HS497 SENIOR SEMINAR IN HISTORY
DR. DANIEL T. DORRITY
Objectives of the Course
This course is designed to give the student an opportunity to apply the skills he learned in HS496. The main purpose is to do a piece of historical research and utilize the information collected to write a small piece of history. To the greatest extent possible the student should use primary resources rather than secondary. The latter in fact should be used only to provide you a general introduction to the subject. However, since one of the important objectives in historical writing is to present if possible an original interpretation, secondary sources can be used to discover the various interpretations that other historians have advanced. You need an awareness of these in order to know what is new and what is not. Another purpose for reading secondary sources is to direct you to the nature and extent of primary sources. Not only can these tell you what materials are available but where they are located.
Writing the Paper
So the key to writing a valuable paper is to say something new. This can be done if you find new factual information or if you are able to develop a new and viable interpretation of the old.
Step 1: Selecting a Topic
Your first step in this process must be to select a topic. (Start by reading the article entitled "Selecting a Topic" on the Duke University web site. Use the Link on the first page of this web site.) In doing so be sure that you do not select a subject that is too large. This is a very common mistake that students make. Remember your paper should not exceed 25 pages, typewritten and double-spaced. Many students seem to have a fear that in order to manage 25 pages they will have to select a very large topic. This is a major mistake, because you will wind up with a paper with far too much breadth and little or no depth. What we want you to do in this paper is to dig deep, to reach well beneath the surface, to be profound, to provide what is generally called an in-depth analysis.
With broad subjects the student usually ends up providing a string of undeveloped and unanalyzed facts. Good historical writing is based on the ability to extract and extrapolate, to ferret out a maximum of information and revelation from a minimum of facts. So do not pile up a paper full of facts with little comment. Concentrate on the interpretation and relationship of the facts rather than a simple citing of them.
In selecting a topic remember the relevant assignment from HS496. Consider the various kinds of history and decide what area you are interested in. If you are satisfied with the topic you chose in HS496, you can skip this part of the process. If not, then proceed to select a topic using the methods outlined last semester.
Step 2: Formulating a Statement of the Problem
Remember that once you have chosen a topic you must determine within that topic the precise problem that you are going to resolve in your paper. This problem may be one small aspect of the topic. For example, why did the United States defend Kuwait in the Gulf War? Do not forget that your problem must always be posed in the form of a question.
Step 3: Developing Your Thesis
The answer to that question becomes your thesis, or your argument, or your point of view, or the stand you take. Your thesis is the heart of your paper. It is what gives your paper meaning. It is your interpretation. It is the core, not only of your paper, but of any historical article or any book on history. It is what critics or reviewers look at when reviewing a book or article, and the freshness of that thesis, its originality and its viability make the work worthwhile or even memorable.
Step 4: Supporting Your Thesis
The whole purpose of your research and the facts you cite will be to support that thesis, to provide evidence for its acceptance, to prove it. Any reviewer of your work will look first for your thesis and then for your evidence. So keep in mind that as you put your evidence together your objective must be to prove your thesis. All the evidence in your paper should be marshaled toward that purpose. In your zeal to prove your thesis, however, do not bend or shape or force the evidence. That is, do not argue that a piece of evidence is saying something it is not. Remember, many historical facts can and often are interpreted different ways, so be careful to try and see other possible interpretations. If an important piece of evidence seems to belie your argument do not ignore it. If it is important historians will know about it and will use it against you. It is better to cite that piece of evidence and explain why, in your opinion, it does not controvert your thesis.
Step 5: Writing Your Introduction and Conclusion
Details of what should go into the Introduction and Conclusion are spelled out in the relevant assignment in HS496 and there is little that I can add here. If you need to, go back to my Website and review the components of the Introduction and Conclusion and the amount of space that should be allotted to these.
Step 6: Style for Notes and Bibliography
Use the book by Kate Turabian that I have placed on reserve in the Library for HS496 in order to arrange notes, quotes, and bibliography. In addition to this I have a Link on my Website to an abbreviated version of Turabian which will show you how to deal with these problems.
Step 7: Selection of Sources
Make sure, in selecting your sources, that you go back to the relevant assignments in HS496 where you were asked to compile two bibliographies of various primary and secondary historical sources and review the types of materials you compiled there. It is important in historical research that you not only know all the various types of sources that exist but that you use a wide variety of these in your work. A paper based on two or three different sources is not going to be very impressive. Remember that any reviewer, including the Instructor who grades your paper, will analyze your footnotes to see where your information came from and he will be looking for a wide variety of sources. A paper that does not contain these, no matter how well written from a literary point of view, will not qualify as a research paper.
There are no required readings for this course. The only readings you will have to do are the primary documents and secondary works that you select for your paper.
There will be no exams for this course. The only requirement will be the researching and writing of the paper.
See Deadlines on the Home Page of this Website
Third Wednesday of the Semester: Assignment 1
Statement of your topic
Statement of your problem
Include a paragraph explaining the limits of each and why you have chosen this topic and problem and what you hope to reveal.
Fifth Wednesday of the Semester: Assignment 2
Final draft of the Paper due