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?
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.
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.
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?
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