With this blog post, I want to celebrate research papers written by three of my U.S. history students this semester. The students below** each wrote superb essays highlighted by strong research, clear prose, and insightful arguments. Each paper may be downloaded from the link available on the paper's title.
One of the class objectives on my course syllabus was: “Demonstrate an appreciation for the historian’s craft, including the ability to develop and critically evaluate arguments based on evidence, especially primary sources, and separate long-held assumptions and myths from historical interpretations that are supportable by evidence.”
To that end, at least once a week this school year we worked with primary sources (we use several excellent document readers to supplement our not-so-excellent textbook). With the research paper, I expected students to put what they had learned all year to practice and become historians themselves.
The actual paper could have been on any topic in U.S. history, was to be four-to-five pages, have original, primary source research, be placed within the historiography, and argue for a larger idea within U.S. history. (I always push my students to find “the big idea,” just as my mentors did to me.) Each of these student essays did that.
Quite a few of my students wrote very good papers, but these three in particular stood out to me. Our school does not offer any sort of formal awards for our U.S. history courses, but I wanted to recognize these students for their excellent work. It is lamentable how few avenues exist to praise research done by undergraduate and high school history students. This is my small attempt at a corrective measure.
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Carson Cato, “Sputnik and the American People”
Cato’s (he goes by his last name) paper stood out for a number of reasons. Most especially, I was impressed with the way he used New York Times articles as a proxy for U.S. public opinion on Sputnik. While his conclusion is not abnormal—Sputnik caused the U.S. public to feel “trepidation and inferiority”—the research truly shows this idea. Moreover, the paper is well written, well placed within the historiography, and thoughtful in terms of its treatment of the connection between the media, government, and public opinion.
Calista Keck, “The Lynching of Jesse Washington”
Cali’s paper details the 1916 lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas. Even though the event was horrific, Cali excelled in crafting a clear narrative full of argumentative vigor. With sharp research, especially including visual sources, Cali demonstrated that, while the residents of Waco normalized the assault and considered it justice, a significant portion of the rest of the country, led by the NAACP, found the event reprehensible. The end result was greater public recognition of the practice of lynching, which eventually helped lead to the practice’s downfall.
Landon Middleton, “Christian Socialism from 1890 to the 1920s”
Landon’s project really took off after we studied the Red Scare of the 1950s. His original research question centered around why anti-communist forces of the 1950s put “In God We Trust” on the U.S. currency and generally believed that socialism and Christianity were entirely antithetical. That question led Landon down the rabbit hole until he arrived at the fin-de-siècle Christian socialism movement. His final essay combined contemporary writings with secondary sources to trace the evolution of Christian socialism from being a social movement to becoming a political movement. In the end, I was most impressed with how he wrote with nuance in describing historical Christianity and socialism, showing a panoply of beliefs among past peoples.
**As a reminder, I teach at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts, a public, residential high school for academically advanced 11th and 12th graders. Since each of these students is a minor, I secured both their and their parents’ permissions to post their essays and identify them by name.