QUICK AND DIRTY GUIDELINES FOR RESEARCHING AND WRITING HISTORY
1. Choosing a Topic. You should choose a topic (related, of course, to the topic of the course but you may be surprised at how far that can stretch) that interests you (and the more it interests you, the better). Never select a topic to please the instructor or simply to fulfill the obligations of the assignment. If you have difficulties, always see me.
2. Researching your Topic. The Internet offers a handy way to get a quick ‘handle’ on a topic as well as to find citations to appropriate literature. It does not, however, generally offer appropriate scholarship on your topic (you may be able to download helpful documents, though). THERE CAN BE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PUBLISHED MATERIAL (BOOKS AND JOURNAL ARTICLES) AS SOURCES FOR SCHOLARLY WORK (LIKE YOURS WILL BE). Thus, your research paper must draw upon at least four (4) sources (‘primary’ documents and/or ‘secondary’ published literature only) properly cited. I will not accept papers lacking notes and a bibliography.
3. Using sources. University regulations and the canons of the historical profession prohibit plagiarism—that is, the attempt, conscious or otherwise, to present another’s work as one’s own. To avoid misunderstandings, always cite ideas you take from others—whether you directly quote or not. This material should constitute part of the body of your own argument upon which you base your own conclusions. As always, if and when in doubt, see me. Again, cite sources directly in footnotes and include them (cited or otherwise) in a bibliography.
Remember that all history is historiography. The accounts you read, both ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’, provide a perspective on your subject. Use them all with appropriate caution and with deep regard for context and authorial bias.