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American Presidency Seminar: Assignment


Bentley School Junior History Research Paper Assignment

aka the “Try Harder, Try Again, and Don’t Give Up!” assignment


As a junior enrolled in a history seminar this spring, you will complete an independent research project based on the topic of your course that will occupy the last five weeks of the course. This paper will be eight to ten 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, 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.

The Junior History Research Project is worth 40% of your T3 History grade.

Step One: Choosing a Topic:

In this class, we’ve read and discussed a variety of matters related to the American Presidency. The scope of this introductory course presents only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what questions and lines of inquiry can be pursued in studying US presidents and the presidency. Now you have the opportunity to dive into related research of your own choosing. To develop a focus, you will need to pursue either a topic that we’ve yet to treat, or a topic that we have discussed but around which you would like to go into more detail or a broader scope. In consultation with your teacher, you will hone your topic by considering what we’ve already gone over, and what you’d like to know more about. Go through our readings—both the assigned ones and optional ones—to refresh your memory as to the terrain we’ve covered. The course reader includes scholarship from a range of academic fields, including cultural history, political science, communication, and cultural studies. Thus, you will also want to ask what areas of scholarship most interest you. This will help you find sources. Decisions on your topic might also be informed by the sources—primary and secondary—available to you.

Finding an area of analytical focus, let alone a mere paper topic in history, is certainly a daunting task. I want you to choose something that will be interesting to you. 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 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 eight 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 8

Due Thursday, May 10

Statement of topic and research questions (5% of grade):

In writing, state your topic. Give as much detail as you can at this point. No more than one to four sentences is needed at this stage . Also, write up several (about three to seven) research questions. What do you want to know about this topic? If one or two of your research questions stands out as encapsulating the other research questions you have, bold those more overarching questions.


Week 9

Due Tuesday, May 15


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 SIX total sources: at least TWO primary sources and at least FOUR 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 9

Due Thursday, May 17


Annotated Bibliography (10% 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 10

Due Tuesday, May 22


Paper Thesis, Introduction, and Outline (10% of grade):

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

Week 11

Due Tuesday,

May 29

First Draft and Presentations (25% 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 4


Paper Final Draft (45% of grade):

In addition to a copy of the final draft of the paper, students must also submit all pieces of the writing process, including all previous drafts and returned work, 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.