History 695: Research Seminar
Thomas Humphrey
RT 1938
216 523 7183

Course objectives:  In History 400, the Local History Seminar, students will learn how to form a thesis, to create a research strategy, to conduct primary and secondary source research, to find and interpret these sources, and to write a coherent research paper.  In the end, the course provides students with the chance to use their knowledge, and research and writing skills to produce a paper between 7,500 and 8,500 words of text, excluding notes, based on primary sources and secondary literature that they will hand in at the end of the semester.  In the end, I have this advice: Don’t Panic!

The course is designed to fulfill the research seminar requirement for the MA degree in history. For some graduate students, this course may be the only chance they have to conduct significant primary source research and to produce a lengthy paper based on that kind of research.

There are not any books to buy but as graduate students you should own a Chicago Manual of Style or at least Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers, which is a kind of condensed version of the more authoritative book.

Article Readings:

Borchert, James, “Urban Neighborhood and Community: Informal Group Life, 1850-1970,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 11, No. 4. (Spring, 1981), pp. 607-631.

Cohen Lizabeth, “From Town Center to Shopping Center: The Reconfiguration of Community Marketplaces in Postwar America,” The American Historical Review 101 (October 1996), 1050-1081.

Geib, Paul, “From Mississippi to Milwaukee: A Case Study of the Southern Black Migration to Milwaukee, 1940-1970,” Journal  of Negro History 83 (Autumn 1998), 229-248.

Lepore, Jill, “Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography,” JAH 88 (June 2001).

Reuben, Julie A., “Beyond Politics: Community Civics and the Redefinition of Citizenship in the Progressive Era,” History of Education Quarterly 37 (Winter 1997), 399-420.

Sugrue, Thomas J., “Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940-1964,” JAH 82 (September 1995), 551-578.

Rhys Isaac, “Religion and Authority: Problems of the Anglican Establishment in Virginia in the Era of the Great Awakening and the Parsons' Cause.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd. Ser., Vol. 30, No. 1, Chesapeake Society. (Jan., 1973), pp. 3-36.

Jon Butler, 'Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretative Fiction.' The Journal of American History, Vol. 69, No. 2. (Sep., 1982), pp. 305-325.

Gary B. Nash, “The Transformation of Urban Politics 1700-1765.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 60, No. 3. (Dec., 1973), pp. 605-63.

Richard Beeman, “Deference, Republicanism, and the Emergence of Popular Politics in Eighteenth-Century America,” William & Mary Quarterly 49 (July 1992), 401-430.


Week one: January 20 and 22: Introduction and, for Thursday, read Lepore, Cohen, Borchert.

Week two: January 27 and 29: Read Geib, Reuben, Segrue for Tuesday, and Isaac and Butler for Thursday.

Week three: February 3 and 5: Read Nash and Beeman for Tuesday; Discuss footnotes on Thursday. Bring either Turabian or CMS.

Week four: February 10 and 12: Bibliographies and research on Tuesday. No scheduled class Thursday.

Week five: February 17 and 19: Individual meetings on reading and research.

Week six: February 24 and 26: Individual meetings on research.

Week seven: March 3 and 5: No class.

Week eight: March 10 and 11: Class discussion of research and writing.

Week nine: March 24 and 26: Individual meetings to discuss papers.

Weeks ten through fourteen: Individual reports on papers.

Week fifteen: May 5 and 7: Meetings if necessary.

Topic: Due 27 January: Students will hand in a one paragraph description of the topic for their paper. By that time, I expect students to have conducted preliminary research into the topic to make sure it is a viable research project. While the specifics of the paper will undoubtedly change, I will accept fundamental changes in the paper topics only under extreme circumstances. Please take the time to consider your topics carefully and as thoroughly as possible before you commit to it. This assignment is worth 15 points.

Preliminary Bibliography: Due 5 February: This bibliography is a list of the primary and secondary sources you will investigate to find material for your papers. I expect them to be in proper format. This assignment is worth 15 points.

Working Thesis: Due 10 February: This is a statement that outlines what you will write about in your paper. This working thesis will also include a preliminary outline of your paper and will include a list of primary and secondary sources you will use or have already read. Use the guidelines established in Storey and Turabian for your preliminary bibliography. I will mark down for improper style in the bibliography. This is worth 50 points. 

Presentations: From 31 March to 30 April: As needed: Each Student will make a 10 minute presentation of his or her thesis, and will field questions from the class. This is worth 25 points.

Rough Draft: Due 28 April: This is a completed draft of your paper that you will submit to me.  Students will make an extra copy of their rough draft to give to a fellow student, who will also read and review your paper.  In all, students should come to class with two hard copies of their paper.  I will comment fairly extensively on your papers, and student reviewers will also be required to comment on your papers.  Reviewers should always remember that constructive criticism is much easier to follow. Your rough draft is worth 75 points.

Final DraftsDue 14 May 2008. Students should hand to the instructor a finished copy of their paper on the day of the final exam. Any student who does not hand in a final paper will fail the course.  Students will also provide to the professor copies of the rough drafts reviewed by me and a student The final paper is worth 200 points.

Late work will be accepted only under extraordinary circumstances and must be arranged with the professor before the assignment is due.

Using someone else's ideas or phrasing and representing those ideas or phrasing as your own, either on purpose or through carelessness, is a serious offense known as plagiarism. "Ideas or phrasing" includes written or spoken material ranging from whole papers and paragraphs to sentences, and, indeed, phrases, but it also includes statistics, lab results, and art work. "Someone else" can mean a professional source, such as a published writer or critic in a book, magazine, encyclopedia, or journal; an electronic resource such as material we discover on the World Wide Web; another student at our school or anywhere else; a paper-writing "service" (online or otherwise) which offers to sell written papers for a fee. Any student caught plagiarizing will fail the assignment, and perhaps the course. I will fail students who plagiarize.


Class Attendance.  All class meetings and individual sessions are mandatory.  I will lower by one full letter the grade of any student who misses more than 6 (six) classes, the equivalent of two and one half weeks worth of classes. If a student fails to turn in on time any of the prepatory assignments or misses an individual conference or meeting, the professor will deduct one letter grade per day from overall grade of the assignment.  Failure to turn in rough drafts, comments on papers assigned to students for editing, or the final copy of the paper will result in failure for the course.  Exceptions may be made to these rules after speaking with the instructor, and only if students make prior arrangements with the instructor.  These rules may be strict, but they are designed to keep students on schedule and to avoid lingering incompletes.  The task of defining, researching and writing a term paper is difficult, and become incredibly burdensome when one falls behind.

Seminar Method.  The course depends on group participation and on individual meetings with the instructor.  In meetings of the full group, we will spend much of our time analyzing each other’s projects critically but constructively.  Active participation in these discussions is imperative to the production of a quality paper, and will make all of us develop stronger topics, and research and writing skills.  Individual meetings give students the opportunity to discuss your project with the instructor and to ask specific questions not otherwise addressed in the group meetings.

Steps Procedures.  The course relies on a method of teaching that divides the process of writing the research paper into a series of steps: defining a topic; finding sources; doing research; and, writing the paper.  These steps rely on a variety of small-scale written assignments that may appear to be busy work but serve several purposes for both instructor and student.  Please keep in mind that my goal is for you to complete this course successfully.

A.  Each step enables students to learn something different about the most fundamental components of being an active scholar.  The separation of these methods into distinct steps is somewhat artificial, but professional historians perform these tasks routinely.  Although historians sometimes do these steps “in their heads,” they do them nonetheless and only do them “in their heads” after years of practice.  By separating them, I hope to give students a clearer set of objectives and to allow you to learn these methods a bit at a time.  This method also allows students to break down the process of writing a research paper into manageable bits.

B.  In that same light, any instructor or I can lecture endlessly on what professional historians do, and I probably will, but I sincerely believe that students will best learn these tasks by doing them.  Only then can students learn to perform these tasks themselves.  As a result, I stress concepts such as historiography, and other steps such as writing an outline, that historians wrestle with constantly.  By grappling with these issues, and with your topics, sources and organization and writing of a paper, students will get a feeling of what it is historians do, and students will contribute to historical knowledge while they do it.

C.  Writing is the difficult and complicated task of conveying certain ideas in a coherent, analytic manner.  No one does it right the first time.  Further, I cannot hope to catch every miscue or always point students in the best direction when writing.  Students will write consistently about their projects during the semester, and will offer up a draft of their paper to another student of my choice to offer constructive yet critical commentary.  As important as the work is to us, we must learn to let others read it critically.

D.  Above all, we are striving for the same goal: I want you to finish your paper successfully as much as you do.  The method employed in this class will break down what appears to be an enormous project into a series of steps that can be completed in a timely manner.  If done on time and correctly, much of what you write in the earlier steps will be integrated into the later versions of the paper.  In that respect, students will write their papers as they proceed through the semester.  Further, by asking you to write smaller papers on a regular basis, I may minimize the daunting task of writing the preliminary draft.

Assignments and Evaluation. A student’s final grade depends most heavily on the final draft of the paper.  The paper, however, is considered to be the culmination of an entire semester’s work, so students are required to complete all intermediate steps and, particularly, to participate in the seminar.  Failure to complete the intermediate steps will result in a failing grade.  Failure to participate in the class will also affect your grade.  Conversely, doing well on the preliminary assignments and participating in the class can help your grade.  Students will also be required to hand in a portfolio that contains all of the material produced during the course with my marks on them.  You may hand in a copy of these papers, but they must contain my comments as well.  Please place this in a binder or folder.

Peer Review and Assignments. Peer review is a key component of this course, as it is in the academic world.  I do not send out articles for publication without having friends and colleagues read the material.  They sometimes too happily agree to criticize my work, but I welcome that criticism.  Although most of your college classes have not prepared students for this kind of peer review, I entirely expect you to take this work seriously.  You will be asked to write your comments on the preliminary draft of another student’s paper, and that student will hand in your comments with their final paper.  If I see that you have taken your job lightly, and I will know who reads what because I will assign it, I will reduce the grade of the reviewer.