assemble a rough bibliography that notes what you find. We will spend time in class discussing strategies to successfully choose a topic during the first week of the project.


Step Two:  Exploring Sources and Crafting an Argument: As you gain an understanding of your larger field of study through your preliminary research, you will begin to figure out the kind of argument (and scholarly contribution) you want to make. Much of the work of the class will be devoted to supporting your work as historians, particularly in reviewing strategies useful in reading primary and secondary documents. Although we will spend time with Ms. Bogas during the first weeks of the project, who will help identify collections of primary sources available to Bentley students, I encourage you to explore material, both available locally and online, as you consider your topic. As you compile evidence – both primary and secondary sources – we will discuss methods of note-taking, reading, and analysis.


Step Three: The Drafting Process: As this part of the course is concerned with the process of historical writing, drafting will play a vital (and necessary) role in this assignment. You will not only receive a grade for your drafts (based more on their completion than their quality), but they will also form a part of our class discussion and work in the last third of the course. The first draft must be a complete draft consisting of all of the major components of the assignment with at least ten pages of writing. We will rely on a combination of instructor feedback and peer review through the drafting process and you will be called on to not only to share your work regularly with the class, but also to provide thoughtful critique to other students.


Step Four: The Final Draft: Revise, revise, and revise some more! The final draft will make up a significant part of your project grade. A portion of this grade is allocated to all parts of the drafting process, including your proposal, outline, bibliography, and all assignments directly related to the paper given during class time.


Additional Paper Guidelines: All papers will be prepared according to the guidelines specified in the syllabus. Do NOT enclose the paper in a folder, binder or plastic cover. Cite sources of quotations or important information or ideas in footnotes (at the bottom of the page) or endnotes (a separate section before the bibliography). Do NOT use parenthetical (“in text”) citations. Give full citations to these sources in a separate bibliographic section at the end of the essay. All citations should use the format specified by the Chicago Manual of Style (you can set this up using Noodlebib).


Due Dates and Requirements


Week 9

Due Monday,

May 9th




Subject Proposal and Draft Bibliography (5% of grade):

In no more than one to two paragraphs, state your topic, your research question(s), and what you believe to be the significance of your work. Also, using proper Chicago Manual of Style format, construct a draft bibliography of all of the primary and secondary sources you are consulting in your research. At minimum, you should have EIGHT total sources, and no fewer than THREE each of primary and secondary sources. Please note that all secondary sources should be published academic sources (books, scholarly articles, etc.); free-standing websites without evidence of peer review or clear statements of authorship will not be accepted.



Week 10

Due Tuesday,

May 17th


Annotated Bibliography (5% of grade):

Update your draft bibliography with new sources that you have found. For each source (in addition to the citation itself), provide a one-two sentence summary of the topic or content of the source.



Week 11

Due Tuesday,

May 25th


Paper Thesis and Outline (10% of grade):

This step should be a detailed outline composed of your thesis statement and topic sentences.



Week 12

Due Tuesday,

May 31st


First Draft and Presentations (20% of grade):

The first draft should be a complete paper of at least eight pages, typed and double-spaced with one-inch margins. Please bring two printed copies to class. Also, starting on this date, you will be expected to share your rough draft to the class in a short five-minute presentation, which will allow more feedback from your peers.



Week 12

Due Monday,

June 6th


Paper Final Draft (60% of grade):

In addition to a print copy of the final draft of the paper, students must also submit all pieces of the writing process, including all previous drafts, at this date. Students will also submit an electronic copy of the final draft.







Final Draft Grading Rubric


Final drafts of the research papers are evaluated according to the following criteria:


1. Argument/Organization: Does the paper identify a significant topic or issue? Does it propound a thesis? Does the writer state the purpose and thesis clearly? Is the scope of the paper appropriate? Is the opening effective in establishing the context, purpose and point of view? Is the thesis developed and supported with an adequate argument? Is the argument coherent?  Convincing? Is the conclusion effective in summing up the argument?







2. Evidence/Analysis: Does the writer make accurate use of a wide range of primary and secondary sources to support the argument? Is sufficient evidence provided to develop his or her claims persuasively? Does the writer demonstrate analytical and critical skills in using these sources? Does the paper take proper note of the sources and biases? Does it demonstrate command of the topic and its historical context?







3. Engagement with Course Themes: Does the writer demonstrate a working knowledge of theories, concepts, and methods central to the subject and the class? Is the work of other scholars used appropriately to frame the argument? Is a wide array of interpretations considered? Does the writer demonstrate critical skills in the use of secondary sources?






4. Expression: Does the writer use language skillfully and appropriately? In other words, does the writer use: a variety of sentence structures and appropriate vocabulary for a formal research paper? Is the writing coherent?  Do ideas flow clearly? Are they connected logically?





5. Form: Does the writer follow standard conventions of usage, spelling, and punctuation? Does the writer adhere to the usual rules of citation in footnotes or endnotes and in the bibliography? Are the citations adequate to allow the reader to form a critical opinion of the range and use of sources?





6. Overall Rating:  A summary judgment of the paper’s quality, rather than a mere averaging of the categories above. Such factors as creativity and originality will be considered here.