History 496: Historical Research on The American Revolution

The Tales of Old Soldiers And Widows

Professor Terry Bouton
722 Administration Bldg.
Office Hours:
Mon./Wed. 9:30am-10:45am, 3:30pm-4:00pm and by appointment

Course Description:
This course is a research seminar on the American Revolution and New Republic that will approach the idea of a "research project" in an unusual way.  Rather than beginning by selecting a topic and then finding sources to write the paper, we're going to start with a source and see what kind of topics we can derive from it.  The source we're all going to use is the massive collection of pension applications that veterans of the Americans Revolution filed in the fifty or so years after the War for Independence.  The goal of the course is to see what kind of stories these records have to tell us and, in the process, to learn from first-hand experience what it is that historians do.  The only requirement is that the bulk of your research for your 20-25 page paper come from these pension records.  After that, the rest is up to you.  You decide the topic you want to work on.  You decide the historical question you want to ask.  You decide what the story is. 

First, a bit about the records.  We will be working with the pension applications filed during the 19th century by veterans of the War for Independence and their widows.  As part of the application process, soldiers and their widows had to explain what they had done during the war and (to prove that they needed a pension) something about their lives in the decades after the victory.  Over 80,000 people applied for a pension, meaning we have a huge base of source material to work with.  Most of the files have not been used by any historian.  I have 15 reels of microfilm that I will put on reserve at the media desk in the library.  It is possible to select a topic that can be supported by evidence from these 15 reels.  Most of you, however, will undoubtedly need to view some of the other 2,600 + reels that are located at the National Archives in Washington DC.  The address is: Archives I Research Room Services Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 7th and Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington DC 20408-0001, Phone: 202-501-5400.

The range of possible topics is limited only by your imagination.  Since most of the petitions are from soldiers, you make your paper a case study of some groups of soldiers.  You can research soldiers: black soldiers, white soldiers, women-as-soldiers, soldiers from the city, soldiers from the countryside, soldiers from Maryland (or any part of Maryland or from an other city or state), soldiers who were injured, soldiers who deserted, teenage soldiers, soldiers who fought as old men, the hardships soldiers' faced during the war, or their experiences after the war during the 19th century.  You can investigate their political beliefs, their racial views, their views of Indians, their views on gender, their relationships with each other, their relationships with their officers.  If you are interested in military history, you can write the history of a battle, trace the history of a particular unit, or answer questions about the proficiency or deficiency of the Continental Line and the militia.  You can investigate soldiers who served in non-combat branches of the service: surgeons, quartermasters, the commissary.  If you are not interested in military history or the Revolution, there are plenty of topics from which to choose.  Your paper can be about widows: the experience and meaning of widowhood in the New Republic or what the stories of widows tell us about gender relations.  Your paper could be about life in the 19th century.  It could be about family (most of the applicants had to file detailed information about their surviving family).  You could investigate what "family" meant in terms of the way people structured their households.  Since most of the applicants were poor veterans and widows, so your paper might be about poverty in the 19th century.  You could write about men's experiences of poverty, women's experiences of poverty, systems of poor relief in the New Republic, the causes of poverty, the results of poverty, or attitudes toward poverty and poor relief.  Since most of the applicants were elderly when they applied, you could write about old age: the experience and meaning growing old in the New Republic, how the elderly supported themselves, or the place of the elderly in their families.  If you're interested in cultural history, you can do something with the memory of the Revolution and how people wanted to remember the soldiers and the war.  You may want to focus your research on particular parts of the applications.  For example, as part of the application process, soldiers and widows had to provide a list of their property and describe their living arrangements.  These lists alone could produce some fascinating papers: what kind of things did people own? What did "property" mean to people of the era?  And all this just scratches the surface.   Many more potential topics await discovery.

Course Format:

Class meetings will be conducted like workshops.  Beginning with the second class, we will dive right into the records.  In subsequent weeks we will discuss how to pick a topic, how to conduct research, and how to write an effective paper.  Most weeks we will meet as a group; other weeks will involve research, writing, and individual conferences.  The group meetings will work through each stage of the process: brainstorming topics, deciding on historical questions (and figuring out what a "historical question" is), designing research strategies, finding additional source material, developing theses, finding the most effective way to tell your story, working with evidence, finding a way to interest readers, and proving your case.  Later classes will be dedicated to workshops of writing: paragraphs, introductions, rough drafts, and titles.  The shared focus on pension records should help everyone get more out of each of these workshops.  The idea is that, by having everyone work with the same source base, we can have higher-level discussions about the process of research and writing.  Since everyone is working with the same material, it will be easier for you to help each other work through the rough spots, commiserate over frustrations, and celebrate the triumphs.  To be successful, the workshops will depend on everyone's willingness to participate and to be responsible, conscientious, and civil about presenting and critiquing each other's work.  Sudents in this course will have access to one another's writing (no one outside of the course will be able to see what you post to the discussion boards).  If you are averse to sharing your work, this is probably not the class for you.

I will send all email messages to your UMBC email account
(yourusername@umbc.edu). If you do not usually check this account, have messages forwarded to your preferred email address (such as aol, hotmail, etc.).  There are several ways to have your email forwarded.  The best way is to use the forwarding function in myUMBC, this will ensure that users receive ALL UMBC related emailónot just email sent from within Blackboard. Here's how to do it: After logging into myUMBC, click the "Personal" tab, then the link "Create a Mail Forwarding Address"
.  For help with this procedure, or if you have other questions about email, contact UMBC's Office of Information Technology services or visit the OIT helpsite at http://www.umbc.edu/oit/. Helpdesk personnel in the on-campus computer labs can usually answer most questions. The helpdesk phone number is 410-455-3838.

Academic Integrity:

Academic Integrity:
I expect students enrolled in this course to abide by the UMBC Code of Student Conduct for Academic Integrity (http://www.umbc.edu/sjp/articles/articleALL.html). If you are unclear about what plagiarism is, take a look at the Indiana University website: Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It (http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml). You should also read the section of plagiarism in A Pocket Guide to Writing in History.

By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC's scholarly community in which everyone's academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong.  Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but isnot limited to, suspension or dismissal.  To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult the UMBC Student Handbook, the Faculty Handbook, or the UMBC Policies section of the UMBC Directory.

To ensure authenticity of assignments, students will submit both papers to Turnitin.com, a web-based service that checks papers against everything on the internet as well as the papers in their databanks.  Unfortunately, every semester Turnitin.com catches at least one student who plagiarized some or all of a paper they submitted to one of my courses.  That said, I see Turnitin.com less as a punitive device than as a measure to ensure that those who complete assignments honestly do not have their hard work debased by lowlife cheaters. 

If you haven't used Turnitin.com before, go to the main turnitin.com page and click on "Create a User Profile" in the top left corner. Turnitin.com will walk you through the registration process and give detailed instructions on how to submit your paper.

If you have already registered for Turnitin.com, simply login using your email and password.

In either case you will need the course ID# and Password. They are as follows:

COURSE PASSWORD: [The Password is available on Blackboard; I will also give it out in class]

(NOTE: The password is case sensitive. Also, this password is different from the password you will select to register for Turnitin.com. Use a password of your own choosing when you initially register as a new user)

Here's a link to Turnitin.com: http://www.turnitin.com/static/home.html

Required Reading:

The following book is available at the campus bookstore.  If you're shopping for used copies, you may want to check out half.com or bookfinder.com

1) Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History (Bedford/St. Martin's)

Course Requirements:

Grade Scale:

                Participation:             100 Points
                Assignments:             100 Points
                Final Paper                200 Points
                Total Points               400 Points

           At the end of the end of the semester:

                360-400 Points will be an A
                320-359 Points will be a B
                280-319 Points will be a C
                240-279 Points will be a D
                Below 240 Points will be an F

The Paper: (200 points, 50% of your final grade)
Most of your grade will be composed of the research paper: 25-30 pages in length, double spaced, regular margins, with footnotes and bibliographical material in the proper formats (use A Pocket Guide to Writing in History as your guide). 

To Receive a final grade, you MUST submit your Final Paper to Turnitin.com by December 12 

Participation: (100 points, 25% of your final grade)
Your grade will also depend on participation.  There are four elements to your participation grade: 1) attendance, 2) the writing you submit to the workshops, 3) your role in commenting on the work of others, 4) a final in-class presentation. For the workshops to be successful, everyone will need to participate in discussions, in presenting work, and in offering suggestions to one another.

1) Attendance: Attendance is mandatory. If you miss class your grade will suffer in direct proportion to the number of classes you miss. Missing the final in-class presentation would be a very bad idea. 

2) Submission of Writing for Workshops: Presenting your work-in-progress for class discussion is a difficult thing to do. The benefits, however, are great.  The more feedback you get on assignments (both positive and negative), the better your paper will be.  Speaking from experience, I can tell you that constructive criticism (painful though it may be) is more valuable than praise in producing a good final result.  For each assignment, you will submit a "draft" version for your peers to critique.  We will meet as a class to discuss your draft of the assignment.  Afterward, you will have a few days to revise your draft before you submit that assignment for a grade.  Note: although the grade for your final submission is more important, I will also evaluate the draft as part of your participation grade.  So do not half-ass it on the drafts.

3) Your Role as Critic: The workshops depend on trust.  The idea of the workshops is not to tear apart each other's work.  Nor is it to say that everything's great, when it isn't.  The goal is for each of you to help make one another's papers stronger.  This means letting the author know what works about her or his paper and offering suggestions for improving what doesn't.  Good historical writing is a collaborative process.  The better audience you become for each other's work, the better everyone's final papers (and grades) will be.  In part, your participation grade will reflect your overall contributions to the group in providing constructive criticism and helpful suggestions. 

4) In-Class Presentation (20 points of participation grade): I have reserved the last three classes for students to give in-class presentations of their projects and findings. I will grade on content, effort, and creativity. 

Assignments: (100 points, 25% of your final grade)
To help everyone stay on track and to give the workshops a better chance of success, I have created a series of assignments and deadlines.  Each assignment will be worth ten points.  I will grade these assignments based on the level of effort your work displays.  Thus, even if you are having trouble with a particular assignment (as each of you inevitably will) you can still get a good grade on that assignment as long as it is clear that you have genuinely tried to complete it.  This applies especially to last several assignments where everyone will feel insecure about submitting their rough drafts and their work-in-progress introduction.  For most assignments, you will need to paste your assignments to the Discussion Board so that others can read them and offer comments.  

Students enrolled in this course must have an active email account and access to the Internet. HIST 496 uses Blackboard On-line software. This means that you will have access to course materials 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the Internet.  Most assignments will be submitted on-line at the Blackboard course website. As a UMBC student, you have a personal email account and access to the Internet and through the many on-campus computer labs (locations, hours, etc.).  You can also access Blackboard off campus through a personal account or from the UMBC dial-up. 

Getting started on Blackboard: Your registration with the UMBC Registrar for HIST 496 will make you eligible to enroll in Blackboard. To gain entrance to discussion boards and course material, you MUST enroll in the on-line version of HIST 496 on the course Blackboard site in order to have full access.  BEFORE you do anything else, enroll in the course on-line by going to: http://blackboard.umbc.edu

Assignment Deadlines:
Assignments must be posted to discussion board by 5:00 PM on the date in parenthesis.

    1) Paper Topic: (Draft: Friday, Sept. 24) (Revised: Friday, Oct. 1)
You should provide a detailed explanation of what you think your paper is going to be about.  The more thorough your explanation, the better your grade will be.

    2) Initial Annotated Bibliography (Draft: Friday, Oct. 1) (Revised: Friday, Oct. 8)
You should provide a bibliography of secondary sources and additional primary sources you are using.  After listing each item in the bibliography, you should include a short paragraph that explains what the source contributes to your study.

    3) Thesis Statement (Draft: Friday, Oct. 8) (Revised: Friday, Oct. 15)
Your thesis statement is the main argument your paper is going to make.  It should be a sentence or two at most.  I will grade your statement on how well it coveys the argument you want your paper to make.

    4) Detailed Paper Outline (Draft: Friday, Oct. 15) (Revised: Friday, Oct. 22)
You should make your outline as detailed as possible.  It should be a roadmap to your paper and include, at the very least, the main points your paper is going to make.  Better outlines will also give a sense of the evidence you are going to use to prove those points.

    5) Paragraph I (Draft: Friday, Oct. 22) (Revised: Friday, Oct. 29)
You should submit a paragraph complete with footnotes in their proper form. Your paragraph should be substantive--no three sentence paragraphs.  I will grade the paragraph based on: 1) Topic Sentence (Does the paper begin with a sentence that spells out the arguments that follows); 2) Organization (Does the paragraph make a coherent argument? Is it organized to walk the reader logically through that argument?); 3) Evidence (Does the paper provide evidence from primary or secondary sources to support its assertions? Does that evidence prove the points the author is trying to make?); 4) Footnotes (Are they in the proper form?)

Note: By "Paragraph I" I DO NOT mean for you to submit the first paragraph of your paper. Rather, the name nearly signifies the first workshop that we will be working on paragraphs.  You may submit a paragraph from anywhere in your paper.

   6) Paragraph II (Draft: Friday, Oct. 29) (Revised: Friday, Nov. 5)
For directions, see Paragraph I.

   7) Paragraph III (Draft: Friday, Nov. 5) (Revised: Friday, Nov. 12)
For directions, see Paragraph I.

   8) The Introduction (Draft: Friday, Nov. 12) (Revised: Friday, Nov. 19)
Your introduction should capture the attention of your readers and provide a clear statement of your thesis.  I want to encourage students to be creative with their introductions and to think about interesting ways of setting up their papers and main arguments.

   9) Three Titles for Your Paper (Draft: Friday, Nov. 12) (Revised: Friday, Nov. 26)
You should develop three alternative titles for your papers.  The titles should be creative and provide a strong suggestion of the topic and main thesis of your paper.

  10) Rough Draft (Draft: Friday, Nov. 26) (Revised: Monday, Dec. 6)
You should submit the paper as you have completed it thus far.  This is one of the hardest things to do because everyone will feel very self conscious about the incomplete state of their paper.  It is ok if some of the sections are in outline form or are lousy paragraphs working toward an idea.  In terms of grading, what I am looking for here is effort and progress.  How much effort has the student put into writing the paper thus far?  Is the rough draft little more than a collection the writing submitted for assignments?  Or has she or he made real strides in tackling the other parts of the paper?

Class Meeting Schedule:

Sept. 1: Introduction
Sept. 6: Meeting in Library: Microfilm
Sept. 8: Talking about the records, Brainstorming topics
Sept. 13: Meeting in the Library: Microfilm
Sept. 15: Talking about the records, Brainstorming topics
Sept. 20: Individual Conferences
Sept. 22: Individual Conferences
Sept. 27: Paper Topic Workshop
Sept. 29: Paper Topic Workshop
Oct. 4: Additional Sources: Individual Conferences
Oct. 6: Additional Sources: Individual Conferences
Oct. 11: Thesis Workshop: Building an Argument
Oct. 13: Thesis Workshop: Building an Argument
Oct. 18: Outline Workshop
Oct. 20: Outline Workshop
Oct. 25: Paragraph Workshop
Oct. 27: Paragraph Workshop
Nov. 1: Paragraph Workshop
Nov. 3: Paragraph Workshop
Nov. 8: Paragraph Workshop
Nov. 10: Paragraph Workshop
Nov. 15: Introduction Workshop: Getting Their Attention, Setting up the Paper
Nov. 17: Introduction Workshop: Getting Their Attention, Setting up the Paper
Nov. 22: The Title Workshop: What's in a Name?
Nov. 24: Individual Conferences
Nov. 29: Rough Draft Workshop: The Last Checkpoint
Dec. 1: Rough Draft Workshop: The Last Checkpoint
Dec. 6: In-Class Presentations
Dec. 8: In-Class Presentations
Dec. 13: In-Class Presentations

I reserve the right to make changes to the requirements or to the schedule.


White, Virgil D. Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files. 4 vols. Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Co., 1990-92 (On 24-hr Reserve at the Library).

            This will be your most important source aside from the microfilm records themselves.  The index provides a short summary of the basic information in the records that would be of interest to genealogists: name of applicant, rank of the soldier and branch of the military in which they served, places the applicant lived, family members, and any other relevant information.  The abstracts do no provide any information on most of other parts of the application which can only be found on the microfilm.  The indexes may be critical for some projects. For most, they will provide an important was to identify records that look promising.

Marylanders in the Index of Revolutionary War pension applications / by Raymond B. Clark, Jr. (at College Park, Non-circulating)

Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications. Begun by Max Ellsworth Hoyt and Frank Johnson Metcalf. Continued by Agatha Bouson Hoyt. Completed by Mabel Van Dyke Baer and Sadye Giller. Revised by Sadye Giller, William H. Dumont and Louise M. Dumont (at College Park, Non-circulating)