Term Paper

The term paper is vital because here is where you will actually practice the craft of history. Reading history books isn't doing history, it's just reading about it. It's like reading books about chemistry and then claiming you're a chemist. Put another way, I cannot measure what you have learned; I can only measure how well you write history. So you do a term paper.



I provide you with a list of term paper topics. I do this partly as an aid in helping you get started and partly so I don't get half the class writing on the First Crusade (a common phenomenon). If you wish to write on a topic other than one from the list, you will need to present that alternate to me by the fifth week of class and you will have to provide a strong justification for choosing it, including a bibliography. In other words, you'll have to make a pretty good case for it.

Term paper topics list


Between 5000 and 7000 words (for those of you more comfortable with page count, that's roughly 20-25 pages). Not one word less, but also not one word more. A paper that is either longer or shorter will be sent back unread with an F, but you will be allowed to re-submit without penalty. Use your word processor's word count function!

I do not include headers, footers, titles, footnotes, or bibliography in the word count.


I can accept documents in the following formats only. Any other format will be returned and you will be asked to re-submit. In order of preference:


I require a minimum of four books and three journal articles. Web sites are acceptable, but they do not count toward the minimum source requirements. Neither do our two required books (or any of the other required reading material) count toward the minimum source requirements. Moreover, if a crucial point of your argument depends on Internet sources alone, without confirmation from a scholarly source, I will challenge you on it. In other words, the research done for your paper needs to be additional research.

Note that if one of your sources is a scholarly work that happens also to appear on the Internet, that's fine. In such a case, cite the online version because that's the version you read. It will count. What matters isn't whether it's on the Net or in a journal; what matters is whether the work is scholarly or not.

Scholarly Apparatus

I prefer footnotes over endnotes when I read books, but for student papers I prefer endnotes. I definitely dislike embedded citations like [Jones, 1992] because that format disrupts the flow of the prose. The only people who like this format are social scientists, who can't write anyway. If you must use this format, you are required to include the page number; author and year alone won't cut it.

Beyond that, I don't worry about specific formatting. Every discipline has its own peculiarities and they're generally not important. What does matter is this: that your citation is sufficiently precise to allow the reader to go to the exact point where you got your information. That's the whole point of footnoting; everything after that is merely style. If, however, you do not provide sufficient information, then you will be marked down.

This is particularly relevant to citing online sources. It's not enough merely to cite the site's home page. For a note, you must give the exact url of the exact page you read. For your bibliography, in cases of a multi-page source, you should give the address for the table of contents or beginning page of the article or essay.

For the bibliography, choose any format you like, but be consistent with your choice. The point of the bibliography is to provide the reader with enough information to lay hands on the exact version of the book or journal that you read. This generally means author, title, year published, and publisher. For journals it would include journal name and issue.

If you are looking for guidance on formatting footnotes or bibliography, use your own sources as a model. Look at the scholarly books you use and imitate the style of one of those.


The first thing I check is the length. If the paper is too short, or too long, then it gets sent back, with a provisional grade of F. As long as the due date hasn't passed, you can revise the paper to meet the length limit. If it does meet the length limit, I check for a bibliography and give it a quick scan. Only then do I start reading.

I will return your paper graded, with comments. My expectation is that you will use the comments as a guideline to try to improve your paper, but this is not required. I encourage you to try, though. It is truly in the re-writing process that you will learn thoroughly.


In the text itself, the first thing I look for is a good thesis statement. If it's absent, or poorly developed, this nearly always signals fundamental problems with the paper. A good thesis statement is vital to a good paper. I've never read an A paper that didn't have one. Ever. Nor have I ever read a scholarly article or book that lacked a clear thesis statement.


Once I identify the thesis statement, it becomes the standard by which I judge the rest of the paper. The structure of the paper must reflect the principal points by which the thesis is demonstrated. The individual paragraphs become the specific pieces of evidence, and the sentences within each paragraph develop and explain those pieces of evidence.


In judging the quality and extent of your research, I look at three things: the extent and depth of the bibliography, your use of footnotes, and the extent to which the research represented in your bibliography is actually used in the course of the argument.

Grammar and Spelling

Grammar and spelling do count. They don't count because they are intrinsically important but rather because when there are too many errors, the paper itself suffers. Your goal is to communicate. Spelling and grammatical errors, along with poor syntax, poor word choice, etc., are like noise—they get in the way of successful communication. In speech, if you say "uh" once or twice, it's no big deal. Say it every other word, and you undermine your ability to communicate.

Final Comments

I don't assign separate points to the above; I have broken the grading process into sections simply to make a clearer explanation. What I actually do is read the paper through from start to finish and assign an initial grade. Then I set the paper aside and grade more papers or go do something else. Once I've done all papers, I re-read your paper and see if there's any reason to change my mind about the basic grade. Then I go through it making comments, which also gives me a chance to change my mind one more time.

Late Work

A paper that is turned in late will be graded down one full grade. The reason for the lateness doesn't matter; the extent of the lateness doesn't matter; late equals one full grade.

Make-up Work; Extra Credit

There is no make-up work and I don't give extra credit assignments. I explain about this in the Study Guide, but the short version is that I don't regard extra credit as either fair or as pedagogically legitimate.