410: Research Project

What kind of nation? Fall 2019

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” --Zora Neale Hurston

Learning goals:

1) To practice developing intellectually curious research questions that can be answered at least in part with evidence from primary documents and that lead you to write an essay, NOT a report.

2) To become familiar with primary documents on floors 2 and 2M and reference resources available in the library.

3) To learn about three different types of secondary sources.

4) To deepen your understanding of the founding of the United States, grapple with the question of national identity, and .

5) To learn citation formatting.

What kind of nation did they create? Why, you might fairly ask, does the state of New Hampshire, like all the other states in the Union, require all high school students to take at least a full year of American history? Why should we care about the history of this nation? How should we feel about it? Proud? Angry? Ambivalent? So far this term we have studied the formation of the society in which the United States of America was born, the foundation of the nation and its system of government, and the shaping of the nation in its early years. In this research assignment you will be asked to look more deeply at one individual, event, or phenomenon from this period of America's early founding, assess their role the formation of the new nation, and show how they pushed that nation's development toward . . . what?

In writing the essay, you will be entering into a conversation with countless scholars, statesmen, activist, and citizens (recall Kenneth Burke's analogy, on the intro page of the syllabus). Consider the following reflections on America's national history:

Zinn: We must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been,

Bennett: An abiding sense of American greatness, of American purpose, of American exceptionalism has long characterized many of our leaders and tens of millions of the rest of us as well. . . .

Schweikart and Allen: We think that an honest evaluation of the history of the United States must begin and end with the recognition that, compared to any other nation, America’s past is a bright and shining light.

Rorty: Those who hope to persuade a nation to exert itself need to remind their country of what it can take pride in as well as what it should be ashamed of. They must tell inspiring stories about episodes and figures in the nation's past — episodes and figures to which the country should remain true.

NYT columnist David Leonhardt calling for pro-impeachment protests: I think it’s important to embrace the symbols of patriotism. I know that sometimes makes some people on the left a little bit uncomfortable… but the most successful protest movements have embraced patriotism: the labor movement in their marches included huge American flags . . .[Look at the pictures of] the civil rights movement… these amazing pictures of protesters carrying American flags while the counter protesters on the edges are carrying Confederate flags. That’s how you win over people in the middle. You say that our side is the one that lives up to the best ideals of this country.

President Donald Trump: “ globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much.... And you know what? We can’t have that. You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist, and I say really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I am a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Use that word.

Jill Lepore's NYT essay, "Don’t Let Nationalists Speak for the Nation" May 25, 2019: The United States is a nation founded on a deeply moral commitment to human dignity. All of us are equal: We are equal as citizens and we are equal under the law. Notwithstanding the agony and hypocrisy of the nation’s past and the cruelty and pettiness of its present, these truths endure, in the form of liberalism. Liberalism is not a species of partisanship. Liberalism is the belief that people are good and should be free and that people organize governments in order to guarantee that freedom.… What is the liberal case for the nation? Nation-states are people with a common past, half-history, half-myth, who live under the rule of a government in the form of a state. Liberal nation-states are collections of individuals whose rights as citizens are guaranteed by the government. The United States is a liberal, democratic nation held together by the strength of our ideas and by the force of our disagreements.… A government founded upon justice requires a cleareyed and unflinching reckoning with its own history, its sorrows and atrocities no less than its glories and its triumphs.… A national campaign in 2020 would promise not greatness but benevolence. Read the whole article here.

Your job: Choose an individual, event or phenomenon from America's early years and, using both primary and secondary sources, tell a story that illustrates an important truth about the character of the United States of America. The paper is about two things, your narrow subject and the wider topic of the American nation.

Relevant resources can be found among the print holdings of our library, on floors 2 and 2m (Most US history books, including collections for primary documents, are found in the call numbers 973.2-973.48 on Floor 2; documents on drafting and ratifying the Constitution can be found on 2M in the vicinity of 342.73). Then write a brief essay with footnotes and a bibliography.

Research should begin with your homework on the night before the first meeting in the library. First, read this handout. Then, familiarize yourself with the “libguides” on the library web page:



Find relevant information in secondary sources and at least one primary document you found in the stacks (the piles of books above the main floor). YOU MUST USE LIBRARY, RATHER THAN INTERNET SOURCES.

Final product. It will include primary and secondary sources. Begin with reference books and your primary document(s), then locate some other secondary source documents to include in your bibliography.

The Essay: You will include a brief (250- to 500-word essay) that uses evidence from at least one primary document (preferably more) to develop your point. Make sure your essay places your subject into historical context (you'll use secondary sources for that).

Your job as writer is to write in a concise and compelling way and to arrange the information so that your reader understands everything. There’s no one way of doing this, no formula I can give you—and if I did, these would be awfully boring essays to read. But be aware that there are certain things that your readers need to know first, before they can understand certain other things, and that’s what you need to figure out. Remember that this is an exercise in writing in a CONCISE and compelling way.

Heading. Include your name, a brief title, class format, and A WORD COUNT. Also, make sure you number your pages.

Citation. Properly cite your sources, in both footnotes and a bibliography. Download the word document at the bottom of this page for guidelines on how to format citations and write a bibliography. This will be graded for both proper style and on whether you have gathered the kinds and number of sources required below. You can access a more thorough citation style guide from the library homepage. You must use Turabian/Chicago style for this project.

My class will meet in the library for a full week before the paper is due, Oct. 31 to Nov. 6.


Sources needed. You are required to have at least one of each of the following types of sources in your bibliography. You do not necessarily need to use information from every one of the sources or to cite them all in your footnotes, but the more sources your essay draws from, the more original (and thus better) it will be.

Primary sources.

Memoirs or autobiographies, writings, papers/letters (e.g., the Papers of George Washington). We have many published papers of significant political leaders, including many on the list below.

Secondary sources.

NEED 2: Reference books to find a topic or quickly find a particular fact or concept. There’s a list of these in the libguides.

NEED 1: Overviews and surveys: A broad overview or survey of the historical period that you are studying. Use to find a topic and place it into its historical context, and find monographs and primary sources on the topic. The best place to find these is in the libguides.

NEED 1: Monograph: A narrowly focused book or article on your topic or something closely related to it. Use this to get finer details, to understand how other historians have treated your topic, to make sure you don't duplicate scholarship that's already been done, to help you to formulate your question, to develop a historiographical survey of your topic and/or question.

NEED 1: Biography: In depth treatment of one person's life. Use to find a topic (never try to write a whole biography--choose one aspect of a person's life), find information about a person connected to your topic, to understand how other historians have treated your topic. Biblion is the best place to find monographs. Begin with a keyword search and convert that to a subject search. (We may not have a book-length biography in our library on all of the individuals in the list below. In that case, you can use an article from a biographical reference book, such as the American National Biography--we have both the hard copy and an electronic version.