“The truth of the Oak lies in the Acorn from which it sprouted”—that’s the premise of historical analysis, that we can understand the world by figuring out how and why it came to be this way. This upcoming unit asks you to choose some phenomenon of the present day—a cultural institution like professional football, a movement like gun rights, or a consumer product like skateboards—and seek a deeper understanding of that phenomenon by studying its past.
I’m hoping that many of you will choose to focus on the origin of the political issue you studied in the previous unit, but I’m open to almost any topic. One word of caution: some topics may have little in the way of prior scholarship, which means you will likely struggle to find good secondary sources in the first half of this unit. Others topics have been extensively researched, which means that you will need to narrow your focus and make smart choices about which two or three books to read out of hundreds that are available.
This project provides you the chance to learn and master key research methods. Broadly speaking, these fall into two camps: (!) finding and reading authorities on the topic, and (2) gathering and interpreting evidence. Research is difficult, plagued with setbacks. There’s no straightforward recipe for success. But when you find yourself at a dead end, I’d ask that you come see me for help and advice. In this second half of the term, I’m less a teacher than a boxing coach: here to train you, bandage your wounds, get you pepped up and back out in the ring.
Before naming your topic in the comments below, read through the comments already posted by your classmates to see whether anyone is planning to cover the same or a similar topic. If so, sign up by posting as a reply to their comment. Make a mental note of your classmate’s name, and (in the weeks ahead) collaborate in finding sources for the Bibliography.