History 201
Fall 2007
Charles Radding

Research paper assignment.

Writing a research paper, including revising it after receiving professorial comments, is one of the
requirements of Hst 201. The topic is to be drawn from the material covered in this course, that is,
European history between 1000 and 1300. In doing the research, you will need to consult both
primary and secondary sources, which also means figuring out which ones you need to use. The
paper itself will be approximately 4000 words long (something under 12 pages, depending on fonts
and margins.)

The first step is to choose a topic. This is more important (and difficult) than it might seem, because
you want neither a topic that is incredibly easy - because you can't get much credit for doing
something easy - nor do you want one that requires more knowledge and expertise than you currently
have. The work of the first half of the semester will provide a general sense of the people,
institutions, and historical issues that characterize the period. Using this background, you should
choose a general area or problem that seems especially interesting; then, as you learn more about it,
you will be able narrow your paper down to a more specific problem that you will discuss in your

One possible topic involves studying a primary source. The objective here will be to understand the
conditions under which the source was written, how modern historians have used it, and what other
sources they study with it. There are lots of good sources from such a long period, even when we add
the requirement that it be available in English so you can read it. For longer sources, you will want
to choose a section of it to concentrate on. Before you decide, spend some time with the source and
the historiographical materials appropriate for it. To choose a source, you should start by deciding
what aspect of the material you studied you are most interested in. Then think about the sources
appropriate for that historical problem, look at several of them, and then choose the one to work on
for your paper. Topics focusing on a specific historical problem, appropriately narrowed down to a
specific period and region, are also possible. If you have a clear idea of an alternate topic, see me and
we'll discuss whether it can be done within the context of the course.

Regardless of your topic, you will need to find secondary sources. There are various bibliographical
sources available. The International Medieval Bibliography  is available online through the library
and on cd-rom. A search for your author or source will turn up lots of material, probably more than
you can use. Another approach is to get a recent book or article in the subject area you are working
in and trace references through the footnotes. (That is what footnotes are for.) The books we have
used in class will be a place to start. To begin with, try to stick with secondary sources published
since 1950; older sources are often useful, though. Avoid sources without footnotes. There is also,
of course, a lot of material on the internet, but you have to be aware that a certain amount of it is
unreliable or worse.

I expect to see everyone individually in my office to discuss their topic before October 15th. Do not
expect me to choose your topic; deciding on a topic is one of the key steps in the process, and it is
your responsibility. What I can do is offer suggestions and make certain that you are headed in the
right direction. Prospectuses defining your topic and providing a preliminary list of primary and
secondary materials to be used are be due in class on Oct 22nd.