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Research Topics

How to formulate a clearly-defined research topic

Published onDec 25, 2020
Research Topics

To formulate a clearly-defined topic suitable for and 10-12 page historical research paper, identify the following:

  1. Time Period

  2. Geographical Region

  3. Activity/Person/Group/Society/Culture/Thing

  4. Conceptual Category

Time Period (When?)

For historical research papers, you need to identify the time period under study to establish a clear historical context. Time periods may be measured in chronological units, such as decades or centuries, or by the duration of an event, such as World War II (1939-1945).

For the purposes of this class, please select a time period or event that occurred before 1980 to ensure that you can locate secondary sources written by historians. Although historians regularly draw on work written by scholars in other fields, the more historical sources you use, the easier it will be to approach your topic from a historical perspective.

Geographical Region (Where?)

For historical research papers, you also need to identify the geographical region under study to establish a clear historical context. Geographical regions may be measured in sociopolitical units, such as empires, nations, and ethnolinguistic groups, or geological and environmental units, such as regions, continents, and river basins.

In recent years, historians have become increasingly interested in the exchange of cultures, peoples, goods, ideas, and technologies across geographical regions. Should you take such an approach in this research paper, I recommend that you select one region as your primary point of focus.

Activity/Person/Group/Society/Culture/Thing (Who?/What?)

Once you have established a clear historical context, you will need to identify your object of focus. This could be an individual or group, a set of beliefs or legal codes, a natural resource or technological innovation, among others.

Should you be interested in a specific historical figure, I recommend that you focus on the broader cause or institution that the individual represents, as biographies will not be accepted in this course.

Conceptual Category

Once you establish the who/what, when, and where, select a conceptual category to further refine your topic. Conceptual categories, including but not limited to the examples listed below, can help you define key terms, hone your research methods and approach, situate your research in broader scholarly discussions, and articulate the significance of your topic.

List of conceptual categories

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