Historical Documents Assignments

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Assignment Two: Verifying "Facts" (due March 10)

The Positivist historian Ranke wrote that, when writing history, "the strict presentation of the facts, contingent and unattractive though they may be, is undoubtedly the supreme law." Facts are the foundation of any good history. But how does the historian get the facts? How does the historian prove and verify the facts that he or she finds?

There are two ways in which historians verify facts: "limiting the claim," and "corroboration."

"Limiting the claim" is a process of making a clear and precise statement which contains no hidden fallacies. For example, the sentence, "George Bush was elected to become President in 2000," seems on its surface to be "true." However, several questions could be raised about the statement. Was it George Bush or George W. Bush who won the 2000 election? Is it a "fact" that he did win the election, or is there some dispute over it? Of what country or organization was he elected President? Did he become president in 2000 or 2001? Who elected Bush president? A responsible historian would want to be careful about making statements which raise so many questions. A more "precise" (and therefore factual and limited) version of the same information might be: "In 2000, following controversies over ballots in Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that George W. Bush had won the U.S. Presidential election," or "George W. Bush won the 2000 U.S. Presidential election and became President of the United States in January, 2001."

"Corroboration" requires finding several different kinds of evidence which support the claim. It is important that the evidence comes from a variety of sources � depending too heavily on only one source can lead the historian to make mistakes or distort the past. For example, if an historian of the future wanted to resolve the historical question related to the election discussed above, something like, "Who really got more votes in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election," that historian would need to look at a broad variety of sources: the ballots themselves, exit polls, news coverage, documents submitted by both the Democrats and Republicans to the Supreme Court, private records and correspondence of both the Bush and Gore campaigns, etc. If the historian used only sources collected by Democrats, he or she would have only part of the picture; critics could attack his or her argument as one-sided. If Republican sources contradict Democratic ones, then that contradiction must be examined and explained. If they provide support for the Democratic argument, they are considered corroborative. If the sources disagree, that does not mean that they can not be used to corroborate each other. Even if the overall conclusions reached by each source are in contradiction, there will be individual facts within each that will be useful as corroboration.

Your assignment will be to do the work of the historian in verifying two facts in these two ways:

1) Transform a fallacious fact (1-39) into a "true" one by limiting the claim. In order to do this, you will identify five challenges to the sentence and re-write the sentence as a limited claim.

2) Verify a fact (A-J) by finding (and keeping track of) corroborating evidence. For this part of the assignment, you will be given a historical "fact" � a very specific one � which you will verify using primary and secondary sources. For this, I will give credit for effort and thoroughness, as well as creativity; whether you ultimately find the "smoking gun" is of lesser concern in this particular case.

As you research, make a list of all the steps you take, even if they don't yield results. This means, for your assignment, you will turn in a list of sources consulted, along with notes about what each yielded. You must also keep track of strengths and limitations of each source � are there reasons you find it hard to believe? Are there particular reasons why this source may be more trustworthy than others? You will submit a copy of these notes with your assignment.

Then, you will write an informal essay � two to three pages � in which you will say how sure you are that you know the truth about your "fact" and that you can prove it to be true. What is the relevant evidence? How good is it? Why have you reached your conclusion? Is there any doubt in your mind? What are your criteria for calling a statement a fact � Common consent? Provenance? Internal consistency? External consistency? Plausibility? Coherence? The "ring of truth"?

Historical Truisms
Historical Facts


1. Sally Ride was the first woman in space.
2. America won World War II.
3. President Roosevelt served two terms in office.
4. The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery.
5. Columbus discovered America.
6. Indians lived in tepees.
7. The eagle is the symbol of America.
8. Jamestown was the first American settlement.
9. The Sears Tower is the tallest building.
10. Most Americans speak English.
11. The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
12. The Dutch founded New York.
13. Bill Clinton never inhaled.
14. America is a nation of immigrants.
15. Gold was discovered in the state of California in 1848.
16. There has never been a nuclear war.
17. The Wright Brothers were the first people to fly.
18. Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb.
19. Apples are good for you.
20. A little hard work never hurt anybody.
21. Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady in the 1940s.
22. The Pilgrims were the first settlers of America.
23. Lenin created the Russian Revolution.
24. Hitler ruled Germany in the 1940s.
25. The Caribbean was created by European colonialism.
26. The Civil War was fought over slavery.
27. The Civil War was a religious war.
28. The French Revolution was successful.
29. The Revolutions of 1848 happened in Germany.
30. Italy was a rich country in 1700.
31. Pirates in the South Pacific were motivated purely by greed.
32. Heinz makes ketchup.
33. Washington was the first American president.
34. Napoleon sold the Louisiana Purchase to America.
35. In Spain, the people speak Spanish.
36. Canada is an English-speaking country.
37. Africa became independent following the First World War.
38. Henry VIII had a lot of wives.
39. Stalin was a dictator.


A. George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on February 22, 1732.
B. The United Nations was created on October 24, 1945, with 51 member countries.
C. The Armistice ending World War I was signed on November 11, 1918.
D. The Armistice ending the Korean War was signed on July 27, 1953.
E. Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, in Ajaccio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
F. Pol Pot died on April 15, 1998, in Bangkok, Thailand.
G. Adolf Hitler died on April 31, 1945, in Berlin, Germany.
H. The Lusitania sank on May 7, 1915, in the Irish Sea.
I. Galileo was condemned to life imprisonment for heresy in 1633.
J. Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BCE.

Assignment Three: Differentiating Interpretation from Evidence (due March 17)

Reading: Henry Steele Commager, "The Defeat of the Confederacy: An Overview," in Why The North Won The Civil War, edited by David Herbert Donald (1960), in course packet.

What is interpretation? Interpretation is the perspective brought to the evidence (the problematic "facts" you examined in your last assignment) by the historian. The historian first gathers information (evidence and "facts"), but that act of gathering is only the beginning of the historian's work. Having gathered a body of information, the historian must then interpret what this information means. The process of figuring out the meaning of a body of evidence is called interpretation.

Each historian will have a distinct interpretation, because interpretation is affected by many factors which differ between historians; these factors include the historian's training, theoretical orientations, knowledge of context and other information, and even prejudices and assumptions. Learning to differentiate between evidence and interpretation is an important skill the historian must develop in order to read other historians' works critically.

In order to examine the difference between evidence and interpretation, we will read a very brief essay by Henry Steele Commager, "The Defeat of the Confederacy: An Overview," which appeared in the book Why The North Won The Civil War, edited by David Herbert Donald and originally published in 1960. In reading this essay, ask the following questions: What evidence does Commager present for the reasons that the Confederacy lost the U.S. Civil War? What interpretations of that evidence does Commager provide?

For your written assignment based on this reading, you will make a chart which lists, on one half of the chart, the evidence, and on the other, the interpretation of the meaning of that evidence. Once you have completed this chart, you will examine the various interpretations made by the author and answer two questions in about a paragraph each: 1) What is the overarching interpretation of the evidence (essentially, the thesis) that all of the smaller interpretations add up to? 2) What are the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the author's interpretation?

1) List examples of evidence here

2) List additional examples of evidence here

1) List the interpretation that the historian makes of that evidence

2) List additional interpretations here

Assignment Four: Analyzing/Annotating a Historical Document (due March 24)

Reading: Selections from diaries and other found documents, in course packet.

Internal Criticism

Historians read documents of many different kinds. Some are written texts, while others are material culture, films, music, or other kinds of documents. One of the ways that historians learn to analyze documents is to take part in the process of annotation of that document: indicating information that can be gleaned from a document in exhaustive detail.

For example, a document can yield a great deal of information about the historical moment in which it was produced, and it can also hide embedded information. Both immediately-evident and initially-obscured information can be revealed through the process of close reading of the document.

In order to analyze a document, the historian must engage in both internal and external criticism. Internal criticism focuses on the content of the document itself, the arguments made in the document, the information provided in it, etc. External criticism focuses on the document's context and information about the document itself which can be gleaned from other sources. In this exercise, we will restrict our examination to internal criticism, only those elements which we can determine using the document itself.

Your assignment will be to take a historical document and annotate that document. Indicate what the text can tell us about the writer, the audience, and the information included in the document. The document you will annotate is a bankbook from Hagerstown, Maryland, dated 1930. You will circle the information and indicate what you can know from that information.

External Criticism

In addition to using close-reading methods to draw as much material as possible from a primary document, the historian must also use context in order to analyze the meanings imbedded in documents. This requires the historian to undertake research beyond the document, using the library, archives, and other documents, to illuminate the significance of the information gleaned using internal analysis.

When conducting external analysis of a document, you should focus on the questions which have been raised in the process of internal analysis and attempt to clarify them and even to answer them (or to venture an interpretation) based on corroborative sources. In this exercise, we will focus on the process of external criticism, opening up our research to all available resources in order to learn more about the document at hand.

Your assignment will be to take a historical document and annotate that document, using any resources available to you (but especially the library and its databases and other scholarly resources). Indicate what the text can tell us about the writer, the audience, and the information included in the document. The document you will annotate is the same bankbook from Hagerstown, Maryland, dated 1930, which you analyzed in the previous exercise. You will circle the information and indicate what you can know from that information, while identifying the external corroborating evidence that lets you know that.

Assignment Five: Criticizing a Historical Argument (due March 31)

Reading: Richard N. Current, "God and The Strongest Battalions," in Why The North Won The Civil War, edited by David Herbert Donald (1960), in course packet.

The argument is the system of logic employed by the author in order to prove the author's thesis. This is not merely a summary of the story told by the author, but instead recreates the logical structure that the author has put together to prove the monograph's point.

When reading an historian's argument, you should pay attention to the way he or she makes that argument. Is the argument logical? Does it contain internal contradictions? Does it depend on assumptions which are not supported by evidence? How is evidence used to support the argument, and is it used fairly and without bias?

In order to examine and critique an historian's argument, we will use the essay which you read for the assignment on evidence: Richard N. Current's "God and The Strongest Battalions," which appeared in the book Why The North Won The Civil War, edited by David Herbert Donald and originally published in 1960.

Your assignment will be to provide an outline of the argument made by Current in this essay. You will need to identify the main points that Current makes to support his thesis (which you will also need to identify), as well as the kinds of evidence he uses to support his argument. Once you have outlined this argument, you will write a one- to two-page informal essay which answers the following question: What are the inherent weaknesses in Current's essay, and what could be done to counteract these weaknesses?

Assignment Six: Visual Analysis (due April 7)

Reading: John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark (1777), in course packet.

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark (1777)

Many types of historians � and art historians especially � engage in a research practice called visual analysis in order to �read� non-textual historical artifacts for the historical information that they carry. Not all historical data is stored in written or verbal form; instead, many histories are available to us mostly � or indeed, only � through things like material culture or artistic production. Visual analysis focuses on learning the systematic language of images embedded in any visual artifact of human production, from painting to photography, or from monumental building to plowed field.

Visual analysis focuses on deciphering the origins, reception, social location, and history of material artifacts. To do so, users of visual analysis must employ a variety of specialized historical questions when investigating the artifact. These include:

1. Who produced the artifact, when, where, how, and why?
2. For whom (for what audience) was the artifact intended? How did this intended audience shape what is encoded in the artifact?
3. How was the artifact received by its intended audience? Did unintentional audiences receive the artifact in differing ways, as meaning different things? How has the way in which the artifact has been received changed over time and why?
4. What information is encoded in the artifact? What does the content of this information say about the culture (or the individual author) which produced it?
5. How is the information encoded in the artifact? What does the form in which this information is encoded (and then read by its audience) say about the culture (or the individual author) which produced it?

For your assignment, you will provide a visual analysis of John Singleton Copley's painting, Watson and the Shark (1777). This analysis should address the questions listed above. Ultimately, you will explain what, in your analysis, the painting "means" as a reflection of American society in the period around the American Revolution. In addressing this question, you may find useful a web-feature about the painting prepared by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, which owns it: www.nga.gov/feature/watson/watsonhome.html. The essay should be two to three pages long.

Assignment Seven: Elements of a Monograph (due April 14)

Reading: Alan B. Spitzer, "Versions of Truth in the Dreyfus Case," in Historical Truth and Lies about the Past: Reflections on Dewey, Dreyfus, de Man, and Reagan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996): 35-59, in course packet.

Three of the most important elements of a monographic study are the thesis, the argument, and the evidence. As historians, we must learn to readily identify each in monographic works, and to differentiate among them. But we are not born knowing what they are or how to identify them.; instead, we must learn how to do so. The purpose of this exercise is to learn to identify thesis, argument, and evidence in one author�s monographic essay.

First, you must understand what each element is.

Thesis: The thesis is the central "point" of the monograph, the hypothesis the author is attempting to prove. Sometimes the author's thesis is complex, containing several subtopics or related issues. Sometimes the thesis is straightforward and unified. The reader should be able to restate an author's thesis in three or four sentences at most.

Argument: The argument is the system of logic employed by the author in order to prove the monograph's thesis. This is not merely a summary of the story told by the author, but instead recreates the logical structure that the author has put together to prove the monograph's point.

Evidence: The evidence is the data that the author uses to document the �trueness� of the argument. This evidence is usually cited in footnotes, and may be drawn from primary or secondary accounts of the events under discussion.

One useful way to think about this is to make an analogy to the five-paragraph essay with which you are already familiar. If you had to write an outline for a five-paragraph essay, it would look something like this:

I. Introduction (with thesis statement)
II. Body paragraph one (with topic sentence and supporting evidence)
III. Body paragraph two (with topic sentence and supporting evidence)
IV. Body paragraph three (with topic sentence and supporting evidence)
V. Conclusion (with restatement of thesis)

The thesis statement in this format (as in a monographic study) appears at the head of the essay, and is the point of the entire essay � the point that the author intends to make. The author then will provide three paragraphs, each with a topic sentence, to argue the point home. These topic sentences (and the paragraphs that accompany them) are the argument that the essay makes, in support of the thesis. The paragraphs in which each topic sentence appears will list evidence to support the argument being made.

Your assignment is to identify and restate (in one or two sentences) the thesis of Alan B. Spitzer's book chapter, "Versions of Truth in the Dreyfus Case." Then you will provide an outline of Spitzer�s argument made to support this. You need not list the evidence he uses to support his argument, but only list the points he makes (his �topic sentences�) in support of his overall thesis.

Assignment Eight: Historiography,or "No Historian is an Island" (due April 28)

Reading: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (New York: Knopf, 1990).

Historians do not write in isolation from other historians' work; when they set out to write about a topic, they review what has been written by other historians and enter into a dialogue with these previous works. In their arguments, they engage the body of historical literature, sometimes referred to as �the historiography,� that has come before them.

Historiography indicates the tradition in which the author writes about the past. It has to do with the intellectual approach taken to the subject, the school of historical thought from which the author writes, and the assumptions, values, or analytical framework employed. For the purposes of history today, historiography should be defined broadly to include any discipline's literature which addresses a historical topic in its historical context, whether the author is trained as an historian or as a literary critic or social scientist. To identify the historiographical context in which an historian writes, the reader should look for differences between the monograph and studies which have come before; usually, these historiographical debates with the previous literature appear in footnotes, but sometimes they also appear within the text itself. Often, introductory chapters or the introductory materials in specific chapters will provide an overview of the ways in which the monograph draws upon and deviates from previous literature.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich�s book, A Midwife�s Tale, is situated within several historiographical traditions: colonial history, the history of Maine, the history of women, and the history of medicine, to name only a few. Your assignment is to look at Ulrich�s footnotes and identify three other historians with whom she engages in an historiographical dialogue. These would be places at which she differs from previous historians, or places at which she states her agreement with (or refinement of) the work of an historian who came before her.

You will list these three examples (with page and note numbers), and explain the form that the historiographical engagement takes in two or three sentences. Finally, you will write a paragraph about the usefulness of Ulrich engaging in this dialogue with other historians � what does it do for her analysis? Why is it important for her to do so?

Final Paper (due May 19)

Using primary and secondary material available via the DoHistory Site (www.dohistory.com) and in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale, argue whether Judge North was guilty or innocent of raping Rebecca Foster. Why do you believe this? Support your argument with quotes from the documents.

Your final essay should be five to seven pages long, using the Chicago Manual of Style.

Some Useful Tools:

Writing a Research Essay

Guide to Footnoting

Guide to Bibliographic Citing

Tips for Library-Based Research

Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for History 200 (Historical Methods), The Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. Send email to lavender@mail.csi.cuny.edu
Fall Semester 1999. Last modified: Tuesday 29 May 2006.

Online Course Strategies

1) Prove you are not a dog (be a presence)
2) Don’t lecture — talk
3) First two weeks critical
4) Create meta-videos (how the course works; technologies to be used)
5) Think Fluid – length based on topic and audience attention (20 minutes)
6) Think scaffolded assignments (even for interaction)
7) Give lots of feedback (even canned)
8) Redundancy and Remindancy
9) Make contact
10) Establish your comfort zone for contact and keep it.
11) Be playful
12) Be visual


A good first assignment –for all online courses– is to have students do introductions. They can be general “tell others in the course about yourself” or have a more specific set of questions that elicit students’ interests and prior knowledge of the course subject. The students can post in an Angel or Desire2Learn forum so that the introductions can be read by the class but not made public. Online courses often see attrition due to lack of a sense of being part of a class. Having students do simple things like introductions, explaining their interests in history, or their interests in the specific topic of the class helps them to feel more connected.

The first two weeks of the course are critical for class retention, and often having “canned” encouraging emails sent out regularly in the first few weeks can be of great value. A generalized response to the introductions that can either go to the whole class or personalized with a reference to a few words in the introductions (in smaller classes) can greatly help.

In general, having a number of short forum assignments at the beginning of a course can be quite beneficial. For these assignments, you can have a portion of the class post a brief response to a reading, a review of a web site, a response to an issue, and so on, while others in the class comment on the responses.

The key is to not feel obligated to grade or read all of the responses, but treat them more as class discussion and participation. “Spot” reading of the responses can help instructors to see how well students are understanding materials and help to catch those students (and prod them with an email or two) who are not participating.

However, one does need to balance and not be too burdensome with participation assignments; nor have too small of a window for responses.

Both Angel and Desire2Learn have good discussion (forum) platforms (On the whole, D2L is less clunky in all respects and much faster than Angel). But you can also use online resources for class interaction such as Piazza (https://piazza.com/).

To encourage collaborative writing. Instructor can identify a series of themes. Number of themes could depend on number of students enrolled in course. Ask students as a group to compile a Wikipedia or blog entry on theme of choice.

You could let students know that the assignments could possibly be used to contribute towards an electronic reader, or a resource-based reader on a public history site maintained by the department. Or they can post on a public blog. Entries can be of any length but generally group blog posts tend to work well at 500 – 750 words. They can be more formal and include citations and bibliography at the end.

Blog posts, individually or as a group, form or informal, can be a great way for students to turn in work or participate in the class. While you can have students sign up for and blog on your course site, a simpler and better solution is to have students use any one of a number of free blog services (http://sixrevisions.com/tools/top-free-online-blogging/). Students can use tools like WordPress.org, for example, to create their own blog (http://wordpress.org/) (individual or group) that focuses on an historical theme, event, movement, person, etc.

While many see Wikipedia as a dubious resource, historians can use this to their advantage by having students work on an entry on either a new topic or a more established topic. The class can set about trying to improve the accuracy and historical fullness of particular Wikipedia entries.

Scaffolded assignment using Google Docs (http://googleapps.msu.edu). One trick that I have found that has made commenting on student work and allows me to avoid Angel dropbox, is to use the MSU instantiation of Google Docs. Students share a particular Google Doc with me and post their work in it. When work is due, I can go to the Google Doc and write comments.

This also allows one to scaffold assignments, break them into manageable parts. Students can, for example, start by collecting sources in the doc; they can then do reviews of the sources; They can then do a draft of an assignment; they can then review a fellow student; and then finally do a final draft. Any one stage of a scaffolded assignment can be graded or commented upon or simply checked off for being done.

Students can work in groups. Almost any assignment can be broken into parts. Scaffolding assignments helps to keep students engaged by giving them more manageable tasks. It also helps one to avoid getting paper mill work – plagiarism.

More Assignments. Any of the following could be formulated for forums, blog posts, scaffolded assignments, or more traditional drop box Word docs.

Article review. Instructor identifies a series of themes. Students are asked to find an article that meets specific scholarly criteria, as identified by instructor (e.g published in reputable journal, draws on primary source materials or draws on both primary and secondary sources, is at least 10 pages in length excluding the bibliography, etc. etc.). Write a 1 or 2 page review that includes a short summary, and a critical analysis that draws in other readings from the course.

Archive Review: Identify an online archive for review, as in the following example from http://historymatters.gmu.edu/search.php?function=find&start=31

For a class, students can look at topic specific archives or find within larger archives, materials appropriate for a particular class.

As per this example, students can be asked to use selected narratives, interviews, footage, or images to construct a “document-based question” for fellow students to answer

Been Here So Long: Selections from the WPA American Slave Narratives
Dick Parsons.
These three lessons use the American Slave Narratives gathered between 1936 and 1938 by journalists and other writers employed by the Federal Writers Project, part of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA).

The site supplies 17 narratives for student use and also provides information on online and printed sources for additional narratives (approximately 2,300 were collected). The lessons ask students to explore the slave narratives to gain an understanding of the experiences of African Americans in nineteenth-century America and to consider the nature of oral history and personal narratives as historical evidence.

One lesson requires students to use selected slave narratives to construct a “Document Based Question” for fellow students to answer. The lessons are accompanied by an essay on “The Ex-Slave Interviews in the Depression Cultural Context.” This activity comes from the New Deal Network Web site.

Using primary source documents, examine the impact of particular historical events / episodes on people’s lives. Rich online archives provide excellent resources for setting students up to do “historical work” of digging into archives. Alternatively, sets of primary documents can be assembled online and ask students to support or refute particular stances with evidence from the documents. A particularly rich example of this can be found with the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History (http://canadianmysteries.ca/en/index.php)
Significant Event
Identify a significant event or publication in your discipline. Have students ascertain the important people, impact, etc., involved by consulting a variety of library resources. Probably a good idea to keep the event/publication broad: The lunar landing, discovery of penicillin, Silent Spring, the rock opera Hair, the advent of the assembly line, etc. Suggested library resources will depend on the event, but lends itself neatly to reference tools. (Adapted from Term Paper Alternatives. http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/PaperAlternatives.html)
Liberal and Conservative

Contrast two journal articles or editorials from recent publications reflecting conservative and liberal tendencies. (Consult Cannell Library’s handout, “A Selective List of Liberal and Conservative Periodicals.”) It might be interesting to carry out this exercise again using publications from the late 1960s.
(Adapted from Term Paper Alternatives. http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/PaperAlternatives.html)
Popular and Scholarly

Provide students with a popular and a scholarly article on the same topic. (Or, alternatively, have students locate two articles on their own.) Students will use a prepared checklist to analyze the two types of publications and learn the distinguishing characteristics.

Popular and Primary
Students will find a short article in the popular press and locate the original research article [primary source] on which the popular article was based. Students will analyze the relationship between the popular article and original research, and critique the popular article with regard to its accuracy.

Update the Literature
Ask students to update a literature review done about five years ago on a topic in the discipline. They will have to utilize printed and electronic resources to identify pertinent information.

Update a Web Directory
Students will select a topic directory from the Cannell Library web site. Students will look at each of the recommended sites, then locate five more sites on the same topic that they determine should be added. For each site they recommend, students will complete a web page evaluation worksheet and write a short evaluation. Alternatively, students can locate their own directory to update, rather than using one from the library’s page.

Analyze Case Studies
Bring in case studies for students to read (for example, I will put a case example of sexual harassment on an overhead). Have students discuss and analyze the case, applying concepts, data, and theory from the class. They can work as individuals or in groups or do this as a think-pair-share. Consider combining this with a brief in-class writing assignment.
(From http://www.cat.ilstu.edu/teaching_tips/handouts/newactive.shtml)

Mini-research Proposals or Projects
Have the students work on designing a research study on a topic from the class. In some situations, you may be able to have them collect data during class time (observe some situation or give out some short surveys) or you may have them doing this as part of an outside-of-class project. Either way, have students present their research in a class research symposium similar to what we do at professional meetings. Invite other faculty and students.
(From http://www.cat.ilstu.edu/teaching_tips/handouts/newactive.shtml)

Analyze Information Sources
Have students locate three sources—one an article published in a popular magazine, one an article in a refereed scholarly journal, one a web site—and have them analyze the sources in terms of language used, evidence presented for claims, qualifications of the author, and purpose.
(From http://www.gustavus.edu/oncampus/academics/library/IMLS/assignmentsuggestions.html)

Culture Shifts
This one uses the New York Times Historical database. Have students select a topic or an issue and examine it across time by locating articles in the New York Times for this year, 25, 50, 75, and/or 100 years ago. In addition to gaining an understanding of the shifts in language (and the need to brainstorm keywords) students can study the different approaches to the issue and the ways in the issue reflect the values and assumptions of the time. This exercise can be expanded by having students expand their knowledge of the different time periods with chronologies and other reference books.
Create an AnthologyUsing the book catalog and databases, have students compile an anthology or reader of works on a theme or topic. Students will write critical introductions to the selections they have chosen. This exercise is good for teaching providing students practice with selecting particular sources out of many and relating pieces to a whole.
(Adapted from http://www.gustavus.edu/oncampus/academics/library/

Compile an anthology of readings by one person. Have students include an introduction with biographical information about the author, and the rationale for including the works [justify with reviews or critical materials].
Secondary Source Comparison
Provide the class with primary sources that recount an event that is open to more than one interpretation. Then have students locate and critique secondary source explanations of that event. Have students examine differences in secondary sources and relate these to their own interpretation of the available evidence. (Students are often surprised to find secondary sources tell the same story differently.)
(From http://www.gustavus.edu/oncampus/academics/library/

Document an Editorial Have students examine an editorial and discuss what evidence would need to be provided to turn it into an academic argument for a scholarly audience. Have the class locate and analyze evidence and write a response to the editorial based on their new knowledge.
(From http://www.gustavus.edu/oncampus/academics/library/

Glossary Exercise Have students maintain a list of words related to the topic of the class (from lectures, the textbook, readings). Using words on the list students create an annotated glossary, for which they provide documented definitions for each of the words. The instructor can set a minimum number of words and sources (i.e. forty words from at least 10 different sources). Sources can include general and subject-specific dictionaries, people, web sites, a whole book on the topic, an article on the topic, etc.)
One of Kitty’s favorites from an Intro to Research Class

Annotated Bibliography
Prepare an annotated bibliography of books, journal articles, and other sources on a topic. Include evaluative annotations
(From http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)
· produce the annotated bibliography in the form of a web page
· Have students work in groups to compile a large annotated bibliography and present/defend their selections to the class.

Topic Across Sources
Select a topic and compare how that topic is treated in two to five different sources.
(From http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)

Journal Analysis
Analyze the content, style, and audience of three journals in a given discipline.
(From http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)

Birthday Exercise
Locate primary sources on/or near the date of your birth. You may use one type of material only once, i.e., one newspaper headline of a major event, one quotation, one biography, one census figure, one top musical number, one campus event, etc. Use a minimum of six different sources. Write a short annotation of each source and include the complete bibliographic citation.
(From http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)

Web Site Evaluation
Students select a web site and evaluate it using a checklist, such as the W5 for W3 web site evaluation and checklist. As a variation, have students locate three websites on the same topic, and after completing the worksheet, have them write a short paper describing each site and ranking them in order of quality.

Teach the Class
Each student in the class is given responsibility for dealing with a part of the subject of the course. He or she is then asked to 1) find out what the major reference sources on the subject are; 2) find out “who’s doing what where” in the field; 3) list three major unresolved questions about the subject; 4) prepare a 15 minute oral presentation to introduce this aspect of the subject to the class.
(From http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)
(From http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)

Follow the Policy
Have students follow a particular foreign policy situation as it develops. Who are the organizations involved? What is the history of the issue? What are the ideological conflicts?
(From http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)
(From http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)

Internet & Search Engines Choose a topic of interest and search it on the Internet. Cross reference several search engines. Select and evaluate x number of web sites; select a specified number to include on an annotated bibliography. As with a research paper, students will have to narrow and broaden accordingly. Students summarize the experience by describing the experiences in different search engines, overall coverage of the topic, best keywords, etc.
(Adapted from http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)

Write Your Own Exam
Write an exam on one area; answer some or all of the questions (depending on professor’s preference). Turn in an annotated bibliography of source material, and rationale for questions.
(From http://library.ups.edu/instruct/assign.htm)

All But the Research Paper
Conduct the research for a term paper. Do everything except write it. Students submit a clearly defined topic, an annotated bibliography of useful sources, an outline of a paper, a thesis statement, and an opening paragraph and summary.
(From: http://www.cod.edu/library/services/faculty/infolit/assignmentideas.htm)
Examine Coverage of a Controversial Issue

Examine the treatment of a controversial issue in several different sources such as newspapers, books, magazines, scholarly journals, and web sites. Write a paper that presents a balanced point of view on the issue or ask the students to take a position based on the information.
Purpose: Gives them experience in locating different kinds of sources and selecting from a large volume of references. Emphasizes that there are multiple perspectives on any issue and stresses the importance of making informed decisions.
(From: http://www.cod.edu/library/services/faculty/infolit/assignmentideas.htm)

Finding Supporting Information
Give the students an article to critique. Have them locate two sources (other articles, web sites) which support (or not) the points made in the original article. Purpose: Gives the students an opportunity to understand the importance of using more than one source when gathering information.
(From: http://www.cod.edu/library/services/faculty/infolit/assignmentideas.htm

Have students choose any issue that has been the subject of protest or propaganda at any time in the past 500 years in any part of the world. Then write a paper detailing the issues of the protest/propaganda, putting the issues in the context of some sort of text or object. The text/object can be a film; a literary or musical work; a poster; a pamphlet; a sculpture or painting; a building; a symbolic act; or a historical moment. The overarching questions to address in the paper are: What historical forces — technological, political, cultural — brought this protested issue or point of propaganda to a critical point at the moment you are looking at?
What are the specific arguments being raised in the protest or propaganda? How does your object/text embody these historical forces and detailed arguments?
(World Civilizations Prehistory to 1500 assignment, from http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/asl/courses/

Create a Pathfinder
Students select a topic and create a guide to researching the topic. The pathfinder is not an exhaustive list of source, but the steps on could follow to locate information in a variety of sources, plus a sample of sources each resource would yield. This assignment will help students understand the organization of traditional reference information as well as Internet reference information and its organization. . The pathfinder would include the following: Topic & summary; Subject Headings; tools (book catalog, indexes, newsgroups, etc.) with two sources from each.

Poster Session
Students research a topic and present it as a poster which other students will use to learn about the topic. Provides the opportunity to conduct a search and forces the students to express the important points succinctly.
(Adapted from http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/asl/courses/sample_assignments.html)

Journals in a Discipline
Assignment: How many journals are published in a given field? Identify [with professor’s help] journals “basic” to the discipline. Compare and contrast them. Analyse their content, tone, audience and impact. Purpose: Emphasizes the importance of journal literature. Makes the point that journals differ in approach and perspective.
(From http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/asl/courses/sample_assignments.html)

Finding Suitable Information
Assignment: Give the students a set of Web pages to look at. Have them note any reasons why these pages are, or are not appropriate for university level student research or for in-class use.
Purpose: A source that is useful in one instance, may not be useful in all instances. Either scholarly or popular sites might be appropriate depending on the requirements of the class assignment.
Museum exhibit design (with artifact list, visitor walk-through plan, keyed to mission statement of an existing museum
Local history or heritage walk analysis.

Grant proposal or funding request for a history-related project
Design public lecture series on an issue related to the course (select speakers, topics)
Document-based exercise requiring an inventory of a document set, generating 3 questions from the set, then developing an essay to answer one of those questions using the docs
Design a traveling trunk, including artifact list, lesson plan
Plan an oral history collection project for a local nursing home, assisted care facility, veterans hospital/home
Sketch an article proposal for a major national publication (one student wrote the precis for an article on native american graves and repatriation issues to be submitted to THE ATLANTIC).
Choose an issue and imagine 10 primary sources that would constitute “smoking gun” evidence for researchon that issue, then compare/contrast those imagined sources to 10 existing sources.
map an issue. One student in a western civ class I taught drew a map of the Roman empire based on two variables: the sources of animals for the games and the sources of hard coin, and actually found some (perhaps coincidental) correlations with the Roman road system.


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