History 496: Historical Research
Whose American Revolution?

Professor Terry Bouton
722 Administration Bldg.
Office Hours:
and by appointment

Course Webpage: http://userpages.umbc.edu/~bouton/History496/HIST496.08.htm
Course Meeting Place: AD 711 (Administration Building, Room 711)
Course Meeting Time: Wednesday/Friday 1:00-2:15

Course Description:
This research and writing intensive course is the capstone of your major in history. It’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate the skills you have acquired as a history major by undertaking a significant research project, much like what a professional historian might do. It will test your ability to think critically, to use sound judgment and analysis, to be resourceful and diligent in mustering evidence, and to write in a way that is compelling, creative, and persuasive. You’ll conduct original research into an important historical question; you’ll uncover primary sources (perhaps ones no historian has ever used before), and you’ll figure out how to weave what you’ve found in the records into existing historical knowledge and debates. The end result will be a 25-30 page paper—one so well conceived, researched, and written that we’ll both be proud of it.

The focus of the paper will be how ordinary people experienced the American Revolution. So much of our understanding of the Revolution—its origins, its events, its outcome—centers on the founding elite that most people have little understanding of the role played by average Americans. Our goal is to clarify how ordinary folk figured in a revolution that was supposedly “by the people, for the people.” We’ll try to understand what different groups of non-elites wanted from the Revolution, how they participated in the revolutionary process, what they got out of the revolutionary settlement, and how the outcome fulfilled their ideals or how it came up short. Through your research, each of you will uncover a story from the “unknown Revolution” of the common folk. Many of these stories will be about the promise of the Revolution, with ordinary people speaking up and acting out for increased rights, freedoms, and opportunities. Other stories will chronicle promise-denied, as those hoping to be included in the advances of the Revolution found themselves excluded. Most stories will probably reflect the Revolution’s messy realities, which often mixed hope and frustration.


You are free to choose the topic you want to investigate and the story you want to tell. But, no matter what topic you select, you must address this question: how is this story an example of the Revolution’s promise or limits? As far as subjects go, the field is open to studying any person or group that qualifies as ordinary. Your subject(s) can be male or female. They can be white, Black, Native American, or mixed race. They can be farmers, craftspeople, goodwives, servants, laborers, slaves, petty merchants, small-scale planters, or shopkeepers. They might have sided with the colonies against Britain, or Britain against the colonies. They may have refused to side with either and tried to sit out the war. Whatever the case, your person of group must be of the middling or lower sort. They cannot be from the gentry. No George or Martha Washington, no John or Abigail Adams, no James or Dolly Madison. You can write about the slaves and servants who worked George and Martha’s plantation or their less well of neighbors, but not about George or Martha themselves (except as they figure in a story which is primarily about their slaves or servants or less well off neighbors).

You also have considerable leeway as to how you approach the question: “how revolutionary was the Revolution for the person or people I am studying?” You can look at political life, work life, home life, or culture and society. You can focus on a big event (like a protest, celebration, or political gathering) or personal day to day episodes. You can analyze your person or group in terms of political freedoms, civil rights, religious autonomy, or economic wherewithal. You can focus on people actively involved in the struggle against Britain, the war effort, or the creation of new governments. Your subject can be someone whose life story seemed to have little to do with the big events of the Revolution. Remember, the Revolution was about more than breaking from Britain and political change. It sometimes reworked the very fabric of social and cultural life, the world of work, and people’s personal relationships. Consequently, your story can be about effects of the Revolution even though your person or group weren’t revolutionaries in the traditional sense. Instead, your story might be about power dynamics in relationships: husbands and wives, gentry and commoners, or masters and slaves. Whatever you choose, you must focus on the change (or lack thereof) that the Revolution brought to your person or group.

And keep in mind that you need not uncover earth-shattering improvements to write a good paper. Subtle gains are important. So too is the lack of change—or experiences that seem more negative than positive. I fully expect a full range of papers, some showing great improvements, others telling tales of tragic loss, and some where the Revolution seemed to make little or no difference in how someone lived their lives.

Regardless of the story you tell, you will need to be self-disciplined and diligent in this course. The key to success is to work continuously throughout the semester. You will be tempted to put this course on the backburner in favor other courses with more immediate deadlines and test dates. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. Every semester, some students taking HIST 496 assume they can put off everything until the end of the semester. And every semester, these students panic because they discover—despite the constant warnings of whoever is teaching the course—that there’s simply too much research, thinking, and writing to do in the semester’s final two weeks. Many of these students fail the course—not because they are incapable of writing a passing paper. About 99.9 percent of our history majors are capable of passing HIST 496. Those who have failed HIST 496 in the past have invariably done so because they didn’t devote enough time to the course. The others fail because they plagiarized some or all of their papers. Virtually all of these cases involved students who plagiarized when they discovered too late in the process that they were too far behind to pass honestly. Don’t put yourself in a similar panic: do the work during the semester. And, rest assured, that if I catch you plagiarizing any part of your paper or for any assignment, I will see that you are prosecuted to the full extent of the university’s disciplinary system. I will show no mercy. Absolutely none.


To help you keep on pace, I have broken down the research paper into manageable parts and assignments that will be due throughout the term.  Each part is worth a portion of your total grade. You cannot pass this course (and you need a C- to have it count for the major) by only turning in a final paper. You will need to complete all of the assignments along the way to collect the points you need to pass.  I have no sympathy—none, zero, zip, nada—for anyone who blows off assignments during the semester and then turns in a final paper expecting to pass. To these people I say: “Enjoy your F. And, if you were thinking of graduating at the end of the semester, you should try to cancel your regalia order right now, so you may still be able to get your deposit back.”

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)      Gary B. Nash, The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America (Paperback), Penguin, ISBN 9780143037200

2)      Kate L. Turabian, ed., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Seventh Edition: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) (Paperback), University Of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226823379

Primary Sources:
There are a variety of sources that can help us uncover the lives of ordinary people amid the Revolution. Thanks to extensive digitization over the last decade by libraries and archives, the internet is teeming with excellent, reliable primary source material. To help you get started as you wade through the possibilities, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best resources currently out there.

Here’s the link: http://userpages.umbc.edu/~bouton/History407/DocumentsRevolution.htm

The UMBC library also has a wealth of material. There are numerous useful databases, which we’ll talk about in class. The library stacks also hold many published document collections from the Revolutionary era. Most of these collections focus on political aspects of the Revolution. And, as you might expect, most of them concentrate on the elite. Still, many of these sources provide windows into the lives and activities of ordinary folk. For example, the document collections on the ratification of the Constitution offer a sense of the political views of the common folk and how they chose to express their ideals. Likewise, the papers of one of the elite founding fathers can offer a glimpse into the lives and aspirations of their non-elite neighbors, slaves, and servants (for example, founders often complained about unruly servants, and runaway slaves, and neighbors who would not now to their deference). Likewise, since the elite founders were usually government officials, their letters often provide glimpses into the views and actions of ordinary people, especially when the common folk opposed elite policies or when popular ideals about governments, laws, and courts conflicted with the gentry’s ideals and interests.

In choosing topics and sources, I advise taking some time to explore what’s out there and to find what interests you. Remember that you’ll be spending a great deal of time working with these sources and your topic. It’s best to find something that holds your interest, rather than settling for the first thing you come across that looks like it will make an “easy” project. In the past, students who have settled quickly on topics that didn’t really interest them have tended to find the class wearying, and, as a result, they have usually produced disappointing papers.

Course Format:
Most class meetings will be conducted as workshops. We’ll start with the Nash book, The Unknown Revolution, which provides some of the larger context for how ordinary people experienced the Revolution and offers many examples of the kind of stories you might uncover. Next, we’ll turn to the art of research. We’ll discuss how to pick a topic, how to design a research strategy, how to frame your historical question (and what a “historical question” is), how to find additional primary source material, and how to incorporate secondary sources. Once you’ve got some research under your belt, we’ll turn to writing. We’ll work on developing theses and outlines, finding the most effective way to tell your story, working with evidence, finding a way to interest readers, and proving your case.  Most weeks we will meet as a group; other weeks will involve research, writing, or individual conferences. The group meetings will work through each stage of the process, with later classes dedicated to workshops on core elements of the paper: paragraphs, introductions, rough drafts, and titles. The idea of the workshops is for you to help each other work through the process of research and writing—work together through rough spots, commiserate over frustrations, find ways around tricky research and writing issues, 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. Students 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). And for many of the weeks you will be reading and commenting on your classmates’ work and they will be examining yours. Critiquing someone’s work is never easy. It’s even harder having your own work critiqued. We’ll discuss how to give and receive criticism in an effort to make the workshops as productive and painless as possible.

Course Requirements:

Grade Scale:

Participation:              50 Points
Assignments:             100 Points (10 assignments, 10 points each)
Final Presentation:     25 Points
Rough Draft:               25 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

(25 points, 6.25% of your final grade)
Your grade will also depend on participation.  There are three 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.

1) Attendance: Attendance is mandatory. If you miss class your participation grade will suffer in direct proportion to the number of classes you miss.

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.

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. 

2) 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 first shot at an introduction. For most assignments, you will need to upload or paste your assignments to the Discussion Board so that others can read them and offer comments.

Look below for the list of assignments and deadlines.

3) Final Presentation: (25 points, 6.25% of your final grade)
Every student will present their findings in an in-class presentation that will be no longer than ten minutes (and I’m going to be strict about that time limit). You will be graded on how clearly you present your historical question, your thesis, your research, and your conclusions. I’ll give special consideration to creative presentations. You can use whatever props and aids you need. In the past, students have created posters or done Powerpoint presentations, a few put on skits; one enterprising student even made a video. I encourage you to be as creative as you’d like as long as you convey the main point of your research, thesis, and findings. I reward those who don’t play it safe and who take chances: you get big points in my book for trying something creative, even if it doesn’t work out exactly as you plan. This is not to say that you can’t get a good grade by doing a traditional presentation (you can and if that’s what you want to do, I certainly won’t penalize you). I’m merely saying that, if you want to try something different, you won’t be putting your grade at risk—quite the opposite.

4) Rough Draft: (50 points, 12.5% of your final grade)
The success of your final paper is directly related to the quantity and the quality of the writings you submit for your rough draft. This is you last chance to get feedback from me and from your peers before you submit your final paper. No doubt, the due date for the rough draft is earlier than most of you would like. I understand this, it is intentional and necessary. Your final paper is not supposed to be your first stab at the paper. To get your paper where it needs to be, you’ll have to do several rounds of revisions. The early deadline is to spur you to write so that you have time to revise.

I expect that the rough drafts will be “rough.” You should submit whatever you’ve got, even if there are incomplete paragraphs or sections of the paper. This is one of the hardest things to do because everyone will feel 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?

Although it will be a true rough draft, you must include footnotes in the proper form. Do not submit a rough draft with quotations and discussions of the secondary literature without providing footnoted citations. Part of my evaluation of your rough draft consists of seeing where you got your quotes and assessing how well your assertions match your primary sources and how effectively you integrated secondary sources (not to mention checking to be sure your footnotes are in the proper format). If you do not include footnotes, I cannot do my job and you will receive a low grade.

NOTE: To receive a grade for your rough draft, you MUST submit it to the “Rough Draft” folder in the class page at Turnitin.com.

5) Final 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. For proper formatting, see Turabian, ed., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.

Final Paper Due Date: Friday, December 12 by 3:00pm. You must submit three copies: 1) a hard copy to my mailbox, 2) an electronic copy to Blackboard, 3) an electronic copy to Turnitin.com

NOTE: To receive a grade for your final paper, you MUST submit it to the “Final Paper” folder in the class page at Turnitin.com.

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

Academic Integrity:
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 is not 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 read the policy online, see: http://www.umbc.edu/integrity/.

If you are unclear about what plagiarism is, take a look at the Indiana University website: http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml. Also read the brief discussion of plagiarism in Turabian, ed., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 77-81.

I show no mercy toward cheaters.  If you are caught cheating on any assignment, the rough draft, or the final paper, you will receive a zero for that grade and I will submit your name to the proper disciplinary authority. Rest assured that I will do all I can to see that those disciplinary bodies take the strongest possible action against anyone who cheats. Potential cheaters: you have been warned.

To ensure authenticity of assignments, students will submit their paper 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 "New Users" in the top right corner. Turnitin.com will walk you through the rest of 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 ID#: 2370693
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/index.html


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 email—not 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.

Class Meeting Schedule, Assignments, and Due Dates:

Week 1:
Aug. 27:  Introduction

Aug. 29:  Workshop: Primary Sources Online

Reading: Unknown Revolution, xv-149

Week 2:
Sept. 3:   Meeting in the Library: A Search Through the Stacks

Sept. 5:   Discussion of Unknown Revolution, xv-263

Reading: Unknown Revolution, 150-263
Assignment #1: Unknown Revolution, xv-263: How do the stories in the Unknown Revolution reveal the ideals and aspirations of different groups of ordinary people and their participation in the Revolution and Independence movement?

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Friday, Sept. 5)

Week 3:
Sept. 10: Workshop: Finding a Paper Topic and a Historical Question

Sept. 12: Discussion of Unknown Revolution

Reading: Unknown Revolution, 264-455
Assignment #2: Unknown Revolution, 264-455: How did different groups of ordinary people respond to Independence and the war? In what ways did the Revolution fulfill their aspirations? How did it come up short?

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Friday, Sept. 12)

Week 4:
Sept. 17: Individual Conferences: Topics and Sources

Sept. 19: Individual Conferences: Topics and Sources

Assignment #3: Initial Ideas for Topics: Explain in detail the possible topics you are considering along with the specific primary sources you think your would use to investigate each topic

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Saturday, Sept. 20)

Week 5:
Sept. 24:  Individual Conferences: Topics and Sources

Sept. 26:  Individual Conferences: Topics and Sources

Assignment #4: Topic, Subject of Your Study, Historical Question, and Primary Sources: Explain your topic, the specific person or group through which you intend to explore that topic, the historical question you will address, and the primary sources you will use to investigate your question.

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Saturday, Sept. 27)

Week 6:
Oct. 1: Individual Conferences: Secondary Sources

Oct. 3: Individual Conferences: Secondary Sources

Assignment #5: Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Sources: You must have at least ten scholarly secondary sources that relate specifically to the historical context of your topic (general histories of the American Revolution won’t cut it). After listing each item in the bibliography, you must include a short paragraph that explains what that source contributes to your study. You need not have read all of the sources at this point, but I expect you to have read the introductions and conclusions of the articles and books and skimmed them over to get a sense of how they might help you understand the scholarly debates and the wider issues at play during the Revolution for whatever person or group you are studying.

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Friday, Sept. 12)

Week 7:
Oct. 8:   Workshop: How to Develop a Thesis

Oct. 10: Individual Conferences

Assignment #6: Paper Thesis (A first stab at your introduction): Write several paragraphs that dramatize the historical problem that you are investigating, with specific reference to the secondary historiography. You last paragraph should present the thesis your paper will argue.

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Friday, Oct. 10)

Week 8:
Oct. 15: Workshop: Improving Your Thesis

Oct. 17: Individual Conferences

Assignment #7: Detailed Outline: Develop a detailed outline that maps out the structure of your paper. You should include the major sections of your paper as well as the specific arguments you intend to make within each section. As you lay out those arguments, you should also indicate the primary source evidence you intend to use to prove those points and where you need to research to find additional evidence. You should outline in full sentences that spell out what each section is supposed to do and what each part of that paragraph is going to argue. Think about your outline as a series of topic sentences—the first sentence of every paragraph in it—that provides readers with a clear sense of your overall objective and how, paragraph by paragraph, you intend to reach that objective. Although I fully expect some sections of your outline to be less well developed than others, I will grade your outline on both the coherences of your thesis and arguments and the level of detail you provide in terms of evidence. I see the outline as an excellent gauge of who has been keeping up and who has not.

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Friday, Oct. 17)

Week 10:
Oct. 22: Workshop: Peer Review of Outlines

Oct. 24: Individual Conferences

Assignment #8: An analytical paragraph from your paper that uses specific examples and quotes from your primary sources as evidence to make an argument: This paragraph must be an analytical one, designed to make a specific argument (as opposed to a narrative paragraph that tells part of a story). This paragraph must be at least ten sentences, start out with a strong topic sentence that presents the paragraph’s argument, and work to develop that argument with specific quotes and examples from your primary source research. It is fine to include evidence from secondary sources as well. But the heart of the paragraph must composed of evidence from primary source material. All source material in the paragraph must be footnoted in the proper form.

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Friday, Oct. 24)

Week 11:
Oct. 29: Workshop: Peer Review of Analytical Paragraph

Oct. 31: Individual Conferences

Assignment #9: A second analytical paragraph from your paper that uses specific examples and quotes from your primary sources as evidence to make an argument: This paragraph must be an analytical one, designed to make a specific argument (as opposed to a narrative paragraph that tells part of a story). This paragraph must be at least ten sentences, start out with a strong topic sentence that presents the paragraph’s argument, and work to develop that argument with specific quotes and examples from your primary source research. It is fine to include evidence from secondary sources as well. But the heart of the paragraph must composed of evidence from primary source material. All source material in the paragraph must be footnoted in the proper form.

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Friday, Oct. 31)

Week 12:
Nov. 5: Workshop: Peer Review of Analytical Paragraph

Nov. 7: Individual Conferences

            Assignment #10: Paper Introduction and Title: You should submit a revised version of the introductory paragraphs to your paper that: 1) introduces your topic in an interesting way, 2) presents your thesis, 3) and explains how your thesis fits into the existing historiography. I encourage you to find a creative way to introduce your topic. You may want to use an evocative example from your research that focuses on a dramatic incident or a critical moment in the life of your subject. You should also develop three alternative titles for your papers. The titles should be creative and provide a strong suggestion of the main thesis of your paper.

(You must post your response to the Blackboard Discussion Board by 11:00am, Friday, Nov. 7)

Week 13:
Nov. 12: Workshop: Peer Review of Introductions and Titles

Nov. 14: Individual Conferences

Rough Drafts Due: 1) Hard copy in my mailbox, 2) electronic upload to Blackboard, and 3) electronic upload to Turnitin.com—all by 11:00am on Friday, Nov. 14

Week 14:
Nov. 19: Workshop: Peer Review of Rough Drafts

Nov. 21: In-Class Presentations

Week 15:
Nov. 26: In-Class Presentations


Week 16:
Dec. 3: In-Class Presentations

Dec. 5: In-Class Presentations

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