Guidelines for Paper #2
PRIMARY-SOURCE PAPER ON SOME ASPECT OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, 1760-1815
This will be a seven page paper based on a little-known primary document of your choosing that reveals some larger point about the American Revolution. The choice of documents and the larger point you want to address are up to you. Your objective is to find a document that is not one of the famous ones from the period, such as The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights (you can select documents that talk about the Declaration, Constitution, or Bill of Rights--but you cannot use the documents themselves). If your document is the subject of a book or journal article or, it’s off limits. No Washington’s Farewell Address (or any of the famous speeches by Washington or any of the notable speeches from other major figures from the era); no Alien and Sedition Acts, Coercive Acts, or any other infamous law; no Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation; no Olive Branch Petition; no Common Sense or any of the famous pamphlet literature from the era; no citing the “Remember the ladies” correspondence between John and Abigail Adams or any of the correspondence that you can find nearly anywhere. I want you to do some digging to find a new and interesting document and to decide for yourself what you think the document’s historical significance may be. I DO NOT want you to select a well-worn source that numerous historians have written about already (that was the goal of paper #1). DO NOT use sources we have already covered in discussion postings (for example, you can use the records from the Constitutional Convention, but you cannot focus on the passages we covered in class). You also need to stick within the time period: 1760-1815. If you have a document from a later period, it MUST deal directly with the era of the American Revolution (for example, you might want to use a pension application from a Continental Army Veteran from the 1820s or you might want to talk about public memory of a Revolutionary era event or figure). If you have any questions about whether a document is off-limits or fair game, email me.
First, you need to find as much information about the document as
possible: What is the document? When was it written? Who wrote it? What do we
know about the author? What events or issues does the document describe? What
do historians know about the people or events or topics listed in the document?
Ultimately, your objective is to explain what the document says that you find important and to explain how that document fits into the broader history of the Revolution. Perhaps the best way to think about this assignment is to imagine that you will be teaching high school students about some topic and that you're planning on incorporating a primary document into your lesson plan. To pull off the lesson successfully, you're going to need to have a document that is clear, readable, and that reveals something about the larger point you have designed the lesson to teach. Because students do not always get the connections or know the larger history, you will need to be able to explain the big picture and to explain specifically--with reference to the details in the document--what this document has to say about the topic.
By asking you to expound on the document’s “significance,” I’m not asking you to find documents that shed light on important moments in the Revolution’s political and military history or documents that are, in and of themselves, key texts of critical events, like the Constitution, or an influential pamphlet, or a hated law, or a tide-changing battle. In fact, ideally, what I’d like you to do is the opposite: to find a little-known document about an event that we don’t know that much about and to explore how that document fits into the larger story of the Revolution. By doing this, you’ll be doing the kind of thing that professional historians do: uncovering something new and different about the Revolution. If that doesn’t strike your fancy and you want to focus on some important text or battle or event, you need to do so by focusing on a little-known document that gives a perspective on that text or event (i.e. a rarely cited editorial, or pamphlet, or letter, or diary entry that talks about the Declaration of Independence, or the Battle of Saratoga, or the Constitution). The topics are endless. Maybe the document is an example of debates among Americans over British policies and independence during the 1760s and 70s; maybe it’s a document that gives the loyalists or patriot perspective, giving reasons why the author chose one side or the other. Maybe the document reveals tensions between different groups of Americans over the meaning of the Revolution: who should vote, who should be free, how far rights should extend or how much they should be limited. Perhaps it’s an example of how elite or ordinary people or slaves or women or Indians viewed an event. Your document might reveal a reaction to an unpopular law or policy. It could reveal something about the gentry or artisan-led committees, the use of crowd action and political violence, or the kinds of demands made by abolitionists. It might be an example of propaganda on one side or another of some debate: protests against
Let me offer some suggestions to help you frame the document’s significance. First, you don’t have to find some long-lost document that proves why the British lost the war or some other huge historical question. Instead, you’re merely looking to tie your document into what historians already know (or think they know) about the subject(s) that your document addresses. If it’s a document that addresses a colonial grievance with a British policy, you want to be able to explain the grievance and the policy that bothered colonists and to discuss the importance of that grievance to the wider Revolutionary movement. If you’ve got an example of a crowd attacking a British official, you need to put that document in the context of eighteenth century rough music and the other political violence from the era. If it’s an essay calling on Americans to remain loyal to
In many ways this assignment is as easy or as challenging as the document
you choose. It should be easy if you select a document whose significance is
fairly clear: a pamphlet arguing for independence, a petition from farmers
complaining about war debt speculation, a newspaper story describing one of the
many tea parties against the Tea Act, a soldier’s account of the slaughter at
There are really four parts to this paper: 1) Select a topic; 2) Find a document that reveals something important about that topic; 3) Find secondary sources (books and journal articles by academic historians) that help you to understand the larger significance of what you have found in the document; and 4) Write a paper that introduces your document, explains what it says, and expounds on its larger significance in a clear and coherent way. The paper needs to elaborate on the specific details on the document and explain the big picture it helps illuminate--making crystal clear the link between the specific details in your document and the bigger historical picture you get from the secondary sources.
This is a challenging assignment. It is not the kind of project you can start the day (or even the week) before the paper is due. It is important to get started on it early and, in particular, to select your topic and your document as soon as possible. Given all the available possibilities, it is easy to feel lost or overwhelmed. That's why it is critical to start looking as soon as possible. To help make the process a little easier, I'll try to walk you through the different stages:
1) Selecting a Topic:
There are an endless array of subjects you can choose to
investigate. Here are a few possibilities (this is by no means an
exhaustive list; feel free to work on a topic not listed here):
Political and Intellectual History: You can write about the political developments or the political culture of the era. For example, you could pick some revealing passages from the debates over the 1787 federal Constitution, the 1776 state constitutions, or the bill(s) of rights to make a larger point about the creation of new governments (i.e. how democratic or undemocratic were they?), a particular "right" the new state and national governments protected (i.e. what did state or national leaders think about the right to bear arms? or whether the slave trade should be legal?). You might want to investigate some issue the new governments dealt with, such as Indian policy, or paper money, or the war debt; you may merely want find a document that gives a sense of the kind of issues governments in the late-18th and early 19th century dealt with (things as seemingly mundane as road construction or the regulation of taverns). You could find a document that reveals something about the political culture of the period. You could look at the political culture of the elite: How did the governing elite conceive of politics? How did they debate? Were those debates pitched to the average citizen or to an educated elite? How did they characterize their political opposition? What did they think of elections? What did they think of ordinary people? You could also find documents that reveal the political culture of ordinary Americans: find petitions written by regular folk or documents that talk about popular protests, riots, or uprisings and, then, use these documents to talk about how ordinary people thought about politics, what issues concerned them, and how they expressed their political beliefs.
Social and Cultural History: You can find documents that talk about the lived experiences of people. You can find documents that tell us something about gender roles for men and women; or you could examine find a document that reveals something about the possibilities or limits of the Revolution for women. You could investigate race relations or racial prejudices, or talk about what the Revolution meant for slaves in the north or south or for Indians. You could find documents revealing the tensions within Native American societies or how Indians dealt with US attempts to put them on reservations or assimilate them into American culture. You could look at documents about the experiences of a particular ethnic group or that document ethnic tensions. You could find documents about what the Revolution meant for ordinary farmers, artisans, and servants. You could investigate the working lives of merchants, farmers, artisans, servants, or slaves to get a sense about what people did for a living (or what they were forced to do) and how easy or hard that work was, and, if possible, what they thought about their jobs. You could investigate popular views of religion or religious freedom, or examine the tensions between different denominations and sects. You could examine class differences and explore how the gentry lived, acted, dress, and ate to try to set themselves apart from everyone else. You could examine "high" or "low" culture in terms of entertainment, food ways, or folk ways. You could find documents about medical practices or popular "cures" for various illnesses or ailments or documents that reveal ideas about science or education.
Military History and Diplomatic: You could focus on
documents that deal with the Revolutionary War and wartime experiences or the
relations among the colonies or between the new
2) Selecting a Document: The
goal is to select some non-famous
primary source document from (or about) the Revolutionary Era (1760-1815)
that can be used to reveal something about the topic you have selected.
The two best places to find primary source documents are the campus library and
the web. The library's shelves contain many document collections from the
Revolutionary era, either in the form of document readers specifically designed
for the classroom or as volumes of published papers typically those of elite
"founding fathers" or records compiled from state of national
governments. You can find these collections by searching the library
catalog or by wandering the shelves in the section with the history books on
With the stunning advances in digital reproduction (aided by the fact that there are few copyright issues for documents from the period), the web abounds with online primary documents from the era of the American Revolution--most of them published by (generally speaking) trustworthy government or academic libraries. I have come up with a fairly thorough list of sites that provide excellent possibilities for this assignment. You can view the list by clicking here:
3) Finding Secondary Sources: You will need at least FIVE secondary sources, FOUR of which much be from reputable books or journal articles by professional historians. Only ONE of those sources may be from the web or an encyclopedia. You've already developed your secondary source research skills with the first paper. This is your chance to hone them. Concentrate your efforts on books and journal articles written by academic historians. Be VERY wary of using the web for interpreting the documents you find. There is some reputable material out there, but there is also a great deal of misinformation or misleading or slanted coverage--especially if you're looking for information on a particular issue. For example, if you're examining religion and the Revolution, you can get skewed interpretations from fundamentalist Christian websites trying to prove the founders wanted a government founded on Christianity just as you can get an incomplete portrait from a website arguing that the Founders were all Atheists. As with the last paper, you need to be careful and critical or every secondary source you use--but especially those from the web!
If you are having trouble finding sources, you may want
to look for journal articles.
Use the following database search engines to locate journal articles relevant to your topic (there are others you can use, but this one is most relevant).
To use the databases, you must be connected to the internet on campus. If
you are off campus, you can still connect by going through UMBC’s research
port. To do this, go to http://researchport.umd.edu
and then follow the links to UMBC and enter the information from your
university ID. You can also use a VPN client. Here is a link to the library’s page
about connecting to campus either through the research port or VPN client: http://aok.lib.umbc.edu/services/remoteaccess.php
To reach the databases, click here: http://aok.lib.umbc.edu/subjectguides/HISTGEN-SG/index.php
Once you get into a database, you can search any number of different ways. For general searches, try using the keyword box and enter the word "revolution" (it doesn't need to be in quotes) along with what ever other search term applies to your topic. For example, if you are searching for articles about the militia, you can enter: revolution militia. If you are interested in Indians and the Revolutionary War, type: revolution indians. You get the idea.
This will return a long list of articles that you will have to sift through to find something appropriate. On some topics, you may have to search back into the 1970's and 60's or earlier. When it spits out the list, look for entries where the "type" is listed as "article." Book reviews and review essays are not going to be helpful (although they may point you to books that cover the topic you are looking for). DO NOT CITE BOOK REVIEWS IN YOUR PAPER AS SECONDARY SOURCES!
Searching this database (or any other database) will produce a list of journal articles, some of which will contain hyperlinks which you can click to download a PDF of the article. For the non-hyperlinked entries, you will have to check with the library’s serials holding to see if we carry paper copies of the journal at UMBC. To do this, click this link: http://aok.lib.umbc.edu/serials/serialsearch.php which will give you a search engine box where you can enter the name of the journal and check to see if UMBC has it on the shelves and, if so, the run of years we carry.
4) Writing the Paper: Your paper should be seven double-spaced typed pages with a normal font and margins. Your paper should include a transcribed typed version of the document (not part of the seven pages); if you photocopied or downloaded the document in a PDF, you should also include the original copy. The transcribed document must include bibliographical information or the website location where you found the document. Here’s what I would like you to do with the rest of the paper: 1) You should start out your paper with an introductory paragraph that introduces us to the larger historical topic or question your document addresses and end that paragraph with a thesis that states how the document shed light on this issue or question. 2) After the introduction that spells out the thesis, you should take ONE paragraph to introduce the document: What kind of document is it? Who wrote it? When? What basic information does the document convey or what story does it tell (paraphrase here)? 3) In the body of the paper you should use focus on building paragraphs that address the larger points of your thesis. These paragraphs should incorporate material from secondary sources and they should include SPECIFIC EXAMPLES and QUOTATIONS from your document that relate to those larger points. You are using your document as EVIDENCE and a CASE STUDY of the broader argument you are making about whatever aspect of the Revolution you are investigating. Again, you MUST use QUOTES from your document in the body of the paper and explain how those quotes provide support for the various points you are trying to make.
If you missed it the first time, here, once again, is Dr. Bouton's Advice for Improving Your Papers
5) Citing Sources:
You MUST cite you sources according to the “History Style Sheet” on the History Department webpage. This sheet provides examples of citations in the format used by academic historians. If you do not properly cite your sources, you will lose points.
Provide a bibliography at the end of your paper with the full citations listing all the sources you used. The bibliography MUST be in the proper format.