Upperclassmen Complete Climactic Term Papers
by The Milton Measure on Friday, March 8th, 2013
After working tirelessly for three weeks, many juniors and seniors in US History and US in the Modern World II completed their term papers on Monday, February 25th. The paper, one of Milton’s most lengthy assignments in any course, is a significant portion of the second semester grade for upperclassmen. In addition, it is a respected rite of passage; many courses assign lighter assignments during the period when upperclassmen are writing it, and the best papers from each section are awarded the Bisbee Prize for Outstanding Research in U.S. History.
All upperclassmen are required to take at least one history course, so consequently, all students have to complete the fabled term paper before graduation. Each student can choose any topic before 1990 to write about, though U.S. History students have to confine themselves to U.S-related topics. Students enrolled in the class were given two weeks to research the topic, meeting during class in Cox Library. With assistance from librarians and teachers, students had access to sufficient resources in order to meet several check-point deadlines. Then, they had an additional week to compose the 3,000-3,500-word paper.
Liam White (II), a current US history student, chose to write about “how white Americans embraced hip-hop” and originally got involved with this topic because he was “curious about why race remains such a touchy subject in this country even 50 years after the Civil Rights movement.” He says that “hip hop is a really powerful medium because so many young people are captivated by it.” On the process of writing the pape, he says that he really enjoyed “the hands off process where you were trusted to be working, and getting the information you needed.”
Similarly, Charlie Blasberg (II) chose to focus on music, tracking “Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington’s roads to success, as two successful African Americans in a white-dominated society.” In his research process, Charlie – like many current history students – started by looking up broad terms in reference books and biographies, then searching for primary sources and more specific information. Following the expectations of the History Department, he was able to first reach a broad understanding of his topic and then narrowed that knowledge it to a more detailed and complex thesis.
One facet of the process that many students did not enjoy was the inclusion of endnotes. The citation process, lengthier than that of any previous assignment for many upperclassmen, required an inordinate amount of time, patience, and sincerity, but as Charlie says, “it was worth it.”
Ellie Minot (II) chose to focus on “religious cults, specifically Jonestown and Branch Davidians, and the government’s involvement.” She said that she has “always been interested in cults and murders.” Although Ellie enjoyed the research, “the most difficult part, [she] felt, was probably moving from research into making an actual argument and thesis.”
As Liam explained, he “picked a topic that [he] knew [he] could study for three or four weeks and still want to talk more and learn more about.” The necessity of choosing an enjoyable topic made the selection process notably more difficult but allowed many students to commit to their own interests within the course.
“I really enjoyed my final product, because I didn’t find the writing too difficult, [and] it was something I could be proud of” described Ellie. She and many of the other Milton students who completed their terms papers this winter seem to have accomplished the department’s goal of conducting clear and thoughtful research and presentating a polished final product.
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