By the start of section on Friday 18 Oct., you are expected to submit a 1-page hard-copy paper proposing a topic for your family history research paper. This paper will not be graded, but we will provide feedback. The main objective is to begin framing your family history project. Upload the e-file to the course website.
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. 4) 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).
The family history research project has many goals. One is to use a very local or personal lens to assess or view the impact of broader trends and events in American history. Another is to improve students’ ability to conduct research. Still another is to support the class’s broader aims of improving skills of reading, writing, and thinking. Please keep these goals in mind when selecting a topic.
For the paper due on Friday 18 October, we hope you will begin posing questions to be answered. Which individual(s) in your family will you focus on, and what is his, her, or their specific connection to U.S. history? What key events or developments do you intend to study? What time period will be under consideration? What kinds of sources do you anticipate using?
One key to success is identifying a topic for which adequate documentation exists. Put another way, you need to frame a question that can be answered reasonably well with the primary sources and secondary works that are available to you, and within the span of 7-8 pages. It is true that you may not know whether a project is really do-able until you begin trying to conduct research on it. For this reason, we will not regard the proposal due on October 20 as a binding contract. If after some research you need to modify your topic, or change it altogether, we will understand. However, changing one’s topic is liable to delay progress on the project. So please do not wait too long to really begin conducting research.
For October 18, we do not expect anything too elaborate. But the paper due that day should reflect careful thinking, perhaps some preliminary poking around in the library or on appropriate websites to see what is possible, and ideally some consideration of the materials in which you may conduct research (and perhaps the people you expect to interview). The professor and TA will provide feedback on this assignment. Please be sure to keep a copy so it can be handed in with your final research paper.
Some students find it uncomfortable writing about their own family, or do not have family members with substantial connections to U.S. history. In these cases, students may select someone else’s family history to write about. See the syllabus, the professor, or your T.A. for more information.