Expectations for Rough Draft of the Family History Research Project
Due at the start of lecture on Tuesday 12 Nov. is a rough draft of your essay, as complete as you can make it. If parts of the essay are incomplete, try to include an outline of how you expect to finish the paper, or a list of the questions that still need answers. Students will receive feedback on how to improve the essay. Please upload the paper to the course website as an e-file.
The rough draft serves as an opportunity to bring together your research findings and ideas, polish and test your insights or arguments, and get feedback. Like any essay, it ought to have an argument or thesis that is clear by the time readers get through the introduction. Usually, that argument revolves around a connection between the family members on whom you are focusing, and the broader developments or events of U.S. history. The argument or thesis ought to be developed over the course of the rough draft, including in the main body of the paper and the conclusion. In our readings for HSTAA 110 this quarter, you have seen authors make numerous arguments. Now it is time to develop your own thesis or argument, about family members and their connection to trends in the American past.
Let’s review the expectations for the family history research paper. This final essay of 7-8 word-processed, double-spaced pages (the version due on Dec. 2) is meant to illustrate how personal and family stories intersect with national history (as we will have seen through our reading of the Youngs, Raibmon, Ulrich, Murray, and Sone texts). Students are asked to pick one or two individuals from their families and interweave their personal stories with events or forces operating at the “national” level. Thus we might hear how the G.I. Bill created upward mobility by allowing a veteran to attend college; how U.S. law or policy presented hurdles for prospective immigrants; how family members moved from one place to another because of economic change or a federal program; how passage of suffrage legislation permitted a great grandmother to vote for the first time; how a social movement such as women’s or civil rights created opportunities (or challenges) that had not been present before; or how U.S. foreign policy led to ancestors experiencing war or dislocation. There are many, many possibilities. Students are expected to research in both primary sources (oral interviews, diaries, letters, memoirs, etc.) and secondary works. One key to success here is to start thinking about the topic in plenty of time. Another is to recognize the wide range of resources available, not the least of which are the UW Libraries and History Librarian Theresa Mudrock. The course website has links to Ms. Mudrock’s library website for family-history researchers (under Pages) as well as copies of sample papers from previous quarters (under Files).
One shortcoming of some essays in previous quarters has been the use of trite or unexamined ideas about the American past. For instance, students sometimes want to explain the success of a family member by referring to “the American dream.” Thus an immigrant from Sweden who reached the middle class “achieved the American dream” or succeeded because of “the American dream.” In these arguments, the term “American dream” suggests that the U.S. is a place characterized by pervasive upward social mobility. Upward social nobility has been a fact for many in U.S. history (and it makes a lot of sense to write about that fact or broad trend—preferably using that phrase rather than “the American dream”). But of course upward mobility has not been available to everyone across U.S. history, or it has taken a lot longer for some groups than other groups. Why not strive to get at some of the complexities of the nation’s history by looking beneath such glossy catch phrases as “the American dream”?