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The Milton Measure

History Term Papers Overwhelm Students

by on Friday, February 24th, 2012

The term paper, a month-long independent research project for students in US History and The US in the Modern World II, often conjures up images of sleepless nights, stacks of books, and hours spent hibernating in Cox Library. While many students admit that all three images are a reality, many explained their topics with excitement, suggesting that writing the paper can be a worthwhile opportunity to explore a genuine interest.

The assignment is to develop a thesis and write 3000 to 3300 words on a historical event, movement, or figure of their choice, incorporating numerous sources, both primary and secondary, as well as their own opinions.  The students who seem to be having the most success with their research are those who were able to find a topic that resonates with a personal passion.

Emma City (II), who is exploring the journeys of Lewis and Clark for her paper, emphasized, “the research wasn’t too bad, because I’d known I would be working on this for a month, so I made sure to pick something interesting.” Matt Rohrer (II) chose to write about a more contemporary issue: the affects of Christianity on the gay rights movement, showing that the political tension surrounding gay rights is an example of the church and State not being separated. He says, “I’ve never been given the opportunity to study gay history, so I’m taking the chance while I can.”

Inspired by a discussion in her History in Action course, Grace Li (II) will be exploring the Salvation Army and how it became a success in America. Grace says she “wants to learn about social inequality and how urban life has been a part of it. It seems somewhat relevant now, when commercial, culture, and material needs are main focuses in our lives and the poverty rate is increasing.”

Some students have decided to venture beyond the traditional, fact-based path of history term papers by considering the historical influences on literature. Jack Curtin (II) is examining how the rise of various authoritarian governments in the 1920’s affected science fiction literature—for which he uses 1984 and A Clockwork Orange as examples—and economics after World War II, in order to explore what type of political situations could have created this literature. Curtin told us, “I’ve noticed that there is a similar reaction in economics to the authoritarian governments as in the science fiction literature.”

Other papers include Brittany Lee’s on how Franklin D. Roosevelt and Hitler used technology to legitimize their rule and gain the support of the masses and Nelson Barrett’s on U.S policy in the Congo from 1960-65, which played a role in subsequent crises there. Barrett says that his topic gives him “an opportunity to read neat things like CIA cables.”

These are just a sample of the multitude of term paper topics. On February 27th, students will turn in the culmination of their ideas and discoveries to their history teachers. Everyone waits in anticipation to see how such a wide variety of papers, each one with a personal connection and importance to the writer, will be received by the faculty.

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