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HIS106: Natives, Settlers, and Slaves: Colonizing the Americas, 1492–1804

Essay topics

Questions to ask yourself about your essay topic:

Do I find it interesting?

Is it relevant to the course content? 

Is it focussed enough?

Can I make a good argument?   

Can I address it properly in the length of pages that I have been assigned?

Can I find enough scholarly research resources?

Does it help me understand the world around me better?

Where do I start?

What lecture or course reading particularly appealed to me?

What question was I left with, that I could explore in my essay?

No ideas? Consult:

         -your course notes.

         -your course readings, perhaps browse the table of contents or introduction.

         -an Historical encyclopedia.   

         -an Historical documentary.

         -pay attention to the news! The roots of a current issue may lie in the period you are studying.

Test out the research question in a journal database

1. Choose a few keywords for your topic, and try them out in a journal database, like Historical Abstracts.

2. Scan the citations and abstracts that come up:

   What are Historians saying about this topic?

   What questions do the citations raise in my mind?  

   Can I choose one of these questions for my topic?

   Do I need to try some different keywords to explore further?

3. Once you think you have a good research question, check to see whether you can find enough articles to support it. Remember, to check other sources if needed: bibliographies of the articles that you have already found, JSTOR, or the library catalogue for books.

Focussing the topic

Here are a few questions that you might ask yourself when you are focussing your topic:

WHEN: What time period do I want to focus on?

WHERE: What part of the world do I want to focus on? Am I looking at a region, a country, a city?

WHO: Am I  looking at a particular class, ethnic group, occupation or other population?

WHY: Am I trying to understand why an event, trend or movement happened, or happened the way that it did?

HOW: Am I trying to understand how a group accomplished, or didn't accomplish, a goal.

WHY DOES IT MATTER:  Why is my question important? How does it help me understand the History of that time and place?